BEREAVEMENT Q & A
HANDOUTS FOR GRIEVERS
BEREAVEMENT Q & A
I am a man who lost his wife two months ago. I’m not used to sharing my feelings in a group, and I’m feeling a little hesitant about attending. How can your group help me with this?
It’s perfectly okay to be a little fearful about entering a new group, particularly when you don’t know anyone. The facilitator’s role is to help you express your feelings, to encourage attentive listening, and for the members to support each other. For some people, sharing feelings is difficult to do, but in our experience in running support groups for over 25 years, we have found many people have grown tremendously in their ability to share some of their feelings in a non-threatening, caring, warm atmosphere. Many times, people make friends for life as a result of attending our program. Also, we encourage confidentiality in the group process in order to create a safe environment so that healing can take place.
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By Sylvia Brown
“If you don’t keep moving---you won’t get there.” I saw that sign in the Burbank airport and it “spoke” to me. I had lost my husband shortly before that and was still experiencing that alone feeling. Yes, I had wonderful children but I had lost a part of my identity—the identity of being a couple. I had lost that wonderful utterly comfortable feeling of being with someone who knew and accepted me as I was. I had lost a companion. I didn’t like it – it was painful and lonely.
“If you don’t keep moving – you won’t get there.” I’m not there yet but I am moving!
Maybe, like the sign said, I did have to keep moving. But what did it mean? In the weeks following I began to see that if I wanted to be connected to people, if I wanted to be involved in the world and if I didn’t want to be alone, I had to take the initiative. I had to literally open the door and see what was outside and step into it. It was hard to step into the unknown and more than a little frightening. But it was harder to stay in one place and not make an effort. It was too lonely!
Coming to the H.O.P.E. grief group gave me a new set of friends who were all in the same place as I. We had all suffered a huge loss and were struggling to find a new way to live.
Slowly I made some changes. When I didn’t feel like eating alone I would call a friend and ask if they would like to go to dinner. My husband and I had subscribed to theater tickets—I always had an extra and called a friend. When I saw an interesting looking movie, and not wanting to go alone, I picked up the phone and called a friend. With a little trepidation one day I decided to go to the movies by myself. What an experience that was. It actually wasn’t so bad to sit by myself. Surprisingly, going alone was actually freeing. I didn’t have to decide ahead of time—I could go when I pleased or at the last moment decide not to.
Friends told me about places where they volunteered –the Skirball, the Getty, the Museum. They told me about political, philanthropic, religious organizations they had joined and become active in. They told me about book clubs they belonged to. I had always wanted to be in a book club. Summoning hidden courage, I took the initiative, (was it chutzpah?), and asked people if I could join theirs. Some friends told me that their book club was closed because of the enrollment. Some said they had to ask the other members and I knew these were legitimate reasons and not a rejection of me. Eventually I did find a group that was open and joined.
After my husband died, the house felt empty. The activity, the meetings, the phone ringing, the hearing someone in another part of the house was gone. I didn’t like it. I started inviting people to join me for a meal and it felt good. It felt good to cook for more that one…often I didn’t cook but brought in ready made. What difference did it make? The house was going to feel full, friends were going to be there, there would be laughter and perhaps some reminiscing and crying. It all felt good.
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|Betty White as a Role Model for Young and Old
By Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. And Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D.
If you're interested in ideas about how to age without getting old, here are some practical tips, using Betty White as your role model:
1. Cultivate humor in your daily life. Enjoy some belly laughs, even if the joke is on you. Be playful, have fun and do something silly for a change. If you don't have friends with a good sense of humor, watch a comedy, read the "funnies," or a book of jokes. The more pleasure you bring into your surroundings, the happier you'll feel. According to the National Institute of Aging, you may even increase your lifespan and improve your health.
2. Hang out with your peers. You'll find that you have lots of shared memories and relate to the same music, references and events. Studies show that even though it's heartwarming to spend time with your adult children and grandchildren, active seniors often prefer others in their own cohort. To meet new friends with similar interests, contact your local university or community center for a schedule of their life-long learning opportunities.
3. Find the time to interact with younger friends too. You'll enjoy their different perspectives and the challenges they open up to you. If you share the same interests and hobbies, the fact that you are from different generations is less important than what you can contribute to each other. When Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live she had fun, the show registered its highest ratings in years and it recharged her career.
4. Work with what you've got to stay in shape. Start slowly, perhaps walking with a friend or exercising on your own. When you're ready, look for a fitness center that has classes for all levels of physical ability - ranging from salsa hi-impact aerobics through stretch classes and water aerobics to chair classes and tai chi for balance. That way you'll be able to challenge you body no matter where you're starting - and have fun in the process. And incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine will help you feel younger.
5. Exercise your brain to keep up mental vitality. Studies of older Americans have found that the majority of those involved in complex mental activities experience significant cognitive improvement. You can begin a new study program, enjoy math or word games on the Internet or learn to play a musical instrument. These kinds of mental challenges build new neural pathways that help buffer the brain against age-related losses. Inject some novelty into your schedule to create different mental perspectives.
6. Set goals for yourself and do something meaningful. Research shows that people who are sociable, generous and goal-oriented are generally happier and healthier. Think about what kinds of activities bring you the most satisfaction and plan how to spend more time doing them. You can begin a new study program, enjoy math or word games on the Internet or learn to play a musical instrument. These kinds of mental challenges build new neural pathways that help buffer the brain against age-related losses. Inject some novelty into your schedule to create different mental perspectives.
7. Include others in setting goals for your future. Perhaps this means those close to you - or reaching out to a wider community. Stay youthful by involving yourself with family, friends and the world at large. Stay youthful by involving yourself with family, friends and the world at large. Betty White, with her lifelong concern for animals and her work advocating for them, has continued to dedicate herself to animal welfare. Draw on your connections to stay involved with a community as you continue your life. When children misbehave, some say, "Act your age." But it's more complicated when sandwiched boomers are trying to figure out exactly what that means for them. Is age set by the calendar, by your experiences, by how you look, by how you feel physically? Don't let others define you. Your real age is a matter of how you think about you life and by your vision of the future.
© 2011, Her Mentor Center
Used by permission
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|Grief and Spring
By Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D.
The winter solstice is over. Spring is in the air. I smell it and feel it. Hope is returning with sunlight. Having just returned from Ireland where it is still winter weather, unpredictable, rain, sunshine, night showers, then grey skies…windy.
Returning to California after jet lag is reminding me of stretching after sleep….or beginning to come alive again in a different state from a different place. Renewal, gratitude, joy and energy are themes emerging from the earth.
The skies took me to a distant place where I grew, learned and met new people and formed new friendships... for two weeks, drank in with great thirst, the exchange of new ideas and Jungian concepts, symbols, images and stories. The land, the majestic land of Ireland in its rugged coastline, its high cliffs, its swift breezes, its ancient archeology along with Fairy rings.
Spring comes slowly after loss. There is the long sleep of shock, where feelings go underground for hibernation so that one can recover. Slowly, there is a thawing out of feelings, a return from pain and sorrow to the hope and promise of Spring….
The tulips facing the light allow themselves to slowly open as the sun warms them up and beckons them to show their faces. The ducks around the lake are sitting on their eggs with great pride and steadiness. There seem to be more tortoises this year and they are more brazen, grouped together sunning themselves and sometimes flopping into the water’s edge.
As the tight buds open their wings and spread their glory into full flower, as the snow melts and brings fresh springs tumbling down the mountain side, we drink the clear water and taste the new air. We are welcoming recovery, returning to inner stabilization, enjoying refreshment, new growth and Spring.
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|The Family Loss Group: How to Find a New Normal
By Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D.
The Family Loss Group of the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation is for parents, siblings, and other close relatives who have lost a loved one. It is offered in a six week cycle.
As a therapist, we know that “normal” is a variable range of behaviors and responses to life. No one can define exactly what “normal” is. Based on individual personalities, family of origin, history and learned experiences and beliefs, people adapt differently to the trauma of loss.
When loss strikes a family, learned social behaviors and “normal” reactions to life no longer are adequate to express the depth of sadness and grief that are experienced. Particularly in early stages of bereavement, people tend to be more irritable, less patient, and their priorities are changing.
After completing a cycle of the Family Loss Group, a member of the group said that her therapist said she had to find a new “normal.” What does that mean ? How do we do that?
A lovely lady in my group who was grieving the loss of her sister, attentively listened and emotionally supported a woman who lost her son. In hearing about the other member’s loss she was able to comfort her, even though her loss had not been her own child. One mother was crying, on either side of her was a member who held her hand….sometimes we sat in silence, other times there was crying, an outpouring of care, no judgments. Here was a group that, in six short weeks, had befriended each other, kept in touch in-between sessions, looked after each other and in spite of their internal pain, listened, responded and supported each other. It was the essence of what support groups do. People often need to have a witness for their story, and they may need to tell their story more than once.
I realized I had a very cohesive group in their ability to attend to each other. …different stories, different losses, but the commonality of the caring human spirit connected them.
I told them that I thought Rabbi Schulweis was right when he said that it is important for people to pray in community, and grieve in community. I reminded them of the wounded healer theory that the physician in healing the wounds of others is also healing his own wound.
At the time of darkest despair in grieving, members showed that they can reach out to another human being in a caring way and help them feel better because they felt heard and understood. This is indeed the making of miracles. I could feel the spirit of energy and healing in the room.
The development of the new “normal” is a people connection, a caring, a sharing, a listening to the bereavement stories and responses of others and learning new ways to feel and think. New patterns emerge. We talked about relaxation, meditation, art, healing activities and the importance of nurturing one’s self. The members were learning how to expand their belief systems and learning about body awareness and responses. We talked about the embarrassment of tears. At the end of the evening, we were all learning about the new “Normal.”
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|Ten Tips for Coping with January Blues
By Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D.
Feeling down in the dumps now that the holidays are over?
If you're hoping for something uplifting on these dreary days
and cold nights, you're not alone. T.S. Eliot, in "The Waste
Land," said, "April is the cruelest month." But studies have
found that for the majority of Americans, January is the most
depressing month of the year.
Have you experienced any of this yourself? Your eager
anticipation for the holidays is over, replaced by the reality
of a celebration that didn't live up to your expectations.
Your clothes are tight from the weight you gained from the
parties and winter sweet cravings. Your loved ones are gone
and you're feeling lonely. By the end of the first week of
January, one-third to one-half of you have already caved in
on your New Year's resolutions, leaving you feeling
disappointed and frustrated. The credit card bills have
arrived and you realize you spent more than you planned.
And, with all the holiday lights in December, you may not
have noticed the short days and long nights - but now it's
painfully obvious that winter is clearly here.
It's time for some honest self-reflection. What is currently
disturbing you the most? Consider both your physical and
emotional reactions. Once you are aware of the real problems,
you can begin to identify possible solutions and map out a
plan to implement them. Here are 10 tips to help you deal
with January gloom and direct your focus to the opportunities
open to you.
1. Have realistic expectations as you set New Year's
resolutions you can achieve with goals you can accomplish.
You may need to scrap your original list and come up with
less grandiose aspirations. Don't beat yourself up for
falling short of promises you made to yourself that were
out of reach. Who hasn't made mistakes? Take it one day
at a time as you revise and come up with a Plan B.
2. Commit to an exercise plan you will continue. Physical
activity can release endorphins, lowering your stress level.
Studies show that 30 minutes of brisk walking reduces
depression for several hours. A regular exercise routine can
also play a part in weight reduction and better sleep patterns.
Plan to include some outdoor daytime exercise to take
advantage of the natural light outside.
3. Establish eating habits that incorporate nutritious foods
in well-balanced meals. During the holiday season, women
can gain an average of five to seven pounds. Now get back
to a healthier diet and smaller portions. Leafy green
vegetables with high levels of folic acid and oily fish
with vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids help maintain
an upbeat mood. Foods like Brazil nuts are rich in selenium,
needed to produce serotonin.
4. Draw on your strengths. What worked for you before when
you were feeling down? What core values guided you as you
coped with frustrations and disappointments? Use these again
as you face challenges in January and watch your resiliency
come to the forefront. Don't hesitate to call upon resources
that are there for you.
5. Identify activities that reduce the stresses in your life -
then include them in your schedule. If you're a Sandwiched
Boomer, these can range from having help with childcare or
eldercare to setting aside time to listen to music, read a
good book or just do some deep breathing. Get in touch with
your spiritual connections for balance and grounding. When
you are feeling relaxed and authentically free, you'll be
better able to cope with the hassles you face this winter.
6. Get support from your family and friends. It was easier to
connect during the holidays, but make an effort to follow-up
with your social network in January. Share your concerns
and validate your feelings or gain a fresh viewpoint. New
support and discussion groups as well as community
colleges classes generally begin after the New Year. Reach
out and join to gain insight and perspective. And don't
forget to spend time with friends just for the plain fun
of it - laughter is a great tension reliever.
7. Turn crises into challenges and challenges into
opportunities. Use this time to research changes you want
to make. Although you can't control what happens, you can
control how you handle it. If you're unhappy with your current
job, consider how to make it more interesting and engaging.
Instead of holding on to family conflicts that boiled up over
the holidays, let go of your resentments and anger. When
you can forgive, you stop feeling sorry for yourself and
become more optimistic.
8. Express gratitude for what you have. It may sound simple,
but as you've heard many times, "Happiness is not having
what you want, but wanting what you have." What are the
things and people in your life that you are grateful for?
You'll find that when you increase your awareness of these
positives, you'll be less likely to experience feelings of
hopelessness and helplessness.
9. Look outside yourself to those in need. Studies have
found that when you perform acts of kindness and giving
to those who have less, you feel happier yourself. Around
the holidays, numerous organizations send out requests for
financial donations but all year they need volunteers to
help staff their programs. Consider what best fits your
interests, abilities and schedule - then make your
contribution with your feet.
10. To cope with financial issues, make plans that won't
further impact your budget or credit card debt. In the
current recession, many families are enjoying activities
such as potlucks with friends, visits to local museums,
taking daylight walks, borrowing a book from the library.
Be creative in your quest for low-cost entertainment.
(c) 2010, Her Mentor Center
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are family relationship experts who publish a free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones. Whether you're coping with acting out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, we have the solutions for you. Visit our website, http://www.HerMentorCenter.com, and blog, http://www.NourishingRelationships.blogspot.com, for practical tips about parents growing older and children growing up
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By Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
“The moment we entrap the essence of spirit in the confines of words, all we are left with is an empty cage.”
Stand like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Brian Stewart, Ph.D.
I imagine if I ask others to reflect on their sense of spirituality, I would hear many variations of a theme. For me, it begins with a belief in higher energy; I believe it contains elements of Kabbalah thinking, paradoxes, juxtapositions and opposites. It is the small within the large, the large within the small. The sum is greater than the parts.
One of the ways we can experience Spirituality is through our awareness and our place in nature; an appreciation of the elements of the sky and the earth…moments when we stargaze, see a rainbow, hear a thunderstorm or hold an infant in our arms. It is our connection with the universe and with ourselves…a suspended moment - an awareness of the smallness of our ego, against a picture of an unknown realm…the individual against the backdrop of the archetypes… internal images and silent words…appreciation of mountains and roaring oceans…the greater than ourselves moments; humility, trust, reflection, and gratitude.
Being “spiritual” implies consciousness, awareness, sensitivity and openness to a realm beyond our own. I believe that the more we are open to that realm, the more we experience it; similar to when we are in a higher feeling state, our intuition is greater.
I remember getting some ”internal messages” in Hawaii and several months later, I had a deeper understanding of what they meant. I called a friend, a Chaplain, “ How do I know if they came from me or from beyond me?” I asked. She said, “Check them out in the presence of God.” I asked, “ How do I do that?” Several months later, I asked again. She said, “You know as much about this as I can tell you.” Later, I drove home after rain, admiring the sky and a clear patch of sky…a circle of white clouds with a blue center and a lovely soft yellow aura filtering thorough the clouds. Finally, I felt I was in the presence of God.
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|Lessons To Be Learned from Senator Kennedy
Senator Ted Kennedy was the last of the Kennedy brothers whose
power, challenges and triumphs dominated a generation of politics.
He was eulogized as an inspiration to his family and to those in
public service. His body of work toward progressive causes in
the U.S. Senate was proof that he understood how policies
affected people. Caring passionately about the people he served,
he worked tirelessly on their behalf.
Yet his life was marred by tragedy and scandal - from the
assassination of brothers John and Robert and the earlier death
of his brother Joseph in World War II, to the deadly Chappaquiddick
crash. Despite his personal losses and failings, Teddy Kennedy
persevered. He served alongside 10 United States presidents and
was well known for his political insight. Another significant
role he played was as patriarch to his brothers' children and
Perhaps Senator Kennedy's life situation was more complicated
than yours. And you may not have to live up to that kind of a
legacy. But all adults have their had their share
of crises and challenges. What follows are practical tips to
help you face them:
1. Evaluate the situation without overreacting or putting your
head in the sand. Pay attention to what’s going on around you.
Yet avoid getting caught up in a pessimistic mindset that can
result in higher levels of anxiety and poor decision making.
Remain calm and stay focused on what you need to do.
2. Realize that support is valuable. Reaching out to others
when you need encouragement helps you make it through
what seems like an impossible situation. Confide in friends
and family as you work through the difficulties. A second
and objective opinion from a spiritual advisor or therapist
can provide you with further insight and direction.
3. History is prologue. As you look back in review, consider
how you have dealt with other major trials and tribulations
in your life. Think about what has worked for you in the past.
Take the specific strategies that you learned from those
experiences and, once again, apply the most effective ones.
4. Recognize how you deal with tension. Avoid unhealthy
activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional
eating. Pressure and stress can bring about more conflict
and arguments in relationships. If any of these behaviors
are causing problems for you, find healthier approaches to
deal with your negative feelings.
5. Difficult times can offer opportunities for needed change.
Discover the many ways you can continue to build on your
internal assets. Are you fiercely curious and determined to
find a solution, no matter what? How can your strength of
character and generosity of spirit benefit you in the present
6. Set some long-range goals that you want to accomplish
as well as short-term objectives that will get you there.
These concrete plans will provide the basic foundation for
change. As you successfully move forward step by step, your
self-confidence will grow. And incremental action, as well
as a positive attitude, will motivate you to stay on track
and ultimately reach your goals.
7. Gain perspective, whether you're hit in the face with a
crisis or making a slow transition into the next chapter of
your life. Expect a cascade of feelings - anxiety, the desire
to hold on, resentment, sadness, fear, even a sense of freedom.
This emotional roller coaster ride is normal. If you have the
fortitude to step back, take a deep breath and face the
situation squarely, you can't help but grow from the
Kennedy had personal failings but he worked hard to right his
path. And over his lifetime he became a better man.
Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said that he will
be remembered for his strengths and his weaknesses: "There's
a great quote by Ernest Hemingway who said, everyone is broken
by life but afterwards some are stronger in the broken places."
Senator Kennedy was a study in strength sustained through
struggle. You too can overcome adversity. If you've made
mistakes, be prepared to acknowledge them and act responsibly.
Don't surrender to self pity and regret. As Kennedy often told
his young son who lost his leg to cancer - keep fighting,
you can do it. Tap into your spirit of resilience. And focus on
your vision and the possibilities - you owe it to yourself.
© 2009, Her Mentor Center
Used by permission.
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|Why Do People Want To Heal?
By Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
People want to heal to feel happier, to feel better and to be happy in their relationships.
People want to feel comfortable and emotionally related to others, they want to experience less anxiety and feel productive, happy and healthy.
Having a relationship with ourselves is having a relationship with others and the world.
We are all related to each other in some way. At the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation, in our group process, after people get to know each other for awhile, they begin to feel connected. They start to feel closer to each other and more connected to the program. What makes the group connection viable is that it is alive and energetic. It is based on an emotional connection which happens through feeling understood, from receiving feedback from each other and the therapist and being able to explore feelings in a warm, safe environment. We learn about ourselves through our relationships, both intimate and social.
Life has an uncontrollable habit of interfering with what we think we want. We plan and God laughs. We strive to be “In Control” and the world takes away our ability to feel in “Control,” especially in bereavement. What if we give up our desire to “Uphold” and “Be Secure” and we are just in the world with our capacity “To Be”. What a novel thought !
For those in our program, the changes that bereavement brings offer a tremendous challenge. Our society doesn’t prepare us for saying goodbye. Like an earthquake, our sense of security has been shaken.
It is reasonable when experiencing discomfort to want to “feel better.” We go about our living with a desire to nourish ourselves, to seek friendship with ourselves and the world, to contribute, be thoughtful, with consciousness and deliberation….in our work world and in our play time, we are striving to focus upon self-awareness, achievement and bettering the world.
Our self healing takes place against a backdrop of the archetype of the world, its chaos and its healing. Our individual family matrix exists against the backdrop of the world…..so that our stock accounts and our achievements mirror the world (to some extent) in which we live. The healing that takes place within our family matrix helps to heal the world matrix as well.
The people I have met in early bereavement are suffering and trying to heal in their own inner world at a time in their lives when grief occupies their every thought. It is a tribute to the human spirit that in early grieving, members of the group can listen to the story of others while they are preoccupied with their own loss. At a time in their lives that they are most vulnerable, they are asked to “listen” and be attentive to the pain of others...and they do it. They heal each other in the spirit of their own goodness….what a testament to the human spirit!
All seem to strive for wholeness, for completion within their own circle, manifested by a willingness to reach out to a stranger who they sense is hurting, reaching out a helping hand, noticing and listening at a time when the inner world is dark.
The circle of life wants to complete itself. When people are in partnership they complete a circle. After loss, there is a gap between the circle of the couple and the circle of the individual who is in search of their own identity when not defined by the relationship.
The major task of bereavement is finding out who you are again alone. That is hard and a difficult task. Bereavement is emotionally and physically exhausting.
Whether there is a loss of relationship, loss of child, loss of spouse, loss of partner, loss of house, loss of job, loss of parent….we are in search of completion, understanding, healing , hope and help from ourselves, our friends and the divine. Working with loss and healing is sacred work. Human beings want to heal and inherent in the human spirit is the capacity to heal.
Sometimes, people are too invested in their pain, too invested in staying stuck, don’t know how to break through, they continue patterns that are non-productive or destructive because they do not know a better way or are so wounded that they repeat the pain in an attempt to heal the pain. Pathological grief reactions and complicated grief are different than normal grieving.
In Eckhart Tolle’s book, The New Earth, he coins the phrase the “pain body” which means stored emotional memories of pain. Sometimes people do not want to heal because pain becomes a friend that they can tell everyone or anyone about, they enjoy feeling the pain energy.. which is necessary to keep the pain body alive, and they don’t have to take responsibility for their life and problems…..
If someone is stuck in a stage of grieving, as therapists, we have to note the stage of grieving that someone is in and help them move forward. We are also aware that sometimes people have difficulty participating in their own healing or are not ready or willing to move forward. Everyone heals differently and on their own time-table. The professional has to recognize the difference and assist people, on their journey to successful meaningful healing with awareness, adaptation, transition, adjustment and integration. We also have to be respectful of a person’s limitations and resistances. We at HOPE pride ourselves in helping people to heal and move forward, to grow and return to their lives in productive, exciting, healthy and creative ways.
In my experience, in general, people want to heal, want to feel better, do better, enjoy life, revitalize themselves with energy, be productive and creative, participate in family events, socialize, play, work, laugh and enjoy their lives.
As Rabbi Schulweis says in his new book, Conscience,…”There is an intuitive sense that we cannot celebrate alone or mourn alone or be consoled alone. Laughter and tears call for community.” In a community with others who are also grieving, we experience the power of healing, growth and fortitude so that we may move forward, reflect, grow and experience renewed energy, … refocusing, reframing and transcending loss to laughter and transcending grief to love.
Everyone has a special light around them – an energy field that glows.
As we heal, we have to find our light.
Use our light
For ourselves and the world.
I would like to end with an Irish poem by John O’Donahue from his book Benedictus:
There is a quiet light
That shines in every heart.
Though it is always secretly there,
It draws no attention to itself.
It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty,
Our desire to seek possibility
And our hearts to love life.
This shy, inner light is what enables us
To recognize and receive
Our very presence here, as blessing.
Benedictus by John O’Donahue, Bantam Press, 2007
Conscience by Rabbi Schulweis, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008
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|Healing After Loss
By Gloria Lintermans & Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
Loss is a fact of life. Yet, following loss, their needs to be a healthy healing, a healing that allows life not only to simply continue, but with joy and determination. What are the elements that make up healing? Whether suffering from a divorce, loss of a child, loss of a parent or loss of a spouse, we go through certain stages and reactions. Not only is it different for each person, it is different with each loss. Based on the nature of the relationship, we must take into consideration the history we had with that person, the strengths, the troubled aspects, our ego strengths, the intensity of the love and the unfinished fragments of the relationship.
There are many feelings in common that people go through in the stages of grief; as well as an often overlap of these stages. The stages include shock, denial, anger, depression, and transition, integration and adjustment. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is credited with naming the stages that she created for the dying. I reframed the last stage of “acceptance” to call it, integration, adjustment and transition as it better describes what people actually move through. There is a great deal of emotion a, during loss, we move from one stage to another and then back again. A few steps forward and a few steps back – similar to the game of Monopoly – 3 squares forward, one square back and then land of “chance”. Be reassured that this back-and-forth movement is perfectly normal.
While moving through the stages of grief, know that:
- Healing requires PATIENCE.
- Healing means MOVING BACK AND FORTH IN PROGRESS.
- Healing means BEING EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE TO YOURSELF.
- Healing means BEING KIND AND LESS JUDGMENTAL TO YOURSELF.
- Healing means allowing whatever FEELINGS TO SURFACE, knowing that they are subject to change.
- Healing means that SOME DAYS ARE EASIER THAN OTHERS.
- Healing means ALLOWING feelings to be present.
- Healing means its OK to CRY and express doubt.
- Healing means the ability to take in the POSITIVE while acknowledging the negative.
- Healing means allowing OTHERS to come in and offer support.
- Healing employs SELF-ACCEPTANCE and allowing yourself to be “in the moment”.
- Healing is about creating BALANCE in your life.
- Healing is about enjoying NATURE and spending enough time to slow down, breathe the air and see the trees.
- Healing is about EXERCISE and adequate NUTRITION.
- Healing is about using POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS about yourself and your world.
- Healing is about feeling SAFE within yourself.
- Healing is about LISTENING TO YOUR INNER VOICE.
Lastly, when we can share our bereavement experiences with others who are going through the same thing, we are participating in our own as well as each others healing. It is important to recognize that the wounded healer, in healing the wounds of others, is healing his or her own wound. This back and forth process of listening and being emotionally available to yourself and others is useful in moving forward. The humanness of a shared experience is healing; when we recognize that we are not alone and isolated, we feel a sense of security knowing what the larger community can offer.
THE HEALING POWER OF GRIEF: The Journey Through Loss to Life and Laughter (Sourcebooks, Inc.; ISBN 1-932783-48-2) by Gloria Lintermans & Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., is a step-by-step grief recovery guide to provide the mourner with the tools needed to successfully navigate the painful, emotional ups-and-downs of grieving. A valuable “Healing Power of Thought” journal is included, a daily roadmap for healing and recording important, positive progress all along the way.
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|Helpful Tips for Managing the Holidays for the Bereaved|
Gloria Lintermans & Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
Co-Authors of THE HEALING POWER OF GRIEF: The Journey Through Loss to Life and Laughter (Sourcebooks, Inc., ISBN 1-932783-48-2)
While grieving we go through many firsts as important dates come up on the calendar. Whether it’s the first anniversary, birthday or holiday, it’s good to have coping strategies in place to rely on to help us cope.
The holidays can be a particularly difficult time. While we are used to being with our family members during this time, sadly, an important person in the family is missing. While we take comfort in having family close—whom we depend on for support—often while in their midst we still feel sad or lost remembering past occasions and events because this time of year is particularly ripe with upsetting memories. The following are suggestions for managing the holidays, a difficult time of year for the bereaved.
Accept invitations, try to laugh and see funny movies. Be less attached to being a third wheel and more attached to how wonderful it is to have people in your life that care and want to be with you. Initiate a dinner or a movie or some activity to share. Be with friends or family members that help you decrease your stress not increase it and look forward to the fact that next year will be easier for you. It is the first experience of holidays that is the most difficult to get through. Encourage yourself to participate. Hopefully, next year will be easier and you will have more events to look forward to that bring you joy.
- CREATE A NEW HOLIDAY RITUAL – Whatever way you might have set the table before, create a new pattern, maybe different seating arrangements, unusual flowers, something that was not tried before. Asking the guests to bring a small gift for a grab bag. The point is to establish a different ritual, a different style that is not a reminder of the past and not doing things exactly the same way.
- MAKING PLANS – When the bereaved have too much time on their hands, they begin to think and reflect. Often painful thoughts will come up comprised of past memories and events that were shared with the one they loved. Making plans for the holidays help people cope with change and leave them with some structure and things to do. Too much free time can stimulate loneliness and despair. We are reminded at holiday time by advertising, music, sales and a great deal of visual stimulation so that it appears that everyone in the world is having a good time and a place to go. When plans are made, people often feel that they have something to look forward to and share.
- LIVING IN THE MOMENT – Worries often increase when people go too far ahead in their thinking. If we learn to breathe and stay in the moment, we learn how to be just in “the now”. In this way, we can fully appreciate the moment that is “Now” and not some other moment to come. We can be fully present and observing just what is in front of us. This may sound simple but people tend to over-analyze and over-think too many things. An example might be that if we look at a flower, really look at it, we begin to notice its color, form, shape, uniqueness, scent, petals and pollen. If we can look at every aspect of that flower as if it were the first time we can truly discover it. There can be great joy in living in the moment and not the past and not the future. It gives us a break from our thoughts and minds and allows us to appreciate the present moment we are in. Often we don’t have to do anything with it but notice it. It is a good break from problem-solving and worry.
- GRATITUDE – When we are grateful for life’s blessings and for what we have, we distract ourselves from what is wrong with our lives. We fixate and ruminate less on what is missing. Being thankful for our children, our healthy minds and bodies. Being willing to be appreciative all the small things in our lives that make up the big things. Our ability to see, to hear, to think, to reflect, to notice, to enjoy and to feel deeply increases our sensitivity and awareness of the world around us.
- EXERCISE – Exercise is a good antidote for stress through the holidays and stress at other times as well. Enjoying exercise on a regular basis is something good to include in our lives. Whether we walk, swim, bike ride or hike, moving our bodies allows us to be outdoors and observe nature. It often takes us out of ourselves and into the world. It may distract the griever from the constant state of anxiety which often accompanies early grieving. We release endorphins in our brain when we exercise that give our mood a lift. Exercise is often prescribed for depression and depressive thoughts.
- NUTRITION – The bereaved often cannot eat, do not enjoy food, or may be inclined to eat too much or eat junk foods. Often the grieving person loses interest in food shopping because they don’t know how to shop for one, or they don’t want to cook for themselves. Appropriate nutritional habits are important through the grieving period because the immune system is down due to stress. Everything one can do to stay healthy is helpful. One of the signs that the bereaved is doing better is the indication that they care again about proper nutrition and make the effort to eat more than cheese and crackers. If a bereaved person was a caregiver and spent a lot of time cooking for an ill spouse they would have to learn to slowly convert this energy and give themselves permission to take good care of themselves. This is appropriate and not an indulgence. It is not selfish; it is good self-nurturing.
- ADEQUATE REST – Sleep often gets disturbed during times of extreme stress. Being mindful of getting enough sleep is a good idea since sleep patterns can be interrupted. People often report that they may fall asleep but have trouble staying asleep. If one was used to sleeping in a bed with their spouse, there is an increased awareness of the empty bed. People tend to oversleep or not sleep enough during high stress times. Listening to soothing music before bedtime is relaxing; not listening to the news before going to bed is a good idea. It is important to not over stimulate the mind at least an hour before bedtime.
- FAMILY AND FRIENDS – Reaching out to family and friends is particularly helpful at holiday time. Calling and making arrangements for activities and having plans are useful for getting through the holidays. Friends and family can provide comfort, safely, warmth and love. Surround yourself with the people that bring out the best in you. Talk to your friends and allow them to include you in their plans.
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|Loving and Dying. Reflections|
Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T. - Executive Director
There are moments of time that are captured in eternity. The first “good” kiss, the first rhythm of childbirth, the first orgasm. Awareness of the extreme sense of being alive…in contrast to watching someone you love breathe labored breaths. The gift of being present and the privilege of being available to someone you love who is dying is sacred. Contrasts and contradictions…
For twenty three years I’ve worked with bereavement groups and individuals, being educated in this realm. However, reading the books, knowing the language system, the material is totally different when it comes home.
On June 22, 2001, my mother died at home in New York. I was with her, her granddaughters were with her, her sister was there. We talked to her, held her hand, gave her permission to die and gave her morphine for comfort-care. All of years of hospice training were blown away. It was my turn. Did I do well with it? I haven’t a clue what that would mean. People said I was strong. I didn’t particularly like that. At the end, she thought I was the nurse. My daughter Dana said, “Mom, did that bother you?” I said, “No, because I knew who she was. She was the mom that wove ‘genius sweaters.” As the years went on, I gave her complicated stitches and yarn, not because I needed sweaters but because it would become an excuse for her to come to L.A.
So many friends and family reached out to make things easier. I felt really blessed by two capable, competent grown daughters – one who writes grants for environmental protection and the other who oversees ten grants for the Department of Health in the area of AIDS.
The grieving overlapped my work, the work overlapped the mourning. One day I had two handbags in the car without a clue as to how one got there. I laughed. I remembered saying in the bereavement group, “You will put a cup of coffee down in one room and not know how it got there.”
Loving and dying are part of the same. If you love a person, by definition, one day they will not be there. Friends wrote me notes about “memories”, really nice words of comfort, and that helped. My group members were supportive and I, mindful that I was there as the therapist, not the participant, felt the circle of love widening. While working with a distraught patient, I encouraged her to volunteer and help others at a time when she was depleted. Now, the “Wounded healer” theory had new meaning. The healer, in healing the wounds of others is healing his own wounds.
Finally, I found it interesting that when called upon to write an article about H.O.P.E. that required something from a feeling place, I could do nothing more than a press release. My heart was not in it. The human feelings and emotions were going towards people, “talk” communication and work. I was losing temporarily the human touch in my writing. But, I knew that the energy was going to the groups, to my patients, just not yet available to me in producing “heart” words on paper. I gave myself permission for it to be what it was.
Loving and dying are part of the same circle of life. By being available to each other, we are part of the continuum of healing.
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|Finding Balance in Your Grieving|
Dr. Jo Christner, Psy.D. Clinical Psychologist
The death of your spouse most likely turned your whole world upside down … out of balance. Everything seemed to change in your life … especially you. Your belief system, physical routines such as sleep, energy and eating, emotional stability, relationships … even your environment has taken on a different meaning. That feeling of safety, comfort and familiarity about your life no longer seems to exist.
Grieving is a difficult journey, as you already know. In the process you and your life will change. Learning to re-create a sense of balance is essential. Balance assists the healing process and maintains emotional, spiritual and physical health and stability.
An architect needs a blueprint to build a new masterpiece. A ship’s captain needs a compass and maps to reach his destination safely. As you build a new identity and life, you too can benefit from a “blueprint” or guide to creating balance in your life. I have created such a “map”, an acronym “S.P.A.C.E.”, which represents balance and stands for all the areas in which we spend time in our lives. If you learn to create balance around and within you, you can feel good about life again.
S: Spiritual – How do you spend time with your soul?
Maybe you are questioning your spirituality or religious beliefs and this may feel like a difficult area … one of confusion, anger, emptiness and possibly representing another loss. “If there were a God, why would he allow this to happen?” As you walk through the grieving process, you can find answers in many ways.
- Seek professional help through therapy or religious support.
- Plan ways to ease your soul and find some peace … sunsets, walks in nature, gardening; service to others, spending time with children; listen to nurturing music; practiced meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Prayer – sometimes it’s nice to share your thoughts without getting advice and judgments.
- Begin a journal – write about one blessing that you have each day. Blessings are often “small” things that we take for granted, like our health, food and shelter. Everyone has blessings. You just need to acknowledge them.
P: Physical – how do you spend time with your body?
With your loss, your entire being may feel as though it has been traumatized. Physically, your strength and energy may have declined, leaving you feeling weak and exhausted. Along with depression and grieving, many of our physical habits are changed: SLEEP, you may experience insomnia, many awakenings or not wanting to wake up or get out of bed; APPETITE, you may be eating very little or wanting to stuff down all those feelings by eating too much, causing a loss or gain in normal weight; and, ENERGY, you may fee like you have to drag yourself to do even the smallest task, or maybe you keep extremely busy so you won’t have to feel.
This is the time to be aware of your body’s needs and to nurture it back to health and balance. Nurture your body and the awareness and feelings will follow.
- Exercise. This is a well-documents way to lift depression and energy. Walking for 20 – 30minutes three times a week is a great beginning. (If you have health problems, confer with your doctor.)
- Get outside. The natural Vitamin D from sunshine (in moderation) profoundly affects hormonal balance.
- Get a massage. Touch is often terribly missed after the loss of a spouse.
- Take a yoga class. Yoga poses improve blood circulation, which could improve your energy and feelings of lethargy.
- Deep breathing and meditation. Both help to lower anxiety and improve much needed sleep.
- Aromatherapy can alter brain chemistry right through your nose! Lavender, for example, induces restfulness for many.
A: Affect –How do you spend time with your feelings?
Affect is a psychological term for the range of ups and downs of your everyday feelings. You may feel as though you are no longer interested in pleasurable activities. That is normal. Do things to nurture and honor your feelings.
- Be around positive, supportive people. That’s why bereavement support groups are so important.
- Honor your feelings—there is healing in tears. If you find that you “can’t cry,” know that it may be time or maybe your tears have already been shed. Don’t judge them. Just let them be.
- Music can be a very healing therapy. Listen to music that you like. Slow and relaxing music can help you calm down and sleep better. It can also lift your spirits and let you sing.
- Seek professional help if you feel stuck or the pain is just too intense. It doesn’t mean that you are weak or “crazy,” rather in more pain than you can get through alone.
- Commune with nature. Visit the mountains, seashore or sit in your garden. Nature has a way of healing and lifting your spirits.
- Give yourself permission to laugh. It doesn’t take away form the grieving process. It honors the memory of your spouse and the life that you had together.
C: Cognitive – How do you spend your time with your thoughts?
Your thoughts are a very important part of the healing process that can either impede or support healthy grieving. Often, it is difficult to “turn off” your thoughts … fears about the future, memories about the past and anxious thoughts about what you will possibly do without your spouse by your side.
The way that we think affects the way that we feel which affects our behavior and the way that we perceive the world (i.e., “I’ll always be alone now.” = feelings of sadness, hopelessness = a behavior of staying home alone = a perception that the world is a lonely place).
Be aware of your thoughts and begin to learn to “reprogram” them to support your healing process, (i.e., “I feel lonely since my spouse died, but I’ll get through this with the help of others.” = feelings of hope and support = the behavior of going to a bereavement support group = a perception that you are not alone in this world).
- Begin to use “affirmations” (positive statements about yourself) such as “I am a strong, loving person who will survive.”
- Utilize a therapist to identify and change your thoughts.
- Write your thoughts in a journal. You’ll begin to see patterns and have a place to express your feelings.
- Take a class such as art, music or history, to expand your thinking.
E: Environment – How do I spend time in my environment?
Think about your environment, such as pets, plants, light, music, garden, pictures, people, etc. The way that we mold our environment has an effect on the way that we feel and think. Create your environment to work for you in this healing process, not against you. If a sad song comes on the radio that causes you distress, it’s okay to turn the knob to find a station that is uplifting.
- Clean up the clutter. If need be, have a friend or a professional organizer assist you. “Clutter creates confusion.” Right now you have enough confusion in your life.
- If you like spending time outdoors in nature, remember to do that. Often we sit inside in front of the TV or staring out the window. Energy follows energy. You need to move your energy and eventually more energy will follow.
- Be with positive people that you enjoy and like.
- Go places that you enjoy and/or feel safe (i.e., art museums and theater, a favorite park, temple or church).
- Music can be positively distracting and nurturing.
Think about the five areas of S.P.A.C.E.: Spiritual, Physical, Affect, Cognitive and Environment. Write “S. P.A.C.E.” vertically on a piece of paper and write your own ideas or activities in each of the five areas. This will become your “blueprint” to rebalancing your life. Plan to include something from each area of your life on a weekly basis. Eventually, one step at a time, one day at a time, your life will again begin to have balance and you will begin to heal.
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|The World In-Between |
Jo Christner, Psy.D.
When you suffer the loss of a spouse, you embark on the difficult, lonely journey of grieving. Somewhere in the process of grieving, and healing, you will move through the “world in-between”. You might be thinking, “what is this world in-between? It must be a mistake. I’m not supposed to be here….but yet, I am. It no longer feels like my world.” Everything is changed…hopes, dreams, lifestyles, aspirations, family, friends…the life that you once knew is suddenly gone. Life no longer seems familiar, no longer feels comfortable, no longer is the one that you knew and created. There are so many changes, both externally and internally.
One of my grief group members once said "I feel like I'm living in a parallel universe since my husband died. I'm over here watching everyone else live life". .Suddenly, you feel like a "stranger in a strange land", living in a twilight place. The "world in between can be a confusing, painful and disorienting place. It’s the place that must be visited between an ending and a new beginning, between feeling hopeless and finding hope, between loss and beginning a changed life.
This is the place of transition, the place between an ending and a beginning, the place of being lost and of finding, of re-identifying and reinventing, the place of healing through grief and learning to integrate that your world has changed forever and will begin again. It will never again be the same…but you will begin again.
The book, “The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments” by William Bridges offers guidelines and knowledge for traveling through the “world in between”. Although he had written several other books and had been an authority on transition at a corporate level for many years, he best began to understand it as he went through his own grief process after the loss of his wife to cancer. After her death, this book was written from his personal experience and journey through his transition through and to his changed life Although his works apply to transition during any kind of loss, not just the death of a loved one, I will use some of his ideas to specifically address the loss of a spouse.
According to Mr. Bridges, there are six “ cardinal aspects of loss”.
Using some of Mr. Bridges thoughts, as well as my own, I will briefly explain and give examples of these concepts.
- Dis engagement - the separation from your spouse through death. This separation occurs on many levels: physically, emotionally and mentally. It doesn’t mean that you will forget…
- Dis identification - the way that the loss destroys your old identity. You’re no longer the person or the roles that you used to feel, believe or live. “If I’m no longer a wife/husband/caregiver, then who am I?”
- Dis enchantment - the way that the loss tears you out of the old reality you accepted unthinkingly.
- Dis orientation - how, as a result of losing the object of your feeling and the identity you had together and the reality you shared, you feel bewildered and lost.
- Dis covery - the discovery of a new life, a new identity and a new outlook.
- Dis loyalty - the idea that something new and meaningful can evolve after a death causes one to question if they are being disloyal to their deceased spouse
As you go through these stages of transition, you will begin to find light and to heal. It is normal to have loss. It is normal to grieve. It is normal to begin again. That is the way of life. I offer a few suggestions to help you through the process of grief/transition and healing.
- If your grief is complicated, seek professional help from a licensed therapist.
- Read books that will educate, support, bring comfort and inspire. Recommendations are available.
- Having a transitional object, something that belonged to your spouse (i.e. ring, shirt, socks, picture, keychain) can bring comfort during a time when nothing seems to bring comfort. It’s ok to carry it with you, to touch it, to remember.
- Talk to yourself in a way that perpetuates healing. The way you talk to yourself can make a difference. If you can, keep your thoughts in the present moment. Read inspirational thoughts that give you support and comfort. It’s too easy to feel hopeless and predict the worst by going into the future.. It’s not here yet…and you will change. Determining what the future holds will only reflect the pain that you feel now.
- Having the belief that you can survive this loss and heal will help to bring hope, courage and something to hold on to. Some people find that their religion and faith give them support. Seek beliefs that support your healing and recovery.
- Grieving is an individual journey. Making comparisons or judging others will not assist you in your healing. Trust that, with the support of others, you will heal…in your own unique way.
- Seek support through friends, family and support groups. Being in a support group with others on a similar journey can feel comfort and reassurance during this difficult time.
- Give yourself the time that you need to grieve and to heal. Sometimes you need to visit the grief. Sometimes you need to visit the distractions and resources in your life. Allow room for both. It’s the “space” in between where the healing begins.
I want to remind you that grieving, transition and healing are a process, not an event. It will take as long as it takes for you to travel this journey. You won’t do it “wrong”. You will do it the way that you need to heal. Statistically, it is believed that normal, healthy, uncomplicated grieving takes about 2 years. For some individuals, it will be shorter and for others, longer. Trust YOUR process and your journey. Trust that you, too, will heal. Trust that you will find life and light again.
My loving thoughts and heart go with you on your most difficult journey. I believe in you and your ability to heal...
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|Coming Together to Grieve|
Jo Christner, Psy.D.
What is grief?
From the moment we're born, we begin to experience loss. We lose loved ones, cherished dreams, physical strength, work and relationships. The "Law of Impermanence" means that the older we get, the more we lose. Nothing stays the same. Often we experience loss upon loss, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and wondering how we will get through. Unfortunately, we are not often taught how to grieve. In addition, we often don't even know if it is “okay” to grieve.
In his book, Still Here , Ram Dass states:
"In a culture that emphasizes stoicism and forward movement, in which time is deemed "of the essence" and there is little tolerance for slowness, inwardness, and melancholy, grieving - a healthy, necessary aspect of life - is often overlooked."
Rather than recognizing death as the natural companion of life, death continues to be an enemy, something to fear. While we fear death, we don't fully live our lives.
By acknowledging death and learning how to grieve, we can learn how to allow ourselves to come out of our past and live fully in the present moment.
I would like to address a few aspects of the grieving process and ways to learn how to grieve.
During time of loss, it might seem as though you are more alone and lonelier than you have ever been in your life. Grieving is an "individual journey". Just as we go through the birth canal alone, we die alone, and in many ways, we grieve alone. No one else can cry for us, mourn for us or feel our feelings of pain for us. We have to do all of that. We often feel isolated from people who surround us...feeling different....alone. We realize that our pain is so deep that no one can else share it. As Rabbi Naomi Levy states in her book, Begin Again:
“Friends may empathize, but no one can live inside another person's wounded heart."
So, how does one heal?
Stephen Levine has recommended that we build temples specifically for the purpose of grieving, ritual sites where we can feel safe to pour out our sadness and loss. In the Jewish tradition, they sit Shiva. In the Irish tradition, they hold a wake. Rituals like these are becoming more rare in culture and infrequently practiced. It is so important to "honor" the feelings of loss and find a way and place to express them. Often I'm asked...."how long does it take". Each person's grief has its own timetable. The crisis stage of grief passes in time, but the deep feelings of grieve remain.
How does one find comfort in their suffering and grief? Even though no one can grieve your loss, others can provide a "space" for you to grieve. The presence of others can help to strengthen us, to provide a "container" for us to grieve...a safe place.
Just as in temples and churches people come together to pray and find strength, coming together in bereavement groups to grieve can provide strength during our time of loss. Being with others who are grieving normalizes our grief and the depth of our pain. Being with others who have a "knowing" of what you are going through helps you to realize that you are not "going crazy" and that you can survive the intense feelings and loss. They can provide support and friendships that lighten the loneliness. There is nothing like opening up your heart to someone who will listen. Coming together as a group to grieve can provide:
- A place to come together who others who understand and have a knowing about your journey....a "community" of support.
- A place to share your solitude and your silence
- A place to share your feelings, thoughts and beliefs.....and also learn by listening to others.
- A place to share your tears and sadness, anger and eventually your laughter and joy
- A place to share your hopelessness...and eventually your hope
- A place to experience the healing power of hugs
- A place to lighten your loneliness, find strength in support and often make lasting friendship
- A place to share your memories and keep them alive
- A place to find resources, both within and without
- A place to realize that we are connected, not by our physicalness, but by our invisibleness…our love, our memories, our kind deeds and the essence of who we are.
An excerpt from the poem by William Blake carries a hopeful perspective about life, death, grief and healing:
To see the world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wildflower,
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
We are led to believe a lie!
When we see with...not through the eye.
Which was born in a night...
To perish in a night...
When the soul slept in beams of light.
Acknowledging, allowing., honoring, expressing and sharing your feelings are important in the process of grieving and healing.
Groups and community provide the opportunity for unity and connectedness. Connectedness provides the opportunity to come together to pray, to grieve and to heal.
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|The Use of Medication During Bereavement|
Marcia Craig-Smith, Psy.D.
The issue of whether or not to take medication is a commonly posed question in the bereavement groups I facilitate. Many fear or have been told that medication will mask or inhibit their grieving process. Others who have been prescribed medications provide supportive subjective experiences, reporting that an anti depressant, anti anxiety medication or a sleep aid have actually assisted their ability to grieve with increased clarity and improved functioning overall.
In Grief support and Grief Therapy, Dr. J. William Worden reports that it is more advisable to treat anxiety and insomnia with pharmaceuticals than a depression (depression being seen as a “normal” component of the grieving process). However, no research has been found to support that notion that antidepressants could pave the way for abnormal grief reactions.
While there is no definitive answer to the medication question, my observations do support the use of pharmaceuticals for “some” people given “certain” circumstances. For instance, if you are experiencing insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much) you may be experiencing a serious impairment of your daily functioning. While too much sleep could keep you from performing your essential daily functions (i.e., work, hygiene, child rearing, selfcare) sleep deprivation could result in heightened irritability or agit6ation, day fatigue, headaches and impaired reflexes, all posing a threat to yourself or others. In this case, a prescribed sleep aid or anti anxiety drug may be beneficial.
Sometimes anxiety becomes unmanageable or manifests itself as “panic attacks” which negatively impact your quality of life and challenge your natural grieving response. An antianxiety or antidepressant drug can oftentimes “cut the edge” of the anxiety and restore you to a more manageable and productive grief process.
We all know that one of the “natural” stages of grieving is depression. While it may appear acute during the first few months of mourning, it may also linger on well into the first or second year, though, generally less intense. While this is considered “normal”, each person possesses different coping strategies and tolerance levels for emotional pain and some have propensities toward major depressions, which could actually increase the risk of suicide. In either case, the depression becomes the main focus and can impair the grieving response. These individual cases need to be assessed carefully by a trained professional. Antidepressants may be utilized to restore emotional balance to the mourner.
Oftentimes, I will discuss that conservative measures to psychopharmaceuticals can be a first consideration. These measures may include good sleep hygiene techniques, to include a warm glass of milk before bed (the tryptophan in milk stimulates serotonin production known to aid the sleep process), a warm bath, soothing reading or music, a cup of herbal tea (non-caffeinated, i.e., chamomile or Sleepytime Tea). And should you have difficulty going to sleep after a10 to15 minute attempt, get out of bed and do something relaxing to decrease the association of insomnia with your bed. Many mourners report having ruminating thoughts at night and I suggest that they interrupt the barrage of unwanted thoughts with the repetition of a positive word, mantra, or affirmation, such as “peace and calm”, “relaxed and sleepy”, “I am at peace”, or “I am relaxed and calm”. Identify and experiment with the words or method that works for you.
Taking long, deep, slow breaths, expanding the lower lobes of the lungs (otherwise known as belly breathing) is an effective way of relaxing tense muscles and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the autonomic nervous system which promotes a relaxed state).
Many people are exploring alternatives to use in combination with or instead of traditional measures. Some of my clients have reported great success with herbal products and aromatherapy essences, as well as acupuncture, and massage to name a few. It is advisable to check with your own physician, based on your own health history, whether these products are suitable for you.
What works for one person may or may not work for another. Whether you are experiencing a “normal” grief related depression or an aggravated depression, an apathetic depression or an agitated depression, it is strongly advised that you be medically examined and professionally advised of a course of action depending on your individual circumstances.
Marcia Craig-Smith, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice with offices in Auburn and Grass Valley, California . For over 2 years she facilitated bereavement groups for the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation in Los Angeles. Dr. Smith has worked extensively with caregivers of people with dementia, in addition to having been a program director of an older adult day service center. Dr. Smith has worked as a consultant with the Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles and Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center conducting professional trainings and program reconstruction. Since 1992, Dr. Smith conducted a Stress Reduction Workshop at Santa Monica College and is certified as a Master Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist as well as a Yoga Instructor. Dr. Smith can be reached at (530) 320-6577 .
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| Helpful Do's and Don'ts
For the Bereaved:
Do give yourself permission to not hurry your bereavement; it takes as long as it takes.
Do allow yourself to have a good time. You are entitled.
Do the rituals of purging the house when you feel up to the task.
Do take off the rings, when it feels like the right thing to do.
Do send out the thank you notes, when you feel ready to do this.
Do go out with your friends and socialize.
Do enjoy your life; you are entitled to do this.
Do develop single friends.
Do not worry about whether you are in the right place emotionally; you are exactly where you ought to be.
Do remember there are no “shoulds” in bereavement.
For the Friends and Family of the Bereaved:
Do stay supportive of where the bereaved is emotionally.
Do restrain yourself about offering unwanted and undesired opinions.
Don’t tell your friends to give away the clothes until they are ready to do so.
Don’t offer advice if you have not walked in their shoes.
Don’t try to talk the bereaved into some other emotional place; be respectful of the emotional place they are in.
Don’t be judgmental and critical.
Don’t say, “Isn’t that a big house for you to be in by yourself?”
Don’t say, “Why don’t you move to a smaller place?”
Do recognize that the bereaved might be very comfortable in their home and want to stay there.
Don’t give “advice” unless you are asked.
Don’t make harsh judgments if you have no feeling for what the bereaved is going through.
From the book, The Healing Power of Grief: The Journey through Loss to Life and Laughter written by Gloria Lintermans and Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
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| Resource Books for Bereavement
Albom, Mitch, Tuesdays With Morrie, Doubleday, 1997 American Association of Retired Persons, On Being Alone, 1909 K Street, N.W. Washington D.C. 20049.
Ascher, Barbara Lazear, Landscape without Gravity, Penguin Books, NY, 1993
Beisser, Dr. Arnold, Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability, and Healing, Bantam Books, NY, 1988
Berkus, Rusty, Life is a Gift, Red Rose Press, Encino, CA. 1986
Bowlby, John, "Processes of Mourning" in Grief: Selected Readings, ed. Arthur C. Carr, et al. New York: Health Sciences Publishing, 1975
Bozarth, Alla Renee, Life Is Goodbye, Life Is Hello: Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss, CompCare Publishers, Minneapolis, MN, 1982
Brabant, Sarah, Mending the Torn Fabric: For Those Who Grieve and Those Who Want to Help Them, Baywood Publishing Co., Amityville, New York, 1996
Brothers, Joyce, Widowed, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1990.
Caine, Lynn, Widow, William Morrow and Co., 1974
Caine, Lynn, Being a Widow, Penguin Books, 1988.
Colgrove, Melba, How to Survive the Loss of a Love, Prelude Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1993.
Fisher, Ida and Lane, Byron, The Widow's Guide to Life, Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.
Gates, Philomene, Suddenly Alone, Harper, 1990
Ginsburg, Genevieve, Davis, To Live Again, St. Martin's Press, New York, NY, 1987
Ginsburg, Genevieve, Davis, When You've Become a Widow: A Compassionate Guide to Rebuilding Your Life, Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1987
Shaw, Eva, What To Do When A Loved One Dies, Dickens Press, 1994
Grollman, Earl, A., Living When a Loved One Has Died, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass. 1977
Grollman, Earl, A., What Helped Me When My Loved One Died, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass., 1981
Grollman, Earl, A., Time Remembered: A Journal for Survivors, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass., 1981.
Healers On Healing, Carlson, Richard & Shield, Benjamin, Editors, A. Jeremy T. Tarcher/Putnam Books, NY, 1989
James, John and Cherry Frank, The Grief Recovery Handbook: A Step-by-Step Program for Loving Beyond Loss, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1988.
Jewett, Claudia, L., Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss, The Harvard Common Press, Harvard, Mass., 1982
Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning, Riemer, Jack, Editor, Schocken Books, NY, 1995
Klein, Melanie, quoted in Geoffrey Gorer, Death, Grief, and Mourning: A Study of Contemporary Society, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., Anchor Books, 1972.
Korn, Erroland Johnson, Karen, Visualization, The Use Of Imagery In The Health Professions, Dow Jones-Irvine, Homewood, Illinois, 1983, p. 32 (Holmes & Rahe) Stress Scale
Kramer, Herbert and Kay, Conversations at Midnight, William Morrow & Co., Inc. N.Y., 1993
Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth, On Death and Dying, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, NY, 1969.
Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth, Death: The Final Stage of Growth, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1975. Lamm, Maurice, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Jonathan David Publishers, New York, NY, 1969.
Leshan, Eda, Learning to Say Goodbye, Avon Books, New York, NY, 1978
Levine, Stephen, Healing Into Life and Death, Anchor Books, Doubleday, NY, 1987
Levine, Stephen, Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying, Anchor Books/Doubleday, NY, 1982
Levy, Naomi, To Begin Again, Knopf, New York, 1999
Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, Harper, San Francisco, CA, 1994
Lintermans, Gloria, & Stolzman, Marilyn, Ph.D, L.M.F.T., The Healing Power of Grief, The Journey Through Loss to Life and Laughter, Sourcebooks, Inc. 2006
Ibid, The Healing Power of Love, Transcending the Loss of a Spouse to New Love, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2006
Lord, Janet Harris, No Time for Goodbye: Coping with Sorrow, Anger & Injustice After a Tragic Death, Pathfinder Publishing, Ventura, CA, 1999
Lukas, Christopher, Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, NY, 1997
Manning, Doug, Don't Take My Grief Away: What to Do When You Lose a Loved One, Harper and Row, New York, NY, 1984
Melges, Frederick, T. and Bowley, John, Types of Hopelessness in Psychopathological Process, Archives of General Psychiatry 20, 1969
Neeld, Elizabeth, Seven Choices: Taking the Steps to a New Life After Losing Someone You Love, Mira Bennett, Inc., Houston, TX, 1998
O'Connor, Nancy, Letting Go With Love, Bantam Books, New York, 1984
Olitzky, Kerris, Grief In Our Seasons, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT., 1998
Patterson, C.H., Relationship Counseling and Psychotherapy, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, NY, 1974.
Peck, Rosalie, Learning to Say Goodbye, Accelerated Development
Price, Eugenia, Getting Through The Night, Ballantine Books
Rando, Therese A., How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, Bantam Double Day Dell, New York, NY, 1991
Schiff, Harriet, Sarnoff, The Bereaved Parent, Crown Publishers, 1977
Simos, Bertha, G., A Time to Grieve, Family Service Association of America, New York, NY, 1979
Sims, Darcie D., Why Are The Casseroles Always Tuna?, Big A & Co. 1992
Staudacher, Carol, A Time To Grieve: Meditations for Healing After the Death of a Loved One, Harper, San Francisco, 1974
Tatelbaum, Judy, The Courage to Grieve, Family Service Association of America, New York, 1979
Thurman, Robert, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Mystical Classics of the World) Bantam , NY, 1993
Truman, Jill, Letter To My Husband: Notes About Mourning and Recovery, Viking, 1987
Westberg, Granger E., Good Grief: A Constructive Approach To The Problem Of Loss, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 1962
Williams, Colgrove, Bloomfield, How to Survive the Loss of a Love, Bantam, New York, NY, 1984
Wolfelt, Alan D., Understanding Grief: Healping Yourself Heal, Accelerated Development Publishers, Philadelphia, PA, 1992
Wolfson, Dr. Ron, A Time to Mourn A Time to Comfort, The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, NY, 1993
Wolpe, David, Making Loss Matter, Riverhead Books, NY, 1999 Worden, J. William, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Springer Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1982
Yalom, I.D., The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, 2nd Edit., Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, New York, NY, 1975
Zonnebelt-Smeege, Susan J., Getting to the Other Side of Grief: Overcoming the Loss of a Spouse, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998
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| Comes The Dawn|
By Veronica A. Shoffstall
After awhile you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And to learn to build all your roads
On today because tomorrow's ground
Is too uncertain for plans, and futures have
A way of falling down in mid-flight.
After awhile you learn that even sunshine
Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate
Your own soul, instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure...
That you really are strong
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn...
With every goodbye you learn.
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|The Guest House|
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalal ad-Din Rumi
Persian Poet and Sage
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|Bill Of Rights For The Bereaved|
- We have the right to express our grieving in our own way, recognizing that we move through the stages of grief and not necessarily in any neat order.
- We have the right to know that grieving is slow and hard work and people move through it at their own pace.
- We have the right to express our feelings about grief and explore them.
- We have a right to forgive ourselves for the things we think we “should” have done or “might” have done and realize that what we did in that moment of time was with the information at hand and we did the best we could with the knowledge we had.
- We have the right to be ourselves and recognize our strengths and our limitations.
- We have a right to participate actively in our mourning, remember the past with fond memories and allow ourselves to enjoy our lives again.
- We have a right to move forward and speak of our pain, whether that makes people uncomfortable or not.
- We have a right to go back and forth in our grieving, some days making progress and other days feeling as though we are slipping back.
- We have a right to express our emotions and have others bear witness to our story.
- We have a right to believe that we will have a whole life again..
Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D.
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Inroads by Stephan David, Dragonfly Music
A CD that contains the soothing music that you hear playing on this website.
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The Healing Power of Grief: The Journey through Loss to Life and Laughter by Gloria Lintermans and Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
(Champion Press, March 2006)
Click here to order this book from Amazon.com
Click here to order this book from BarnesAndNoble.com
This book leads the reader through the time sequences of grief. The goal is to bring the mourner personal stories that reflect the adjustments and reactions of widows/ widowers, specific examples of healing strategies, plus "Do's and Don'ts" for the griever and their support community.
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The Healing Power of Love: Transcending the Loss of a Spouse to New Love by Gloria Lintermans and Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
(Champion Press, March 2006
Click here to order this book from Amazon.com
Click here to order this book from BarnesAndNoble.com
This book is a collection of twenty-four beautiful and honestly told, uplifting and inspirational stories of new, loving relationships following the loss of a spouse or partner, an inspiration to the over l5 million widow/widowers in the U.S. It is presented in simple-format - twelve chapters, each chapter presenting the male and female perspective.
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