Back in 2011 a user on the website Reddit asked for some advice on grief. One man's response just might be the best description of what life after grief is like. Here was his moving advice:
“Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.
As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves.
When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”
via Jennifer Scott
Caregivers are those who look after the personal welfare and needs of seniors who can’t take care of themselves. A caregiver is usually a volunteering relative or someone hired for the task, and it’s a job function that becomes more important day by day. After a certain age, it can become near impossible for a senior to maintain their daily routines or lifestyles.
Many married seniors have spent a lifetime together in one home, accumulating lots of possessions and assuming things will never change; however, change and death are inescapable parts of life. The death of a spouse can be earth-shattering for a senior, and the need to downsize and part with a lifetime’s worth of possessions can be just as traumatizing.
These sudden life changes can be too much for a senior to deal with. After the death of a spouse, a senior can experience depression and withdraw from reality or lose purpose in life. Accepting the need to downsize can make a senior can feel like they are losing their identity and everything they value. For caregivers, this creates a great challenge in finding ways to help the senior through such dramatic life changes with dignity.
Make the Senior a Part of the Process
If given the choice, most seniors wouldn’t want to downsize. After the loss of a spouse, the subject of downsizing might make a senior feel isolated or that decisions are being made without their input. As their caregiver, it’s important for you to stress to them the need to downsize. Ask their permission to downsize but also be persuasive. As HomeAdvisor suggests, “Having fewer financial- and maintenance-related responsibilities will allow you to focus more on your happiness and less on your home.” It’s a tough pitch, but with a little encouragement you can help them make the decision.
Seniors become very attached to possessions. But as with explaining the need to downsize a home, it’s equally important to downsize their possessions. Explain the issues of no longer being able to maintain their current house and possessions, but suggest ways to make it feel less upsetting. Encourage your senior charge to think of loved ones who would benefit or enjoy certain keepsakes or treasures. Then you can help them make a list of things to keep, to sell and to give away.
Selling or auctioning items is one way to boost your seniors cash flow, so underscore the benefits of this. Charitable giving is another way to give them peace of mind, as donating unwanted items to those in need can provide feelings of usefulness. Make sure that you personally tend to jewelry, heirlooms and sentimental items connected to the lost spouse. Knowing that a trusted friend is helping with these treasures that connect them to their past can help ease anxiety about an uncertain future. It’s helpful to remind your senior of the benefits of making these changes as you help them plan their future. Explain that they are parting with old items to make room for a new chapter in their life.
Hire Senior-Friendly Movers
Some seniors don’t have enough family, friends or time to sell a house, downsize possessions and move into a smaller home. Moving companies that specialize in sympathetically downsizing seniors is a growing industry, so consider hiring a professional. Headed by “senior move managers,” such movers can start the downsizing process quickly and efficiently. These companies can help with item sorting, selling, donating and packing. They can photograph item arrangements in the home to be sold and recreate the arrangement as close as possible in the new home. Also, they will patiently listen to seniors talk about items and pack according to their directions.
Some seniors can’t afford such services. In that case, make sure that you begin the downsizing process two months or more before the scheduled move -- you can’t downsize a home and life in a single weekend.
Take Care of Yourself
As a caregiver, it’s important to remember your own well-being. Guard yourself against depression or feelings of guilt. Even though your senior charge is managing a swirl of emotions, you are just as liable to feel them, too. Take the time to practice self-care as much as possible. Even if it’s little things like stopping to read a book or go for a walk. It’s harder to care for others when you are having trouble taking care of yourself.
It can be tough, helping a senior transition from the pain of spousal loss into the uncertain future of independence. But with careful planning, encouragement, and the help of professionals, you can make these changes easier for your senior, and more manageable for you as a caregiver.
Jennifer Scott shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at SpiritFinder.
via Jennifer Scott
Between sold-out gifts and awkward family gatherings, the holiday season can be anything but holly and jolly. While you can’t do anything about the latest greatest gadget flying off the shelves, you can take steps to ensure your Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t turn into an anxiety attack.
While family drama isn’t exclusive to the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter tend to bring the black sheep and white elephants out of the shadows. If you’re feeling stressed about the prospect of supping with your stress-inducing extended family, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association reports that more than 60% of people report stress throughout the holiday season; much of this stems from conflict and discomfort due to being in close proximity with relatives who may not always get along. If going your separate way this holiday isn’t an option, you’ll need to learn a few anxiety abating self-care tactics to get you through from dinner to dessert.
Let’s face it, life is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma likely won’t be standing there with her gray hair in a bun, an apron around her waist, and a smile on her face with her adoring children and grandchildren decked out in their holiday best waiting to say grace. A more likely scenario includes screaming kids, burnt cookies, and at least one overly-sensitive cousin complaining that the bird wasn’t ethically sourced from an organic and cruelty-free farm. We tend to stress over holidays because we expect perfection. Once we learn to check these preconceived notions at the door, we can accept that things don’t have to be picture-perfect in order to enjoy time spent with those we love.
Material girls (and boys)
It seems the holidays have become more about displaying wealth than showing displays of affection. Something as simple as opening gifts on Christmas morning can become an all-out battle as brothers and sisters and cousins boast and brag over who got to open the most expensive package. This can cause meltdowns between kids and parents. If you’re hosting a holiday, lay out some ground rules for gift giving. Set a dollar amount for the adults and request that Santa’s spread remain modest. Explain that anyone unwilling to stick to your guidelines is welcome at family dinner but may prefer to spend the rest of their visit bunking at a hotel or VRBO rental. Even the National Communication Association puts deemphasizing materialism at the top of its family stress avoidance tactics list.
For the millions of Americans starting their journey toward sobriety, holiday gatherings are difficult. On one hand, everyone else is having a glass of wine; on the other, one drink is strong enough to unsettle the wagon. If you’re looking to celebrate sober this year, chances are, your family and friends will applaud you for your decision. There will be, however, those who aren’t aware of your circumstances or believe that it’s easy to partake without overindulging. Have a game plan in place for how you’ll react to inquiries regarding your reluctance to share in that aspect of the celebration. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to respond lightheartedly. You can be honest that you’re in recovery or simply explain that you have other obligations and need a clear head.
No matter your source of stress this holiday season, don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands by implementing a few preemptive stress-busting strategies. Set boundaries along and realistic expectations and focus on the reason for the season. Most importantly, take care of yourself. You owe no one an explanation of your actions. And, if you decide to simply forgo any aspect of the festivities, there is no reason to feel guilty for your decision.
Image via Pixabay
Jennifer Scott shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at SpiritFinder.
Going to a funeral for the first time can be a bit daunting. This is one time when you definitely want to get things right!
- The most important thing is to show up.
- Find out the dress code.
- Give a gift and a card.
- Sign the register.
- Don't be afraid to laugh.
- Don't be afraid to view the body if there is an open casket.
- Bring the children, but don't let them be a disturbance.
- Turn your cell phone off! There is perhaps nothing worse than having your phone ring
during a funeral.
- Don't skip the receiving line.
Worried about what to say? Lots of people feel like they don't know what to say or how to support someone going through a crisis. We've made a free video called Beyond Cliches & Platitudes to help!
After The Funeral
A lot of people get support immediately after a funeral, the divorce or the disaster. But great support is what happens in the weeks, months, and even years afterward. Here's a few tips about what to offer help with after a funeral to spur your creativity. Let the relationship, their needs and your skill set be your guide.
- Help with writing the obituary or thank you notes
- Go grocery shopping
- Run errands
- House cleaning & repairs
- Yard upkeep
- Driving kids to school or activities
- Offer to take the kids out to a movie
- Offer to walk the pet
- Help sort through the deceased belongings
- Help decorate for the holidays
- ANSWER the phone when they call
"Love yourself first and everything else falls into line."
As the co-founder of a successful retreat company in Sedona, Arizona, phrases like that were once part of my stock-in-trade. Like almost everyone else in the industry, I saw self-love as a panacea for virtually every modern ill from domestic violence to suicide, and felt certain I was on solid ground in doing so. After all, self-love is a staple of the $15 billion self-help industry in the United States; it's been touted by psychologists and educators as essential to personal well-being and professional success for more than 100 years; and my own life in Sedona seemed to confirm it.
Our clients wrote glowing reviews about how they had been working on their issues for years, and this retreat had finally been the big breakthrough they had always hoped for. Despite those reviews, I couldn’t help but notice that quite a few clients came back two or three times over the years, sometimes in worse shape emotionally than they had been in originally.
The magic bullet of self-love had not slain their demons after all. Mostly I think they were just lonely people who wanted someone to listen and care, and that’s what the retreat had really provided that felt so good. Unfortunately they had nowhere else to go but back where they came from, and that world was just as self-absorbed and uncaring as it had been when they left.
Is It New Age Or Old School?
Everyone knows the story of Narcissus, the handsome hunter from Greek mythology, who saw his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it, only to commit suicide when he realized this love could never be reciprocated. It was from this legend that Paul Näche coined the term narcissism in 1899, which the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka DSM-5, the primary reference source used by the American Psychiatric Association) now defines as a potential personality disorder, one of many that’s currently on the rise.
It turns out that Sedona, perhaps the capital of self-love, is no stranger to suicide. After a string of highly publicized suicides in Oak Creek Canyon, authorities finally erected a fence across Midgley Bridge in 2016 in an attempt to stem the tide of jumpers. It was the suicides that first caused me ask, if psychologists are promoting self-love as the ultimate path to wellness, while simultaneously labeling it a disorder, what's really going on?
The Rise of Self-Help.
The debate between those who think love is something we give ourselves and those who think love is something we give others has actually been going on for a very long time. If there's anything new about our time it's that self-love seems to be winning on a global scale. Advocates insist this is because it's a superior philosophy. Critics say it's simply the mantra of Western capitalism, a modern New Age "religion" that's devouring the planet with materialism, as 7.5 billion people strive individually to be all they can be. Self-love has now become the dominant paradigm.
The teachings of Phineas Quimby (1802–66), along with Helena Blavatsky’s book The Secret Doctrine (1888). and her published journal Lucifer, are credited with launching the modern New Age movement.
Whether it was self-love or just self-absorption, the modern self-help industry as we know it began to develop right after World War II. We had just been though the horrors of a global war, millions had sacrificed their lives, the atomic bomb had been invented and we were feeling a little stressed by it all. What the world really wanted was a good self-help book.
Throughout the 50's, 60's and 70’s a string of psychologists like Eric Fromm and Abraham Maslow came along to fill that need. They proposed a re-evaluation of self-love in a positive light, arguing that it can be seen as different from being vain or narcissistic, meaning instead to care about oneself and take responsibility for oneself.
In the 90's the Internet exploded, and in the virtual world of selfies and social media that emerged, self-love was truly free to bloom with no restrictions. Gordon Gekko told us greed is good in the 1987 film Wall Street, and Rhonda Bryne gave us The Secret to manifesting anything we want in 2006.
The Real Question: Has It Worked?
Perhaps it’s time to ask what the result of all this self-love and positive thinking has been. How much improvement have we gotten for $15 billion a year? The best place to answer that question might be right here in the United States, where self-love has been promoted more vigorously than anywhere else. It’s the wealthiest and most powerful country on Earth, but the U.S. ranks pretty low on the list of happiest countries.
Stepping back from self-love for a moment into self-awareness, what we find is a nationwide opioid epidemic; the percentage of Americans using prescription anti-depressants has increased 100% and the suicide rate has increased by 24% since the 1999; and mass shootings have become a common occurrence.
The base emotional state these days seems to be one of loneliness, depression and anxiety, which in turn fuels a massive self-help industry heavily invested in promoting self-love. But what if self-love is like a heroin addiction: it feels good in the beginning, but it's really just more of the same medicine that's making us sick and isolated? What if we’ve become self-help junkies addicted to love; and the unrequited self-love of Narcissus is the only love we can get?
It All Depends On The Definition of Love.
Dr. Sue Johnson, author of the best-selling book Hold Me Tight, has suggested the ability to bond by sacrificing our own self-interest (even to the point of death) has been so essential to our evolutionary development, both as a species and as individuals, that we gave it a special word: LOVE.
From this perspective the real definition of love might be: “An attribute humans appear to possess in greater measure than any other species, which is the ability to give the deepest part of ourselves to another in a completely selfless way for the purpose of mutual support and emotional bonding."
In his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Buddhist philosopher Chögyam Trungpa notes that self-absorption is a well-known hazard for seekers: “This is the typical distortion of the Hinayana practice of self-contained meditation, self-enlightenment, and it is in some sense a form of aggression. There is no element of compassion and openness because one is so focused on one’s own experience."
It's true. Self-love can be a form of aggression. Its strongest advocates will tend to be completely unavailable when a crisis hits. Why? Because they don't want anything to disturb their quest for inner peace and total fulfillment, and therein lies the rub.
At some point almost all of us are going to run headlong into an overwhelming crisis, a moment in time when we are emotionally or physically unable to take care of ourselves. If everyone turns away at that moment, all the self-love in the world simply won’t be enough. Our real village consists of the people who are there during the most difficult times. The more we focus on self, the less resilient we are as a village. It’s never been more important to choose our friends wisely than it is in a self-absorbed culture that’s obsessed with status, money and power.
13 Reasons Why Self-love Is Failing.
The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s bestselling novel from 2007, provides a powerful look at the modern culture we’ve created and its consequences. Speaking in a voice from beyond the grave the central character, Hannah Baker, tells the story of her life as a bullied and abused high school sophomore, a life that tragically ends in betrayal, shame, rape and suicide.
One of the most poignant moments of the series comes at the beginning of Episode 7, when Hannah is describing her social isolation, "Humans are a social species. We rely on connections to survive. Even the most basic interactions help keep us alive. Statistics prove the subjective feeling of loneliness can increase the likelihood of premature death by 26%. If it sounds like I'm quoting from school textbook, I am. Too bad nobody bothered to read it."
Hannah’s voice refutes the story her self-absorbed abusers would like to tell: that she was just a troubled teen desperately seeking attention. 13 Reasons Why asks the question “Who killed Hannah Baker?” and comes to the conclusion that we all did.
Self-love advocate Elizabeth Bishop recently came to a radically different conclusion when she wrote:
“Suicide. Could there be a grander demonstration of self-destruction? I have
been personally impacted by suicide when we lost my nephew just over a
decade ago. I can recall thinking at one point, “If only he knew how much
he was loved.” And I realized that he probably did know it, but couldn’t feel it
or receive that love because he did not love himself. He had not developed
the capacity for self-compassion ― the very antidote that could have eased
his depression and suffering.”
But what if it wasn't the nephew's inability to receive love? What if it was the way our culture shames sorrow and trauma, by telling those who experience them that it's their fault? In this case we don't get to hear her nephew explaining in his own voice why he did it, but what if he didn't know how much he was loved?
Some psychologists (and lots of educators) have criticized 13 Reasons Why, claiming that it normalizes suicide, causing more teens to take their own lives. Putting aside the idea that everything should be openly discussed, opponents of the show apparently believe that a young person who has never been abused or bullied is going to kill themselves, as though a TV show about the culture is the problem, not the culture itself. The fact of the matter is that suicide is at record levels across all age groups, so maybe we should be talking about those underlying causes and exposing the connections.
What's easy enough to imagine is someone like Bishop working as the school counselor, when a student like Hannah Baker comes in to talk on the last day of her life. For those of us who believe compassion is something we’re supposed to give others, it’s also terrifying. Clearly Bishop would blame Hannah for the suicide. One has to suppose she would blame her for the rape as well, because there are no victims, right?
But what if suicides like Hannah's are just the inevitable consequence of living on a dying planet, in a culture unraveling from its obsession with materialism, and everyone around them being focused on self-love? If no one's willing to listen to her sorrows, how exactly is Hannah supposed to know she's loved?
13 Reasons Why ends with a dramatic plea from Clay, Hannah's would-be boyfriend and the story's other central character, "It has to get better. The way we treat each other, the way we look out for each other, somehow it has to get better."
The Airplane or the Raft?
Advocates of self-love like to use the airplane analogy as one of their intellectual proofs, because we all know that in the event of an emergency you have to place your own oxygen mask first before helping your child. Therefore we have to love ourselves first before helping others. I've even used the airplane analogy myself in the past.
But that analogy is about what's required to save both people, so it’s really a no-brainer. These days I think the true nature of love is better revealed by the life-raft analogy: the Titanic just sank and there's one small piece of debris floating in the water. It's just large enough one person. Now what?
Advocates of self-love might complain that this is an extreme scenario most people will never encounter, but I would suggest the life raft analogy is exactly where we are now as a species. The question before us at this very moment seems to be: "Are we willing to scale back on our quest for self-actualization, abundance and positive feelings in order take a more serious look at the problems and make room for future generations? Or do we forget about them and keep the party going?"
What About Religion?
"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection". This quote has been widely circulated on the Internet and attributed to Buddha, even though Buddhist scholars have completely debunked it, pointing out that Buddhism emphasizes loving kindness towards others, not towards self. In fact, virtually all of the world's major religions have made accommodations to self-love in the modern era, but it doesn't appear to have been part of them originally.
Christianity - Using "Love thy neighbor as thyself" as an endorsement of self-love requires us to ignore dozens of other verses that are far less ambiguous, such as Matthew 16:24, ""Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." In it's origins Christianity is all about loving others and self-sacrifice.
Buddhism - Asserts that self doesn't even exist (the concept of "Anatman" or no-self).
Hinduism - Asserts that the self does exist (the concept of "Atman") but the suffering that results from this (samsara "wandering") can eventually be overcome with sufficient lifetimes and a state of perpetual bliss (nirvana "extinguished") may be attained.
Islam - The word itself means "surrender," and it's primary doctrine is that the greatest struggle of our lives is the internal conflict between the egotistical self and the will of God.
Indigenous - Traditionally tribal people place a tremendous importance on the village and the group. In fact, that's exactly what they've struggled to preserve in the modern era, with varying degrees of success.
The (Quiet) Mindfulness Revolution.
It's completely accurate to say that self-love has become a catch all term for self-respect, self-awareness, self-discipline, self-care and self-acceptance. Those are all good things. There are no limits on how much self-awareness we should have. When advocates of self-love have to add "but not in a narcissistic kind of way," it's an explicit acknowledgement that there are strict limits to how far one should go down this path. Unfortunately something vital seems to have been lost in the translation when self (with no limits) was relabeled to SELF (with very strict limits).
After 20 years of meditation practice I’ve certainly learned how to deliberately put myself into a state of joyful bliss. Accomplished through a combination of breathing, visualization and gratitude, the ability to intentionally create an internal state of joy is a wonderful skill to have. That's especially true for caregivers, who must use their empathy to connect with clients, but protect themselves from being swamped by constant exposure to the suffering of others.
Wanting to “feel happy” is the reason most people seek out self-help books and New Age workshops in the first place, so it’s easy to think we’ve gotten everything we wanted --- and discovered the key to salvation --- when we first learn how to intentionally create that internal state of happiness. It’s also easy to become addicted to it, forgetting that mindfulness was always meant to bring an awareness of both joy and sorrow. In my experience people are often devastated when tragedy comes to call, their friends flee, and their house of self-love comes crashing down around them.
For that reason I believe a worsening social and environmental crisis will soon shift our focus once again to the unlimited versions of self instead, and the most respected teachers will be using powerful words like intentional joy and bliss, combined with consequence, humility, responsibility and sacrifice.
After many miles and many teachers I’ve come to believe that the mind does not exist solely for an awareness of itself. To be grateful for what serves us is the easy part. The middle path Buddha spoke of calls for an awareness of the relationship between self and all that exists. That’s the harder part of enlightenment, but the meditation on relationship is where compassion arises.
Perhaps Mother Teresa summed it up best when she said, “I can only love one person at a time - just one. So you begin. I began - I picked up one person. Maybe if I didn't pick up that one person, I wouldn't have picked up forty-two thousand.”
SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
The Grief & Trauma Resource Center is working to change all that, starting with two initiatives. The first is The Grief Network, a collection of private Facebook groups that provides a free online support group in your local community, moderated by those with more experience in how to find your way through the darkness -- the modern equivalent of village elders. It's the perfect place for sharing and inspiration, as well as arranging free therapeutic activities for members such as potluck dinners, hiking, gardening and book clubs with like-minded people who understand what you're going through. Members can also refer each other to grief-friendly businesses and services in their local community. Join today and help build the village you've been looking for.
Beyond Cliches & Platitudes: Emotional Intelligence For Grief & Trauma
Statistics show that at any given time about 75% of the population is going through some sort of personal tragedy, and ALL of us will eventually go through a crisis ourselves. That means whether we're aware of it or not, we all know someone right now who is experiencing grief, divorce or trauma. Yet most of us feel like we don't know how to help.
This two hour seminar is perfect for anyone who wants to "be there" and offer effective emotional support to a friend, family member client or co-worker in difficult times. It's designed to relegate worn out clichés and platitudes to the dustbin, replacing them with a powerful new set of tools. You'll learn the specifics of what to say (and what NOT to say) to the most important people in your life, at what may be the most critical moment of theirs. Upgrading your emotional communication skills is guaranteed to be life changing both personally and professionally. Click here to learn more.
#selflove #lovingyourself #selfhelp #suicide #sedonaaz #newagespirituality #psychologyofselflove #christianityandselflove #retreatsinsedona #buddhismandselflove #newage #13reasonswhy
A fair amount of the pain and suffering grieving people endure is not the result of poor choices they make, an inability to adjust, or some deep psychological defect within them; much of it is actually inflicted on them by the cultural norms of our time; beliefs that the griever and all those around them did not consciously choose; beliefs so deeply held they're never questioned or discussed. One of the most uniquely modern, inhuman and destructive myths afoot in the dominant culture of North America is the idea of private pain.
For a variety of reasons - all of them based in false cultural ideology - grieving people tend to either get isolated from their friends and family, or to isolate themselves. When it's the friends and family that pull back, it's because they live in a death-phobic culture that tries to enforce a constant regime of positive thinking. In such a society people fear being emotionally overwhelmed by a grieving person and often pull back pretty quickly. Likewise, when it's the griever who pulls back from social interaction, it's often because they don't want to burden others with their feelings of sadness.
If ever there was a myth that needed to be dispelled it's this one. Just as we want to share the good news that comes into our lives, there is also a deep-seated human need to share our tragedies. The price we pay for our heroic culture, for holding in our emotions and trying to deal with things on our own, is counted in a staggering toll of suicide, addiction, divorce, depression and physical illness. When confronted with this reality most Americans will acknowledge the facts, but then claim there's nothing that can be done about it.
The truth is we can do everything about it, and we can begin by understanding that grief is a place no one knows until they're in it, and when it eventually does arrive, almost everyone is taken by surprise at the obliteration of their social relationships. Even though grieving after the death of any particular loved one is not a certainty, just as recovering from grief when is does come is also not a certainty, no one is really immune because ultimately losses accumulate over time, and sooner or later the death of either a precious loved one or yourself will initiate you into the reality of grief. This is why the culture must change.
The next step is to realize that it hasn't always been this way, and it doesn't have to be this way now. For thousands of years, in villages all over the world, the ancient wisdom of tribal people contained an understanding that whenever anyone is crying there is an obligation for those around them to stop what they're doing and listen. Not an obligation to say anything or fix it, but an obligation to listen and hear about the pain. In such cultures there is no concept of private suffering. Your pain doesn't belong to just you alone, it belongs to the whole community.
The type of emotional support that was once abundant in the village is now scarce in the city, and that's where a Grief Support Group can provide a caring community to share your pain, as well as a framework for understanding the grieving process. Recovering from grief doesn't mean that you'll never have moments of sadness again, but it does mean that you'll be able to regain your enthusiasm for life within a context that includes the memory of your loved one. Grieving is actually a valuable life-skill, essential to our ability to feel both deep love and real joy, rather than a damaging emotion to be resisted and suppressed.
One of the greatest challenges of our time is to confront some of our cultural myths around death and grieving, and create a modern village of emotional support; a village that includes wise elders who have been made skillfully heartbroken by their losses, and thereby become reliable witnesses to the mystery of life.
The middle-aged woman sitting in front of me said, “What do I need this for? If you ask me grief sucks and I just want it to go away”. That’s a sentiment I’ve heard many times in one form or another.
My own long walk with grief began at the age of five, with the deaths of my maternal grandmother and grandfather less than a year apart. Even though I didn’t really understand what it was yet, I did have some concept that death was a normal occurrence, and something to be expected once we reached a certain age. Like most young children in that situation I was more curious about what was happening than anything else. My mother came from a large family and my grandmother was especially beloved, so the reaction of the adults and her odd appearance laying in open casket definitely made an impression.
That experience was followed by the sudden and unexpected deaths of my best friend in the second grade, then my first crush in the fifth grade. From that point on I knew what death was, and that it could happen to anyone at any age. I also knew what grief was and that it meant never being able to see someone again, no matter how much you might want to. Over the next 40 years there were more deaths and other types of endings like divorce. Grief kept showing up in my life, so many times there’s really no point in reciting the full history here, each one attended by a period of intense mourning. In my 50’s I began working with grieving people professionally, which has afforded me the opportunity to hear hundreds of heart-wrenching stories.
When you’ve lived with grief as a personal attribute as long as I have you begin to recognize its patterns, and one of the most important is that it comes in waves. The waves tend to get smaller and farther apart over time, but from that first experience on grief will always live inside of us, sometimes lying dormant for years, waiting for the next death or the right trigger to rise again. That might sound dismal many, but the fact of the matter is that most people I've encountered over the course of my life have perceived me as a pretty happy-go-lucky person, and I often seemed to get more satisfaction and from the simple things in life in life than others. My grief may have been profound, but so was my joy.
During periods when the grief would suddenly surface like a tsunami, my sorrow would often take people that didn't know me well by complete surprise. I was asked many times, “Why can’t you just let it go and move on”? Almost everybody says that. The answer is simple.
Do you remember what you had for lunch on the first day of first grade? Probably not. You let that go and moved on. Lunch didn’t make much of an impression on you. There probably wasn’t much emotional content. But you would remember it in detail if the school bully shoved your face in it, or the teacher humiliated you in front of the class and forced you to eat something you didn’t want. Then it would have enough emotional content to leave an impression. But let’s say you met the person who would become your best friend for life at that lunch table. In that case you might well remember where you met, but you probably wouldn’t remember what you ate. In this case it’s your friend that provides the emotional content and leaves an impression, not the food itself.
There are things that happen to us in life that, for better or worse, we will always remember. Those we love dearly and rely on leave very deep impressions. They become woven into the fabric of our lives and never disappear completely. The only way to “let it go and move on” would be to forget them as completely as you forgot that lunch in first grade. It’s not going to happen, and why would anyone ever want to?
Of course I tried. In fact I tried it all. Maybe you have too. For me that included everything from running away and numbing to religion and psychotherapy. I spent way too much money on all sorts of worthless alternative therapies that promised to “rewire” my brain for joy. I endured New Age “shamanic” ceremonies, sweat lodges, rebirthing and soul retrieval that were supposed to remove “the spirit of sadness” that had “attached” itself to me. But none of them were able to provide the cure they all promised, and most of it was just a waste of money.
What I didn’t realize in my 30’s was that the people pressuring me to move on either didn’t have any experience with tragedy, or they weren’t grieving simply because they were doing everything in their power not to feel it. Using the same strategies I had tried they were better at suppressing their first experience of grief as adults than I had been as a child, and so they were opting to postpone it for a later date instead. Avoiding grief is one of those things that always seems like a good idea in the beginning.
It was in my early 40’s that I finally accepted the fact that grief was going to have its way whenever it showed up. I finally had enough experience to recognize its patterns, and I started to focus on working with the process rather than thinking of it as an affliction that needed to be cured. It was only at that point that I began to see grief as a very special gift rather than a recurring affliction to be battled and vanquished. About the same time many of my peers began to be devastated by grief, as they too were initiated into the real world – not only through the deaths of parents, spouses and children, but also through other life-changing events like divorce and chronic pain or illness.
In my late 40’s and early 50’s people who had rejected my perspective on grief previously, suddenly became more interested as they began to be initiated into the world I had inhabited for so long. That’s when I started teaching meditation and facilitating retreats.
Throughout our entire history as a species grief has always been a communal experience. It really wasn't until the last 200 years or so that it was privatized. The best way to describe ancient village life is to say nothing belonged to you, not even your sorrow, and everything was freely shared. Urban life is the exact opposite. What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine, everything is owned and nothing is freely shared. That includes our sorrows. When we made that transition we didn’t eliminate the need to grieve, but the supporting cast -- the people with whom our grief would have formed lasting bonds though shared ritual and meaning – slowly drifted away. The tragic consequence has been an almost catastrophic isolation, not only in our periods of bereavement, but in the rest of our lives as well.
The inevitable result of individual ownership is that we’re forced to use code words to hide our fear and we end up speaking about death in terms of loss. More consequences accrue as a result. There’s overwhelming evidence that phobias always get bigger when the thing that’s feared is avoided, and one of the defining characteristics of modern American culture is its death phobia.
Are the dead really lost? Is that the best word to describe what’s really going on here? Do those who don’t think so get a voice in the matter? Go back to that concept of impression for a moment. Even an atheist can agree with the idea that loved ones live on in our memory, and that forgetting them is not only impossible, it’s not even desirable. To say that grief recurs is not to say that it cripples. Studies by clinical psychologists like George Bonanno at Columbia University (author of “The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss”) show that we’re much more resilient than the self-help books give us credit for. We’re actually designed to grieve. The real problem is we’ve forgotten how, which of course means we’ve also forgotten how at companion those who are grieving.
I’m now entering my 60’s, and looking back over the whole experience I’m now convinced the American approach to grief is all wrong. I’ve come to believe the more we use code words like lost to avoid talking about death, the more isolated our lives become and the more acute our suffering grows. We might think we sound compassionate when we say “I’m sorry for your loss. You’re in my thoughts and prayers”, but to a grieving person with more experience these are just code for “I don’t know what to say right now and I need to get as far away from here as possible”, so the reality for all grievers in the dominant culture of North America is that these two statements -- the two most common responses in the English language -- are quickly followed by abandonment and isolation. It’s the inevitable result of our phobia and the unfortunate consequence of our lack of emotional ineptitude when it comes to grief and trauma.
Having said what is wrong, let me now share what I believe the better approach might be. Let’s get rid of all the baloney. They didn’t pass away and they aren’t lost. They died. It’s ok to say that. It’s also ok to just acknowledge that you don’t know what to say. Emotional competence at such a moment sounds like this, “I know there’s nothing I can say that’s going to bring your loved one back, and I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, but I want to understand because I care about you. Cry whenever you need to and as much as you need to”.
Then we just have to follow through and show up. Mostly we’ll just be listening to them share their sorrow as they work through the emotions. It won’t be necessary to say much, but other important opportunities to help will appear and we should take them, because someday it will be our turn to receive.
#grief #bereavement #ptsd
Mark Divine is a former Navy Seal who now teaches meditation and resiliency to athletes. There is a bit of testosterone in the first few minutes because, well, he's teaching this to weight lifters. But once he gets into the meditation training notice how zen everyone gets. The key is in the exhale and allowing the stress drain out of your body.
"Don't give up in the dark. The sun is going to rise again". ~ Mark Divine
This talk by Dr. Richardson is about resilience and validating your emotions. "Listen to the strong emotions with discernment".
Look up the etymology of the word LOVE. There seems to be a lot of conversation about this particular word in the English language, so it's origins must be important. You might be surprised to learn where it comes from and how it's meaning has changed over time.
As a verb:
Old English lufian "to feel love for, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve," from Proto-Germanic *lubojan (source also of Old High German lubon, German lieben), a verb from the root of love (n.). Weakened sense of "like" attested by c. 1200. Intransitive sense "be in love, have a passionate attachment" is from mid-13c.
As a noun:
Old English lufu "feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God; Love as an abstraction or personification," from Proto-Germanic *lubo (source also of Old High German liubi "joy," German Liebe "love;" Old Norse, Old Frisian, Dutch lof; German Lob "praise;" Old Saxon liof, Old Frisian liaf, Dutch lief, Old High German liob, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"). The Germanic words are from PIE root *leubh- "to care, desire, love."
To fall in love is attested from early 15c.; to be in love with (someone) is from c. 1500. To make love is from 1570s in the sense "pay amorous attention to;" as a euphemism for "have sex," it is attested from c. 1950. Love scene is from 1630s. Love affair "a particular experience of love" is from 1590s. Love life "one's collective amorous activities" is from 1919, originally a term in psychological jargon. Love beads is from 1968. Love bug, imaginary insect, is from 1937. Love-handles is from 1960s.
is that the original meanings were purely about a relationship to "other" and consisted of two parts, either sexual/romantic desire or the ability to sacrifice one's own self-interest for another. The idea that "you have to love yourself first" (a quote from Lucille Ball) is actually very modern, and while Ms. Ball was a wonderful actress, she may not have been the best choice as a spiritual guide.
As Americans have focused on more loving ourselves, spurred on by a heavily commercialized self-help industry, our ability to love others has declined significantly. is it any wonder that there's also a lot of conversation about narcissism? The resulting isolation has become one of the most prominent features of modern life.
At the same time we've lost something previous generations took for granted: the certainty that life will continue. The potential that humans could damage the living ecosystems of the Earth to the point of making them uninhabitable is another prominent feature of modern life, and the combination of these two features has created an intense longing among many for more meaningful community.
That is the trauma of our time, and the grief associated with it is quite real. But it's also a tremendous gift, because it's pointing us back toward the most uniquely human of all human traits: the ability to love another more than oneself.
That's what grief always reminds us.
"Even now," she thought, "almost no one remembers Esteban and Pepita but myself. Camilla alone remembers her Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." [Thornton Wilder, "Bridge of San Luis Rey," 1927]
Ever have one of those days, when nothing is going right and it looks entirely possible that nothing is ever going to be good again. Of course you have, because we've all been there, and in a way that's actually good news. What it means is that somebody somewhere has probably been through something at least as bad as what you're facing, and the steps to getting through such days are pretty well documented.
Maybe the first thing to do is collapse on the floor and have a really good, soul-cleansing bawl. While that might not sound productive, it's critically important not to skip this step unless there's a life-threatening situation to deal with, in which case you should get yourself and others to safety first if at all possible.
Every emotion has it’s place and that includes sorrow. Trying to push it away it will exhaust you, and pushing it down will only cause it to grow. If you allow it to come up and pass through, you'll often find that it doesn’t last as long as you feared it would. This step is usually followed by some period of staring blankly into space, when it might seem like nothing is happening, but be patient.
After the meltdown, when the energy begins to move again, start with basics and rebuild yourself from the ground up.
1. Feeling lost and confused?
Unplug for 20 minutes and focus on breathing. Whenever you feel out of focus always return to the basics first, and breathing is the most basic thing in life.
2. Are you hydrated?
If not, have a glass of water. Maybe two.
3. Have you eaten in the past three hours?
If not, get some food with protein.
4. Have you bathed in the past 24 hrs?
If not, jump in the shower right now.
5. Have you stretched your legs today?
If not, do so right now. If you don't have the energy for a run or trip to the gym, just walk around the block, then keep walking as long as you can.
6. Have you expressed any gratitude today?
Even on a really bad day we should be able to feel some gratitude for something. Take a moment remember what you have rather than what you wish for. Shifting our perspective even for a moment can make a big difference. Mornings are the best opportunity
7. Have you said something nice to someone else lately?
If not, do so as soon as possible, either in person or online. Make it genuine. Smile.
8. Have you listened to any good music?
If not, put on something upbeat and inspiring. Stay away from sad songs that you know will bring back painful memories. Create a play list of your favorite happy or soothing songs if necessary.
9. Have you seen a therapist?
If not, schedule something today. It's good to talk through things with a pro now and then.
10. Have you changed any medications recently?
That could definitely be affecting you. If it doesn't get better in two days, then talk to your doctor.
11. Feeling ineffective?
Pause right now, take on some small task that seems doable and get it done. Good job!
12. Have you over-exerted yourself?
Stop right now and take a break. Consider getting a massage.
If you've made it this far you're stronger than you think.
Ed Preston is the Founder of The Grief & Trauma Resource Center, an online directory created to provide more accurate information to the general public about grief and trauma. His own decades long journey with grief has lead him down many paths. He holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology, is a scholar of the Orphan Wisdom School, and a breath meditation teacher.