Excerpt from Harnessing the Power of Grief (Potter): Grief Guide: Tips and Validations
Grief Guide: Tips and Validations
“I’ve developed a new philosophy— I only dread one day at a time.”
—Charles M. Schulz
This chapter provides tips to make it through each day, and to validate your experiences. As stated frequently in this book, grief is a powerful experience. You can participate in its power by using your own power to experience it and direct its course or by surrendering to its power. Using your power and surrendering are both important. Swimmers instinctively learn when they can swim, when they can dive into a huge wave, and when they can ride the wave. It is trial and error, and eventually inner knowledge and wisdom are attained, with tumbles and falls, and mouthfuls of sand along the way. Simply scroll through the topics to give yourself a boost. Or stop at one or two of them to read completely. Grief is natural to us as human beings. It may not feel good, but it is good. It is a good process. It is a powerful process.
Each loss is unique.Each relationship is unique. Each grief is unique. You may grieve one loss deeply, yet another loss will have little effect on you. Even in the same family, you may experience the loss more deeply or less deeply than the others.
Sometimes you will feel okay, sometimes terrible.You may be happy that you have gotten through grief and are sailing along quite well when a reminder comes up and you seem to sink back into grief. Grief has been described as a spiral, where you are progressing upward on the spiral. Although you are making progress, you continually come back to a similar position on the spiral (but higher); it is at these times that grief responses may return.
Reminders are plentiful and painful.As time goes on, reminders can lessen in frequency and intensity. However, reminders will happen for the rest of your life, and your reaction to them may change. You may have a STUG (Subsequent Transient Upsurge of Grief). You may eventually welcome STUGs. These are opportunities to reminisce, remember, and to be grateful. STUGs tell us that the person who died is important to us and to others.
Talk about your loss to as many sensitive people as you can.Telling your story helps you to accept the reality of what has happened and to get the story straight in your mind and in your heart. If you confide in a loved one who is grieving the same loss, this may help. However, a fellow griever may disagree with your story. He is a different person. His relationship with the deceased is different, and consequently his story is different. You may talk about an event that gave you comfort, whereas that same event may have brought suffering or ambivalence to a fellow griever. Accept your story and respect the stories of others. It takes courage to be yourself and to tell your inner truth to others. The tendency, when not understood or heard, is to recoil, to lose trust in others. Don’t give up. Continue looking for sensitive souls with whom to talk about your loss. If your family or friends do not want to hear your story, there are support groups, volunteers, and therapists who can help. Remember, you can also talk to yourself in the form of journaling, artistic expression, making a memorial to your loved one. As you grow and change, your story will grow and change with you. Even if you have told your story many times to others and to yourself, each time you may gain a deeper appreciation for your loved one.
Talk to your deceased loved one.This is a way to keep the memory of your loved one alive. As your life goes on, your relationship goes on too. A death has happened, but the relationship does not end. It changes. You do not have to use language to talk to your loved one. Silence is the language of the heart.
Think.It is natural to think about your loved one—the memories you shared, the conflicts you had, some resolved, some not. It is natural that you will think about your loved one as you go through the rooms in your house and the streets in your town. Every place has many reminders and many memories. It is natural to think about events leading up to the death and then the death and to think about the entire relationship. Each part of your relationship is included in the loss. In time, thinking about your loved one will bring healing and joy.
Also, think about your grieving process. Thinking about it will lead you to greater understanding of the process as you are experiencing it and will better inform your choices of how to direct the process.
Stop thinking.Grief takes a lot of energy. Take a break from your grief. Go for a swim, a walk, a run, a jog. Rent a movie. Call a friend. Go to a museum. Meditate. Walk barefoot on your lawn in the rain, or in the morning when there is dew on the grass—a good mood elevator. Take “thinking breaks.”
Take good care of yourself.Grief is stressful and can compromise your immune system. You are at greater risk for illness when you are grieving. Have regular medical checkups, get as much rest as you can, eat well, avoid the overuse of addictive substances, do some exercise, meditate/pray/attend religious services, and reach out to others who have experienced a similar loss. Do something fun: a movie, a play, a sports event on TV or at a park.
If someone asks you to take on a new task, you may have little choice but to do it when job related. However, there are times when you can give yourself time to decide: “I’ll get back to you.” “I need to think about that.”
Commune with nature.Someone once told me that we feel good in nature because of its energy. The fresh air, bright colorful flowers, trees, the wind, a blue lake, a muddy river, the sun in all its manifestations – these things help us to feel good because something energetically is happening within us when we are in nature. The feeling of seeing a picture of a river is entirely different from being at the river.
Weep.You may weep in sorrow and gain healing. You may weep in anger and find that your anger softens. You may weep in frustration when nothing is going right and find relief.
Write.Writing helps to slow down the mind and focus your thoughts. When anxiety and fear reign in the middle of the night, take out pen and paper, and write. Write freely and without reserve. No one has to see what you have written.
Some writing ideas:
• Write about what you are thinking.
• Write about what you are feeling.
• Write different kinds of lists to help you feel confident, powerful and in charge (“to do” lists, problem-solving lists).
• Write about how you are doing.
• Write a letter to your deceased loved one – a letter of love, a letter of anger, a letter of guilt and sorrow, a sad letter, a happy, light-hearted letter.
• Write a letter from your deceased loved one to you.
Forgive yourself.Be gentle with yourself. In the grieving process, you may say or do things that you later regret. Forgive yourself and move on. The Talmud says, “One must forgive everything one does in his grief
In the caregiving process, you may say or do things that you later regret. Forgive yourself and move on. One must forgive everything one does in the caregiving process.
In life, you may say or do things that you later regret. Forgive yourself and move on. One must forgive everything one does in life.
Our human relationships are filled with trial and error. Forgive those who do not appreciate what you are going through or who try to help in an unhelpful way. There will be others whom you won’t want to forgive. That’s okay. Trust in the power of time to guide you.
You may believe that the very person who needs your forgiveness is your deceased loved one. Do not make forgiveness of others, and of your deceased loved one, a top priority. Take care of yourself first. If over time, your anger and dissatisfaction with others inhibits your functioning, then it may be time to visit forgiveness. Educate the helper.
Educate the helper.
People want to help you but may be afraid that they will say the wrong thing—and they very well might. Their silence does not necessarily mean that they don’t care. Break the ice by mentioning the name of your loved one. Gently let them know when something is not helpful. They may say, “Don’t cry.” You can say, “These tears help me and are part of grief.”
They may give you advice and their advice may be helpful. If it is not helpful, you can say, “The most helpful thing in the world would be for you to simply listen to me or give me a hug.”
They may want to offer support and open the conversation of grief. This may be helpful. If not, you can say, “Right at this moment, I would just like to enjoy your company, but I am grateful to you for reaching out to me. There will be other times when I would like to talk about my loss, but not right now.”
Reach out to people.
Be around people who accept you and bring out the best in you. Time and again, bereaved people have told me that out of the blue, they will meet new people who will be very helpful to them whereas their own friends and family fall short. (Family and friends may also be grieving, or they may have expectations and a timetable for your grief).
If friends come into your life, enjoy them. Enjoy and be on the lookout for the small human interactions. Sometimes, a smile from a stranger will be the pick-me-up that helps you through the day.
Create these interactions, too. If you reach out in a light-hearted way, you may be rewarded with a smile or a conversation.
Avoid certain people.
It is okay to avoid people with whom you feel annoyed or uncomfortable. We all have those “certain people” in our lives, who in the best of circumstances rub us the wrong way. There will be times when you will feel in a better position to see them again.
Remember, you are in a vulnerable time of your life, and there are people out there who may take advantage of you financially and emotionally.
Say an inner thank-you.
You may feel that you have absolutely nothing to be grateful for. However, saying an inner thank-you is a heart-opener. It helps you to see what is around you and what is in you. It helps you to connect with the world and all the beings in it. Try it often. Gratitude gives you inner power. Start a gratitude journal, and every day write down things that you are grateful for. You may find that as time goes on, there are many things that you are grateful for.
If you laugh and have a good time, you may feel that you are dishonoring your loved one. This is not so. Laughter helps your immune system, releases an abundance of endorphins in your body, and helps to relieve stress. Laughter does not mean that you will forget your loved one. No. You will always remember. Laughter helps these remembrances to be light-hearted.
Expect former losses to resurface in your life.
Whenever we go through a loss in our lives, we may re-experience grief from former losses. In addition, old patterns of behavior and forgotten insecurities, dating back to your childhood and adolescence, can come up. There were times in childhood and adolescence when you may have been insecure and didn’t know who you were. Grief brings up these feelings. You don’t have to be a child to feel like one. You don’t have to be a teen to feel like one.
Have faith in the grief process.
It is natural. It is powerful. It is human, and people have been doing it throughout the ages. Look for meaning. Create meaning.
Look for meaning in your life and in the death of your loved one.
You can discover meaning by making up rituals, telling stories and listening to stories about your loved one, praying for guidance and support, or joining a support group where you can be with people who have experienced a similar loss.
Commonly accepted rituals are the funeral, graveside service, and memorial service—powerful community rituals that unite the community in the grief experience.
Try making up a ritual of your own. It can be simple—lighting a candle and being silent for a time, visiting the cemetery.
Resolve your guilt.
Guilt is in the mind. Sorrow and remorse are in the heart. Come out of your mind, and go into your heart again and again. Where there is remorse, there is humility, and you can change your behavior. Guilt alone won’t change anything.
For many, reading helps. For others, reading is a chore. A short book (78 pages) called A Guide for the Bereaved Survivor by Bob Baugher (2013) is helpful and accessible to just about everyone. Each even-numbered page explores a grief reaction. On the facing odd-numbered page are suggestions for dealing with that reaction. Say you are experiencing guilt, turn to the guilt page where you will learn about guilt plus useful suggestions.
Many people read grief memoirs, stories by people who have experienced grief. There are self-help books such as this one and books completely unrelated to grief that may touch a chord in you—short stories, essays, novels, and poems.
Here are additional books that many have found to be helpful:'
• A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
• The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
• Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
• How to Survive the Loss of a Love, by Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D., Melba Colgrove, Ph.D., and Peter McWilliams
• Living when a Loved One has Died, by Earl A. Grollman
When you find that the roller coaster of grief emotions is too overwhelming, help is out there for you. It can be a volunteer, a clergy, a family member, a support group, a chaplain, a neighbor, a book, a pet, a friend, or a website. If that help is insufficient, seek professional help.
If you are considering harming yourself by suicide, or harming others by homicide, revenge, or retaliation, seek professional help immediately.
If your primary antidote to the pain of grief is alcohol or drugs, seek professional help. If you are depressed, anxious, or angry most of the time, seek professional help.
The above tips and validations may be helpful to you. They are suggestions, and only you will know what is best for you.
We love each person in a unique way. We grieve for each person in a unique way. Grief is as natural and as unique as love. Grief is a form of love.
My wish for you is that you will experience your grief in your own way, and not judge yourself. Try not to look for trends: Oh, I’m getting better. Oh, I’m getting worse. Simply take a day at a time and try not to get discouraged. If you do get discouraged, read this chapter again for a pickme-up. Or read Chapter 15, “Danger Guide: Danger Signs to Watch for,"
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For more posts on bereavement and gried, click HERE.