Posts tagged loss
Posts tagged loss
Perhaps at one time, maybe just last year, this was a day full of flowers, hugs, laughter & good food.
It’s astonishing what a death can take away from us, that even a holiday like this, once so simple and sweet, can become dreaded and excruciating days of mourning.
There are two main groups of people I am thinking of as I write this blog:
Children who have lost their mother and have no one to wish a “Happy Mother’s Day” to.
Mothers who have lost children and who will be missing that sweet voice saying,
“I love you, Mom”
As a friend of a grieving person, there is most likely nothing you can do to somehow make this Mother’s Day feel wonderful and just like previous years. What you can do is extend love to your friend, talk about the mother or child that is missing. Acknowledging the loss is something we are often afraid to do because we think, “oh, if I say her name it will just make my friend sad,” the truth is, they are already thinking of and missing these people and likely wondering if anyone else is, too. Showing someone you remember is a precious gift to them.
As a mother who is grieving a child (of any age), Mother’s Day will require a tremendous amount of strength and patience as you encounter others who don’t know what to say and then, perhaps say the wrong thing. You are in a particularly difficult grief that no one should ever have to face.
As a child whose mother is no longer living, it will be hard to see others enjoying their mothers while you are grieving that special relationship.
But what can you do to remember your loved one this Mother’s day? You will know what is best for you, if there are lines you don’t want to cross or perhaps special traditions saved for this day.
- Write them a letter recalling special memories, some of their unique quirks, and things that their life added to yours.
- Journal/Think through the questions: “How do you make sense of all this?” “What are the lessons for you?” “How are you different because of your loved one’s life and death?”
- GO – Get out of your house and visit one of your loved one’s favorite spots. Maybe there’s a bench in Dana Point that you both loved sitting at, a favorite meal at a café, a great ice cream spot, whatever it is, getting out can be a very positive and refreshing addition to your day.
- Seek out support from others going through similar losses. We have a large representation of local support groups represented on our website, many churches can provide you with personal pastoral care and our resident expert, Becky Lomaka, can guide you to a group specific to you (email Becky at: firstname.lastname@example.org).
I want to say that only you can really know what is going to help you or hurt you as you go through Mother’s Day. Taking care of yourself is the goal here and grieving actively can be part of that but consider what you want to do carefully and without any guilt pulling at you. You will make it through this, and since you have to, I hope you can customize this Mother’s Day with what’s best for You.
By sharing their strength, sorrow, vulnerability and whit, the authors listed below equip us with the emotional tools to face our own struggles. If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
1. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. 2005.
In 2003, Joan Didion’s husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, died suddenly at their dinner table, moments after the couple came home from visiting their recently coma-induced daughter at the hospital. This unbelievably tragic series of events spurred Didion’s relatable, touching, intellectual memoir – The Year of Magical Thinking. Her literary prowess takes the reader through widespread musings on grief, but instead of bogging us down in her sorrow, Didion has managed to create a life affirming account of loss that is destined to become a classic.
2. A Widow’s Story, by Joyce Carol Oats. 2011.
How do we piece together the fragments of our own life when our main source of identity and routine is suddenly taken away? Do we at some point become self-pitying if we find ourselves unable to move past our own sorrow? Joyce Carol Oats struggled to answer these questions as she grappled for a sense of meaning while mourning the loss of her beloved husband, Raymond Smith. Intimate details about her undying love, including Raymond’s voicemail message that she kept for over a year after his death, make this a heartbreaking, must read memoir.
3. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion. 2011.
Blue Nights is considered a sequel to Didion’s previous masterpiece The Year of Magical Thinking. As if the heartbreak from losing her husband in 2003 wasn’t enough, Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo, died just two years later from an ongoing illness. Blue Nights explores one person’s capacity for grief, and the unique sadness of a parent burring her child. Didion also address her own mortality, and the difficulties of growing older.
4. Death Be Not Proud, by John Gunther. 1949.
John Gunther’s loving tribute to his son, Johnny, is a must read for any person struggling with the loss of a child. We follow Johnny’s story, from his initial brain tumor diagnosis to his death at the young age of 17. John focuses on the strength and wisdom of his dying son, who continued to fight for his life right up until the time it was taken from him.
5. Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes. 2008.
Nothing to Be frightened Of offers a slight departure from many other books on this list. Instead of reacting to a particular death, Barnes addresses death in general, particularly his own, and how his views on life, death, and God change as he grows older. At 62, Barnes has seen his parents and friends die. He knows that the sun is dying, he is dying, and the human species as a whole is slowly but inevitably changing. In Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Barnes works to make sense of it all, and offers a candid, surprisingly humorous look at the ultimate common denominator.
6. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers. 2000.
At the young age of 22, Dave Eggers lost both his parents to cancer and consequently became the guardian of his eight-year-old brother. In order to convey this incomprehensible tragedy to readers, Eggers uses a self-referential, sardonic, yet ultimately touching narrative approach that reflects a unique, generational perspective.
7. A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis. 1961.
A Grief Observed is CS Lewis’ account of the debilitating grief he felt when his wife of three years died of cancer, and the struggle for a devout man to understand some of God’s decisions. Although difficult to read (for content, not technique), this memoir offers a cathartic experience for anyone in the throws of loss.
8. The Long Goodbye, by Meghan O’Rourke. 2011.
After the death of her 55-year-old mother, O’Rourke struggled to understand her overwhelming and complex feelings of grief. She began to write down her thoughts – from the most nuanced observations to grandiose musings – which eventually resulted in this wonderful book, equally praised for it’s beautiful prose and emotional insight.
9. Epilogue, by Anne Roiphe. 2008.
Much like A Widow’s Story, Anne Roiphe’s Epilogue details the painful bereavement of a recent widow, and the seemingly impossible task of regaining a sense of normalcy when one has experienced great loss. Roiphe shares her innermost experiences, including thoughts of suicide and difficulty reinterring the dating world, in this heartfelt memoir.
10. The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief, by David Plante. 2009.
The Pure Lover is Plante’s lovingly written memoir about his late partner of 40 years, Nikos Stangos. It is a testament to the power of close relationships, and although we feel Plante’s pain, we also feel his joy at having loved. At times he writes from the perspective of Stangos, suggesting a level of closeness only a lifetime together can create.
Nicholas Kania works in marketing for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, an online resource providing caregivers and those thinking about end-of-life with free, helpful information.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is about ready to publish their Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5); and it’s created no small stir among the psychiatrist community.
One of the main issues that psychiatrists are having with the DSM-5 is that it is lumping normal grief into Major Depressive Disorder. Here’s a quote from Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of Duke’s School of Medicine:
(In the new DSM-5) Normal grief will become Major Depressive Disorder, thus medicalizing and trivializing our expectable and necessary emotional reactions to the loss of a loved one and substituting pills and superficial medical rituals for the deep consolations of family, friends, religion, and the resiliency that comes with time and the acceptance of the limitations of life.
There are many shared characteristics between grief and depression, but there’s also some distinct differences. Dr. Ginette G. Ferszt states this:
Although everyone grieves differently, grief and depression share several common characteristics. Both may include intense sadness, fatigue, sleep and appetite disturbances, low energy, loss of pleasure, and difficulty concentrating. The key difference is that a grieving person usually stays connected to others, periodically experiences pleasure, and continues functioning as he rebuilds his life. With depression, a connection with others and the ability to experience even brief periods of pleasure are generally missing. Sometimes people describe feeling as if they have fallen into a black hole and fear they may never climb out. Overwhelming emotions interfere with the ability to cope with everyday stressors.
Here is a chart that shows the similarities and differences between depression and grief.
Should we medicate grief?
Mostly “no”, but in some cases “yes”. Here is when grief may need some type of medication:
Here is are some criteria to determine if grief has transitioned to Major Depressive Disorder.
Ultimately, grief is the response to loss. And no amount of medication is going to bring that loss back. We must learn to live with the loss of someone integral to our very being. If medication hurts that learning process, then it’s destructive. If it can help us learn to live in the “new normal”, then it becomes an aid to understanding life after loss.
I think the following quote sums up the core of why medicating grief is usually not healthy:
“The first thing that happens is bliss, at least it was like that in my case.”
I grabbed a pen and began writing my brother’s words as he spoke. Nothing would have been odd about this had he been sitting next to me or on the phone. But he was dead. He died three weeks earlier after being hit by a car. I’d been a mess ever since, so depressed over Billy’s death I could barely lift my head from the pillow. But on this day, I was awakened at dawn by his unmistakable voice calling my name.“Annie, Annie it’s me. It’s Billy. Get up and get the red notebook.”
The red notebook he told me to get had been a birthday gift from him the year before. I remember it seemed strange, his giving me a blank book with an inscription that read: “Dear Annie, Everyone needs a book dedicated to them. Read between the lines.”
As cryptic as it was, I don’t think either of us could have imagined what it would be used for. But that red notebook became our book, mine and Billy’s, a record of my encounters with my dead brother as he spoke to me about his journey through the afterlife.
Feeling a Divine Presence
When I first heard Billy’s voice, I wasn’t sure if I was having some sort of strange grief-induced reaction to make me feel better about his departure from earth. But as my brother went on speaking, for the first time since his death I felt happy. I knew Billy was okay as he assured me;
“There’s nothing hard or cruel for me anymore. I’m drifting weightlessly through these gorgeous stars and moons and galaxies twinkling all around me. The whole atmosphere is filled with a soothing hum, like hundreds of thousands of voices are singing to me but they’re so far away I can just barely hear them. And although I can’t exactly say anyone was here to greet me, I feel a divine presence, a kind, loving, beneficent presence, twinkling all around me.”
When Billy was alive, he was far from perfect. My bad boy brother did a lot of things that many people would consider big mistakes. Although the end of his life was filled with darkness as he battled his addictions and lost the war, my brother was healed by the light as soon as he left his body. According to Billy:
1. What lies beyond this world is a realm of absolute love that reaches far outside the limits of human understanding.
2. Some believe there’s a judgment day after you die, but Billy says the opposite. There’s “No-Judgment Day.”
3. As you experience the unconditional love of the divine presence, you begin to feel that way towards yourself, unconditional.
So whatever our struggles, whatever our truth, whatever darkness we may encounter, Billy wants us to know that, “The shadow is illusory and temporary. Bliss, ultimately bliss and light, are the truer and stronger reality.”
People often ask if hearing Billy’s voice from the afterlife is frightening. Not at all. As he speaks, the bliss of his world flows into mine and I feel almost euphoric. According to Billy, this is just the smallest taste of what awaits each of us when we pass into the hereafter.
Sometimes grief can take us by surprise. After a loved one has died and we have come to terms with it and begun to live again, we are faced with our grief yet again. Bereavement may re-occur on the anniversary of your loved one’s death, birthday, or other special days throughout the year. Some are faced with grief feelings again when an unrelated person, a celebrity, or a pet dies – or even years later. Grief does not end at a certain magical point or stage after mourning, it continues in the background or foreground of a person’s life.
Reminders of the departed’s life might be connected to those special days which followed your lives. They can also be tied to sights, sounds, smells, places, and the other people in your lives. Unless you can rebuild a life to avoid all remembrance items, your grief may be triggered. It can help, though, to be prepared and to mentally set yourself up to expect some initial twinges of pain from loss so you can try to turn them into memories of fondness. The difference in perspective is the difference between saying, for example, “Oh cinnamon, bah, get that away from me it reminds me of him!” and “Oh cinnamon, yes that was his favorite. Let’s enjoy it a while and think of how much he loved it. Then, maybe we should get some extra in cinnamon to donate to the shelter in his name; wouldn’t that be a thoughtful tribute?” But of course it takes time to shift from one perspective to the other.
When one experiences a grief experience at the same time on a regular basis it is called an “anniversary reaction.” Anniversary reactions can be mild or severe. If you are experiencing sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, or pains over more than a few days related to an anniversary reaction to grief, it may be extreme, and you should consult a doctor or mental health professional. If you are having more unusual symptoms, behaviors, or extreme depression, and you are feeling upset, confused, hopeless, or abusing substances, please consider the situation an emergency and seek help via the emergency room.
However, most grievers know that an anniversary date is coming and can make plans by asking supportive family and friends to be with them during that time. Some support people may be afraid to remind you of the anniversary (as if you could forget!) so taking the lead and asking them to assist you shows them how to help you through the time.
Some suggestions for dealing with your grief and anniversary reactions are:
While there is no time limit for grief and some anniversary reactions can leave you reeling, generally, the intensity of grief tends to lessen with time. However, if your grief gets worse over time instead of better or interferes with your ability to function in daily life, consult a grief counselor or other mental health provider. Unresolved or complicated grief can lead to depression and other mental health problems. With professional help, you can re-establish a sense of control and direction in your life — and return to the path toward healing.
This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S., a psychotherapist in general private practice in Lehigh Valley, PA specializing in grief, trauma, chronic pain, and adult autism. If you would like to know more about her practice, please review her websitewww.tinkerpsychotherapy.com or contact her directly at 610-216-4319.Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral.com for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.