Coping with Grief During the Holiday Season

The holidays are fast approaching. It’s a season when most people expect their friends and family to be jolly and filled with festive cheer. For that reason many of my clients find this time of year to be the most difficult of all.
 
For those who are grieving, the juxtaposition of sadness vs. merriment can feel unbearable. How will I make it through this season? How do I wear a mask pretending to be okay? Finding the energy to do anything merry can seem impossible.
 
If you’re in this period of your life, you know what I mean. For those whose loss is getting lighter, I know you remember those feelings.
 
There are many techniques that can help you survive the holidays. I want to share two that were particularly meaningful to my clients.  
 
First, the lack of sunlight can be depressing and dreary, and darkening the already dark days of grief. A former client came up with the brilliant idea of lighting her home with flameless candles. Using a timer, she ensured she always came home to a house that was beautifully lit.
 
Second, the following ritual can be especially poignant, and will allow you to acknowledge your loved one and your feelings. It’s best done with family members who are also grieving but can even work with as many or few people as you wish.
 
Remember, it’s okay to cry.

Candle Lighting Ritual for the Holidays

This ritual serves to commemorate the loss of your loved one. It can be something you recite yourself as you light the candles, or you can ask people to each read a passage while others light the candles.

As we light these four candles in honor of you we light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories, and one for our love.

LIGHT THE FIRST CANDLE

The light of this first candle represents our grief. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

LIGHT THE SECOND CANDLE

The light of this second candle represents our courage to confront our sorrow; to comfort each other; to change our lives.

LIGHT THE THIRD CANDLE

This third candle is a light to all of our memories of you. To the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other; the silly things you did, the caring and joy you gave us.

LIGHT THE FOURTH CANDLE

This fourth candle is the light of our love. As we enter this holiday season, day by day, we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your life brought to each of us. We love you always.

Posted on December 4, 2018 .

How Human Connection Helps Heal Grief

What really helps when you are grieving? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times, and there’s never a clear answer. I was thinking about this again last night, and here’s what I came up with.

Walking the grief journey alone can be paralyzing. Many people need someone to validate where they are and what they are going through. Having company on the road helps because when someone connects their heart to yours, it feels right.

As a therapist, we “play back” what the person said or what they must be feeling. And when we don’t get it right, the client lets us know. We shape and re-shape until we hit the target—“Yes, you do understand what I’m saying. That feels good.”

Walking with someone (a friend, relative, or therapist) who connects to your heart is powerful, soothing, and eventually healing. It does not help to walk with someone who doesn’t get it, or who judges for “not grieving the right way,” or feels that you are taking too long to grieve. That lack of understanding opens up the wound that may have just begun to form a scab. 

You immediately see life with a different lens once “the diagnosis” is given, or when you hear the phone ring in the middle of the night. When the fire burns everything you cherish, or your baby hasn’t moved in the womb for the last few days, or your spouse says “I don’t love you anymore, I want a divorce.” When you hear of yet another shooting and pray your child wasn’t in that vicinity. Instantly, your world is colored by fear and uncertainty. Every moment feels surreal. And you begin that long journey back to… back to where? Back to normal? Not really, because you are forever changed by deep loss. Some people don’t like the term “new normal” but I believe that describes it.

I have walked with hundreds of clients who have navigated the journey to a place of healing—whatever healing means to them. I’ve made mistakes with good intentions. We all do. But I hope I’ve connected with their hearts. Grief does soften but it has its own timetable—your timetable, no one else’s.

My heart is heavy today for all those in pain from grief. But I will hold the light for you and hope you see the glimmer ahead.

Posted on November 16, 2018 .

Coping With Grief Through the Dark Winter Months

As the season changes, grief can often deepen. This is true especially as we go into Autumn and Winter. This doesn’t mean going into the brightness of Spring and Summer can’t also be too much. Heck, grief is awful at any season. So let’s think of ways to cope.

Wrap your support network around you like a blanket. It’s often tempting to isolate. Stimulation feels raw. Find healthy people who truly support you.

Let candles welcome you home. Buy the ones that are fake but look so real. Some you can program to be on when you return in the darkness.

It’s okay to say No, but try to say Yes. When friends or family ask you out or over and you’re not feeling up to it, you may want to give it a try but with an “escape” plan in mind. Explain that you may need to leave early and take your own car. Or…just say no.

I’d love to have you share any coping tools that have helped you. Please leave a comment.

 I’ve been posting on Courage Road Instagram and Courage Road Facebook. If you know anything about me, posting on anything is difficult so I’m pretty proud of the creative work I’m doing there. Please check it out.  

 Thanks to all of you who support my mission to help those in bereavement. Let’s help each other.

Posted on October 10, 2018 .

Grief and Resilience

I recently read an article that spoke about resilience and grief. It stated that our brain is wired to handle grief—that we may experience anguish, shock, even woundedness, but most of us manage to regain our equilibrium, some faster than others. The article says that 10 percent of us experience “chronic” and relentless grief that demands counseling. Another third or so plunge into deep sadness and gradually begins recovery. But most of us—between 50 and 60 percent—can often appear to carry on as normal once the initial pain of the loss has passed.

I polled my siblings and asked them why we were “okay” when our parents died. Why didn’t we need counseling? Did we not love them? Our mom and dad were awesome. We were sad and missed them but we didn’t plunge into darkness. Perhaps because they appeared to “accept” their impeding deaths, they gave us the gift to perhaps do the same. We were all (mom and dad included) grateful for the gift of life, no matter how untimely the death. 

If you are one of the 50 to 60% of grievers whose brain allows for resilience when grieving, then good for you. This does not mean you aren’t sad or deeply missing and longing for the person you lost, but that you are able to return at some point to your day-to-day lives.

Remember that sudden and tragic deaths, or your own unique circumstances, impact the way you respond to loss. Even if you are a resilient person, in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death most of us struggle to cope. If you need additional guidance to set you on the path to recovery, then please check out my book and the amazing reviews it has received.

Thank you so much to those who wrote the reviews.  I’m hoping to stay high up in the Google rankings and spread the mission of Courage Road. Here's a super easy link to write a review of me, as your grief counselor, or my book. Review My Book On Google 

If you want to read the full article about grief and resilience, you can do so here. It’s well written and has lots more thought provoking ideas about the grief journey.

Posted on August 22, 2018 .

Learning to Live with Loss

The good news is that the pain of loss does soften over the years. I never like the phrase “get over it”.  I prefer that we “accommodate” our losses. It weaves into the fabric of our lives.

The bad news is that Grief can resurrect itself at any time, even years later—when you smell a familiar scent, when you see a couple walking hand in hand, when you see a child the same age as when your own child died. You know what I’m talking about. It can hit you like a sledgehammer or it can hit with sweet memories. Sometimes, down the Road, you may remember the pain but you don’t feel the pain.  What a relief when that finally happens.

If you haven’t done your grief work, the pain is more likely to impact you. Reading my book, Courage Road: Your Guide from Grief to Hope, will show you the many ways to do your grief work. Thank you to all of you who purchase it on my website for yourself or a friend or family member.

My purpose and goal with Courage Road has always been to reach more grievers who need help on this difficult journey. I’ve avoided this marketing stuff for a long time, but I’m now attempting to go full force. I’ll be much more active on Courage Road Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and who knows what else. I’d appreciate your support in reading what I post. Did you know that even if you read but not “like”,  it helps Google know this information is valuable?

Also, I've set up a review page on FB. That’s different than just writing a comment.  Would you mind writing a review about either my book or the help that you have received.  https://www.facebook.com/pg/courageroad/reviews/ THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Posted on July 11, 2018 .

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is approaching. This is often considered a "Hallmark" holiday. That is, a day commercialized to help businesses with the sale of cards, flowers, candy, etc. However, for those who are grieving the loss of their mother, this day will probably trigger layers of emotions.  Perhaps she was your best friend, your confidante, your rock, the one you turned to for guidance. My mom died of a brain tumor the month before my first child was born. I had never even changed a diaper. I needed her comfort and support. I grieved that my children would never know her sweet presence. 

Some of you may not have had a good relationship with your mother and therefore you grieve the finality, that what could have been will never be—unfinished business. 

Perhaps your feelings are mixed and confused because although you loved her dearly, she left you with a big mess of a house to clean and finances to straighten out. Or you may be happy she is no longer suffering, but you miss her physical presence. Or she was already "gone" with dementia years ago. I uniquely feel for those of you whose mother died while you were a child. 

Grieving is rarely straightforward. It's a jagged and complex road to healing. Doing the "work" will ease this difficult journey. Here's my suggestion for this upcoming Mother's Day: write your mom a handwritten letter. That's right, handwritten, not computerized. Just write what's on your mind. No judgment. Putting the pen to paper helps to heal the heart. 

Here's a quick non-sciencey article about the positive effects of handwriting:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nancyolson/2016/05/15/three-ways-that-writing-with-a-pen-positively-affects-your-brain/#5b41e34e5705

If your mom is still with us, then write her a letter. This may just be for your own therapy. Depending on your relationship with her, you do not need to give it. But remember, one day she will be gone and then won't have the chance to say what you've been putting off. "I love you," or "Let's work on a better relationship," or "Why am I the only child with green eyes?" 

 In Memory of Margaret Ransom

In Memory of Margaret Ransom

Posted on May 7, 2018 .

The Pervasiveness of Grief

Hello Dear Ones - I have not written a Courage Road post for several months. I'll tell you why. In the face of what happened in my former community of Santa Barbara/Montecito, I was rendered speechless. The devastation of the fires and then the mudslides were incomprehensible. What words could possibly comfort during this unprecedented disaster? I don't live there anymore but I still felt the impact in my gut. I was told of the somber mood which loomed over the cities. Such grief! And more recently the Parkland shootings in Florida—more grief. 

Is it me or does grief seem to pervade our daily lives?

The theme of my book Courage Road: Your Guide from Grief to Hope speaks about the courage it takes to face the pain, not to numb or deny it. However, I also emphasize the need for balance. It's far too dark and depressing to stay in the state of pain. Sometimes we must distract ourselves. 

Can you plan something that might be entertaining like a movie? Or can you take a break from news? Or can you get together with friends and declare a "Positive Only Zone". Some of you left the Santa Barbara area to breath clean air somewhere else. Did it feel good to get away? Could you practice releasing the worry of the day? 

Many of you may have experienced trauma associated with the tragic events. I firmly believe that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can help minimize and even remove disturbing images or sensations that we are unable to shake off. Please find a therapist who practices that modality of treatment. 

Posted on March 7, 2018 .

Gratitude Keeps Bitterness at Bay

I am grateful to all of you who read my Courage Road updates because YOU give meaning to my life. I’m assuming that what I’m writing is helpful therefore that gives my life purpose.

In my experience as a grief counselor, I found that  those who were able to be grateful for something, anything—even in the midst of profound grief—were the ones I knew would heal. Being grateful keeps away BITTERNESS, which is, as they say, an awful pill to swallow.

Please watch this video on YouTube.  It’s upbeat and for those in deep grief “upbeat” can sometimes be annoying or even offensive. But if you watch, I know you will understand why I recommend it.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Remember if you would like to purchase my book, I encourage you to do so on my website instead of Amazon. You will be paying it forward to help others in grief.

Posted on November 23, 2017 .

Perspectives on Loss

I have recently been reminded of a client that came to see me in 2008, shortly after the loss of her mother by suicide. She gave me permission to share her PERSPECTIVE ON LOSS. It seems especially appropriate given the recent California fires.

Satie Airamé wrote this almost two years after her losses:

Together with many other families in Santa Barbara, my husband and I lost our home and almost all our belongings in the Tea Fire on November 13, 2008. As the fire roared up Sycamore Canyon, we had a few minutes to evacuate some of our artwork and photographs, important documents and a handful of clothing. We left our home of ten years just minutes before the raging firestorms reached our property. We were lucky to drive to safety, unharmed.  

In spite of our overwhelming loss brought about by the Tea Fire, we have been able to maintain some perspective on the true meaning of loss. Just a few months before the fire took our home, my mother took her own life after a long and difficult struggle with depression. When I learned of her death, I felt my heart breaking. For days, I was numb with shock; nauseated with pain; dizzy with anxiety. My body felt heavy like lead; I was overcome with fatigue. I slept like a stone, dreamless. I was afraid of waking each morning, dreading the realization that I would never again be able to talk to my mother or hug her.

Satie goes on to describe the value of getting into a Survivors of Suicide group.

We, a community of survivors, all struggle with overwhelming emotions and questions after the suicide of a loved one. Little by little, we share thoughts and feelings, and seek to co-exist—and eventually LIVE—with our losses.

In the stressful days after the Tea Fire, I sometimes wondered how my mother would have comforted and counseled me. I knew what she would say—because she said it many times before. When she felt weighed down by material stuff, my mom said, “Everybody needs a good fire once in awhile.” In other words, material belongings can become a burden and their unexpected loss can free the owner to pursue true inspiration of the present moment, uncomplicated by historical experiences and acquisitions. Our material losses caused by the Tea Fire remind us that happiness arises, not from a house and our belongings, but from the fire of life and spirit of kindness within us, and the gift of love we share with our family and friends.

Please note that Satie gave herself permission to truly and deeply grieve both losses. Perspective comes only with time, not in the midst of the pain. She told me that even writing this piece was painful, re-living the experience, but it was also cathartic.

Posted on November 8, 2017 .

Processing Grief

Oh my goodness! There has been so much devastation and tragedy recently—Houston, Florida Keys, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Las Vegas—grief upon grief upon grief. Perhaps you are witnessing this grief on the news and not personally. But the assault on our senses has an impact on us. It’s also an assault on our assumption of safety, which is quickly eroding if not already eradicated. How many of us are losing sleep because we are fearful? Watching the news we want to vomit, cry, wail, or count our blessings because we know that could have been any of us.

Perhaps you not only watching the news but you were personally effected by your own recent losses—you buried your beloved father recently, or your best friend was diagnosed with terminal illness. What do we do with all this GRIEF?

The clinical term is PROCESS. Why is it important to process? Because it truly helps your healing journey—whether it’s talking with someone who lovingly validates, or doing some expressive arts (collage, poem), or walking with reflective intention, or journal. There are many ways to do something with that grief energy as opposed to doing nothing with the fear, helplessness, loneliness, and all the other feelings that accompany grief.  

The following are examples of two women who took steps to process.  

Leslie A. Westbrook wrote about her many losses for an article in The Independent—a weekly Santa Barbara newspaper.  As I read, I felt deeply about the way she was honoring the people whom she loved and lost and about the way she honored her own feelings. The beginning of the article is captivating. You’ll want to read the rest. Click on the link below.     

Dear Grief, It’s time to take a break. I have spent way too much time with you. The death of my father along with 20 other friends, family members, and neighbors in 2014 was unfathomable and had me reeling. I didn’t think you had it in you to come back so soon — but sure enough, there you were again in 2015, back with a vengeance.

http://www.independent.com/news/2016/jan/06/dear-grief/

Next is a book of poems that I have referenced before. One of her amazing poems is in my book. Susan Cochran’s husband, Jim died suddenly in 2010. Although grieving deeply, she was such an example to our Widows’ Group of how to process or move that grief energy around. This year she published In the Sea of Grief and Love, a compilation of the many poems she wrote about her loss. They are so honest and loving and powerful. You can buy Susan’s book on Amazon.    

Thank you so much to all who attended my presentations at La Casa de Maria and Hospice of Santa Barbara. I really appreciate you.

Please remember to buy my book on my website instead of Amazon if you want to support the mission of Courage Road.                                   

Posted on October 6, 2017 .

Finding your way Home from grief

I recently gave a presentation to a group of about 25 people at a retirement community. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not prefer public speaking. Once I’m doing it, I’m fine, but prior to it I’m a mess of nerves. I was, however, pleased with the talk and I’d like to summarize the theme in today’s Courage Road post.

Imagine the grief journey using Dorothy on the yellow brick road.  Dorothy is trying to find Home, which represents hope and healing. We’ll begin when Dorothy is in the tornado and her house is going round and round. She feels afraid and alone—very similar to the place when a loved one dies. 

How surreal it was to land in Munchkin Land. Yet she put on her Look Good Mask and smiled and nodded robotically. When people remarked how well and strong she looked, they did not realize she was just in shock. The Munchkins wish her well on her journey, “Get well real soon,” not understanding how long the grief journey can take.

Dorothy encounters many obstacles on the grief journey—remember the evil little monkeys and the trees who threw apples at her. These obstacles represent the many issues that occur—big and small that can seem overwhelming and exhausting. Perhaps it is the family drama at the funeral or the issues surrounding the trust or estate or lack of trust or estate! Perhaps it is the obstacle of figuring out your new identity or role or finding new interests or friendships. There are so many questions to ponder. Trust that you will find solutions to these obstacles on the grief journey if you either have the courage to face the tough questions and/or allow the time to let the answers unfold.

On the way, Dorothy finds friends who can help her grieve in a healthy way. The Scarecrow needs a brain. The Tin Man needs a heart, and the Lion needs courage. Of course, they already have these qualities in them. They just need to learn to access them. The same goes for grievers.

A griever definitely needs Courage like the Lion acquires to begin the healthy way down the grief Road. No pulling up of bootstraps. A healthy griever faces the pain head on. If they don’t, it will come back to bite them further down—either in anger or irritability or becoming ill by suppressing these strong emotions.  Also, if there are unresolved issues of past losses then they all surface again at the present loss. Grief must be expressed in a healthy way.

Next, when someone is in deep grief it may feel they have lost their brain like the Scarecrow—it’s important to find it in order to make the difficult decisions that must be made. How does one find their brain? By taking care of one’s basic needs. Drink plenty of water to replenish the tears you have shed. Feed your brain nutrients like green smoothies instead of a pint of ice cream. Find healthy comfort food. I’m convinced this is not an oxymoron. (Read Everyday Detox by Megan Gilmore.)

Rest is another important element of healing. Remember when Dorothy and her friends found a field of flowers and they slept. Sometimes sleep can be elusive, but at least try to rest. Taking care of oneself is essential. Wrap your support system around you like a blanket (sorry for those reading this in 100 degree heat, a blanket does not sound comforting). Dorothy found true loving and supportive friends who helped her the whole way on the journey.

Last but not least, Dorothy found the sweet Tin Man with the big heart. Heart is where the love is. I say if you love at a one, you grieve at a one. If you love at a five, you grieve at a five, and if you love at a ten, you will grieve at a ten. Grieving takes as long as it takes. But you must do your grief work by facing the pain and not avoiding it. Only then will you integrate the loss. You will accommodate to it. Hope and Healing does happen.

Please remember that my book Courage Road: Your Guide from Grief to Hope is for sale through this website. Although the shipping is not free, you are putting that fee back into my business of Courage Road, which will allow me to help more people in grief. Amazon gives me back only 55 cents! I’m not kidding. So thank you in advance for supporting Courage Road and not Amazon. It makes a great gift for someone who has lost a loved one.

Posted on July 19, 2017 .

Having the courage to grieve

Couragenoun. 
1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion.

Do we underestimate what it takes to face the many facets of grief head on?  When you hear of a tragedy on the news, sensationalism aside, it takes courage to look. Full disclosure—I shy away from movies or books or articles about grief because, good grief, it’s too difficult sometimes. But it is everywhere and it is part of life. I’ll tell you what makes looking at grief palatable: If it is expressed honestly, tastefully, and the words or images mirror your own feelings or teach you some truths that you may not know.

Here are some examples of courage in the face of difficulty, fear, or pain:

1) A man who recently looked at the image of the Road on my website and on the cover of my book (see above image) wrote this: "The image from your website is straight out of my soul. I sat with it, and continue sitting with it open in my browser, until a buffalo came slowly walking down the road towards me with her deep eyes peering through her thick fur. I recalled learning why buffalo hair grows that way, heavy in the front. When storms come blowing across the plains, buffalo turn and face the storm. They don’t turn and run but stand shoulder to shoulder and face the storm head on. Thank you for reminding me that wherever we are in our grief, we can still walk that Courage Road."

What a beautiful description of courage, and I love how nature teaches us.

2) The Light Between Oceans (2016). This is a film that was just as good as the book. It takes place after WWI in Australia. A lighthouse keeper and his wife suffer several miscarriages then find a baby in a boat and they take it as their own. Joy and more grief follows, as you can imagine.  It depicts the heartbreak of miscarriages—a loss that is profoundly minimized in our culture. We should watch this film if only to have more empathy for families who can be devastated by this particular loss. But there are more reasons to watch this beautiful story unfold. Have the courage to view it.

3) The following profound words were spoken by Lucy Kalanithi on a TEDMED Talk. She is the widow of a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36. In Lucy's 2016 TEDMED Talk, she shares the perspective their family gained during Paul's difficult transition from doctor to patient.

“We learned to accept both joy and sadness at the same time, to uncover beauty and purpose both despite and because we are all born and we all die. Engaging in the full range of experience—living and dying, love and loss is what we get to do. Being human doesn’t happen despite suffering. It happens within it. When we approach suffering together, when we choose not to hide from it, our lives don’t diminish, they expand.”

Watch her talk in its entirety here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VacgRdKqjM

Posted on July 12, 2017 .

The many types of loss

Courage Road was written for those who have experienced a loss by death, but I want to acknowledge all the numerous kinds of losses, and validate the pain loss causes in lives.

Loss of a beloved pet who is not just a pet but your friend, an integral member of your family.

Loss of the dream of finding love. And possibly with that, not ever having children or grandchildren. We think of that loss primarily for women but what of the man who longed for a child?

Loss of quality of life after an accident or injury, chronic pain, financial hardship leading to depression or irritability and relationship struggles.

Loss of identity for those who served in the war and came home to a different kind of world, not fitting in.

Loss of a relationship, or strained relationship due to differing political or religious views.

Divorce, house flooded or burned down, legal problems, bullying, life threatening illnesses, caregiving, job loss, and unemployment, or even under-employment. Loss of feeling safe in the world, mental health problems, lack of medical care, and loneliness.

All of these losses and more carry a form of heartbreak and fear. I don’t care if a person is normally positive, generally grateful, or looks on the bright side—at some point these griefs must be acknowledged and deeply felt because they are significant and can change the course of one’s life.  Feel the weight… but not forever. At the back of my book are tips to help ease the grief journey and not stay stuck. Allow for the ebb and flow of the emotions. It’s okay to feel sad. Then after a time write down what you are grateful for or plan a project, or ask for help, or eat something healthier than greasy chips.

Another tip is to realize that these losses may have happened to you, but they are not who you are. After giving yourself a time to grieve, try not to let loss define the rest of your life. This takes practice, especially if the loss is ongoing.

If we all still wore black, or for current times, something like an armband indicating that we are in grief, with the words Tender Heart written on in, I believe we would see many. And would we all be more sensitive to someone wearing the armband? I certainly hope so.

Posted on July 5, 2017 .

How grief changes as time passes

For some who are grieving, the passage of time holds hope that the pain of loss will be softened. For others, there is sadness that as the days and months pass, they are further away from their loved one. Neither feeling is necessarily true.

Time does soften the pain but this does not mean that you won’t have waves of intense pain and longing even as time passes. Holiday periods are particularly poignant and difficult, especially when it appears that many are celebrating.

So what tools can you use to feel a bit better? Know that these grief waves will pass. What you feel today will not be what you will feel next week. It will change. Feelings pass and feelings change. Also, do your best to take care of yourself physically. Drink plenty of water. Comfort food does indeed seem to comfort but try not to over-indulge. Keep a journal. Even if you write only a few sentences, this marks time that often appears to pass slowly. With a journal you can review how your grief journey is progressing when sometimes it feels that it isn’t progressing at all.

As far as feeling that you are further from your loved one, if your loss is more recent then you may want to have a “sacred” place to visit in order to reflect on your relationship with your loved one. Some people set up memorial gardens. Some people visit the cemetery. Some use their journal to write letters to their loved one. At some point in time, this may stop and that’s okay.

Your relationship with your loved one has changed in the physical realm but depending on your beliefs, you may still feel connected spiritually. And remember that the love bond never dies.

I’m currently at Lake Tahoe where my mom and dad built a cabin when I was seven years old. There are so many wonderful memories here. They have been gone many years ago but their loving spirits are all around. My siblings and I scattered my dad’s ashes on the ski hill near the cabin. So walking or skiing down that run, I pay my respects to my parents.

Posted on June 28, 2017 .

Taking care of yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed

I want to give you an excerpt from my book, Courage Road: Your Guide Through Grief to Hope. It’s written as a guidebook through the grief journey. I’ll take you through the various terrains of grief common to many, such as Torrential Rain representing Sorrow, or Tornado representing feeling loss of Control. Throughout the guide are Traveler’s Tips and Traveler’s Tales. Along the Road, I give tools to put in your backpack that are essential to healing. My hope is for this book to be practical, relatable, and, dare I say, enjoyable if a book on grief can be that.

QUICKSAND / Overwhelm

There is too much to deal with. Things feel beyond my ability to cope. Even the smallest things feel like too much to do. I want to run away. I want to be rescued. I want my life back the way it was. It feels like there is no relief, I have no more room in my pain bucket. I feel like I’m drowning.

The best way to deal with being overwhelmed is to take care of yourself. This sounds too simple, but just consider the consequences if you do not take care of yourself. Your system will not be able to do the healing and you will not be able to function at a higher level in order to make all those decisions that you need to make. So, this means getting adequate sleep, feeding yourself properly (comfort food if necessary but not to excess), and staying hydrated to offset the loss of those tears you have shed. All of this is essential for your brain to work properly. If your brain does not work properly, then you cannot think clearly about your next step, let alone the bigger decisions that are pressing down on you.

In addition, breaking down your To Do List, or decisions, into realistic and manageable steps will help control the overwhelmed feeling. Learn to ask for help in specific ways. All those people who vaguely said to call them if you needed help, do it. Put them to the test. You will find that most friends truly want to help but they do not know how. If you give them a task, even if it is putting out the trashcans to the curb, they may feel privileged to help you. This will stop the feeling that you are sinking further and further into the quicksand with only your head above the ground.

Practice the Buffet Approach to healing. This means that you are going to try a little of this, a little of that.

All the tools in your backpack need to be practiced. In this way, you will be building up your healing muscle. So, for overwhelm, you could write down three top things on your mind today and accomplish one. You may need to ask for help to get you started. Then drink lots of water and feed yourself a nourishing meal so your brain can function. Then—and this is critical to rewiring your brain—reflect on your accomplishments. Look at what you did instead of what you didn’t do. For some, even getting out of bed is a victory. These seemingly small accomplishments often snowball momentum.

Posted on June 21, 2017 .

How the backpack metaphor can help you navigate grief

I want to explain my backpack logo, which is essential to understanding the healing process of grief. Grieving is a process, a journey, a long road in which you encounter many different facets or emotional terrains along the way. These emotional terrains may include, for example, a dark forest in which all feels unfamiliar and surreal, or a cactus patch where you feel on edge and irritable. The road is definitely not a straight path. Instead, grievers go through twists and turns, hairpin curves that leave you reeling, and sometimes areas of terrain that are surprisingly peaceful.

Look at the backpack, which represents the journey and the tools that will aid you on the way. Now, notice the loops upward. Although one usually wants a straight line upward to get out of the pain of grief, the loops represent the reality. One makes progress upward, then the loop goes downward.

Please see info-graphic below which a dear client made for me, based on this concept.

These loops could be in the course of an hour (if it is a recent death) or in the course of a day or week, etc.  It is essential to keep in mind that the loop does go upward again, in time. Grief changes from one hour to the next, from one day to the next. Although it may feel you are making no progress, in fact, you are slowly going upward. It may feel that you are thrown back at Day 1 or Rock Bottom, but this is not the case. Feelings are not always the truth. Feelings change and pass. Try to allow the feelings to pass and trust the healing process.

Posted on June 14, 2017 .

Courage Road: My journey to authorship

I started this website about a year ago. The primary purpose was to give free information and support on my blog posts for those who are going through the grief journey, and for those wanting guidance to help their friends or loved ones along that difficult path. My book, Courage Road: Your Guide from Grief to Hope, is an extension of this site.

Courage Road is a book I started several years ago. It took much longer to write than I thought it would, but as I went on I grew confident that each adjustment was an improvement. In the end finding a book designer was the trickiest part!

It’s written like a travelers’ guidebook with lots of practical tips and tales.

I am constantly thinking about death, dying, grieving, and grievers because it’s my passion to help people get through their pain in the healthiest way possible. Grief counseling has been my passion for the last 10 years.

Another reason that grief is always on my mind is because it’s a part of our daily lives. Every single day we read a story or hear of someone we know who is ill or has died. I find it heartbreaking every day. And then there are the stories of triumph over heartbreak—but still, it’s all darn sad. Don’t get me going on sad animal stories.

I love to read novels. My sister suggests great ones. Almost every one contains some grief as part of it or whole of it. Some people find it comforting to know that they are not alone in their grief journey.

Here are some suggestions for great grief novels:

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is about facing the things we fear the most, about “finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel.” The descriptions of this mother’s grief are exquisitely articulated, truly beautiful.

Me Before You, and After You by Jojo Moyes are two novels which are much more light-heartened than the above recommendation, and very well written. Yes, the movie is out, but try to read the book first.

The Little Paris Bookshopby Nina George. This is a gem of a book. Hurry and read it before they make a movie of it. It’s about love and loss and the way back—that age-old theme.

This Old Man: All in Pieces by Roger Angell. He is an acclaimed New Yorker writer and editor who writes from the perspective of his 94 years.  Don’t you wonder how an elderly person who has undoubtedly suffered many losses in their lifetime can remain hopeful and vibrant?

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. This is non-fiction and debuted instantly on the NYT bestseller list. To paraphrase the blurb: the young hawk, fierce and feral, mirrors the temperament of the author’s own state of grief after her father’s death, and together they discover the pain and beauty of being alive.

Courage Road is non-fiction, but it’s written in an easy-to-follow style similar to fictional works. When you’re grieving, the last thing you want is to have to concentrate to understand something that’s supposed to be helping. Whether you’re grieving yourself, or know somebody who is, I hope Courage Road gives you the advice and support you need.

Posted on June 7, 2017 .

"I can't see light at the end of the road"

One client shared with me that initially following her bereavement she felt like she was in a fog and couldn’t fathom how she was going to survive. Months went by, and she realized she would survive her grief whether she liked it or not, but she still couldn’t see her future. This is normal.

It’s extremely difficult to see a future when you are in the cocoon of grief. In fact, you’re not supposed to be planning for the future unless you absolutely must. Your job is to take care of yourself, nurture yourself in that cocoon. In the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one, you may see no light, and that’s okay. The light would be blinding to your sensitive eyes. You are vulnerable and must be gentle with yourself.

Several months later, the same client shared, “I now see that I have a future, but I still cannot say what it is or even that I’m yet looking forward to it.” Your future will happen for you if you are open to the possibility of one. It will happen in unexpected ways. You may be surprised. It’s possible.

Note: Most people do not have the luxury of staying in the safe cocoon 24/7, and that usually isn’t healthy anyway. We must continue to take care of ourselves. We must also take care of our responsibilities: raising kids, buying groceries, paying bills. Do these necessary steps even when we don’t want to. Or better yet, ask for help getting some of those tasks done.

The impact if you don’t take care of the business of living will be overwhelming paralysis, and that’s not a good place to be stuck. When you accomplish some tasks, if you’re able, know it is then okay to return to the cocoon for however long your life allows. Notice the ebb and flow—good days, bad days, rest and responsibilities. This is not the time to prove your A-type personality. Learn to rest when you can.

Posted on July 27, 2016 .

Essential tools for surviving especially when your loss is recent

When you have had a fairly recent loss, aren’t you amazed when you can even get out of bed, shower, receive guests, do some tasks? “Wait! My beloved/best friend/child/sibling/parent died two months ago. How is it possible that the covers are not pulled over my head in a dark room?” This is the difference between grief and depression.

While grieving, you will have periods when you are doing okay, sort of functioning. Sometime you’ll have bursts of energy and accomplish many tasks. Sometimes you’re barely limping along, surprised you’re even still limping. Then the big wave hits and you’re awash with despair. You fall to the floor and wail.

Just like a wave in the ocean, when you see a big wave approaching and it gains speed and intensity and you feel like it will crush you, the key is to allow the wave to hit and go through you. It will always pass. If you avoid it, run for the shore, numb it, deny it, it will catch up and clobber you. Grief is a force of nature. Lean into the wave and it always passes. You can bear the pain. You must bear it in order to heal in the healthiest possible way. Just breathe, notice what you are feeling, sensing, remembering, and the wave will pass. Trust this process even though it is painful.

Posted on July 20, 2016 .

Why am I so exhausted?

Grieving is hard work. It is so much more complicated than people think. Other people do not see the beehive of emotions, thoughts, feelings that are buzzing around right in front of your face. I mean, right there in front of you face! Your friends and family are afraid to bring up your loss because they don’t want to bring you down. They don’t realize that the loss of your loved one is always there, always. It’s never on the back burner. Your memories, regrets, guilt, the longing for the physical body, the emptiness, the concern about the future, finances—those feelings are always there, buzzing in front of your face day and night. No wonder sleeping is often difficult.

A task like getting death certificates to the right places feels criminal at this time. Can’t the bill collectors and institutions give you a break? The bureaucracy of death is overwhelming.

The key is to ask for help, if you can, to get you through these tasks. All those well-meaning people who say, “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” Well, let them know. they may not be able to do the actual task, but they can be by your side as you do it. Sometimes it helps to have someone there, gently persuading you to pick up the phone or write one more thank you note. Let those kind people know you need quiet, not chatter. Chatter is exhausting.

As far as the beehive in front of your face, the key is to journal, make lists, or share with someone who will give you time (more than five minutes, if you please), to vent or complain or share a memory. It’s important to allow the beehive to be released—to move it from your head to your heart. When you share with someone you trust, that person should validate your pain, not try to fix it.

For sleeplessness, try homeopathic remedies first, since prescription medications are often addictive. But please work on this issue, as sleep is essential for your healing process.

Posted on July 13, 2016 and filed under Grief, healthy grieving.