Grief – Anniversaries, Special Days and Events

Let’s just imagine for a moment. Perhaps a holiday is right around the corner. It may be a loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of the day that they died, or maybe there is a gathering that you are invited to attend. The very thought may make you cringe. You can feel the tension begin at the thought of being with others during this special time. What if someone says their name? What if no one says their name? What if I get teary? What if I meet someone new and they don’t know me? What if, what if, what if?

Whew, that was overwhelming, truly exhausting and I haven’t even left my chair. So, how can you move through these days and events?

Make a plan. Frankly, even the exercise of imagining who I may run into, what conversations might flow and here’s the biggie, what emotions I may feel, takes a lot of the stress out of an upcoming event.

I encourage you to take nice… deep… slow… breaths when thinking this through to help you be as calm as possible. And then begin thinking about what is coming up and imagine the time being as easy as possible. That’s where the plan comes in.

Personally, I found it incredibly helpful to imagine conversations. Including questions and comments that I may find uncomfortable or just too much to handle. I thought about and role-played in my mind, sometimes with others until I became more comfortable with responses.

Here’s an example of how that might sound. If I were at an event and someone who didn’t know me well asked how many children I have… what sort of answer felt right for me? I had lost my youngest son, so did I have 2 or 3 children? After playing around with possible answers for a while, I found a response that felt right for me. I generally answered that together with my husband we had raised 3 loud, messy, wonderful boys. Others I know answered in their own way. Some would say 2 kids with no mention of the one who died. This is not about denying the existence of the one who died, it is about deciding how much you are comfortable sharing in various circumstances.

Make a plan. I encourage the one who is grieving to enlist the support of someone who cares. A family member or friend. Think about places you can get a bit of privacy if things become too emotional. Think bathroom! You are seldom bothered if you duck in and lock a door for a few deep breaths and to splash your face with cool water. It helps.

Plan a getaway or set a time to leave. Arrange with the one who is supporting you to leave at a pre-determined time. Ask them to keep an eye on you and be willing to rescue you if you give a pre-determined signal. This will help to assure you that you can get away. This will also remind you that you are not alone, you are loved, you matter and someone cares enough to help you get through this difficult time.

Often I have found that having a firm plan in place makes the event much easier.

You can do this. You are not alone. Together, we can walk the path, through grief and into healing.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

The Blurt Factor

I wrote this waaaaaaaay back on February 5, 2011. It was around 7 weeks after the death of my son. I’m sharing it with you now, more than 8 years later because I think that these experiences are more common than we might imagine.

If you are someone that is grieving, it’s my hope that this will assure you that if you ‘blurt’ you are not alone. When grief is new and fresh, our brain simply does not operate in quite the same way as it does typically. Please be gentle and forgiving of yourself.

If you are supporting someone who is grieving, please be patient and aware that they are doing the best they can. Often with less grace than they would prefer, but it is their best at the moment.

February 5, 2011

I’ve been calling it the ‘blurt factor’. At times it seems so strange to me that the death of my son has not caused the planet to stop spinning. I’m sometimes puzzled that when I turn on the radio, pick up a newspaper or switch on the television that there is not wall to wall news about Mike dying. Perhaps similar to what we see and hear when there is the death of someone like Princess Diana or President Kennedy.

Mike died on December 17, 2010. I returned to work on January 3rd. I’m self-employed so that made it somewhat easier. I can and do postpone or cancel appointments when those feelings overwhelm me.

And yet, on the phone with a treasured client a few hours ago, I found myself telling her that my son had died last month and that the cause of death was suicide. Because of the nature of my business, many of my clients including this one know quite a lot about my personal life.  I use examples from my own experiences all the time to help them to move forward in a positive manner. Still, this particular client has moved to another state, she had no way of knowing this had happened and the phone call was not ‘about me’. Hence what I call The Blurt. There was no reason to share this with her, it did not benefit her in any way to know. At least not then and not in that way. Many, if not all of my clients do know because they see one another and also because I have had to cancel or postpone appointments when I’ve had a particularly emotional day. Ugh!!! This was only a moment or two of the one-hour conversation and of course, I apologized profusely. On the phone as well as in follow up communication. I don’t like that I am doing this – this blurting.

As with many of you, this is new territory for me. Part of my brain detaches often and observes with fascination the process that is unfolding. The day before my son died a client contacted me and asked if she could simply come and share for a while with me on Friday. She had lost two people that she cared about to suicide in the previous weeks. These people were unknown to one another but she was feeling overwhelmed and simply needed to share. So, we spent over 3 hours in my office. As we talked I realized that it seemed to me that survivors rarely ‘get over’ suicide. The day I spent with her and with another client who was sharing deep concerns and worries about one of his sons is the day my son died. Another fact that seems to hang around that part of my brain that is simply keeping notes and is not as emotional.

When I experience something life-changing, one of the ways I cope is to read, read, read. So, after losing Mike I began reading websites and books about grief. I was horror-stricken when I read a book that told me that I should expect to curl up in a fetal position and want to die myself. Of course, that’s not literally what the book said, but that is what I took from it at the time. Talk about selective reading! I know that is the experience of many people and I feel horrible that is so, but it’s not been my experience. At least not yet and I pray that it never will be. It sometimes feels to me that I’m not moving through this the way I’m supposed to. But I don’t know just how I am supposed to. What are the rules, the guidelines?

I remember the morning after the officers left our home telling us about the death of our son. My husband and I were sitting together, numb. I kept thinking and even saying ‘I don’t know what to do, say or think next. There must be directions somewhere.’ I think that’s what I look for when I read, directions. There isn’t a manual that I can find so I’m stumbling through doing the best that I can and I think I’m doing okay. Still, there’s the blurt.

I think what bothers me most about the blurt is that it hurts so many people and that feels unnecessary and cruel. It occurs to me that for me at least it’s the verbal equivalent to wearing mourning colors, an armband that signifies that you’ve suffered a loss or a wreath on the door indicating to all that you may be in a fragile state of some sort. While I absolutely do not consider myself fragile, I know that I am changed. Just what that change will look like down the road, I don’t know as yet, I guess I’ll find out as time goes on. For the moment that change brings the frequent blurt, the frequent memory lapses, occasional issues with focus and thankfully diminishing problems with sleep. As sleep returns, I suspect and hope that some of these other issues will dissipate to some extent as well.

I often find myself laughing and enjoying the many pleasures in my life and I am so grateful for the blessing that while I experience profound sadness I have not experienced depression. Still, the tears surprise me often, many times without warning. The last several days were incredibly rough, but today feels pretty darned good and I’m enthusiastic about teaching a class tomorrow followed by watching the Superbowl.

I suspect that blurting is sort of my way of announcing that I’ve changed in a fundamental way. People can see that I’m short, they can see that I’m aging but they can’t see that I’m emotionally wounded. Maybe that’s what the blurt is, a way of sharing and in a small way re-balancing my world. I have always shared my excitement about my family with clients when one is coming home, has something to celebrate, etc, so I suppose that in some way this is continuing to share. For some reason, it’s important for me to assure them that while Mike is gone from my physical life, he’s not gone from my heart or mind. And that I absolutely know he’s near whenever I need him.

Perhaps the blurt will diminish or even go away. Time will tell. At any rate, It’s my intention that by expressing myself here, by sharing this strange bit of behavior (at least new and strange to me) that I will be more aware and able to release the need. Again, time will tell.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

How can I Support Someone Grieving?

That’s a really good question, and I’m so glad that you asked. (wink)

When someone’s heart has been broken, we want to help. It’s human nature and let’s face it, you are a really good human! The problem is that we don’t know what to say or what to do. How would we? We have not supported this friend through this experience before, we’re all new at this and doing the best that we can.

– Show up. Call, text, email, drop a card in the mail. Let the one you care about know that you care. Grief doesn’t heal or go away after a few days. Keep reminding them that you care, that they matter.

– Please be patient. Shock often sets in almost immediately and can last days, weeks or even months. For some, it means that focus takes a walk and memory seems to be on an extended vacation. The one grieving may not be able to process what she is reading or hearing and may need to have things repeated, more than once. He may not remember what you told him a few moments ago. Please, take a deep breath and remember this is someone you care about.

– What do we hear or say? Just call me if you need anything. And we mean it, we really do. But can I let you in on a secret? The one who is experiencing grief may be too overwhelmed to make that call even if they are able to focus enough to determine what they actually need.  This was certainly true for me. What I did find helpful were very specific offers. So here are a few suggestions to give you an idea.

– Ask if you can mow the grass.
– Call and say that you are going to the store for milk and eggs, ask if they have a meal for supper or would they like some tea.
– Headed out for a walk? Invite the one you care about to join you.
– Offer to take the dog for a walk or the children to the park. Ask if they would prefer to join you or have a bit of quiet time.

I think you get the idea. Specifics make it easier for the one who is experiencing grief to focus for a moment and discern what they want or need.

– Say their name! Say the name of the one that is missed. Tell a story about them, something that touched your heart or made you smile. Ask the one who is grieving to share a bit more. This is a gift that will always be cherished.

– Be the back-up. When a day or event is coming up that you expect may be difficult, offer to be their reinforcement. If there is an event coming up and your loved one is considering attending, let them know that you will be there for them. Shoulder to shoulder, it matters. Talk ahead of time about what sort of signal they can give you to let you know they need to have a break or even to leave. In short, be their safety net.

– Take a deep breath if the person you are supporting is unkind or short-tempered with you. Count to 3, or 5 or 137 before responding. What does your heart tell you they intend to convey to you? This does not mean that it’s necessary for you to be a doormat! As gently as possible, in a calm and quiet tone, respond from your heart. Kindness always matters.

– Notice language. If in doubt, ask. When my son died, I realized how many people were terrified of the word suicide. Because the word is so strongly stigmatized some would whisper or avoid saying the word. For me, that was not a concern, but it might be for others. Terminology can land quite painfully for some, please be sensitive. Again, thinking about losing my son to suicide, some would use the phrase ‘committed suicide’ this never bothered me at all. But I do know and care about folks who are deeply offended by that phrase. Notice, be aware and if in doubt, simply ask what is okay.

You are going to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. The one you are supporting is going to make mistakes. Forgive them. Remember that we are all doing the best we can and let that be enough. What matters most is that you care enough to let the person grieving know that they matter to someone. That they are loved. Bless you, for sharing your heart.

Namaste,
Sandy

Be the Gardener of Your Mind

Trees, bushes, and flowers are in my gardens. Because they make me happy.

So far, so good. But simply planting and allowing them to grow is not enough. If I want the gardens to be healthy and beautiful, I need to tend to them. I need to be aware of what is growing and where it’s located. Some show up willy-nilly and take over the area.  As the gardener, my role is to question and determine if I am okay with that. If I am, I can do nothing and allow it to happen. If I want to maintain boundaries but still maintain the plant that I need to take suitable action. Are the plants healthy? Do they need a bit of water or fertilizer? Are there pesky weeds showing up?

The first thing I need to do is to be aware of what is happening in my garden.  No judgment, simple evaluation, and acknowledgment of what is happening. Only then can I take the appropriate steps to keep my garden as beautiful and healthy as I prefer.

If our mind is a garden, then our thoughts are the flowers and bushes within.

As we move through our day we have various experiences which prompt all sort of different thoughts. Some are creative, fun or helpful. Others may be harsh, unkind or hurtful. Perhaps a thought is taking over, becoming invasive and making it difficult to focus. Noticing our thoughts – not making ourselves wrong for having them – but simply becoming aware of what we are thinking is our first step to tending to the garden of our mind.

When we are aware of what we are thinking, we can decide what actions to take. Is the thought pleasing, would we like more of it? If so, go ahead and feed it! Is it hurtful? If so, do you need to feel that hurt in order to process it or is it better for you to let it go? Even acknowledging that a thought does not serve you is a powerful step to releasing it.

Notice. Be aware. And always remember, that you are the expert on you. That makes you the Master Gardener of your mind.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Who are You Now? How do You Identify Yourself?

A few days ago I was thinking about how we introduce ourselves to others. I began thinking about some identifying aspects of myself.

– Amateur Gardener
– Bacon Lover
– Short Woman

Now here’s the thing, each of these things is true. They are facets of me, but they are not the primary way that I identify myself. In my own head or when I’m speaking with others.

When one is experiencing grief, it’s not only common but quite reasonable that at least in the beginning, that feeling, what they feel they have lost becomes their primary focus. Depending on how deep the wound, it may be the only thing they are able to think about, talk about or feel for a time. That’s natural and normal.

Having said that, I want to acknowledge that we are not our wound. Regardless of how painful the loss of my son, I was always Sandy. Some of the aspects of my being had certainly changed, but there were so very many that remained. I was still a wife, a mom, daughter, friend, etc.

Human beings are marvelously multi-faceted being. This is not about ignoring the wound that brings on grief or denying that it is a part of you – not all of you. It is about trusting that in time, with safe, healthy grief work, you will once again shift from identifying yourself with as your wound to a person that has been wounded and is healing.

I am not Suicide Loss, I am Sandy.  That’s what you will always read on my name tag. How are you identifying yourself?

Namaste,
Sandy

Period or Ellipsis?

Facts can be funny things. Some are truly universal. The sun is hot! Yep, that’s true for you and me as well. But other facts are not necessarily true for both you and me… unless they are. Oh boy, here we go already.

For instance. I read and hear many experts give guidelines of what to say to someone who is grieving They frequently also offer very specific guidelines about what not to say to someone who is experiencing grief. I appreciate and find value in these guidelines, but what if they are not helpful for everyone? Is it possible that what feels supportive for one may not be for another? Put on your pondering cap, and feel your way through.

Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learned. Life is like that. I try to remember that when something shares a fact as hard and fast, it is because to them it is indeed true. Period. End of sentence. I get that, but I also have found that hearing or reading some of these truths or what felt like rules to me was not always helpful but was in fact often confusing and even painful as I considered that if experts were telling me one thing and I was feeling different clearly the conclusion was that I was wrong. I was hurting in the wrong way. I was taking comfort from the wrong things. I was grieving and healing all wrong!

Wow, this was less than helpful. Very quickly, I began to read and listen in a new way. When someone would share a truth, a fact and end their sentence with a period, I would find myself hearing or imagine seeing an ellipsis… this gave me the freedom to find my own way. And to know that what is true for me, what is factual for me, may be different than it is for another.

Period. For me, this means non-negotiable, no flexibility, written in stone.
Ellipsis… ahhhh, what if this is true for some and not for others? This felt more supportive, more open to walking the path in my own way.

So if you hear me say something and it sounds like a fact, please know that it is factual for me. If it doesn’t sound or feel right for you, go ahead and add that ellipsis… and ask yourself, what if things look or feel different for me?

You and I are all walking this our own path of grief into healing. Even while we walk together, sometimes hand in hand, we continue to have our own unique experience.

Namaste,
Sandy

Grief and Healing. What do the Words Mean to You?

I only speak one verbal language, English of the American variety. The truth is that I looooove words! I find language, the nuances, the various ways that we use words to express a variety of meanings to be absolutely fascinating.

Something that I realize more and more is that phrases and words may not mean the same thing to you and me. While I find some words or phrases to be helpful others may find them hurtful. The reverse is also true.

For example, the phrase ‘You never get over it.’ I’ve been assured by more than one rather brilliant professional with all of the appropriate letters after their names that assures me they are licensed counselors, that phrase is true. Hands down, no discussion, it’s true for everyone who is experiencing grief due to death.

Each time I explained that I find the phrase absolutely terrifying! For me, it feels as though I am being told that I will suffer, hurt and never laugh again and that neither will anyone of those I love who have also experienced grief.  Ever. It feels final. A bit like being shackled and tossed to the back of a dark cave. As I said, a horrible feeling – for me.

At the same time, I realize full well that many are comforted by that phrase as they are reminded that it’s perfectly natural to have difficult moments, hours or even days long after the one they love has died.

The same phrase, but very different responses.

I often read websites or books that tell us what to say and what not to say to someone we are endeavoring to support through grief. As I read those books and those websites, I greatly appreciate the kind assistance that is offered. At the same time, again and again, I find myself wanting to suggest that those are not hard and fast rules. What feels good today may be painful tomorrow… or not.

* Forgiveness
* Healing
* Life after death

To offer just a few. I know how each feels for me, what the meaning is for me. At the same time, I am very aware that they may land differently for you.

I offer this thought, or perhaps a suggested exercise. When you are speaking about your own grief or with someone about theirs, ask how these phrases and words feel to them. Discuss what feels helpful for you and be open to hearing what is true for them in their own experience.

Yes, we share a common language. But the most helpful conversations are when we feel welcome and supported to understand one another.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Healing – It can be Messy Stuff

When I think about grief, particularly as it’s associated with the death of someone we love; I find that it’s really easy for me to think of it as a static thing, maybe a closet of sorts. Something that simply exists as the result of a loss. This makes sense because we experience pain and sorrow when we lose someone to death.

This line of thinking causes a shift within my being. Grief goes from being static, which to me can be overwhelming, to something that is fluid. This means that it can move, shift and evolve. Even typing that out, I feel lightness within my being.

I was thinking about this recently. Hubby and I were out walking one early evening. As I admired the beautiful yards and watched the kids playing outdoors, I completely forgot to watch my feet and where they were being placed on the sidewalk. As a consequence, my face met that sidewalk and no, the result wasn’t pretty. My sunglasses broke and cut my forehead. Lots of blood, which seemed to really impress the little boy who lived there. He was pretty adorable.

A short trip to the local Urgent Care got the cut glued up in no time and I was quickly on the road to healing.

Here’s the thing, healing didn’t mean that the wound immediately went away. Nope, instead, my face swelled pretty impressively. I got headaches with too much movement for a few days which caused me to sleep more than usual and to rest. Which my body needed for effective healing.

No, grieving and healing are not always pretty. I think of the tears I’ve shed as a result of grief and the truth is that it was loud, snotty and possibly a wee bit horrifying for anyone who might see me. I’m not a pretty crier, I would not be filmed for a dramatic role in a movie. Messy indeed, but it gets the job done.

Sometimes we are less than kind to those who are trying to support us. Or we misunderstand what someone is trying to express. It can take time and work to sort this out, but it’s worth it.

Grieving and healing are messy. Plain and simple. We may become fatigued, we may be cranky, we may have needs that we have difficulty explaining. All natural, normal, human parts of this process.

I like to think of it as a messy closet. Imagine having a closet jam-packed with thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We can think of this closet as grief. That static something that I referred to earlier. It can take an enormous amount of courage to open that closet door, but it’s a very important first step.

One by one, taking items out of that closet. There may be experiences, emotions, memories scattered all about, but that’s just fine. It’s part of the process.

For a moment, or however long you need, hold them each. Feeling and acknowledging each and every one allows them to begin to release their charge. We then can decide if they go back into the closet or if it’s time to let them go. No right or wrong, simply progress. If we decide to hold on to them, we may well find that they are a bit lighter, they don’t take up as much space in our closet. The extra space is now occupied by a wee bit of healing.

Yes, healing is a messy business. No doubt about it. This line of thinking causes a shift within my being as it reminds me that it’s okay to grieve I the way that’s right for me. Grief shifts from being static, which to me can be overwhelming, to something that is fluid. This means that it can move and evolve. This is where healing happens.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

 

 

Self-Care, Yes, it Matters

If we’ve worked together for anything, you’ve heard me suggest… encourage… alright, I nag about self-care! Because it matters so very much. Self-care is right at the top of the list as far as I’m concerned.

Why? Because if you are not taking good care of you, you cannot possibly take care of anyone or anything else.

What does self-care mean? It means something different to all of us and it’s quite likely that it may mean something different this evening than it does at this moment. Put as simply as possible, it’s giving yourself permission to do what you need most at this moment.

For example, a cup of coffee and a stroll around the yard in the very wee hours of the morning is excellent self-care for me. The coffee feels warm in my hands even while the morning dew refreshes my feet. Taking a peek at plants as they are opening up, some showing off brand new blooms put me in a very excited and at the same time very tranquil frame of mind. It’s good for me.

Later, I pretty much need a walk. On nice days, I may need a couple. Walking, stretching my legs calms me and reminds me that I am strong and capable.

As the day winds down, I almost always feel a strong longing to spend time in the bathtub. It may be 10 minutes or an hour. Here’s the thing, it truly is a very intense feeling, my body and body are telling me to carve out time to spend in the water. I always feel like my very soul craves being near water and whenever possible, in the water.

Other days, self-care means checking off boxes that are on my list. Maybe cutting the grass or cleaning the house. Please, please, please let it be cutting the grass and not cleaning the house! 🙂

It might be realizing that concerns or worry are money related. The act of acknowledging and understanding what is prompting this feeling helps to find a solution. Perhaps cutting an expense or picking up a few extra hours at work. Also, excellent self-care if the feeling within you is good.

The very process of discernment, what is mine and what can/should I delegate? Making those decisions are excellent self-care as this brings around a calm which relieves stress.

It’s absolutely, completely, entirely alright to ask for support! We can’t do everything for everyone all of the time. It’s a gift to others as well as ourselves to ask for and allow support and caring. To share a hug, a meal or a conversation.

Self-care is about treating yourself with at least as much kindness, compassion and courtesy as you would a stranger.

Notice what your body is telling you, is it being nurtured with healthy food in the right proportions? Hear what your heart is saying to you. Are your thoughts and feeling being expressed in safe and healthy ways?

Excellent self-care is not any one thing. It is many small things. It’s making yourself a priority. After all, there’s only one like you. I know this to be true because I heard it from Mr. Rogers.

“Taking care is one way to show your love. Another way is letting people take good care of you when you need it.”
― Fred Rogers

Namaste,
Sandy

Your Feelings are Valid!

What you feel matters. It is important that your feelings, your emotions are acknowledged, accepted and respected as valid. Because they are valid.

Far too often we think about and even label emotions or feelings as negative or positive. I don’t feel that’s accurate at all. I think of emotions are sign-posts or indicators of what is happening inside of us. They tell us where we are in any given moment.

Here’s one way of looking at this. Pulling out a map of the United States, perhaps I am quite determined to walk my path until I arrive in Olympia, Washington. Sounds just fine, doesn’t it? I hear things are pretty swell in that area.

Without knowing where I am currently, I have no clear way of discerning that direction that I would prefer to walk. Now to be clear, there is no right or wrong way to get there! Perhaps I would walk north for a while, taking long rests along the mountains and appreciating the solitude. The steps to take and the direction to move is always a very personal decision. However, if I don’t know where I am beginning, I will only hope to arrive at Olympia, Washington. I won’t have any way to know if I am getting closer, circling around the edges or even if I’m smack in the middle of the place – unless there is a sign, an indicator which tells me where I am.

That’s what our emotions do for us. They indicate our mood and tell us what we need. Anger, resentment, and frustration deserve every bit as much awareness, acknowledgment, and respect as happy and content.

Knowing what these indicators help us to use safe, healthy, effective strategies. Sometimes there’s nothing to be done except acknowledge and support. There are most definitely times that the best we and those who love us can do is to simply breathe together. To know that it is okay to feel the way that we do. For as long as we need to. It’s okay, we’ll take steps when we’re ready. And our emotions will indicate that to us as well.

Human beings are amazingly intricate, fabulously multi-faceted beings. As such we are capable of an incredible range of emotions. I encourage you to close your eyes for a moment and really notice what you are feeling. Let go of any judgment, simply notice… acknowledge and know that whatever you are feeling is a sign-post for you.

Namaste,
Sandy