People Say The Strangest Things

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People can say the strangest things sometimes -- with and without good intentions.  Every griever has a collection of stories.

“I thought you would be better by now.”

“How long do you plan on being sad about this?”

“If it was me, I would sell my house and move as far away from here as possible. I don’t know how you do it facing that big house alone.”

I have my own collection of these stories:

“Hats off to you for still being alive - if it was me and I had just lost my husband, I would kill myself.”

And two weeks after my husband died, someone told me they were worried no one would be there to help them in case a bad thing happened in their life because I “had drained and exhausted the community of all of their helpful energy.”

All the obtuse, ridiculous, hurtful and plain old dumb things people have said. It’s hard to process these statements. They send you reeling from a new wound to the grief-bruised body you walk around in. Your anger might result in a dizzying replay of the comment and what you wish you’d said at that moment.  

And truly, these things are probably said with the best intentions - to try to help you feel better.  You know they don’t mean it.  You know they love you.  But they said it!

The plain fact is our culture doesn’t do grief well.  We have no social container to hold sorrow and grieving pain with care and compassion on a large, collective scale.  We’re not gifted with the language and shared experiences of mourning to help us interact with care for one another.  Which means people stumble.  A lot.

You Must Save Yourself

Speak your truth - sometimes you need to get the words out of your brain and your body. Go ahead and tell them their words were hurtful. And guard your boundaries - diligently! Call the doctor’s office back to let them know it wasn’t ok for the receptionist to tell you her personal history of loss when you checked in for your appointment.

Write a letter. Let your fingers fly across your keyboard, or push your pen without stopping.  Let your words say what you would never say face to face. This lets you own the pain while giving you the time and space to express what you need to. I recommend writing it out first to see if you feel better for purging on the page. Then burn it.

And you might need to block some peoples’ phone numbers. Or lock your door and pretend you’re not home when your silly neighbor comes calling. If those around you are causing you distress because of their ignorance or insensitivity - remove yourself from their presence. Think about firing people out of your life that can’t help you grow and adjust to your new reality.  

And Soothe Yourself

Part of your job now is to take the best care of yourself that you can. Something awful has happened in your life. You have lost someone you love dearly. Taking the best care of yourself is your full-time job now. Soak in a tub, spend time in nature, do yoga, or buy yourself fresh flowers. Treat yourself like a friend who is having a hard time.

When you do have a bad experience with someone - call your grief buddy. Having that reliable person you trust, who really listens to your story of pain and commiserates right at that moment, is healing.

If you don’t have a special person to support you, it’s time to reach out and find a new tribe to lean on! Join a local support group for grievers, or find an online group on Facebook. Connecting to those that understand through their own personal experience can make all the difference. And these fellow grievers are probably collecting their own list of stupid things people say.


Grievers are teachers - even if you don’t want to be. People will learn from you what to do and not do - what helps and what doesn’t. You are teaching the people around you about your unique needs/desires and ways of healing. Hopefully, people will take that forward in their lives when they interface with other grievers in the future.  Your job is to focus on what You need.  Get the help you need - through private counseling and support groups.

 

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Your Friend is Grieving - What Do You Say?

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You’ve just learned that your friend has lost their spouse, child, parent, sibling - and you’re devastated for them. Your first impulse is to call, or visit, right away so you can tell them...What? What can you possibly say at a time like this?

In fact, you feel like the words running around inside your head sound awkward, insensitive, and even a little detached. And while you struggle with the right words - time is passing and your sense of urgency to show up for your friend is growing along with your anxiety.

This is tricky to navigate for the closest family and friends, or any loving bystander.  The struggle to find comforting words is real.  We want them to know we love them and even loved the person they are now facing a life without.  

We just want to help.

So what can you say? Try these suggestions:

Say the name of the person they’ve lost.  “I miss Mike, Bobby, Sue or Sally.”

Grievers report that within days of their loved one's death - people around them stop referring to them by their name.

Say, “His life mattered and I will always remember when he…”

Gradually grievers stop hearing the funny stories and sweet memories of their loved one - and it becomes another loss to endure.  You can share stories, and what they meant to your life.  Grievers want to know how their loved one impacted the lives of others - to see the footprints they’ve left behind, and the influence they had on the world.

Say, “I can only imagine how you are feeling.”

This acknowledges a terrible truth and one that you can only imagine.  Be ready to hear about how their loss is affecting them. Hold back from the impulse to compare their pain to your own story of loss.  Their pain is different than your pain - it’s their own unique fingerprint of grief.  In time, they may invite you to share your own story, but for now -- let your grieving friend own the mic.

Say, “It’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling,” and “I am sorry for your suffering.”

I hear from many grievers that this is a comforting way to be approached after a loss.  By acknowledging the suffering your friend is experiencing, you’re sharing in their loss.  You’re validating their deep sadness. Being present for them, allowing them to let it all come, however they’re experiencing it, is a great gift.

Your grieving friend will be feeling a lot of different things, at different times, simultaneously and in no particular order.  Because grieving is hard and confusing work, with the feelings coming in surprising waves and blasts.  It can come over the course of an hour, a moment or a day. Or the feelings can seem like a permanent, pain filled fixture in their lives.

The 5 stages of grief include denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance, but these stages don’t come in tidy, progressive steps.  The griever may be overwhelmed with sadness one minute and overcome with anger the next. Whatever they are feeling - they need validation and a safe place to be. 
 

Say, “You mean so much to me.”

This has been swirling inside your head ever since you heard their terrible news -- how much you care about your dear friend, and how painful it is to see them in so much pain.  So tell them that they matter to you, that you love them and will be there for them.  Anchor them with your love and remind them there is a whole community of people who care about them. These connections of love will make all the difference in light of their loss.

Say, “I want to help.”

There is a world of difference between saying this and saying “Let me know if there is anything I can do - anything at all.” The problem with the later is, no matter how heartfelt the offer, it’s a tricky thing for someone in grief to know what they want or need at any given moment - let alone looking around at the practical parts of their life.  Everything needs to be done, and nothing needs to be done all at the same time.  

Your willingness to just show up, watch and help with mundane or monumental tasks will make a huge difference but offer only what you’re truly ready to give and follow through.  

And sometimes, Silence.

The sad truth is, when you’re watching someone you love in the midst of grief, there really are no words that can bring total relief from the pain of loss.

Show up, bring your loving heart and sit in silence. Listen willingly for as long as they need your presence. Be ready to listen more than you speak. Join a support group to help those you love while they are healing from loss. Never underestimate the power of a loving companion for a grieving soul. 

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How To Get Through The Holidays While You Are Grieving

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The holidays can be an especially difficult time to navigate when you are grieving. Here are a few of my favorite ideas for creating peace and bringing comfort for this time.

Essential Advice:

BREATHE - wherever you are, whatever you are feeling or doing, take a moment to simply breathe. Be present to your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Encourage your breath to come slowly and deeply.

  • With each in-breath silently say the word Love and with each exhale silently say Peace.
  • When you feel especially stressed or overwhelmed by sorrow, practice the 4,7,8 breathing method. (breathe in to the count of 4, hold to the count of 7 and exhale to the count of 8). You can watch a tutorial of this method with Dr. Andrew Weil online.

10 Tips To Ease Grief During The Holidays 

  1. Keep it simple. If you regularly deck all the halls and host parties for the multitudes, this is a time to simplify. It is okay to cut back and give yourself permission to do only what feels the most meaningful.
  2. Practice self care every day. Take walks, exercise, eat well, indulge (mindfully), watch your favorite movies, take warm baths with epsom salts, splurge on new pajamas and comfy slippers. Giving to yourself is never selfish—it is vital to your ability to heal and be well.
  3. Communicate with your family and friends. Send a group email or letter letting everyone in your trusted circle know how they can help you. Maybe it is with decorating or cooking. Maybe you would like extra time in solitude or need their companionship each day. Maybe you need everyone to know and understand that this year you need to be able to change your mind about everything at the last minute. People in your life love you and want to support you. Communicating your needs and desires makes it easier for others to be there in a way that is actually helpful to you.
  4. Rest. Grief is exhausting work. Grief requires an enormous amount of emotional and physical energy. Honor your grief by resting as much as you need to, whenever you need to.
  5. Allow yourself your feelings, whether it is anger, sadness, intense grief, or laughter and mirth. Whatever you are feeling, it is okay—even if it doesn’t feel good. Allow the big grief waves to come and go. Remind yourself that all feelings are temporary. Allowing yourself to be present to your feelings helps your grief to move and transform.   
  6. Include those you are grieving in your celebrations. Set a place at the table for them with a candle and their picture. Donate to a cause they loved. Treat yourself to something they would have given you. Buy something for them that you would have bought them and donate it to a charity or give it to a friend. Set up an altar with their picture and sacred objects.
  7. Talk about your loved one. Your relationship with your loved one goes on. Talking about your memories of them is important. Find people who encourage you to share your memories and spend time with those folks.
  8. Surround yourself with the people who bring you peace: those that understand you, listen to you, and support you. You know who these people are because you feel uplifted and better after being in their presence. If you leave the company of others and feel extra exhausted and irritable, it may be a sign those are not the best people to spend your time with right now.
  9. Be in nature. Notice the trees, the water, the landscape around you and breathe in the fresh air. Being in nature can be a balm to the grieving heart. Allow the expansiveness of the sky to hold you and your hurts.
  10. Reach out for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. Find a grief counselor or join a support group that can help you as you are coping with the intensity of your feelings through this potent time.

I hope you find these ideas helpful. Please know I am here if you want to talk or would like my support as you move through this season.

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How Long Will This Hurt?

How Long Will This Hurt? (Melinda Laus)

When someone you love dies, the pain can be cruel.

Unrelenting. Possibly bigger than anything you have ever felt or experienced before.

It can feel like it will never end, never change, never get better.

When you are in this place, and your pain is so big and you are overwhelmed, you must still reach out.

It is hard enough to go through this grief -  do not go through it without help.

And still, even with help and support, you must be asking yourself,

How long will this go on?

The simple answer is that it will not always be as intense as it is in this moment for you.

The intensity and duration lessens. It changes.

But it never really goes away.

Not completely.

Remember that your sadness is the other side of the coin of your love. How deeply you loved is also how deeply this will hurt.

Grief is like waves on the ocean. Sometimes the waves are enormous and crashing; pure power.

Other times, the ocean is calm. The waves are mere ripples in comparison. But always there is movement; there is the rise and fall of tides, storms as well as calm.

Grief is very much this way.

I remember early days when the waves overtook me; it felt like I was stuck in a constant storm.

Every day was a new experience in loss - something new to grieve. Each day brought new ways to notice the impact of David’s death and how it was ripping my life apart.

I couldn’t grocery shop, get a haircut, sit in traffic, or talk with a friend without a powerful wave crashing on my inner shores. I charted my days by how long I could go without collapsing into sobs and pulled under by the current of my own emotions.

I judged my own progress based on how long I went between waves. As if not feeling more meant success.  

I see now that my success was in allowing myself to be pulled with these waves and guided by my emotions. I made progress each time I gave myself permission to feel the depth of my sorrow, to release my tears and allow the pain of loss to work its powers of  transformation on me.      

And now after years of this ebb and flow - storm and calm; I am still here. Still answering to the pull of the tides and the wisdom of my emotions to guide me forward.

There are fewer and fewer storms reaching the shores of my life.

And yet the storms still find their way to my shores - even now.

I no longer wail at the seas for storming or at this pain for once again visiting.

I see now there is a purpose to these feelings -  to this release.

There is no getting over this loss. There is only folding it into my life.

The beautiful memories, the incredible love that we shared and the sorrow. It will hurt forever because he will be gone forever.

Yet, there is still room for the hope of something beautiful again.

 

Flowers From David

 

I believe that our loved ones reach out to us from the other side of the veil and communicate their love and encouragement.

Speaking through nature, symbolic gestures, dreams, poetry, and songs - so many people speak of an experience when their loved ones seemed to be reaching out and bringing comfort during times of heavy grief. I experienced this myself each June.

Each June miracle flowers appear from David. I know they are from David because these are no ordinary volunteer flowers, you see, these flowers look exactly like the stargazer lillies I carried in my wedding bouquet almost 20 years ago! These beauties arrive bringing reminders of his love for me.

They encourage and remind me to be compassionate with myself during the challenging days in this month I find so difficult each year.

David’s poetry from the other side never ceases to amaze me. These flowers simply appeared one day growing in my garden. Like a miracle. I did not plant them. They began to grow and every year since in early June and the magic happens again.

These blooms greet me as soon as I open my front door, before I go out into the world each morning in June. I notice them at the end of my day when I return home weary and ready to relax. I like to think that David sent me these flowers in place of the ‘goodbye-have-a-great-day’  and the ‘welcome-home-how-was-your-day’ kisses.

June challenges me a bit each year with a series of meaningful days.  Within the span of 20 days, I celebrate the birth of our youngest son, the end of the school year - which includes graduations and other ceremonies - Father’s Day, and finally the anniversary of David’s passing.

I continue to learn how to tandemly celebrate my sweet and amazing birthday boy and quietly recognize the enormous sorrow I feel without his father’s living presence.

I found a way to smile and celebrate the graduations, promotions, and good-byes that come at the end of the school year while I also allow the free flow of tears that come over these fast moving years. Each year I strive to create a balance with marking Father’s Day as a time to remember David as the amazing father he was, as well as honor the other fathers still in our lives.

June 26th, the anniversary of David’s passing, continues to be a day of homage to him.

Some years I spent devoting the day to his memory by eating his favorite foods and steeping myself in his memory. Other years I gave myself permission to retreat in seclusion and wait for the day to pass. Recently I discovered peace by treating myself to a trip away from home on that day. I have found healthy distraction in being engaged with the world through travel while still being present to the importance of this day. I usually find myself writing him a letter or in conversation with him in my heart throughout the day. This has become an important day to commune with my own spirit while inviting David to visit as well.  A sort of holy check-in with myself and with him - as if the phone lines between us are clear and working for this one day of the year.

However I choose to spend the 26th, David’s flowers provide solace. Sent from beyond to bolster me with love as I walk through this month so fraught with poignancy and bittersweet meanings. The miracle of his flowers continues to amaze me each year.

They are a love note sent by David - harbingers of the connection that still exists between us. Reminding me he is still with me. Still sending me love. Still offering his exquisite presence even in his absence.

I have learned to notice these blooms while I also notice these days. To take them in - watch them grow and thrive in the light. Allow them to anchor me with the gesture of their presence. I recognize them for the gift that they are - a spirit gift - sent from my beloved. A whisper in my ear of sweet words and reminders that there is more to this life than meets the eye. There is more to loss than tears shed and learning to live without. There is love after-all, light as well as the dark, hope and leaping joy, and the quiet prayer for courage to sustain another day.

Have you experienced any messages from your loved one from the other side of the veil? How has your connection continued even after their death?

Remember that you do not have to journey alone through your grief. Call me if you want to chat.

 

With Love,

 

On Regret

At first I didn’t regret a thing. Really. Not a single thing about David’s life or our marriage, not about a past argument or a moment when I annoyed him or a choice I made. No regrets. We had agreed on that early in our love together. We lived fully present to one another and to ourselves. We consciously created our lives together through our daily conversations, affection, thoughtfulness and ways of being. We planned, talked, dreamed, worked and designed our perfect life - the life we were actually living.

And then he died. Suddenly, unexpectedly at 31 years of age. On a sunny Thursday in late June. Gone. His heart. Just Gone.

I remember telling people, friends, my therapist -  really anyone who would listen, that I had no regrets. Deep in my soul I knew that I had nothing to regret. I did not cause his death. I did not contribute to his death. He was happy. Extremely happy. We had just had our beautiful second baby boy. David was thriving at work. He loved the new house. Our lives were beautiful. His life was beautiful. What could I possibly regret?

A few months passed and then regret came calling.

It started as this niggling little voice that wondered with fear - could it have been the medicine he was taking? Those new antihistamines that I encouraged him to get from his doctor... Did that cause his death? I regret telling him to get that medicine. Maybe it was because I didn’t cook us enough vegetables, not enough leafy greens. I regret not being a better cook and nutritionist.  Oh my God, did he die because I bought him the wrong deodorant or toothpaste?

I began to regret every decision. To dissect every choice.

Crazy. I know. But I went there. I went there to try to explain the unexplainable. Why did he die? How could this have happened? What could I have done to stop it from happening?

Regret became part of my grief journey. I regretted choices, actions, and words from my past. I also regret the future we would not be sharing. While regret may be an understandable and common part of the grief experience, I learned regret is destructive. My regrets created self doubt, judgement, and pain. Like a boat stuck circling in an eddy, regret trapped me painfully rewinding and reliving our most difficult moments.

When I’d say to myself “Oh, how I regret…” what I really felt was shame - nasty, mean-spirited, hard edged, and sharp. I confused my feelings of regret with a sense of responsibility - more responsibility than was humanly possible. I kept myself struggling with these feelings until finally I found a way through.

I began to find compassion for myself.

I learned to hold myself with grace and kindness rather than judgement and criticism. Compassion led me to self forgiveness and put me on the path away from regret.  Learning to embrace my limited responsibility freed me to mourn the loss of my David.

Sure, I had made mistakes. Lots of them. I am human afterall. I used to annoy David every day by leaving my towel in his sink after my shower instead of hanging it up to dry. Oh, how that annoyed him. Sorry, Babe. And now I forgive myself without  regret.

I could be twisted into knots of regret over the life we did not get to have together. Instead, I mourn the fact that David missed our boys growing up and our shared life together.

I know I am not responsible for his absence and once I discovered compassion for myself I was able to mourn authentically with courage in my heart.

Are you struggling with regret?

Is regret trapping you into being hard on yourself?

Remember to be gentle with you. Allow yourself the warm embrace of your own compassion.

I am here if you want to talk.

With Love,

PERMISSION SLIPS


THERE WERE TIMES WHEN I NEEDED EXPLICIT PERMISSION TO CREATE MORE ROOM FOR HEALING IN MY LIFE. This was hard for me. I am a pleaser by nature, so saying, “No”, to things has always been challenging. Two months after David died, it was time for our annual family campout...