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February 11, 2011

♥ Forget Me Not ♥

Forget me not, for I am there
In the beat of your heart,
On the wing of your prayer.
Forgive me my parting and leaving you thus,
A joyous reunion is waiting for us!
Continue to strive toward your goal and be brave.
Know that my love didn't stop at the grave.
My spirit is with you through good times and bad.
I share all the joys and the sorrows you've had.
Feel my presence within your next breath
And realize there's no distance in death.
Ask for my help and I'll answer your call.
Reach for my hand when you stumble and fall.
Run the last mile with a smile on your face.
My arms will be waiting when you finish the race.
Always remember, my love is right there
In the beat of your heart,
On the wing of your prayer.

February 10, 2011

What Does Time Have to do with Grief?

Just consider how, in “normal life,” the clock and the calendar run our lives. Some of us have a clock in every room so we can keep close track of the time. Few of us have the courage to live without wearing a watch because we’re afraid we might be late for something. Time is precious to us. We live in a society that reminds us that every moment counts, and some of us are masters at cramming as much activity as possible into every moment.
And when we are grieving our experience still has much to do about time.
Time stands still...
When we are grieving we may feel like the rest of the world is going on as usual while our life has stopped. Just last week, after my friend died, I passed a neighbor watering his lawn. He seemed totally unaffected by, and most likely unaware of Sarah’s death. How could that be? He only lives a block away. Didn’t he feel the same shift in the universe that I felt when she died? Doesn’t he realize someone really special is missing?
Time’s up...
Most people will allow us about a one-month grace period where we are permitted to talk about our loss and even to cry openly. During this time our friends will probably seem to be attentive to our needs. But when the month is up they may be thinking, if not actually telling us, that it’s time to move on, and that we need to get over “it”. They want us to get back to normal. We may be surprised how many of our friends (and relatives too) will become uncomfortable with our need to dwell on our sorrow. They may not appreciate that it takes time to readjust our life to the loss. Maybe what they are really saying is, “Time’s up for me to be able to be present to you in your grieving time.” Because of this we may need to redefine what is normal for us, and choosing some new best friends—friends who are willing and able to walk along side us on our personal journey of grief, and who will allow us to determine when our “time’s up”.
Doing Time...
Grief may make us feel imprisoned in our own version of hell. We won’t like who we are. We won’t like it that our loved one has gone. We won’t like it that our friends can’t make us feel better. We just want out of here, and we’re not sure we want to do the work that grief requires in order to be set free from this bondage. Some of us will remain in this uncomfortable place for a short time while others of us may feel like we have been given a longer sentence.
Wasting time...
Though in real life I pride myself in being a master at multitasking, in the land of grief I’m much less sure of myself. I find it hard to make decisions because, in my new situation, I don’t trust myself to make the right choice. I want someone else to be responsible if something goes wrong. Sometime my wasting time is about not having the energy to get started. I am physically exhausted and my body refuses to make an effort to reclaim my former self. And I admit, quite frankly, that I’m not sure I even care enough about anything to make the effort. What’s the use, since it seems like everything I love sooner or later gets taken away from me.
Looking back in time...
When we grieve we spend most of our time, at least at first, looking back. It seems safer that way.
That’s where our missing loved ones are. If we were to look forward, that would mean we would have to imagine our lives without those we have lost. And that’s what we aren’t ready to accept--not yet. So we spend a lot of time thinking how we should have been able to prevent their dying, or wondering if we used our time with them well, as we remember the good times, bad times, silly and sad times. We think we have to keep those memories in front of us, or surely we will forget those whom we have lost.
First times...
It is natural for us to gauge our life after a loss as we anticipate and then go through the first times -- first day, the first week, the first month, the first time we venture out in public, the first time we went back to school, or church, or work, the first summer, the first Christmas, the first vacation, the first time we laughed. These first times are like benchmarks, notches in our belt that prove we are surviving when you weren’t sure we wanted to, or didn’t know we could.
There’s an empty chair at the table. There’s the conversation that seems to be just noise, having little to do with the absent one about whom we are all thinking but not daring to speak. We still prepare more food than we now need because we haven’t yet figured out how to cook for one less person.
Sometimes the food seems to have no taste, and is not able to do what we want it to do--to fill that huge hole within us.
Time out...
Sometimes what we need to do is to take a time out from our regular activities to reflect on what has happened to our personal world, as we knew it before our great loss. To do so is not to run away from life but simply to realize that to act as if nothing has happened doesn’t work. This loss is too big to allow us to pretend that it hasn’t had a big impact on us. It’s in the quiet time, when we shut off our thinking, and empty out the chatter in our head that the healing begins. Others will have to be okay with our need to bow out for a while. Remember that during grief our job is to take care of ourselves, not to take care of our friends. When it’s time to re-enter a normal routine, it’s our choice what we will reinstate and what we decide to lay aside. Loss tends to redefine our priorities. What used to be important may not be as important now. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Time heals what reason cannot...
In the end, time will change things. The intensity we experience when grief is new, where we can see nothing but our loss, and where every moment is filled with thoughts of the one who died will gradually diminish and become softer. Time forces the big picture of life back into our vision whether we like it or not. This happens in our lives all the time. Remember how when we first fell in love with someone, we were totally preoccupied with only that other person, until gradually a more balanced existence was restored. Or when we did (what we thought was) some terrible thing and we were sure everybody would never let us forget it, we came to find out a few months down the road that most people had forgotten the incident.
In the months (maybe years) following a loss, life will eventually start to re-emerge, and life on this planet will once again seem possible. This will not happen because we come to understand the death more clearly but because, with the passage of time, the unanswered questions will become easier to live with.
Time will not remove grief entirely. The scars of our grief will remain and we may find ourselves ambushed by a fresh wave of grief at any time. But needing to know the answers to the “why” questions won’t seem quite so important as it once was.
Time is a gift that we have taken for granted. We’ve been given our lives one moment at a time.
This is good.

February 9, 2011

Words Words Words

"He's in a better place."
"At least you have other children.”
"She's better off now/not in any pain."
"Where's your faith? You should be happy for him."
"God needed another flower in His garden."
"Time heals all things."
"You'll be better tomorrow."
"You can't stay sad the rest of your life."
"Your loved one wouldn't want yon to be so sad."
"You can have another baby."
"You were so happy together. Be grateful for that."
"At least he didn't suffer."
"She was so young.”
"You didn't really get to know her that well."
Words; just words. Often spoken in an attempt to ease the pain of grieving the death of someone we love.
But, instead of bringing relief, those words just seem to add to the hurt, the confusion, the anger, and the grief. There are no words that will make it all right that someone we loved has died. But there are words that can soothe the hurt, ease the loneliness and add to the healing.
I don't think people are trying to hurt grievers. They just seem to engage their mouths before their brains. Or maybe what they were planning on saying sounded pretty good in their heads, but by the time those words of hope made the journey from their minds to their mouths, something happened. And those words came out, sending hurt instead of hope across the space between us.
What are you trying to say? Are you trying to fill the silence between us, show how much you care or how much you know? Do you think words will help when a heart is broken?
Why do we hide behind words, any words, when a hug or a simple touch on the arm would say so much more? Have we forgotten the power of presence? Do we fear silence because it might mean we have nothing to say?
Why must a moment between friends be filled with noise or empty platitudes or meaningless sounds of hollow comfort? Why can't two people simply be in the presence of each other, allowing that great strength to flow between them without any words to interrupt the message?
"You can have another baby."
"You were so happy together. Be grateful for that."
"At least he didn't suffer."
"She was so young. You didn't really get to know her that well."
ARRRGGG! Words! Words! Words meant to help that only add to the hurt. Give me silence, please! Not emptiness ... silences. Not loneliness ... Silence. Don't not come, but come silently. Sit on my couch, hold my hand, share a cookie, hand me a tissue. Come, but leave your words of hollow hope behind. No words can speak more eloquently than the shared silence of presence. Come sit beside me. Hold me. Touch me.
Be with me, but leave the noise behind.
Are we afraid that silence will kill us? Are we afraid that we will say "the wrong thing"? (What is the right thing?) Are we afraid that we will "remind" the bereaved of their loss? (Do you think we will ever forget it?)
"Time heals all things."
"You'll be better tomorrow."
"You can't stay sad the rest of your life."
"Your loved one wouldn't want you to be so sad.”
If only I could think of something to say in return! But my mind as well as my body and soul have gone numb. I am frozen and I can't think of anything to say. Sometimes I am so shocked that I cannot believe I heard what you said, or maybe you don't even realize what you said.
"Be happy she's healed now."
" Why are you so sad?"
" We have gathered here to not to mourn the loss of…But rather to celebrate his life."
Words; Just words. You'd think they wouldn't hurt so much, but they do. Sometimes it really is better not to say anything. That doesn't mean don't do something ... it means don't use words to fill up the space that sadness occupies. By all means, do something! Bring flowers, a casserole (not tuna, please), chocolate cookies, napkins, paper towels. Come help with the laundry, the childcare, the mail, the dusting. Drop off a ham, a turkey, a hug. Send a note, a lemon meringue pie, and a donation to my loved one's favorite charity.
Slip a note into my pocket, a card in my mailbox, a hand into my empty one.
Share a memory, a laugh, and a moment. Tell me stories of the past; bring me pictures from your scrapbook. Speak of love, not sorrow. Remember the life, not just the death. Give me hope, not meaningless words.
Hug me, hold me, love me, leave me, but don't shower me with words that are meant to soothe, but sear instead. Your presence really is the healing touch. No words need be spoken between friends and family when love is the weaver of the threads.
"He's in a better place."
(I thought right next to me was a pretty good place)
"At least you have other children."
(Yes, but I really loved that one, too.)
"She's better off now... not in any pain."
(She may be out of pain, but I'm not!)
"Where's your faith? You should be happy for him."
(My faith may help my heart feel better, but it's my arms that are empty and aching.)
"God needed another flower in His garden."
(What about MY garden?!)
"You can have another baby."
(Maybe, but no one can replace someone)
"You were so happy together. Be grateful for that."
(I am grateful, but I want more!)
"At least he didn't suffer."
(Yes, that's true, but I am suffering now.)
"She was so young. You didn't really get to know her that well."
(Since when does age have anything to do with how much someone is loved?)
"Time heals all things."
(Time does nothing except pass. It is what you do with the time that might change things.)
"You'll be better tomorrow."
(Perhaps, but what about today?)
"You can't stay sad the rest of your life."
(Oh yes I can)
"Your loved one wouldn't want you to be so sad.”
(How do you know? I have told my loved ones that I expect at least three days of heavy grieving. After that, they can do whatever they wish. But I do want them to be sad... at least a little bit!)
"Be happy she's healed now."
(That may be true, but it is still my heart that is broken ... my arms that are empty. What about me?)
" Why are you so sad?"
(Oh, I don't know ... maybe it's because someone I loved has died.)
"We have gathered here to not to mourn the loss of. … But rather to celebrate his life."
(The thought here is nice, but the timing seems a bit "off." I am not quite ready to celebrate. I think I need some grieving time, too.)
Words. Just words. Let them fall to the wayside when you hear words that do not quite touch the pain or hit the mark. Realize that someone is tying to reach you, soothe you, and comfort you. So what if their choice of words falls short of the goal or even brings a moment or two of pain? At least someone cares enough to keep trying! And the sounds of silence are even worse than the words that come wrapped in good intentions and tied with a silly looking bow.
I'll take your comfort any way you can share it with me. But maybe the best words to say are simply, "I'm here and I don't have a clue as to how to help, but I'm here, and together we'll figure this thing out.

February 8, 2011

A Letter from Grief

Dear Friend,

I came here with no language yet all people and all lands know me. I wreak havoc with your mind and body.

I play nasty head games. I can take a beautiful day and put it to ruins. There is no way to escape me when I come.

I make myself invisible. I become loud and present to the one I come to visit, and they have to walk in the world as if I am not there. I am a scrapbook ready to be opened; I am an unwanted visitor.

I came to unearth the volcano deep inside your core. I dig, and dig, day after day.

I bring up piece after piece of fragments of your pain and anger and disbelief of what has happened. I like being in control of your every emotion. I live for this. I am alive in this. I put a lot of trust in your memory to help my cause and as usual, I have no problem there.

Thanks. In the beginning, my job is so easy. No resistance. I move around at will causing deep valleys of sorrow and pain. I can talk you into anything. I tell you things as if life is not worth living.

If you want to get away from me, I will show you how. It really is not hard. When I come to visit, I become a master builder.

I build a wall so tall and strong it would take an army to knock it down. I do a lot of my work at night. I instill pictures in your dream life. Haunting pictures that are very descriptive and full of sounds and smells of the moment.

I have very clever and deceptive and will go to any means to invoke the rawest, of your emotions. I can take the sweetest dream and turn it into your worst nightmare.

You must be saying to yourself why? Why would I do such a terrible thing to someone? Why would you get such pleasure out of someone else's pain?

I do not blame you for thinking that. What else would you think?

Actually, I am doing my job. My job, No one else wants. It is like being the undertaker. Not too many people want that job but thank God, someone does it.

I am here to get you to work whether you want me to or not. To work the process of grieving. In addition, do not fool yourself; it is work, hard work. In addition, you can only do it. The work is painful and in the end can be rewarding.

In addition, as you work through the process, you may even find that you are starting to like me. I know we could never become close friends; I bring too much pain for that, but a friend you can appreciate for the do and the resolve I bring into your life. This is an on-going job with no end in sight. It is just moments of release from the pain and sorrow.

As you go on with the process you will notice that a lot of the unrelenting pain, and pictures, and bad dreams will give way to softer memories of smiles and whispers and eyes of love. Not horror.

So if you wouldn't mind letting me stay awhile longer, I would love to help you down the road a little more, and I promise I will leave when the going gets too tough, and come back when you need me. Alternatively, when the time is right. I will know when that is. I have been doing this for many years now. So, keep up the good work and do not be afraid of the pain. The pain is just a reminder of the work you are doing, and from where I stand, you have done good work.

Your friend,


February 7, 2011

When Grief Returns

Grief is a tricky thing. It can wreak havoc on your emotions, especially in the first year following the death of a child. A parent can think that progress in healing is finally being made, and then something as unexpected as a song comes on the radio, and the words trigger feelings of grief as strong as if the loss took place yesterday. After all of the "firsts" are in the past, the path to healing seems a bit more even for a while. Setbacks don't come nearly as often as in the first year, and rarely are the grief feelings as raw and intense as during the first months following the death of a child. Most parents work their way through the sad emotions of loss to a place where they can finally recall fond memories of times spent with their child. They can talk about their child without crying, and there is an overall feeling of peace rather than the gnawing feeling of never being at rest. Grief can be quite deceitful, though, and show up many years after a loss leaving one feeling like healing never took place. Rather than be alarmed if grief returns, remind yourself often that grief's visit is only a momentary appearance. Just as we go through seasons in our lives, grief will visit each of those seasons to let us know that the loss of a child has left its mark on the heart. An especially sensitive time is when a parent enters what we so often call the "empty nest." Grief can return as a bold reminder of what was so cruelly and unfairly taken away. A parent's emotions can become very disturbed during this sad reminder of loss once again. When grief returns, remind yourself often that this is a normal part of the overall healing process. The pain associated with child loss never totally goes away, so it is quite normal for certain times in our life to bring grief emotions to the forefront once again. Remember that this return of grief will not last forever. Take good care of yourself physically. Eat well-balanced meals. Rest. Keep yourself well hydrated. Talk to your doctor if you feel like you might be entering a phase of depression. Depression is something that can be treated early, and is nothing to try to hide. Lastly, find some support for this difficult time in your life. Even though your loss might have occurred 20 years ago, if you feel overwhelmed with sadness and grief, it is most important that you find someone who will listen and lend you support. Remind yourself often that grief is something that cannot be ignored. Grief can be masked for a while, but eventually it makes its presence known. It is something that requires hard work and attention. A parent's grief is a natural reaction to an abnormal event. Grief is not an illness, but rather is a time of readjustment to a reality of living with loss. Parents who lose a child do not stop grieving. The pain will vary in intensity at different times in a parent's life, but the process is life long. When grief returns, remember to be kind to yourself and allow yourself the time you need to once again work through your feelings.

February 6, 2011

Journal Your Way To Healing

How would you like to have a trusted friend available any hour of the day or night who would let you pour out your heart and never criticize you or tell you to “get on with life?”
Keeping a journal can give you just such a friend.
Journals are helpful at any time in your life, but they can be especially therapeutic during stressful times such as during grief or during times of making major decisions. If you don’t have someone close to discuss things with who understands what you’re going through, your journal can be of very great value.
Anyone can keep a journal. You don’t have to be a writer. You don’t have to know how to spell or how to use correct punctuation. Neatness is not important for a journal. It’s for your eyes only.
There are many different reasons for keeping a journal, but this article will deal with its value for our healing after losing your precious loved one.
When you write in a journal, you emotions are poured out bit by bit as you write. Those of you who have never written the events down until your loved one’s birthday or anniversary of loss have found that there are so many emotions bottled up, it’s excruciatingly painful for they tumble out in a rush, tearing your wounded heart afresh.
What is the difference between a journal and a diary? A diary is a record of daily events, but journaling is simply writing about how we are affected by these events.
You can record anything you like in your journal. It’s simply a record of what you’re thinking or feeling. You can even have lists in the back of things to do, books to read or helpful quotes.
You can use any paper, but you may find a colorful spiral bound notebook a good way to start. Any size will do. Stationery departments carry attractively bound journals but one of the advantages of a spiral notebook is that after you’ve vented some of your anger, you may feel even better tearing that page out and destroying it!
Writing in a journal is of inestimable value in helping us sort through the difficulties, problems and perplexities of life.
Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what we are feeling about something. People ask bereaved families questions causing us to become tongue-tied or because our mind is so full of pain and perplexities, we end up bawling or doing something which humiliates us. When our minds are a jumbled mess, we add frustration to our day. Writing things out on paper helps to clarify and unscramble the confusion in our mind. Experiences become more bearable and less perplexing when we write them down.
You will be pleasantly amazed how your journal helps sort out things in your mind. Setting time aside for occasional “journal breaks” will be so rewarding.
As bereaved people, we often feel we’re on top of an emotional volcano about to erupt. When we find our emotions are at a breaking point, we’re overloaded with stress. One simple relief from this stress can be journaling. Whether you ever re-read what you’ve written doesn’t matter. Much anger frustration, and hurt can be poured out harmlessly on paper. Tears may flow as we write, but these tears are healing. Later, we’ll notice that we feel less “ready to break.” With a healthy outlet for our festering emotions, we are making room for healing balm to be poured on our wounded heart.
Sometimes there are so many decisions to be made, our minds are in a whirl. If we just sit down and write out the decisions, making two columns underneath for listing advantages and disadvantages of them, it can save us hours of inner turmoil. Writing things out helps clarify in our own mind what to do.
Date your entries. Later on, if you should decide to re-read your journal, you can see how far you’ve come. You’ll appreciate having the writings dated then.
Don’t be a slave to your journal -- it’s to be a friend. Only write in it when you want to. Five minutes a day or one-half hour a week may fit your lifestyle best. You may go for days or weeks without writing. However, you might like to post an update each week during those lulls. Later, you’ll enjoy reading those updates.
Your family will also reap benefits from your journal. With this avenue for venting your pain, you’re less apt to take your frustrations out on them.
We all have occasional setbacks on our journey to healing. Re-reading your journal later, it’s easier to see encouraging progress.
Why not try to spend a few minutes each week for the next few weeks, writing about the death of your loved one or how you’re coping? Your disappointment in how people avoid you or the warmth of new friends you’re making are good to include. Reminisce about your loved one and eventually include how the death occurred. The painful things are often accompanied with tears, but they will be cleansing and healing.
May you find your journal to be a very good friend -- one to whom you can tell everything. Let it be a friend who plays a valuable role in your healing. ---Carol Ruth Blackman

February 5, 2011


Grief is a normal and natural reaction to the death of a loved one. Most of us are not prepared for the long journey of grief, which is sometimes devastating, frightening, and often lonely. We may think, do, and say things that are very unlike us. There seems to be no respite, no end to the intense feelings that we experience.
Grief has been likened to a raw open wound. With great care it eventually will heal but there will always be a scar. Life will never be the same but eventually you will get better.
The experiences of grief have been compared to enduring a fierce storm at sea. The waves are peaked and close together. Eventually the sea becomes calmer but occasionally the storm regroups, strengthening without any warning. For several hours, days, or weeks, you may not feel grief; then suddenly you meet someone, or see something, or hear something, and grief resumes. It seems as if you are taking one step forward and two back.
Grief has its common and its unique sides. Although it is a universal experience, no two people grieve the same, even in the same family. Like a snowflake or a fingerprint, each person’s grief has characteristics all its own.
“It can’t be true." You keep thinking that any minute you will wake up from a nightmare.
Sometimes you can’t cry at first because you don’t really believe it happened. Often people will comment on how well you are doing. Inside you know that the reason you appear to be doing so well is that you just don’t believe it.
Shock is nature’s way of softening the blow. It serves as a cushion - giving you time to absorb the fact of your loss. You hear the words, but do not comprehend the full impact. Emotions seem frozen. You feel disoriented, restless, numb, bewildered, stunned and unable to think. It takes everything just to function. You go through the motions like a robot and feel as if you are an observer watching this happen to someone else.
Sobbing means to weep aloud with short, gasping breaths. Sobbing is an outlet for the deep strong emotions that accompany the death of a loved one. Some people cry often and cry a lot. Others push down their tears, but this may lead to psychological or physical problems. It is helpful to cry to release all that pent-up emotion. Cry alone or with others - but take time to cry. The book WHEN GOING TO PIECES HOLDS YOU TOGETHER, says it very well. The advice ‘don’t cry” is ill advised. Accept the grief - don’t try to be brave and fight it. At first, you need to take time to grieve daily. Looking at pictures/mementos, playing special music, may aid in releasing pent-up tears. Men can and should cry. Crying is a good model for children.
When adults cry, children learn that it is “okay” to cry and to express their feelings. Children learn to share their feelings instead of suppressing them and struggling alone.
You may experience some of the following: lack or increase of appetite; sleeplessness or oversleeping; knot or emptiness in pit of stomach; tightness in throat; shaky legs; headaches; stomachaches; sighing to get your breath; trembling; chills; fatigue; chest pains; general aches; difficulty swallowing and/or speaking; digestive disorders (indigestion, nausea, diarrhea); feeling weak or faint; tension; slower in speech or movement; temporary paralysis of limb or sight. It helps to understand some of these symptoms may be a part of grief and emerge any time. It is advisable to have a physical checkup to make sure that there is not another cause for your physical ailments. Take care of yourself by establishing a simple routine (good nutrition, adequate rest and time for relaxation). Exercise aids sleep and may lighten depression.
The phone will ring, the door opens, or you will see someone, and at first you think that it is your loved one. You may subconsciously be searching for your loved one when out in a crowd. It takes time to believe what happened. Even though you know the fact of death, you continue not to really believe it. Many habits continue, such as setting the table for the same number, expecting your loved one to come home at the regular time, buying his/her favorite food, watching a TV program and saying: “I’ve got to tell him/her what happened.” This shows our unconscious denial of death. Denial provides a buffer zone from the reality of what has happened.
Often we keep asking “WHY?” “Why did he/she have to die?” We don’t necessarily expect an answer, but the question “WHY” seems to need to be asked repeatedly in an effort to make sense of the loss. The question may be unanswered, but it is important to ask the question until we can take the step of letting the question go. Rabbi Kushner states in his book WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE that often the “why” is not a question, but a cry of pain.
You may find that you are saying almost the same things to the same people. The same thoughts keep running through your head. In saying the words and hearing ourselves over and over again, it helps us to believe what has happened. It is important to find friends who will listen, especially someone who has experienced a similar sorrow.
It’s true.” “It really happened.” This is a frightening time. We feel that we are getting worse. Often this happens after people who have been so helpful have returned to their own busy lives. It seems as if we are going backwards. Actually, this reality has to “hit.” The best advice is to “lean into the pain.”
As much as we don’t want to hurt, we must.
“I can’t think.” “I forget what I am saying halfway through a sentence” The simplest decisions seem impossible. It is difficult to concentrate and follow through on things. You feel disorganized and error prone.
Bereaved often feet impatient and want to do something, but feel unclear as to what to do, Sometimes motivation to do something may be very low and basic survival needs may not even be met. Confusion abounds because you are using all your emotional energy to grieve and there is very little left over for anything else. The weariness due to grief may affect thinking and concentration.
At first, you may only focus on the best qualities - seeing your loved one as perfect. It is a very normal reaction, but it is important to be aware of others in the family. They may compare themselves to the “perfect” loved one and feel that they are not as loved - that it would be better if they had died instead.
Many people seek to identify with their loved one who has died by wearing their clothes, taking up a sport they liked, planning to follow in their footsteps, etc. It is a way of “staying close.”
(Fear of “Going Crazy”): At first you may fear being alone. You worry about the future and may be afraid that something else will happen to another loved one. You often panic at the approach of special dates (birthday, holidays, anniversary of the death). Usually they are not as difficult as the days prior to the special days. This is due to our unbelievable panic and apprehension. You may feel as if you are "GOING CRAZY.” It may seem as if you are losing control of yourself. Usually we don’t tell anyone that we think we are “going crazy.” Sometimes bereaved have thoughts of suicide as the only way to escape the physical and emotional pain. We panic at the prospect of “always feeling like this". We feel that we should be doing better and panic when we don’t. Our situation may seem hopeless and our thinking becomes jumbled. Panic is normal. If panic seems intolerable, you need to do something about it. Talking about our feelings, getting busy with something, sobbing, screaming, exercise - all may help to release the "panicky” feelings. Emotional and physical fatigue contributes to our panic. Good nutrition and rest are vital.
You want “things to be as they were.” You may hope that just wishing will bring back the person. You may try to bargain with God that “things will be different;” that you will try to be a better person if only the loved one can be alive again.
It is a feeling of being in the “pits.” You hurt so much. Sometimes you just don’t care about anything. You just sit. Mornings are terrible. So is the time and the day of the week that your loved one died.
It’s an effort just to get out of bed, to shop, or fix a simple meal. Talk things over with a friend who cares and will listen. This helps a person to avoid becoming seriously depressed. Talking to others in a support group of bereaved people who know what you are going through also helps a great deal.
It is a feeling of deep, overwhelming sadness and hopelessness that lasts for longer than two weeks. Other symptoms may be: loss of appetite; insomnia; inability to enjoy anything; anxious or restless behavior; apathy; preoccupation with thoughts of suicide; wishing to be dead; loss of interest in sex; difficulty in concentration and making decisions; poor memory; irritability; feelings of worthlessness; inability to cry even if one desperately needs and wants to; intense guilt and withdrawal from relatives and friends. It is important for bereaved people not to become alarmed, because everyone experiences some or all of these symptoms at some time. If six or more of these symptoms are severe and continue over an extended period of time (so that pain and problems outweigh pleasure much of the time), then it would be advisable to get professional help.
RELIEF (Laughter):
This phase comes and goes. Often after the reality “hits,” or after a particularly troublesome time, you feel better and may even think that the difficult times are over. There is a sense of great relief at no longer feeling down. Appreciate the relief, the grief will return soon enough. It is helpful to recall the fun times. Wholesome fun and laughter are beneficial. It is not being disloyal to our loved one to enjoy life. In fact, plan things to which you can look forward. Having a sense of humor is often mentioned by bereaved as being helpful.
We often expect too much of ourselves. We want to handle the grief better and more quickly than is humanly possible. Submerging our feelings is very detrimental because we still have to face these feelings eventually. The expectations of others, “You must be over your grief by now,” only add to our burden.
Often we will expect that after the holidays, or after some special day, we will feel ‘much better.” This kind of expectation only hinders the grief process. It is more helpful not to have a timetable of how we should feel, or when we will get better. Taking one day at a time, or half a day, or one hour at a time is more realistic.
A bereaved person’s confidence is often undermined. In a study on self-esteem using a scale of 100, it was found that an average person’s self-esteem was in the 70’s and generally a bereaved person’s was in the teens. Understanding the impact of grief on your self-esteem may help you find ways of coping.
Your loved, one who has died may be in your thoughts constantly. You may think of nothing but the loss. You may even dream of your loved one, or be preoccupied with his/her image. Even at work, church, doing the dishes — in fact, no matter what you are doing — you may find that part of your thoughts are always about your loved one. The intensity of this preoccupation usually lessens with time.
Many people are tortured by “if only,” and “what ifs.” “If only I had called;” “If only we hadn’t let him/her take the car that night;” or “If only I had taken time to listen and visit.” We tend to blame ourselves for something we did or didn’t do that may have contributed to the death, or for things that we wish we had done for our loved one. Feelings of guilt are normal, though often not realistic. It is best not to push down the guilt.
Talk about it until you can let it go. Hopefully, in time, you will realize that you did the best you could under the circumstances. None of us are perfect. The past is behind us. All we can do with guilt is to learn from it for the other people in our lives. When the death is by suicide, it is especially important to remember we can’t control the behavior of another person.
Anger may be directed at ourselves, others (including family members, spouse, doctors, nurses, person who caused accident); the person who died; God; or we may experience a general irritability. We may feel angry toward people who push us to accept our loss too soon, or who pretend that nothing happened.
Anger is normal. Pushing down anger is harmful and may cause things like ulcers, high blood pressure, or depression. Unacknowledged anger may be directed at innocent people and unrelated events. It will come out one way or another. It is often difficult to admit being angry. Erroneously we may think, “nice people don’t get angry.” It is important to recognize our anger. It is helpful to find ways to express our anger, such as screaming in a private place, walking, swimming, aerobic classes, keeping a journal, tennis, golf- even installing a punching bag in our home. Talking about our anger also helps us to define, understand, and learn how to handle it. To suppress anger can lead to deeper than normal depression and bitterness. It is important to acknowledge our anger and to take steps to handle it.
After the initial help, relatives’ and friends’ lives return to normal and we are often left to deal with our grief alone. Co-workers, friends, neighbors and sometimes-even family may avoid us or change the subject. Some friends withdraw, because they are hurting, and do not know how to help us. We often become isolated in our grief. The widowed often say, “I not only lost my spouse, but my friends as well.” In reality, few people are able to help or to understand. Support groups can be helpful. Some aspects of grief cannot be totally shared, even in the same family. It is difficult for husbands and wives to help each other. As Harriett Schiff, author of THE BEREAVED PARENT, states: “It is difficult to lean on someone who is already doubled over in pain.” Especially at first when we are hurting so much, we realize that we are not much fun for others to be around. When others have all their loved ones alive, it makes us feel even lonelier. We may feel intense loneliness due to the absence of our loved one, because we are unable to share thoughts and feelings, to touch, to be understood. We feel empty without our loved one.
“How can I go on?” You may come to the point where the agony seems intolerable. You can’t bear it - you think that you won’t be able to survive. Your hopes and dreams are dashed. It may seem as if there would be little difference if you lived or died. You may have suicidal thoughts. Feelings of desperation, despondency, pessimism and loss of all hope seem to surround you. If you are a smoker you may smoke more than ever’ due to nervousness, or to an attitude that you don’t care if you ever take care of yourself again. Sometimes it is blackest before the burden of grief begins to lift Talk to someone who has made it through grief.
We miss our loved one and feel deprived of his/her presence. We may feel unhappy, inconsolable, distressed, sorrowful, dejected and heartbroken. These feelings seem to pervade our life.
“What am I going to do?” We feel helpless about our feelings --- our grief. It seems as if we are unable to help ourselves to cope, or to get better. We do not seem to be capable of aiding other family members. We may feel self-pity. Although we realize that we had no control over what happened, we feel a sense of powerlessness at not being able to prevent it.
You may feel jealous of people who still have their loved ones to enjoy. With a child's death, dreams for their future are gone. This pertains to college, job, wedding, and grandchildren - things you would have shared together. When a spouse dies, you envy others watching their children and grandchildren grow up and enjoying retirement together.
Many frustrations are a part of our grief. “Why am I feeling so upset for so long?” We become disappointed with ourselves that we are not coping as well as we think we should. So many impulses, thoughts, feelings and actions that had become habits are stopped in midcourse. We are left with these unfulfilled emotions, desires and thoughts buzzing about in our heads or sitting in our stomachs.
Bereaved people often feel resentful about the death and their changed circumstances. Sometimes there is a (sub)conscious hostility toward others whose families are still intact. Some bereaved feel hatred toward those responsible for the death. These bitter feelings should be recognized and worked on, or the bitterness could last for many years. Hatred and bitterness drain you of energy and may be destructive to your health and relationships. When these feelings are left unattended, healing becomes blocked.
Eventually we may reach an in-between point between the reality of death and the point where life seems worthwhile again. We may feel a little better at last, but be uncertain of what to do next. It may take much longer than we would like before our zest for living returns. We often live behind a facade - masking our feelings and saying, "we are fine."
You realize that your grief is softening. At first the pain was with you constantly. Now the pain of grief is briefer and comes less frequently. The good days outbalance the bad days. You feel encouraged that you will get better. Things like shopping (which had been so painful before), painting the living room, looking forward to events, etc., all become a part of your life again. Once again you are effective at work and home, able to make decisions and handle problems. Generally you are able to sleep and eat as you did before. You are able to care about others. You begin to realize that you are moving forward and can once again enjoy life. You smile and laugh again and are rewarded with the smiles of family, friends and strangers.
You will always miss your loved one. Special family events, such as holidays, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, even a song or a special TV program, will trigger the feeing of longing for your loved one. Seeing other families enjoying special events “that might have been for you” also deepens your feeling of yearning. You can’t help but wish your loved one were alive. You miss countless things that were special about your relationship, a hug, a kiss, a smile, a phone call, or hearing them say “I Love You,” or “Thank You.” For some people, when there was a special relationship, the missing can be more acute. If relatives live out of town, they may find coming home for a visit especially difficult. Their feelings of missing, anger, guilt, etc., may be intensified. The reality of the death is more believable at home where their loved one is undeniably missing.
You realize that you have a choice. You can rebuild a new life. It will be different without your loved one, but life can be enjoyed again. It is important to seek meaning in living. Learn how to make happiness happen in your life. It is estimated that over 70% of marriages where a child has died become endangered and end in separation or divorce. It is important to be aware of such statistics and to renew the marriage. You need to reinvest in work, activities and friends. New friends can be found among other bereaved. You may find it necessary or helpful to move, find a job, do volunteer work, join a support group, etc. Be open to renewing familiar patterns and friendships, but be ready to try new ways of living.
Eventually we are able to think and talk about our loved one with happiness and a sense of peace. We have learned to accept the death and can see options and possibilities for the future. We may experience renewed meaning in life. There is the possibility of emotional, spiritual and personal growth. Often we become a different person stronger, more involved, wiser, more compassionate, concerned, understanding and aware. Our loved ones have entered a beautiful new life without pain and problems. We will be together someday. Meanwhile, they would want us to live, love and appreciate this life and the people in our life to the fullest.
This feeling was not listed on the original graph and yet, for many of us, it greatly affected how we handled our grief. It is placed in the middle of the graph to show how it can negatively color so many other experiences of grief. For many of us, we are too “proud” to ask for or accept help. When asked how we are feeling we say “fine” when in reality we are falling apart inside. We are apt to think “I can do it by myself,” not realizing how unprepared we are for the death of a loved one. Sharing such deep grief does help us to cope and understand. The word “proud” means to hold one’s self high, to turn one’s head. Bereaved so often do this to overcompensate for how really low they feel. We are stubborn about letting anyone know how we feel. This makes it difficult for others to give us the help we so desperately need. We should consider if our PRIDE, and if so work on ourselves to ask for and accept help are complicating our grief.

February 4, 2011

Sudden Death...

It is recognized that there is no good way to lose a child, just different ways, and all of them hard.

Parents, whose children die from an acute sudden illness, an accident, murder or suicide, have to contend with the fact that they’ve had no warning. As a result, it is as though pieces of their lives were amputated without benefit of anesthesia. The shock that follows puts cotton where the brain used to be. These parents have to deal with the void left in their lives. The day to day parenting ceased at the moment of the death.

There are a number of emotions that are normal symptoms of grief after learning of the death, no matter how it occurred. Some of them are:


Shock usually lasts from one to several days. It is what enables some parents to go through the process of preparing for the funeral of someone they love. Shock numbs the senses and doesn’t allow the full impact of the death to come crashing through in the very beginning.


Denial is a way of refusing to admit that the death has occurred. It can last for varying lengths of time for various people, for some can’t deal with the pain right away. It seems simpler to pretend, instead, that the person who died is not really dead, for example, but is away at school, away at his/her own home or asleep in his/her own bed, etc. Denial doesn’t last forever and, with time, the reality of the loss settles in.


Anger is one of the most exhausting emotions that exists with grief. It is thought by some that the intense anger experienced by some bereaved parents is an effort to postpone the pain of grief. Anger is an easier emotion to deal with than grief. Grief is very patient, however, and there does come a time when it can no longer be denied. It is a wise parent who realizes that postponement accomplishes nothing.

There are any number of people at whom the parents can direct their anger, depending on who the parents feel justly or unjustly are to blame for the death. Some blame the doctors and/or nurses who attended the child at the time of the death; the spouse, if he or she is grieving differently; friends or neighbors who have not had the experience of losing a child; the child himself or herself, if the parents feel that the child was careless and in some way was responsible for the death.

In time, most parents realize that anger eats the container in which it is held and that the person must let go of the anger if one is ever to regain any peace.


Someone has said if you can separate your grief from your guilt, you cut your grief in half. There is much truth in that statement. Being human, none of us is totally free from regret over something large or small that was in some way connected with a child who died.

The brain, being the devious thing that it can be at times, seems determined to punish the parents by recalling even the smallest thing that makes them regret not having been more patient or less patient, more demanding or less demanding, more firm or less firm, more loving or less loving, more sensitive, more capable, in other words, more perfect.

Feelings of guilt are thought by some to be an attempt to make some sense of the senselessness of a child’s death, or an answer to the unanswerable WHY. Parenting instincts tell the parents that they are responsible for whatever happens to their child, good or bad.

There are two kinds of guilt: Healthy Guilt, which acts as an alarm clock when we sense our behavior is inappropriate, and Excessive Guilt, which is unhealthy. It is not rational, logical or reasonable. Some parents hang onto their guilt (and anger) because to do so postpones the acceptance of their child’s death.

Professionals who counsel grieving people find it very helpful for parents to talk about their guilt. By verbalizing, they are able to hear the craziness of excessive guilt and recognize it for what it is. No amount of guilt ever changed anything. Excessive guilt is a wasted emotion. It drains the parents as they dwell on it, and takes away opportunities to change and learn. Guilt is useful when planning ahead,pointless when looking back.


If the child was younger, more totally dependent upon the parents, whose being is still a wonder to them, or one they had no opportunity to nurture, the parents have problems coping with the loss of the experience of watching a child grow and mature. They are left to wonder what kind of person would have developed in this child. Their grief involves what was and what might have been.

Teenagers, who are in the process of trying to become independent, often have conflicts with the mothers and fathers, and will leave home angry. The parents have to live with whatever the relationship was at the time of the death, with no opportunity to remedy the situation. There is no opportunity for “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” or “Goodbye.” The child may have died alone or among strangers. Not having been there at the time of death is difficult and fertile ground for the guilt of “what ifs” and the “if onlys.”

If the child was older, maybe even an adult, the parents had been through more of the growing up process and already knew the child’s potential. In that case, they grieve for what was and all that had been and could have been.


It is important to remember that the pain of intense grief doesn’t last forever. The parents will always remember their child and grieve for him or her. We feel that the pain will never soften, but it will, for man is not made so that the pain of fresh grief can last forever. It takes some time, and that time varies from person to person, for parents have to learn to live with their loss more comfortably. That is not to say that we will get over the grief, but it can soften so that memories that once caused so much pain can become memories that are comforting. Look forward to that time.