Friday, January 24, 2020

Examples of "The Rules of Grief"



I’ve been thinking that I should expand and explain and give examples about the rules of grief.

It seems to me that grief is an evolutionary function that works like vomiting for illnesses.  It serves the purpose of getting rid of toxins so healing can occur.  Number 1 and 2 on my list of hated things to do are throwing up and grieving It is possible to control both with the result that recovery is compromised and relationships are damaged.

For example, The wife of one of my clients was diagnosed with rectal cancer, which is brutal in the treatment and the recovery.  They have four adult children and an elderly dog.  He is a in the insurance business as a salesman and manager. She is a busy housewife and mother.  She had the surgery followed by many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Everything seemed to be going fine.  She was recovering and his practice was thriving.  The kids were all a way at school and the dog brought great comfort and joy.  The problem was that his sinus problems kept getting worse and worse.  Does anybody see any connection?  Let me make a few.

1. They were both scared that she wouldn’t make it.  Loss of certainty
2. They didn’t want to upset each other.  Loss of honesty
3. They really had to depend on each other. Loss of independence
4. They couldn’t’ share their deepest feelings because they had no words. Loss of intimacy
5. They were both disappointed that their lives had been upended in more ways than they could count.  Loss of self esteem
6. They were ashamed of most of these feelings.  Loss of self
7. They both felt utterly helpless, and they were, to make things better.  Loss of power

It took a lot of talking and digging to surface these loses.  It is hard when for a lifetime we are taught to be stoic and never give in.  The hardest part was to help him with the deep shame that he should have these feelings when the stakes were so high, let alone if at all. After several weeks of pushing and prodding he began to make some of these connections on his own.

A major hurdle for my client was to even entertain the idea that, perhaps, just perhaps, his wife might have some of the same feelings and concerns that he had.   To be able to talk to each other about these unusual internal secrets was an act of great courage.  As they were slowly, painfully able to begin talking and sharing with each other, his sinus problem kept getting better and her recovery progressed more evenly. 


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Rules of Grief




It is interesting to me that over the 42 years since my daughter’s death, I have noticed several “Rules” that repeat themselves with myself, my clients and the general public.

You will notice that I said Rules “of” grief, not rules for grief.  That is because these basic rules happen no matter what else we do.

Rule #1. Grief cannot be denied, only delayed.
Rule #2. Nothing turns hostile quicker than unexpressed grief
Rule #3. Grief comes in waves, building to a crescendo, then receding after some release
Rule #4. Slowly the waves come less often, with less intensity and duration.
Rule #5. If you fight the waves, they stay the same in intensity, duration and frequency.
Rule #6. Grief irrevocably changes the griever.
Rule #7. Nobody wants to follow the rules.
Rule #8. All healing and recovery are in keeping current with grief
Rule #9. It is hard to connect crazy behavior back to grief.
Rule # 9. Grief is very idiosyncratic, there is no “wrong” way or right way to grieve, only your way.
Rule #10. People don’t experience stages, just intense feelings.
Rule #11. Grief cuts through all our defenses, goes right to our core and dredges up any and all unresolved issues.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

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.

This is a reposting of  an article I wrote some years ago that I thought was worth doing again.
Arleah

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.”

# # #

About the Author:
Arleah Shechtman, M.S.W., A.C.S.W., is the author of My Beloved Child: My journey since the death of my daughter. She is a recognized expert on the impact of the death of a child, on marriages, families, and individual survivors. For over thirty years, she has helped parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family grieve the loss of children, and guided them on their journeys of recovery. In addition, she has consulted with healthcare professionals whose practices involve working with clients who have lost children through illnesses, accidents, suicide, and acts of crime.

Arleah began her own journey of recovery thirty-four years ago, after the death of her fifteen-year-old daughter. She has transformed her own tragedy into a personal and professional mission to create places and resources where those struggling with the death of a child can find solace, support, and understanding of their irreparable loss.

About the 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) is available at Amazon.com, the Amazon Kindle Store, and at www.mybelovedchild.net.