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.

Sibling Loss

“I have no one to talk to. My friends just want a curiosity story. I don’t know who I can trust to hold the significance of my loss. It’s so hard to see my parents in pain. I feel like I lost my childhood the moment my sibling died. I lost the innocent belief that life is safe. Group is not hard. It’s harder to hold it in.”

An eighteen-year-old came in for counseling because of the loss of his younger brother, who died suddenly. His brother was also his best friend.

This age group is very difficult to get into grief counseling. There is a stigma attached to therapy, and they seem to feel that they will “be better” in a few months. My client was hoping I could provide a magic cure for his pain, but he soon realized this wasn’t going to be the case.

At first, he pretended that his brother was just on a trip and would return. When the permanence set in, the pain was so profound he felt like dropping out of college. He had some guilt that if only he had woken earlier, he could have checked on his brother and therefore his death could have been prevented. I told him these thoughts are common—the if-onlys and what-ifs. Everyone wants to know the point in time that they could have intervened for a different outcome, but only Superman could spin the world backwards to change history.

Another issue that often comes up around sibling loss is that they feel the need to take care of their parents’ grief, but feel helpless about being able to do so. This is emphasized when people ask how their parents are doing, instead of asking how they are doing. The sibling may feel forgotten as the emphasis is clearly on the parents who have lost their child.

I remind siblings that every person in the family has their own personal grief journey to go through. Each must walk it in their own way. Of course, there is a need to be sensitive to each other, but understand that you are feeling helpless for a reason. Their journey is not your journey. Remember that grieving is okay. It is not something to be taken away or minimized. It is the price we pay for love.

Posted on July 6, 2016 .

Connect the dots—understanding the "bad" days

Clients often come to a session wondering why they had such a bad week or day. First of all, let’s talk about what a bad day is. Are you crying more? Are you in deep emotional pain? That’s because you’re grieving, and that’s okay. When you love at a one, you grieve at a one. When you love at a five, you grieve at a five. And when you love at a ten, you’ll grieve at a ten. It is normal and it’s a whole and natural expression of love. It’s also important to acknowledge that you’re grieving. Many people minimize grief, even to themselves, because we don’t live in a culture that allows it to be okay.

Sometimes the hard grief comes knocking at your heart unannounced, without specific reasons like an assault to your body. And sometimes, there is a reason you may be unaware of and it might help to connect the dots. It is the one month, or six month, or two-year anniversary of the loss of your loved one? Is his/her birthday coming up? Did you smell a fragrance that reminded you of them? Is it the season you both enjoyed? One often holds these memories in the body, and the mind may not have remembered.

One father I counseled always had a terrible time around the full moon. He realized that it was the time of month his daughter died. It was terribly painful for a very long time. He now looks at the full moon and remembers how much he continues to love her.

It can help you to connect the reason for your deep pain. And also, remember that the grief will pass and change—maybe in an hour, or day, or week. But you can count on it changing.

Posted on June 29, 2016 .

The thing about Support Groups

If they are good, they are very, very good. A good grief support group allows you to be authentic in your feelings. You can take off your “I'm-pretending-to-be-strong" mask. You are with people who really get what you are going through, and that kind of bond is invaluable. There was a woman in one of my groups who was so sad that her gaze never left the floor. So when she said that she felt that she was not getting what she needed from group, that she felt different from everyone, I asked her to look up and see how when she shared, everyone in group was nodding in agreement. She was missing out on all that validation. Face it. Grieving is a very lonely journey. Don't do it alone.

That being said, a support group needs some essential components for it to be good. The facilitator must be able to monitor time gently so that everyone gets to share. I don't believe in using a timer. There are times when one person may need more time than others depending on the circumstances arising in their life. I discovered my group understands that need and they are willing to give up a few minutes of their time. However, I do not allow group-hoggers. The hogger is someone who is unaware of other's needs. They over-share and take more time than others every meeting. The other group members become resentful. I will speak to the hogger after group and if they are unable to remedy the issue, then I dismiss them. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

Also, if possible, breaking support groups into the smallest common denominator works best. Generic loss groups are not as beneficial in the long run, although short-term they can be okay if the focus is psycho-educational. Putting a widower in with a woman who just lost her baby is not optimum. Yes, loss is loss, but these two have very different grief processes going on.

One more thing—a good support group should not be stiff and formal. It was amazing and wonderful how often my group laughed. I think it's about that shared bond. If your group is depressing you, then you are in the wrong support group. Or maybe it's too soon for you. In fact, I usually do not accept people into group until about three months after their loss because some grievers may be too raw to hear laughter.

Posted on June 22, 2016 .

"Don't ask me how I'm doing. I usually have to lie."

It's so difficult to know how to comfort a grieving person.  Everyone is different. One client said, "If someone says, 'I'm sorry for your loss’ one more time, I'll want to punch them." I gently asked, "What would you prefer that they say?"  She could not come up with a response because there are times when nothing comforts. Most people are well meaning with their intention to comfort, but they may say something insensitive nonetheless. Other people are downright stupid. "I know how you feel, my grandpa died when I was three", or "Your mom died like three months ago, and you're still feeling sad?" Yes, nitwit.

Much of support group time is taken up by venting about insensitive comments or behaviors. So many grievers have complained that they see people avoiding them in public. Once a person has said their initial condolences, they don't know what else to say. Or perhaps a griever is having a relatively good day and they run into someone who expects them to be heavily grieving, so then they have to play that part. Most people have no idea that your loss will take a long time to incorporate into your world, so when asked, "How are you doing?" a griever has to decide how honest to be. Often the mask comes on and being authentic loses out.

Be cautious about who you share with and what you share. Don't set yourself up to be invalidated. Also, try to realize most people are simply doing the best they can with what our culture has given us in the world of bereavement. Don't allow the insensitive comments to stick. Practice using a Teflon mind.

Posted on June 15, 2016 .

"This can't be true," says a mother whose adult son died

I ran a group for parents who had lost their adult children to suicide, or overdose, or accident—sudden deaths in other words, no time to prepare or to say goodbye. Being the facilitator to this group was one of the most difficult and most satisfying events of my life. Much of the time I wanted to be in the fetal position as I listened to their heartbreak. But many other times, we laughed, we cried, we bonded, we loved.

This core group of wonderful, loving parents were so honest with themselves and with each other. Who else but those who relate can sit with that kind of pain? Many had lost friendships for this reason. Unless you have experienced the loss of a child you have no clue the long, long time it takes to heal and the depths of pain you go through. In fact, when a new person would come to group and observe that this core group had been attending for several years, they became dejected, not being able to fathom being in pain for so long. But here's the thing—grief changes from one minute to the next, one hour or one day to the next. You will not be in the same place next month as you are now. You might be in a worse place (I know you don't want to hear this) but eventually you will be in a better place. The ups and downs are exhausting, but healing does occur whether you like it or not.

One of my dear clients in group said, "I search for meaning or a way to honor my son. But often, inside, I am a crazy mother yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘Nooooo, this cannot be true.’ I think if I yell it enough then time will reverse and I will have him back."  The mother also said, "All this is bullshit. It won't bring my son back." She recognized that this was how she was feeling at that moment in time. She said, "Just being able to share it with a group of people who understand is valuable."

Don't grieve alone. Find someone who can understand and validate.

Posted on June 8, 2016 .

S-L-O-W I-T D-O-W-N

If you are an A-type personality who likes to check things off your list, then you will want the accelerated course in "How to Grieve". I'm so sorry. I have not discovered this course. I'm sure it does not exist.

When you love someone, you risk the pain of losing them. I certainly understand why, in this fast-paced culture, you would want to get rid of such pain ASAP. But doesn't your loved one deserve this period of mourning? And don't you deserve this time to honor your feelings and reflect, however painfully, on the love that you shared?

Then there are others who do not want to leave the pain behind because they feel they are leaving their loved one behind. That is a myth—your love will continue always. Always. Your loss will eventually be assimilated into your life, your body, your heart. This happens softly, slowly, organically like watching a gradual dawning of the day. Please don't try to force it. Healthy healing occurs on its own timetable. 

Posted on June 1, 2016 .

Grief as an ecosystem—a young person loses a friend to suicide

I was seeing a young client because she was struggling with the pain of losing a dear friend. He took his own life by jumping off a bridge. She was taking a college course about our ecosystem and gave a presentation in class using the example of her grieving process as an ecosystem. I just loved the way she took deep reflection on the pain she had been dealing with.

Her teacher spoke of the five elements in our ecosystem—energy, waste, diversity, change, and connectivity—which my client likened to the stages of grief. She described the energy around hearing her best friend had killed himself. Her energy was zapped. The Waste part was when she turned to drugs because she had no tools to cope with the tragedy of her loss. The Diversity was her spending time in nature to heal (she also does yoga and Tibetan bowls).

Her teacher told her that nothing in the natural world goes to waste, but in the human world we tend to be wasteful. In the natural world, there’s decay and renewal. So for my sweet client, what had to change was the myth she held about her loss—that his death was somehow her fault. She was clinging to that notion, and it only prevented her from dealing with her grief.

Finally came Connectivity. Many of her insights came while trusting the process of grief counseling. This then connected her back to her family and friends. I hope her insight resonates with others.

Posted on April 21, 2016 and filed under Suicide.