Tuesday, August 16, 2016
• Be aware that the bereaved parent’s grief may trigger your own. If you haven’t dealt with the grief of your own losses, you may be shocked by how upset you become. Don’t pull away, and don’t squelch your own emotions. It’s fine to cry with the grieving person and to cry later on your own. Grief needs to be expressed.
• Don’t abandon the grieving person. Your silence only adds to her pain. Shechtman writes, “What I have found most helpful over the years are those who chose to be straight with me. It is the silence and abandonment that adds to the pain. I always thought it was a hilarious statement for people to say, ‘I was afraid that I might upset you.’ How much more upset can a person be?”
• Know that you can’t help her right away. Over time, though, your efforts will make a difference. “We do not have the power to give back what has been lost, and the grieving person cannot give us the smile and assurance that our help has made everything all right,” reflects Shechtman. “The greater the loss, the longer this will be true. However, over time our assistance does help. It is analogous to applying salve to a wound. The salve will not magically heal, but over time, the salve, plus the healing power of the body, will at some point heal the wound.”
• Pray and send positive thoughts. This helps more than you may realize. “An important piece that helped me through that very difficult time was a persistent sense of being ‘held up’ by all the prayers, good wishes, and positive vibes sent my way,” writes Shechtman. “I am not a religious person, but that sense was powerful and difficult to ignore. It was the spiritual equivalent of many hands holding up a person during a ‘trust fall.’ I am eternally thankful for all those good wishes.”
• Expect the bereaved to go through a long period of depression. It’s okay. This is when the major work of grieving is done. “Grief goes on longer than anyone wants it to, or thinks it should,” writes Shechtman. “Everyone gets sick of it, including the bereft person—and still it goes on. As helpers, once again, we feel our own helplessness and impotence, and we want to withdraw. That is a normal and natural response, and is to be trusted. Some distance is necessary at this point because so much of the work is private and internal.
“Just sitting or walking together, or a brief handclasp, is all that is required, and the most effective way to get through this time,” she adds.
• Let the person grieve however she wants to grieve. Your intolerance of her choices is more about your comfort than hers. “I am fiercely for a person grieving any way he or she chooses,” writes Shechtman. “I once had a young woman client who lost her husband three weeks after they married. Her choice was to wear black for a full year after his death. She got no end of flak from others. Again and again, the message she heard was, ‘Get over it’—or, more accurately, ‘Don’t bother me.’”
• Watch out for chirpiness. Sometimes a grieving person keeps herself at a safe distance from others. She may seem strong and in control and may not bother anyone else with her problems. There is a strange incongruence in effect and behavior that does not fit the circumstances. Shechtman calls this “chirpiness.”
“Chirpiness is probably the result of a lifetime of ‘being there’ for everyone else and feeling too terrified of the vulnerability of ‘breaking down’ and needing to ask for something from others,” she writes. “This is most likely related to early abandonment issues, and as a youngster this person was required to perform far beyond his or her developmental abilities. The way to help someone in this terrible dilemma is to gently insist on closeness. In short, to offer the help this person is so terrified of asking for.”
• Keep your relationship honest. Secret, unspoken feelings create distance. Twenty-six years after her daughter’s death, Shechtman developed breast cancer—creating a “double whammy” of grief. She credits her husband Morrie’s ability to express his darker feelings with keeping them close during those terrible months.
“He was able to tell me how angry he was that I had cancer,” she says. “If he had not, those secret, unspoken feelings would have made everything more difficult, and I would have wondered what was wrong that we couldn’t be intimate.”
• Don’t let the person hide behind her grief forever. Force her to re-engage. “I will never forget how a friend of mine helped me move on,” writes Shechtman. “About two years after my daughter’s death, he commented that I used her death like a black ace, to hide behind. I, of course, was very hurt and indignant at first, but as time passed, I realized he was right…I was a bit wobbly about taking the risk of loving and losing again…Sometimes the hardest things to say are the kindest. I am glad he and others cared enough for me to want me back.”
• Never ask, “Shouldn’t you be over it by now?” Believe it or not, people do ask this question, even if not in so many words, especially after a lot of time has passed. “The further one gets from the funeral, the less tolerance others have for one’s grief,” says Shechtman. “But bereavement is a condition that never clears up. The loss of a child is a never-ending process of feeling wounded and regaining wholeness. Telling grieving parents to get over their grief would be like telling an amputee not to miss her arm.”
• No matter how much time has passed, acknowledge special occasions. This is your chance to be a healing force in the grieving person’s life. On what would have been Sharon’s 37th birthday, Shechtman’s friend Deb showed up with a birthday cake and fifteen balloons, one for each year of Sharon’s life. They ate the cake and threw Sharon’s piece over the side of the deck. Then, they let the balloons fly away, the first five individually (each accompanied by a shouted message to Sharon), the last ten together.
“We stood there together and watched them sail away till they were all gone,” writes Shechtman. “With each balloon I let her go a little bit more, again, and the final release of the other ten felt wonderful. The silent choice was to open my heart a bit wider for that healing closeness that happens in intimate moments.”
• Offer to be on the grieving person’s “List of Ten.” Shechtman writes, “I developed a list of about ten folks I trusted and would call, one by one, to see if they were up to my grief, right then. There was always someone on my list who was there with comfort and solace. Grief requires comfort, a hard thing to keep asking for.
“Get on this list,” she advises. “Don’t wait for the person to ask. Tell her, ‘I am here for you, even if you need to cry at 2 a.m.’ Then, if she does call, do everything in your power to talk as long as she needs to. Your willing and patient presence is the greatest gift you can give someone who is grieving.”
# # #
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Then I awake
Thursday, July 7, 2016
I am the third rose from the right
In the bouquet
Beautiful and fragrant
Like all the rest
Long stemmed and elegant
Standing in the vase
Nothing more beautiful or fragrant
Then the others
Nothing more elegant
Or different then any
Amidst so much beauty and elegance
I am just another rose
How to stand out
How to get noticed
How to give voice
To the ache in my heart
What do I do
Since I am just another rose
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
The Grieving Channel: To understand, perfect and expand the grieving process.
In the years of my journey as a therapist and bereaved parent I have noticed several important recurring themes. The first and most important one is the unending pressure to not grieve. It is truly amazing at how little time people are given to recover from one of the biggest upheavals in adult life, the death of a child. But that pressure isn’t limited to bereaved parents, it is also true for widows/widowers and down the line to everything else that might demand a tear or two be shed. It is truly astonishing.
The second recurring theme in working with people for over thirty years is that after all is said and done, the root problem is most often some unprocessed loss. I love all the “Oh by the way, my dad died when I was 3, do you think that matters? It was so long ago it probably isn’t important”
That is the third recurring theme, the complete discounting and dismissal of the wounds we carry for most of our lives.
The fourth theme is constant comment about “shouldn’t you be over it by now? Time to get on with life. You are a downer to be around (yes, the death of a loved one is a real downer)
This constant preaching about when to be done is both external and internal We learn that to be sad is a” pity party” or “oh you are just feeling sorry for yourself”, “man up”, anything to stop the process, Grieving changes people too much.
I have come to think/feel that what we need is a safe place for people to grieve, scream and howl and sob as long as is needed.
That brings me to another recurring theme; those that insist on grieving actually do heal.
Monday, May 23, 2016
No Grief, No Relief: Why Grieving Is the Price of Healing
The loss of a loved one is terrible, and it can be tempting to do anything in your
power to avoid the pain. However, says Arleah Shechtman, you must choose
to feel and face your grief. Only then will you truly begin to heal.
If you’ve ever lost someone you deeply loved, you know the truth: Our culture doesn’t believe in grief. Sure, people will come to the funeral, give awkward hugs, and send flowers, but let a few weeks pass, and you’re expected to “move on” and to get (or at least act) “back to normal.” For this reason—and because it’s so painful to face the full brunt of our loss—many of us lock our grief away. We distract ourselves with work, numb ourselves with drugs (prescribed or otherwise), or maybe just trudge through the day in a dull state of stoicism.
It’s understandable. Grief sucks. No one wants to acknowledge—and certainly not feel firsthand—the raw, primal, out-of-control emotions that come along with great loss. But psychotherapist and executive coach Arleah Shechtman says that without grief there can be no healing.
“My fifteen-year-old daughter Sharon died nearly thirty-five years ago of a drug overdose, and in the decades since I have learned that grief is an ongoing, never-ending process,” says Shechtman, author of the new book My Beloved Child: My journey since the death of my daughter (Fifth Wave Leadership Publications, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-4750469-9-1, $13.95). “And I’ve also discovered that you have to make the choice to grieve—not just at the beginning but again and again as the years go by. Unfortunately, society discourages us from making that choice.”
Grieving is messy, nonlinear, and unpredictable. In a society that values “bucking up,” moving on, bringing order out of chaos, and finding salvation through hard work, this is downright inconvenient. Plus, as Shechtman has discovered from counseling patients, people are afraid if they fully experience the crushing pain of loss, they’ll be totally swamped with unmanageable feelings for the rest of their lives.
“Grief can be delayed through various tactics, but it can’t be denied altogether,” Shechtman warns. “However, exerting that much control over your emotions, thoughts, and body is very stressful and will impact your physical health. Even more dire is the emotional and spiritual stagnation that a suppression of grief causes. When you choose not to grieve, you will be unable to rebuild a meaningful, fulfilling, and loving life—which I promise is possible, even though you will never ‘complete’ the grieving process.”
Shechtman’s book describes in brutal and powerful detail what it’s like to make the choice to grieve—over and over again. Each chapter describes her experiences during a given five-year time block, ranging from the first five years to thirty-five years after the loss. The book is interspersed with her raw, moving, and beautiful poems, which played a large role in her healing process. And while it’s written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, its lessons will be invaluable to anyone who has experienced a loss.
Here, Shechtman offers advice on how to view and handle grief, and insight as to how facing it can ultimately help you to heal:
Don’t squelch your grief. It’s okay if you make other people uncomfortable. Grief isn’t something we learn. It’s instinctive and primal, and expressing it isn’t something that you can plan, script, or tone down—nor should you attempt to. The emotions you are feeling go beyond words, concepts, or thoughts. And only by fully expressing them can you begin to heal.
“Cry, scream, and allow yourself to ride the waves you’re feeling,” urges Shechtman. “I remember wailing, keening, and crying many times after losing Sharon. Years after her death, I found myself screaming and jumping up and down in anger while visiting her grave. All of these behaviors transgress the boundaries of ‘polite’ and even ‘acceptable’ behavior, but believe me, they are necessary—and society’s unwritten rules about the expression of grief are unhealthy and wrong. Trust your process.”
Grief comes in waves. Let them happen. They will pass. These waves, which surface at unpredictable times, are relatively short in duration but may be very intense. When you ride the waves to the crest and express whatever is there, the wave will ebb, and you will be able to go on living for awhile. And over time, the waves of grief happen further apart and are less intense and devastating. Realize, though, that if you ignore your feelings, you will never experience “normal,” because your intense emotions will always be trying to escape. The magic of having your feelings is that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and then you can go on to something else. Not having them, they lay there like a sour stomach, never quite resolving themselves.
Don’t expect to ever “get over it.” It’s true that the way you feel and express grief will change over time, but you will never reach a point where you say to yourself, I’m finished grieving.
Don’t listen when people try to silence you with a Valium or prayer. The expression of grief is often deeply uncomfortable for others to witness. And after weathering the initial shock of losing a loved one, as Shechtman has pointed out, others want the bereaved to “move on,” to adopt a stoic attitude, or to medicate themselves—anything to avoid being reminded of and upset by fears they themselves don’t dare to contemplate.
Allow yourself to feel anger. It doesn’t make you a bad person. When Shechtman insists on the importance of expressing your grief, she means anger, too. This is often an especially thorny emotion to process because it involves the need to place blame, which can sometimes fall on the dead person and/or on the bereaved. These expressions of anger are seen as inappropriate and elicit protests such as, “It’s not fair,” “The dead aren’t here to defend themselves,” “They didn’t die on purpose,” “You’re being selfish,” etc.
Visit the gravesite as often as you need to. Gravesites, shrines, and other meaningful locations are critical to the grieving process. Just as funerals help us say a final good-bye and make the loss real, gravesites give us a physical place to remember, grieve, and recover. If your loved one was cremated and the ashes scattered, you may want to create a memory garden or perhaps a “shrine” in your home with the person’s photo, a memento that reminds you of her, and perhaps a candle or religious symbol.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As Shechtman has acknowledged, it’s all too easy to sink into a private, quiet, internal place that feels safe. The false bargain you’re making with yourself is, If I don’t think about her or talk about her, then she won’t be so gone. Asking for and accepting help is another conscious choice you will need to make. And the support of other people really does make a difference, says Shechtman. While she isn’t conventionally religious, she says she felt a persistent sense of being “held up” by all the prayers, good wishes, and positive vibes sent her way.
Loving in the midst of grief may feel like a risk. It is. Take it anyway. After experiencing loss, it’s natural to want to do anything and everything in your power to avoid feeling such bitter pain again. You may want to wall yourself off from life, love, and relationships of all sorts. However strong the temptation is, though, please don’t make this mistake. Despite the guilt, anguish, and self-doubt you may feel, make the choice to risk loving again.
“Best—and most surprising—of all was the aftermath of choosing to love again,” she reveals. “Consciously choosing to lift my eyes, to see joy and possibilities, to build relationships, and to live instead of dying with my child have resulted in some of the happiest years of my life. And because I have been in both places—isolation and community—the contrast is startling.”
Allow new values and priorities to emerge, even if they don’t reflect the “old” you. As you begin to move on and heal from your loss, you will view, experience, and interact with the world in a different way. Shechtman remembers not understanding why she couldn’t be “like everyone else.” “I kept getting pushback for being too harsh or too blunt,” she explains. “I no longer had any tolerance for political correctness, and I considered my relationships to be more precious. I found myself more open with people I cared about, as well as more confrontational and demanding, since I didn’t want to leave anything unsaid or undone ever again. Essentially, I was choosing my values of growth and honesty over comfort. I decided that perfection was no longer a goal; being honest and authentic was.”
Do something meaningful to memorialize your lost loved one. We have all heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But according to Shechtman, the progression doesn’t end there. The sixth stage of grief is called “in memoriam.” It’s the need to do something creative, useful, and meaningful as a result of an event that once seemed (and might still seem) meaningless, needless, and/or absurd. For example, you might create a foundation or support group.
Stay open to the possibility of joy. It will come. While it may be difficult to believe or understand immediately following the loss of a loved one, there is a silver lining to grief. Keeping current with sorrow (i.e., allowing yourself to grieve naturally and whenever you need to) gives you new depths of appreciation for life, joy in small delights, and a richness in relationships you may not have known was possible.
“The biggest surprise I’ve had after Sharon’s death is that my grieving has opened me up to all that is beautiful and wonderful about this world,” Shechtman says. “My appreciation for others and their struggles is greater, and I stop to smell the roses more often—something I call ‘living from the gut.’ This is the ‘payoff’ for choosing to allow yourself to grieve: After experiencing the lowest of lows, your soul and your psyche can also stretch to experience greater highs because the psyche stretches in all directions, much like a balloon.”
“While I cannot give you a lesson plan for grieving, I can share my own experiences and assure you that there can still be hope, healing, and happiness in your life,” Shechtman concludes. “I know it will be painful, but I hope you will make the choice to fully and naturally grieve the loss of those you love. It might comfort you to realize that the life you build from this point on wouldn’t have been possible without the love you felt—and still feel—for your loved one. In a very real way, he or she is still a vital part of who you are.”
Monday, May 2, 2016
protest so much
I cannot seem
“The pain of her
Sunday, April 10, 2016
This is April and on the 13th it will be 37 years since I found her and on the 17th it will also be 37 years since I buried her. I finally agree that I should “be over it”.
That of course means shutting myself down, putting all the reminders away and keeping everyone at a safe distance so as not to get triggered into my grief.
All that is easy because not having my grief turns very quickly to hostility and being angry all the time that will keep folk away from me.
I also could become cynical and bitter that no one ever understands me
or is there for me.
Or perhaps I will start medicating myself, either with prescription drugs or otherwise. Good way to fight depression that always goes with unexpressed grief.
I guess I could join a cult or other activities that keep me busy and not feeling.
Probably the easiest way is to just claim that since it’s been so long, it doesn’t bother me anymore.
The end of grieving doesn’t” mean the end of hurting
Never feel the
Loss of you