Q&A series: How do I explain to my Children?

Helping Children Grieve – Children and teens of all ages feel the loss of someone important in their lives. See how you can model handling grief and provide age-appropriate activities designed to help you communicate. Take back the time you have with your children. Most of these ideas are tech-free. Easy and inexpensive, they will bring healing to the whole family. 

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If someone significant in your child’s life dies, it is important to realize that children grieve differently than adults. How we help them depends, in large part, on the age of the child. It might be a parent or grandparent loss, another family member or even the death of a friend or classmate. No matter how young or how old a child or teenager is, the loss will be felt, and there are ways to help.

Tell your child what he or she can understand. Honesty is the best policy here because often classmates or adults will mention something within a child’s hearing that is shocking news. Babies and toddlers may just need extra hugs, for while they will miss the person who died, they are too young to understand what death means. Children do not need explicit details or lengthy conversations. This article, “10 Questions Children Ask about Death and Dying” may help you prepare.

The news is best given by the person who is closest to the child. Calm explanations for a loved one’s absence may need to be repeated at different times, always with reassurances that the child is loved and will be taken care of. Hugs and continuing support for all ages will help, but some older children or teens may prefer to talk to friends, write in a journal or connect with other kids going through the same emotions. (See Kidsaid link below.) Give your child time, and let them know you are there whenever you are needed.

Modeling ways to handle grief yourself can go far in teaching children and teens that it is okay to cry, okay to play, okay to take care of self. Follow these suggestions yourself. Find support, and make sure you have private time when you need it. It’s fine to let activities continue if your child wants to participate. If you need more time before resuming your normal routine, ask a trusted friend for help in getting your child to school, birthday parties or sports activities.

You and your family can get through this time of grief and mourning. Your life has changed with the loss of someone dear to you, but you will become stronger as time goes on. You will be able to face the challenges ahead.

Here are a few resources:
The Dougy Center (The National Center for Grieving Children and Families)
www.dougycenter.org

Childmind (Coping with a Parent’s Suicide; also teacher and Spanish resources)
www.childmind.org

​Kidsaid.com (from GriefNet.org and a place where kids can get support and interact with each other)
http://www.kidsaid.com/index.html

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

Sometimes We Need to Sit in the Mud

A very wise woman I know very gently reminds others, ‘Sometimes you just need to spend time sitting in the mud’.

And I believe she’s absolutely right.

When you have a heart that is grieving, you may not even realize how very exhausted you are at the end of each day… or even right after waking. Grief is very hard work!

Time out matters.

While we often think that we need to get things done, even having a to-do list, a very important part of healing a grieving heart is allowing time and opportunity to simply be in the now. To truly feeeeeeeel all of those emotions at whatever level they are in the moment.

Release judgment. There is no right or wrong to your feelings. They simply are a measurement, an indicator of where you are right now.

What might this look like? It could mean a day curled up in bed for some. Perhaps listening to music, sleeping, crying or reminiscing. It might be time spent on the couch watching shows or movies that take us back to cherished time spent with the one we are missing. Perhaps a nice warm bath nourishing your body.

Find what works for you. This is not about movement or work; this is about feeling and allowing your heart to express itself.

And here’s a little secret for you. While this may feel as though you are doing nothing at all, you are in fact accomplishing quite a lot. It’s important to fully feel and acknowledge all feelings in order for them to begin healing.

Spend some time sitting in the mud. As you rest your body, your heart and your soul be assured that healing is happening deep within. This is a very important part of the healing journey.

Namaste,
Sandy

When we Grieve a Pet

Are you a pet lover? If you’ve ever considered a horse, guinea pig, dog, cat or any animal your friend or even family then you well understand the special bond and steadfast love that exists between you and this amazing being.

So why is it that so many are surprised at the grief that sets in when we have to say good-bye?

I hear those who are grieving say things like ‘I understand she was just a dog.’ and it’s often followed with tearful, loving honesty ‘She knew me, she was my best friend.’ And there it is, that loving bond that can be so hard to explain if you are not someone who has ever been close to a beloved pet.

It’s alright if you don’t understand that bond, that absolute unconditional love that people talk about when they go on and on about these companions that are so much more than pets. Maybe you’re not an animal person, that’s alright.

What I ask, is that we remember love comes in all sorts of shapes and forms. It may not be something that we understand or it might be completely clear to us. Grief is the result of someone or something that is cherished ending. Perhaps that companion had to be re-homed, or it may be that they died. Regardless, there has been a parting and it just plain hurts.

Recently, I’ve known a few people who had to say good-bye to their four-legged family members. I will tell you without a doubt, that there was heartbreak in their voices and love in their eyes as they talked about how they will miss their friends.

If you are grieving a pet, please know that your heart deserves the same support and kindness that should accompany any loss. If you care about someone who has had to say good-bye to one of these special relationships, please be gentle and patient. Let the person you care about talk about their pet, show you pictures, and yes, let them cry. Be there for them because it matters.

Namaste,
Sandy

Q&A What about guilt and blame?

It doesn’t matter how the news comes or exactly how a loved one died, questions surrounding guilt and blame can creep into a survivor’s mind, sometimes returning again and again.

Did I cause this to happen? Could I have prevented it? What would have made a difference?

It is human nature to look for reasons, cause and effect, and others to blame. Even when we know why (automobile accident, cancer, heart disease), our thoughts can tumble toward guilt or blame aimed directly at ourselves or others … and away from the harsh reality of the loss itself.

When the “why” question is not as clear, as in traumatic loss to suicide, these feelings can be magnified, yet there are things we can do to understand why we feel this way and how we can calm these thoughts.

Find support. Get professional help. Remember that you did not have complete control.

We are only human. Trying to help a loved one through extreme challenges is not something love alone can manage. Even mental health experts are blindsided at times and cannot predict suicide with reliability.

Perhaps you had no idea that your loved one was struggling. Connect with others who share similar experiences. People who are further along on this journey will have valuable insights to share. They will listen without tiring.

Every day, millions of people remember precious loved ones they have lost this way. Don’t let the undeserved stigma that sometimes surrounds suicide keep you in isolation.

You are not alone.

Jan’s “Battling Guilt and Regret fact sheet” includes definitions, resources, actionable steps and journal prompts to help you deal with these issues. For even more resources, visit Way For Hope – Resources

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

Reiki and Healing Grief

I’m grateful to say Reiki has been a part of my life for a very long time.

I’ve called upon Reiki for day to day stress relief, for myself and others. Reiki has been there when my dog began having strokes as a young boxer of only 4 years old. I felt the energy radiate and I was able to watch him come back in a way that still leaves me amazed. And of course, I’ve been privileged to work with clients to release and heal.

This healing energy is often considered an alternative modality. But I will tell you quite frankly, for me, I call on Reiki first. Because it can never harm, I trust Reiki to support me through headaches, worries or injuries. And that’s just what it does.

If you are unfamiliar with Reiki, let me tell you a bit about what a session will be like when we work together. If you are receiving the session in person, you will likely lie down on a massage table. Wear comfortable clothing because you are fully clothed at all times.  There will be relaxing music playing, at the level you prefer. Your job is to simply close your eyes and relax. While you are laying on the table, I will spend the next 60 minutes moving around you. If I have your permission to touch you, I will gently lay my hands on you. If you prefer not to be touched, be assured the energy flows just as well. In that case, I would simply hold my hands above your body. We generally touch because humans crave the touch of other humans, but this is very individual. At the end of the hour, I will gently call you back to full wakefulness. You can share your thoughts and feelings if you like, but it is not necessary. This is entirely up to you.

Reiki has also been something that has played a strong role in healing grief for me and others. I will always be grateful to the Reiki practitioner who worked with me when my son died and also so grateful that I could send this energy myself. This gentle energy has helped to release pent up stress, worry, emotions that seemed blocked. After a Reiki session, it just seems that everything flows more easily.

It’s important to remember, that Reiki supports us to release what no longer serves us and to heal in whatever way we are ready for in that moment. There have been times when someone has got up from my Reiki table and poured out their heart, often surprising themselves. Be assured, anything shared is completely confidential. This is cleansing, healing and completely natural.

Other times, they might feel a deepening calm or peace. Really, it’s about what is right for the person receiving the energy. Reiki. I encourage you to consider adding this gentle treatment to your self-care regimen.

Namaste,
Sandy

You CAN Learn Resilience

Resilience. A noun which means to recover from change, adversity or challenge. Buoyancy.

When we are grieving, it can sometimes feel as though there is no way forward. That this new reality has taken all of the air right out of us and left us flattened. That’s entirely fair, I get it.

Some are hardwired to go through the toughest times with what seems an innate ability to see a broader picture, to know that while they are broken, they will rise again. For others, that wiring seems quite different and the picture that they see is bleak and gray. This doesn’t mean that the pain or grief is any less for one group than the other, simply that they grieve and heal in their own way. One is more naturally resilient and the other will be well served by learning resilience.

Yes, resilience can be learned, it can be built within you. Just like most things on this journey through grief, into healing, it is one step at a time. None of the things below happen all at once, but knowing that you are taking steps toward healing is helpful. It matters.

– Surround yourself with a circle of support. Deliberately notice those who are able to support you with love and kindness. Become aware of those who leave you feeling better and those who leave you feeling worse when they leave. Choose to spend time with those who are there when you need them and leave you feeling better when you part. This is a very important step in self care.

– Make the daily, deliberate choice that you will rebuild your life. Yes, you are indeed forever changed. Accept that fact. (I know it’s not easy) Accept also, that change can be growth. The new you can and will be a person of increased compassion and kindness if you choose.

– Notice your thoughts and your words. Please don’t be judgmental of yourself, simply be aware. So often one who is grieving will tell themselves ‘I will never get over this.’ ‘My life is over now.’  or other statements of the like. When you hear yourself saying something along these lines, simply notice. And consider shifting the language or at least considering the possibility that those lines may be untrue. For instance, ‘I will never get over this.’ may be shifted to ‘I’m healing a bit at a time. I got through this morning’. Give yourself credit for doing a good job, it will help you to see that you are doing this, you are taking the steps toward healing.

– Find a purpose for your life. This may mean stepping further into something that has always been important to you or it may mean spending some time listening to your heart and discerning what is most meaningful to you now. Often, someone who has lost someone to a specific disease will spend time and energy supporting research efforts to eradicate the disease. Or someone who suffered severe financial reversals or even homelessness takes the time and energy to reach out to others who are going through a similar experience.

There are many other suggestions and I will certainly be writing more about this in the future.

The point is this, when we change our thoughts, our words and our actions, even the smallest bit, we change the way our life unfolds. We begin to build strength and resilience. We may not bounce back, but we will find our way back to life in a new way. One step at a time.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

Question and Answer series: What do I say?

Way for Hope is beginning a question and answer series of blog posts tackling some of the most immediate issues people face in the early days after suicide or other traumatic loss. Each person’s experience may be different. Even within a family, grief could affect members in unique ways. But most find comfort in knowing others have faced similar emotions and practical problems. You are not alone.

​First Question: What do I say?

When families and friends must be contacted, you might wonder what to say. In some places, suicide has a lingering stigma attached that is undeserved. Historically, some people have feared mental illness or unusual behavior. Today, we know that the human brain is like other organs of the body, susceptible to disease, imbalance, and the effects of stress, medications, alcohol and other drugs. The paths that lead a person to suicide are complex and not completely understood even by professionals.

Maybe you have never known someone who ended his own life. Maybe others will not understand. Try to focus on your own self-care during this time and, if you have children, on theirs. Depending on the children’s ages, give only what information you think they can understand, but answer as honestly as you can. Let teachers know what your child is going through when they return to school. Here is a page from the Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors that provides other suggestions.

It is likely you will be in shock yourself, whether you knew your loved one was struggling or not, so you may not feel like going into detail. You have a right to privacy and to do what you need to when you need to do it. A simple “I don’t feel like talking about this right now” should stop questions and speculation. On the other hand, if people want to help with errands, calls, or chores, let them.

One of the best suggestions I received was to prepare a sentence or two about the situation that can be used any time. I said something like “My husband fought valiantly against depression for a number of years until he was unable to do so anymore and ended his life.” No matter what your situation, you can speak of the love you have for the one you lost, how special he or she was, and how much this loss hurts.

 

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.

Welcome, Fall!

Seasons change. For those who have lost someone they love very much, the changing color of the leaves, once thought so beautiful, may bring additional pain. It is as if the very earth is calling to attention the fact that what once was shared can become a painful reminder of how very deeply loss touches us. The tides of life roll in and out as they beat upon the shores of our hearts. Time won’t wait. However, one of the gifts of grief is that we do have time. Time to draw apart and heal. Time to regain a bit of our footing. Our grief legs. Should we welcome the Autumn season and those that follow?

I think so. If nothing changed, we might remain in the darkest part of grief forever. If nothing pushed us forward, would we go? Life calls and, though we should be tender with ourselves in early days, we are alive and ultimately – for most of us – we want to answer.

What pushes (or leads) us forward? Many times, it is others who understand, whether they have lost loved ones or not. Sometimes, it is our children. Counselors and other professionals, caring friends, grief coaches, those who write about healing or share research and resources.

I hear you. You’re saying now, “But how can I possibly go on with this giant hole in my heart? How can I live without this one who is gone from me? How could I ever be happy again?” I hear you. I do. I was you. My world was torn apart, destroyed. Over. “Then how?’

It comes in the form of connection with other people. A hand reaching out. A hug (even a virtual one). A look or comment that shows someone else cares, that someone else has been there and has survived. A peek into the lives of fellow survivors who light candles on Sundays, who lean into their faith, who give up, fall down again and again before standing upright.

It comes on wings. In the shape of butterflies and dragon flies. In a heart-shaped cloud or rock just when you need it. In a song. In dreams.

It comes in belief when there is none left, in putting one foot in front of the other. In children’s smiles and dirty dishes on the table. In countless other ways, that hole in your heart becomes part of you, not all of you. You become stronger.

​And, while you still remember and long for the one you lost, you count all of the colors of the year until you welcome Fall.

Do Your Best and let that be Enough

We hear about self care, and most of us really would like to take good care of ourselves. Having said that, when we are overwhelmed with grief, we are often quick to be harsh and judgmental about ourselves. Both in our words and our thoughts.

What I would like to suggest is that we take a step back and look at the situation as though the situation was about someone else.

Would we be critical of a man who was unshaven and had stains on his shirt if we knew that he had just lost his wife?

Would we speak harshly to the woman who didn’t use her turn signal if we had a way of knowing that she had just been fired from a job that she desperately needs?

Would we be short-tempered and unkind to the child who is unfocused and belligerent, if we knew that they were being bullied and were afraid to go to school?

Or would we instead offer a bit of empathy, compassion and understanding?

Is there any reason at all, why you are not deserving of that same tender consideration?

That my friends is where self-care begins. By offering ourselves the grace and kindness that we would offer to a loved one or a stranger. Because when life happens, we do the best we can. It may not be perfect, but it is perfectly human.

I encourage you to face a mirror for this next step. Looking at the person who is looking back at you, consider your own situation in this very moment. I ask you to notice all that you are dealing with right now. Perhaps insomnia is your nightly companion, overwhelm, concern about finances or other family members. Put it all in.

Take a nice looooooong, deeeeeeep breath. And looking at that person in the mirror, send him or her as much love and compassion as you would that child who is filled with fear. In fact, looking deep into those eyes looking back at you, see the small child inside who longs for reassurance and a kind word.

Allow yourself to feel that love on the deepest levels possible. And it’s okay if you tear up. It’s a very natural, normal and human reaction to having your innermost thoughts, hopes, fears and emotions witnessed. Keep sending that love.

Allow that feeling of warmth and caring to wrap itself around you like a warm blanket. You are loved. You always have been loved. And you always will be.

This is the perfect time to call to mind some of the blessings in your life. Big or small, they all matter.

Some things to consider, do you have a safe place to live? Do you have a companion, animal or human that makes your heart melt? Do the squirrels scampering about outdoors make you smile? What comes to mind for you?

The good things in our lives, and that is truly anything that is going right, are the things I encourage you to focus on and offer deep gratitude. It’s like a balm to the soul. Frankly, if we are able to come up with something, almost anything for which we are truly grateful, our mood lifts and we find it easier to be kind to that person in the mirror.

Please remember, you really are not intended to be perfect. On the other hand, being your authentic self is perfectly human and more than enough.

Namaste,
Sandy

Vulnerability and Healing Grief

Several years ago I was part of a business networking group that met regularly. I enjoyed it tremendously and looked forward to these gatherings as they were productive and the people there genuinely cared about one another.

After my son died, something changed. It seemed that I had become invisible. If someone asked a question pertaining to a service I offered, someone else would respond. Not always the same person, but it was as if I wasn’t there at all.

This happened a few times and I really didn’t know what was happening. I spent only a very short time feeling hurt, that emotion very quickly morphed into anger. I got up a pretty good steam of irritation and asked someone in the group who was also a longtime friend if we could talk.

When I explained what I was feeling she understood as she was entirely aware of the situation. It turns out she was much more aware than I.

She quite patiently explained to me that she had noticed whenever someone would generally ask how I was, I would change the subject, turn the question right around and make it about the other person. The more specific any concern about my emotional well-being became, the more certain I was to shut it down, redirect or downplay my grief. The result was that these people I cared about and who I knew cared about me, learned not to engage me. I was pushing them away – with both hands.

As she gently shared these experiences with me, reminding me of specific conversations, I had to acknowledge that she was entirely correct. By deflecting or avoiding I was not in any way softening or healing my own pain. In fact, I was actually adding to my own suffering and hurting others at the same time. This was of course, unacceptable.

I had to really think about this and if I wanted to change things, it was entirely up to me. And fortunately I had this brave, honest friend by my side. I’ve always had a very difficult time allowing others to see my hurts. Irritation or anger was much easier for me to acknowledge and process, but hurt? Oh my, the vulnerability that brought with it.

Here’s the thing, when I lost my son to suicide, I didn’t have a choice. The pain was deeper than anything I had ever experienced. n order to receive the support that I so desperately yearned for, in fact needed, I had to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that pain. Not just to myself, but to others. I had to learn to trust people I cared about to see me when I was not stoic. Deep breath time. If I wanted to keep people I cared about in my life, I needed to allow them to care about me in return.

I realized in a whole new way what incredible strength it takes to allow others to see your vulnerability. To trust that they will be gentle with a broken heart. That they will see tears as shining symbols of love rather than weakness and that they would honor that love. To trust that they wouldn’t turn away from me (as I feared waaaaaay deep inside) but would rather turn in for a hug, offer a hand in support or simply be there. Just be there.

For me, trusting others to be supportive and loving and accepting that true caring was much more difficult that offering compassion and support to others.

It’s perfectly alright to be discerning about selecting what you are ready to share and with whom. Monitor those healthy boundaries and trust your intuition. It’s not healthy to share with everyone, but it’s also not helpful or healthy to hold everything inside. Pain needs to be expressed in safe, healthy ways in order to subside.

By the way, I am deeply grateful to my gentle friend. She was entirely right and knowing this allowed me to make some changes. No, I didn’t begin to pour my heart out to everyone, but I realized I was not without power in these situations. Deciding how I would respond helped me tremendously and I was able to rebuild relationships.

I have the greatest respect for those who bravely share their heart, whether it is filled with joy or pain. They are the way-showers.

Namaste,
Sandy