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Common frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Am I going crazy?
It may certainly feel like it. Grief can affect people physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Everyone grieves at his or her own pace, which may be out of sync with social and cultural expectations. Validation and the permission to grieve are a powerful comfort to a bereaved person.

How long will this last?
The grieving process is unique to each individual. Initially grief can be intense. The intensity is related to the degree of attachment to the person lost and the type of relationship. Seeking grief support can enhance your ability to cope. Grief has no timetable.

How do I know if I need help?
Seeking the experiences of others and understanding the common threads of grief can be a helpful measurement. Continuous thoughts of fear, anxiety, the lack of the ability to function, thoughts of self-harm, or harming others are signs that help is needed. If you fear that you will harm yourself or someone else, do not act. You should call 911, or visit a hospital emergency room in your area.

What kind of help is available in the Pittsburgh area?
GGC provides individual and group peer support in person and over the phone, as well as a library of books, audio and videotapes and a database of professionals and support groups in your area. Please visit or call us to talk or find what is available in your neighborhood.

I’ve never been to a support group. What are they like?
Support groups are made up of individuals who are seeking an accepting environment with empathic listeners who are supportive and non-judgmental. A support group should offer comfort and hope. New Hope has an extensive listing of support groups, so give us a call to find one that might be right for you.

Why is it every time someone close to me dies I relive my mother’s death?
We unconsciously do not process our emotions immediately after a loss. It is common for subsequent losses to remind us of a particularly painful one.

Do children grieve?
Yes, they certainly do. Children need encouragement to ask questions and talk about their feelings. We have excellent local resources for grieving children, for more information please contact New Hope Grief Support Community at (562) 429-0075.

Why isn’t my husband grieving?
Everyone grieves in his own way and at his own pace. Society and cultural values do not always support outward or public expressions of grief, especially for men. Some people may grieve without showing it outwardly. Your husband probably is grieving but doing it in his own way.

What is the right thing to say to someone who just lost a loved one?
We do not always have to speak to support a grieving individual. Many times it is more important to give a hug, hold a hand, and give permission for someone to cry, or just listen.

What can I do for someone who just lost a love one?
Be there for them. Ask if it is okay to keep in contact with them by phone or in person. Listen to their story as many times as they need to tell it. Offer to do specific tasks or errands to lessen their day-to-day responsibilities, thus giving them the time they need to grieve.

When should I get rid of my loved one’s clothes?
You must decide for yourself when it is the right time to pack up your loved ones belongings. Some people prefer to do it very soon after the death while others find comfort by holding onto personal items longer. Whatever is right for you is the right time.

Do people grieve before someone dies?
Yes, anticipatory grief is common when there is an expected death. It is helpful to talk about these feelings with someone you trust or a professional. If you are the person dealing with a life limiting illness – you probably have your own thoughts and concerns about what lies ahead for you and your loved ones. Talking about those feelings is the best way of working through them.

What is the right way to grieve?
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The process is as individual as the grieving person is. Should the intensity of the loss be prolonged or if daily functioning is impaired, it might be necessary to seek help from a therapist or other health professional.

Should I mention the name of the person who died?
Absolutely. It is comforting to the grieving individual to hear the name of their loved one. It also makes it easier for the grieving person to tell their story.

What are some of the emotional symptoms of grief?
Sadness, anxiety, confusion, depression, anger, fear, and guilt.

 

20 Grief Tips

  1. Talk about your loss with friends, family or a professional. Grief is a process, not an event.
  2. Grief is work, requiring time and energy. The memories, meanings and fulfilled needs provided by the lost loved one take time to work through.
  3. Let yourself enter the emotions of grief. Grievers tend naturally to avoid the painful emotions. Losing someone close to you means you deserve to allow yourself to feel all your emotions – sadness, anger, intense longing, guilt and others.
  4. Consider writing your loved one a letter. Say what you would tell them as if it were your last chance. Even if you never share the letter with anyone, writing it may help you work through your grief.
  5. Resume your life but leave time and space for grieving. Life marches on for the living. But try to resist the temptation to “throw yourself” into work or other diversions. This leaves too little time for the grief work you need to do for yourself.
  6. Take care of yourself. You have been wounded. Something very valuable and dear has been taken away from you. Give yourself time and space to begin healing. Get enough rest. Eat nourishing food. Give yourself a break.
  7. Resist the temptation to use alcohol or drugs to numb your pain. These can interfere with the grieving process by delaying it or covering it up.
  8. If you have any religious inclination, consider contacting your place of worship. All religions recognize that grievers need special help. Consider taking advantage of these services even if you have not been attending regularly. You will not be turned away.
  9. Consider seeking out other grievers. Someone who has also been through grief can empathize with you, and vice versa. Organizations like New Hope recognize the value of sharing in a group setting.
  10. Don’t feel obligated to join groups if they are not for you. The grief process is highly individual. Some people prefer solitude or reflection rather than group work. Do what feels right for you.
  11. Don’t neglect your own health. Grieving puts a heavy burden of stress on your body. It can disturb sleep patterns, lead to depression, weaken your immune system, and worsen medical problems that had been stable, such as high blood pressure. Take prescribed medications and get regular check-ups. If you suffer from disabling insomnia or anxiety, see your doctor. Sometimes short-term medication can be very helpful.
  12. Get help for severe or persistent depression. Someone once said: “grief is not a disease but it can become one.” Grief can lead to serious depression. Consider getting professional help if you feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or helpless. Other signs of depression can include sleep impairment (too little or too much), appetite or weight change, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and feeling listless or agitated. By all means, seek professional help if you have suicidal thoughts.
  13. Grief work can become complicated. Mixed emotions (positive and negative feelings), unresolved emotional turmoil and losing someone after an argument can complicate the grieving process. Sharing these feelings with a professional therapist can help. Grief therapy need not be a long-term commitment. Even if you don’t see yourself as the kind of person who seeks therapy, this may be beneficial.
  14. Anger is common in normal grieving and certainly justified when a loved one dies due to the malevolence of others. Try venting your anger in a letter. Consider channeling your anger into constructive action. Volunteer to work for causes that seek justice and prevention. Spending your energy helping someone else can help you in the process. Good rules to remember about anger is that it cannot hurt you, others, or cost money.
  15. Allow time to grieve. One to two years is not a long time to allow yourself to work through grief. We need to remind ourselves that the healing process cannot be rushed; it will proceed at its own rate.
  16. Be patient. The grieving process often includes setbacks. Don’t expect to set an “I’ll be over it” deadline and succeed. Often, grieving resumes after a time, sometimes even months or years. Reminders can trigger a flood of emotions. Don’t be surprised if this happens, and don’t consider it a sign of weakness. Instead, your psyche is telling you more grief work needs to be done.
  17. At some point those who have lost a partner or love companion will face the decision of whether to be open to a new relationship. Consider imagining the situation reversed. That is, if you died and your lover or spouse survived, what would you want them to do? It may help you to see your situation from this angle.
  18. If you feel stuck in your grief, try a new approach. We are creatures of habit who learn very quickly how to avoid painful situations. However, this may hinder working through the entirety of your grief. To “jump start” the process, consider reviewing memorabilia, photos, home movies, or videos. Talk about your loved one at holidays when his or her absence is most obvious. Don’t avoid it so as not to spoil the festivities. This is the perfect time to check in with other family members about how they’re doing with grief work, and share mutual support.
  19. Create your own memorial service. Celebrate their lifetime accomplishments, values, and principles. Consider carrying the torch of a cause they believed in as a memorial. Start a scholarship, plant a garden, or make a donation in their name.
  20. The grieving process has run its course when you feel weary of rehashing events and memories and finally accept the fact the your loved one can remain with you only in spirit. For some, the process never really ends; it just gets easier over time. You will know you are ready to move forward when you feel you can reinvest the energy once invested in your loved one in a new place. This takes time. Good grief means being good to yourself during the process.

 

The Journey Through Grief

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

The Mourner’s Six “Reconciliation Needs”

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever. And the movement from the “before” to the “after” is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.

I have also learned that the journey requires mourning. There is an important difference, you see. Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings. To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys. We all grieve when someone we love dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.

There are six “yield signs” you are likely to encounter on your journey through grief – what I call the “reconciliation needs of mourning.” For while your grief journey will be an intensely personal, unique experience, all mourners must yield to this set of basic human needs if they are to heal.

Need 1. Acknowledging the reality of the death.

This first need of mourning involves gently confronting the reality that someone you care about will never physically come back into your life again.

Whether the death was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may occur over weeks and months. To survive, you may try to push away the reality of the death at times. You may discover yourself replaying events surrounding the death and confronting memories, both good and bad. This replay is a vital part of this need of mourning. It’s as if each time you talk it out, the event is a little more real.

Remember – this first need of mourning, like the other five that follow, may intermittently require your attention for months. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work on each of them.

Need 2. Embracing the pain of the loss.

This need of mourning requires us to embrace the pain of our loss – something we naturally don’t want to do. It is easier to avoid, repress or deny the pain of grief than it is to confront it, yet it is in confronting our pain that we learn to reconcile ourselves to it.

You will probably discover that you need to “dose” yourself in embracing your pain. In other words, you cannot (nor should you try to) overload yourself with the hurt all at one time. Sometimes you may need to distract yourself from the pain of death, while at other times you will need to create a safe place to move toward it.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to encourage the denial of pain. If you openly express your feelings of grief, misinformed friends may advise you to “carry on” or “keep your chin up.” If, on the other hand, you remain “strong” and “in control,” you may be congratulated for “doing well” with your grief. Actually, doing well with your grief means becoming well acquainted with your pain.

Need 3. Remembering the person who died.

Do you have any kind of relationship with someone when they die? Of course. You have a relationship of memory. Precious memories, dreams reflecting the significance of the relationship and objects that link you to the person who died (such as photos, souvenirs etc.) are examples of some of the things that give testimony to a different form of a continued relationship. This need of mourning involves allowing and encouraging yourself to pursue this relationship.

But some people may try to take your memories away. Trying to be helpful, they encourage you to take down all the photos of the person who died. They tell you to keep busy or even to move out of your house. But in my experience, remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible. Your future will become open to new experiences only to the extent that you embrace the past.

Need 4. Developing a new self-identity.

Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have with other people. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity, or the way you see yourself, naturally changes.

You may have gone from being a “wife” or “husband” to a “widow” or “widower.” You may have gone from being a “parent” to a “bereaved parent.” The way you define yourself and the way society defines you is changed.

A death often requires you to take on new roles that had been filled by the person who died. After all, someone still has to take out the garbage, someone still has to buy the groceries. You confront your changed identity every time you do something that used to be done by the person who died. This can be very hard work and can leave you feeling very drained.

You may occasionally feel child-like as you struggle with your changing identity. You may feel a temporarily heightened dependence on others as well as feelings of helplessness, frustration, inadequacy and fear.

Many people discover that as they work on this need, they ultimately discover some positive aspects of their changed self-identity. You may develop a renewed confidence in yourself, for example. You may develop a more caring, kind and sensitive part of yourself. You may develop an assertive part of your identity that empowers you to go on living even though you continue to feel a sense of loss.

Need 5. Searching for meaning.

When someone you love dies, you naturally question the meaning and purpose of life. You probably will question your philosophy of life and explore religious and spiritual values as you work on this need. You may discover yourself searching for meaning in your continued living as you ask “How?” and “Why” questions.

“How could God let this happen?” “Why did this happen now, in this way?” The death reminds you of your lack of control. It can leave you feeling powerless.

The person who died was a part of you. This death means you mourn a loss not only outside of yourself, but inside of yourself as well. At times, overwhelming sadness and loneliness may be your constant companions. You may feel that when this person died, part of you died with him or her. And now you are faced with finding some meaning in going on with your life even though you may often feel so empty.

This death also calls for you to confront your own spirituality. You may doubt your faith and have spiritual conflicts and questions racing through your head and heart. This is normal and part of your journey toward renewed living.

Need 6. Receiving ongoing support from others.

The quality and quantity of understanding support you get during your grief journey will have a major influence on your capacity to heal. You cannot – nor should you try to – do this alone. Drawing on the experiences and encouragement of friends, fellow mourners or professional counselors is not a weakness but a healthy human need. And because mourning is a process that takes place over time, this support must be available months and even years after the death of someone in your life.

Unfortunately, because our society places so much value on the ability to “carry on,” “keep your chin up” and “keep busy,” many mourners are abandoned shortly after the event of the death. “It’s over and done with” and “It’s time to get on with your life” are the types of messages directed at mourners that still dominate. Obviously, these messages encourage you to deny or repress your grief rather than express it.

To be truly helpful, the people in your support system must appreciate the impact this death has had on you. They must understand that in order to heal, you must be allowed – even encouraged – to mourn long after the death. And they must encourage you to see mourning not as an enemy to be vanquished but as a necessity to be experienced as a result of having loved.

Reconciling your grief

You may have heard – indeed you may believe – that your grief journey’s end will come when you resolve, or recover from, your grief. But your journey will never end. People do not “get over” grief.

Reconciliation is a term I find more appropriate for what occurs as the mourner works to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death and a capacity to become re-involved in the activities of living.

In reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief gives rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. Your feeling of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.

Related Resource: A Journey of Hope—a handbook for grieving people and those who support them, by Susan K. Beeney, R.N.

 

The Mourner’s Bill of Rights

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you.

The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.

Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.

5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

8. You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

 

Will I Grieve Or Will I Mourn?

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

“We need to acknowledge that this experience of grief and mourning is part of the soul’s life.”
-Thomas Moore

There is no love without loss. And there is not integration of loss without the experience of mourning. In other words…

Your capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn.

To deny the significance of mourning would be to believe that there is something wrong about loving. Yet, I truly believe our greatest gift from God is our capacity to give and receive love. Likewise, it is a great gift that we can openly mourn our life losses.

You may have noticed that people tend to use the words “grieving” and “mourning” interchangeably. There is a critical distinction, however. We as humans move toward integrating loss into our lives not just by grieving, but by mourning. You will move toward “reconciliation” not just by grieving, but through active and intentional mourning. So, what is the distinction?

Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies.

Think of grief as the container. It holds your thoughts, feelings, and images of your experience when someone you love dies. In other words, grief is the internal meaning given to the experience of loss.

Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside of yourself.

Another way of defining mourning is “grief gone public” or “the outward expression of grief.” There is no one right or only way to mourn. Talking about the person who died, crying, expressing your thoughts and feelings through art or music, journaling, praying, and celebrating special anniversary dates that held meaning for the person who died are just a few examples of mourning.

Bereavement: originates from the word “reave,” meaning “to be dispossessed” or “to be robbed.” It also means “to be torn apart” and “to have special needs.” When you experience the death of someone loved, you are dispossessed of something very precious to you. Bereavement initiates grief, and grief tries to instinctively convert to mourning. The experiences of grief and mourning alert compassionate people around you that you have special needs that call for support and comfort.

Making the choice to not just grieve but authentically mourn provides you the courage and confidence to integrate the death of someone loved into your life. I have come to believe that to heal your grief, you must mourn it. To go on to ultimately “live well,” you must “mourn well.” By mourning well, I mean openly and honestly expressing your thoughts and feelings from the inside to the outside-no pretense, no repression, no inhibitions. Somewhere in the collision between the heart, which searches for permanency and connection, and the brain, which acknowledges separation and loss, there is a need for all of us to authentically mourn.

Authentic mourning means being consciously aware of the painful emotions of grief and feeling safe to express them. This may seem odd because your initial response following loss is instinctive and organic. The loss has taken place, and you naturally feel core feelings such as helplessness, anxiety, fear, despair, protest, and sadness.

Herein lies the paradox-a wide range of instinctive responses occur, but you get to decide as your grief unfolds into mourning if you will truly experience these responses or instead inhibit, suppress, or deny them.

Actually, befriending such emotions is what makes it possible to experience, eventually, a sense of renewed meaning and purpose in your life. Yet the emotions you sometimes most want to avoid are the ones you most need to attend to.

Being consciously aware of your need to mourn does not mean you are “feeling sorry for yourself” or wallowing in your pain. However, authentic mourning is allowing yourself to accept and to experience the natural rhythms that accompany the journey. Authentic mourning is anchored in making the conscious choice to allow yourself to mourn, to recognize that darkness sometimes precedes light, and to seek healing, repair, and transformation of your very being.

Of course, there are a multitude of reasons you might choose to grieve and not mourn. Your pain may seem intolerable. Since mourning won’t bring back your lost love, you may rationally try to “put it behind you.” After all, you tell yourself, mourning won’t bring the person back.

People around you often think they are helping when they say things like, “carry on,” “keep your chin up,” and “keep busy.” Or, you may feel that if you don’t “overcome” the loss, you are not living up to your testimony of faith that you have tried to live by. No doubt, some people-or maybe you yourself-may suggest that sufficient time has passed and that you should be “done” or “finished” with your grief and mourning.

Perhaps as a child or teen you were taught in your family not to express grief in front of others. Or, some people have shared with me they fear they will “go crazy” if they allow themselves to encounter their grief. Or, perhaps you have decided to deny or repress your grief because you feel it interferes with your ability to function at work and/or home.

All of these potential reasons and many more are often rooted in a reluctance to feel the pain of loss and a general attitude toward grief that is present in our “mourning-avoidant” culture. There is a widespread lack of understanding about how to befriend painful grief energies and use those energies for healing and transformation.

The opposite of befriending pain and allowing ourselves to mourn is control.

Underneath the controlling impulse is fear: the fear that we will experience feelings that are painful.

As grief enters our lives, many of us have been taught that giving these feelings too much attention is a sign of weakness or breakdown. In fact, many people try to head off losses in the first place by controlling. After all, you don’t have to grieve and mourn if everything comes out your way.

I believe we control because we are afraid of the emotions that grief brings our way. We don’t like being overcome by the waves of grief and sorrow. We don’t like “losing control.” And until we come to realize there is a natural, normal mourning experience that can result in meaningful transformation, we have little awareness of the need to experience the pain we call grief.

In addition, the emotions of grief are often referred to as “negative,” as if they are inherently bad feelings. This judgment feeds our culture’s attitude that these emotions should be denied or overcome. Married to this observed truth is the reality that society gives us little permission to openly mourn. We realize that the better we appear to be coping, the easier it is for people to be around us. People invite you to assure them how “well” you are doing and generally encourage you to “keep busy” and “keep your chin up.” Sadly, authentic mourning is often seen as a weakness, a flaw, or self-indulgence, instead of an emotional and spiritual necessity.

So, unfortunately, there are a multitude of forces working against your organic instinct to mourn in the face of loss. The choice to experience and express your grief to its fullest can indeed be difficult in our mourning-avoidant culture. Yet, no matter how difficult, if you do make the choice to authentically mourn in the ways that are unique to your being, you will have begun to return to life, to living, and to loving! If you come to embrace the truth that mourning is a natural extension of loving, you will come to see mourning as part of the natural order of life.

 

Helping Yourself Heal When Someone Dies

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Someone You Love Has Died

You are now faced with the difficult, but important, need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death and the person who has died. It is an essential part of healing. You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, painful, overwhelming, and sometimes lonely. This article provides practical suggestions to help you move toward healing in your personal grief experience.

Realize Your Grief is Unique

Your grief is unique. No one will grieve in exactly the same way. Your experience will be influenced by a variety of factors: the relationship you had with the person who died; the circumstances surrounding the death; your emotional support system; and your cultural and religious background.

As a result of these factors, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.

Talk About Your Grief

Express your grief openly. By sharing your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control, or going “crazy.” It is a normal part of your grief journey.

Find caring friends and relatives who will listen without judging. Seek out those persons who will walk with, not in front of, or behind you in your journey through grief. Avoid persons who are critical or who try to steal your grief from you. They may tell you, “keep your chin up,” or “carry on,” or “be happy.” While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to accept them. You have a right to express your grief; no one has the right to take it away.

Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions

Experiencing loss affects your head, heart, and spirit. So you may experience a variety of emotions as part of your grief work. Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, relief, or explosive emotions are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

As strange as some of these emotions may seem they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. They are, however, a natural response to the death of someone loved. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.

Allow for Numbness

Feeling dazed or numb when someone dies is often part of your early grief experience. This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. This feeling helps create insulation from the reality of the death until you are more able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.

Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low-energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself it means you are using survival skills.

Develop a Support System

Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate self-action you can do at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings — both happy and sad.

Make Use of Ritual

The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. Most importantly, the funeral is a way for you to express your grief outside yourself. If you eliminate this ritual, you often set yourself up to repress your feelings, and you cheat everyone who cares of a chance to pay tribute to someone who was, and always will be, loved.

Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of the death of someone you loved, realize this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

Allow a Search for Meaning

You may find yourself asking, “Why did he die? Why this say? Why now?” This search for meaning is often another normal part of the healing process. Some questions have answers. Some do not. Actually, the healing occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily in answering them. Find a supportive friend who will listen responsively as you search for meaning.

Treasure Your Memories

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after someone loved dies. Treasure them. Share them with your family and friends. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry. In either case, they are a lasting part of the relationship that you had with a very special person in your life.

Move Toward Your Grief and Heal

The capacity to love requires the necessity to grieve when someone loved dies. You cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief will only make it become more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. be patient and tolerant with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again. It’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.

The experience of grief is powerful. So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal. In doing the work of grieving, you are moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

 

Helping Yourself Heal When Your Child Dies

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Allow Yourself to Mourn

Your child has died. You are now faced with the difficult, but important, need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your child. It is an essential part of healing.

With the death of your child, your hopes, dreams and plans for the future are turned upside down. You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, painful, and overwhelming. The death of a child results in the most profound bereavement. In fact, sometimes your feelings of grief may be so intense that you do not understand what is happening. This article provides practical suggestions to help you move toward healing in your personal grief experience.

Realize Your Grief is Unique

Your grief is unique. No one will grieve in exactly the same way. Your experience will be influenced by a variety of factors: the relationship you had with the person who died; the circumstances surrounding the death; your emotional support system; and your cultural and religious background.

As a result of these factors, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.

Allow Yourself to Feel Numb

Feeling dazed or numb when your child dies may well be a part of your early grief experience. You may feel as if the world has suddenly come to a halt. This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you.

You may feel you are in a dream-like state and that you will wake up and none of this will be true. These feelings of numbness and disbelief help insulate you from the reality of the death until you are more able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.

This Death is “Out of Order”

Because the more natural order is for parents to precede their children in death, you must readapt to a new and seemingly illogical reality. This shocking reality says that even though you are older and have been the protector and provider, you have survived while your child has not. This can be so difficult to comprehend.

Not only has the death of your child violated nature’s way, where the young grow up and replace the old, but your personal identity was tied to your child. You may feel impotent and wonder why you couldn’t have protected your child from death.

Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions

The death of your child can result in a variety of emotions. Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, anger and relief are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. They are, however, a natural response to the death of your child. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.

Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low-energy level may naturally slow you down.

Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself it means you are using survival skills.

 

 

Talk About Your Grief

Express your grief openly. When you share your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control or going “crazy.” It is a normal part of your grief journey.

Watch Out for Cliches

Cliches–trite comments some people make in attempts to diminish your loss–can be extremely painful for you to hear. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time heals all wounds,” “Think of what you have to be thankful for” or “You have to be strong for others” are not constructive. While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to accept them. You have every right to express your grief. No one has the right to take it away.

 

Develop a Support System

Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate self-action you can do at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Seek out those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings — both happy and sad.

A support group may be one of the best ways to help yourself. In a group, you can connect with other parents who have experienced the death of a child. You will be allowed and gently encouraged to talk about your child as much, and as often, as you like.

Sharing the pain won’t make it disappear, but it can ease any thoughts that what you are experiencing is crazy, or somehow bad. Support comes in different forms for different people — support groups, counseling, friends, faith — find out what combination works best for you and try to make use of them.

Embrace Your Treasure of Memories

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of a child. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends.

Keep in mind that memories can be tinged with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, then it’s all right to cry. Memories that were made in love — no one can take them away from you.

Gather Important Keepsakes

You may want to collect some important keepsakes that help you treasure your memories. You may want to create a memory book, which is a collection of photos that represent your child’s life. Some people create memory boxes to keep special keepsakes in. Then, whenever you want, you can open your memory box and embrace those special memories. The reality that your child has died does not diminish your need to have these objects. They are a tangible, lasting part of the special relationship you had with your child.

Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of the death of your child, realize this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

You may hear someone say, “With faith, you don’t need to grieve.” Don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not insulate you from needing to talk out and explore your thoughts and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems to build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.

Move toward Your Grief and Heal

To restore your capacity to love you must grieve when your child dies. You can’t heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief will only make it become more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Never forget that the death of your child changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again; it’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the child died.

The experience of grief is powerful. So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal. In doing the work of grieving, you are moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

 

Helping Yourself Heal When Your Spouse Dies

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Few events in life are as painful as the death of your spouse. You may be uncertain you will survive this overwhelming loss. At times, you may be uncertain you even have the energy or desire to try to heal.

You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, overwhelming and sometimes lonely. This article provides practical suggestions to help you move toward healing in your personal grief experience.

 

Allow Yourself to Mourn

Your husband or wife has died. This was your companion, the person you shared your life with. If right now you are not sure of who you are, and you feel confused, that is appropriate because you have lost a part of yourself. When you experience the death of someone you love, live with, and depend on, feeling disoriented is natural.

You are now faced with the difficult but important need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your spouse. It is an essential part of healing.

Recognize Your Grief is Unique

Your grief is unique because no one else had the same relationship you had with your spouse. Your experience will also be influenced by the circumstances surrounding the death, other losses you have experienced, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background.

As a result, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of others or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.

Talk Out Your Thought and Feelings

Express your grief openly. When you share your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Allow yourself to talk about the circumstances of the death, your feelings of loss and loneliness, and the special things you miss about your spouse. Talk about the type of person your husband or wife was, activities that you enjoyed together, and memories that bring both laughter and tears.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your grief. You have been wounded by this loss, and your wound needs to be attended to. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control, or going “crazy.” It is a normal part of your grief journey.

Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions

Experiencing the death of your spouse affects your head, heart and spirit, so you may experience a variety of emotions as part of your grief work. It is called work because it takes a great deal of energy and effort to heal. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, relief and anger are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. They are, however, a natural response to the death of someone loved. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.

 

Find a Support System

Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate self-action you can take at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Seek out those persons who will “walk with,” not “in front of” or “behind” you in your journey through grief. Find out if there is a support group in your area that you might want to attend. There is no substitute for learning from other persons who have experienced the death of their spouse.

Avoid people who are critical or who try to steal your grief from you. They may tell you “time heals all wounds” or “you will get over it” or “keep your chin up.” While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to accept them. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings-both happy and sad. You have a right to express your grief; no one has the right to take it away.

Be tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.

Ask yourself: Am I treating myself better or worse than I would treat a good friend? Am I being too hard on myself? You may think you should be more capable, more in control, and “getting over” your grief. These are inappropriate expectations and may complicate your healing. Think of it this way: caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself; it means you are using your survival skills.

Take Your Time With Your Spouse’s Personal Belongings

You, and only you, should decide what is done when with your spouse’s clothes and personal belongings. Don’t force yourself to go through these things until you are ready to. Take your time. Right now you may not have the energy or desire to do anything with them.

Remember that some people may try to measure your healing by how quickly they can get you to do something with these belongings. Don’t let them make decisions for you. It isn’t hurting anything to leave your spouse’s belongings right where they are for now. Odds are, when you have the energy to go through them you will. Again, only you should determine when the time is right for you.

Be Compassionate With Yourself During Holidays, Anniversaries and Special Occasions

You will probably find that some days make you miss your spouse more than others. Days and events that held special meaning for you as a couple, such as your birthday, your spouse’s birthday, your wedding anniversary or holidays, may be more difficult to go through by yourself.

These events emphasize the absence of your husband or wife. The reawakening of painful emotions may leave you feeling drained. Learn from these feelings and never try to take away the hurt. If you belong to a support group, perhaps you can have a special friend stay in close contact with you during these naturally difficult days.

Treasure Your Memories

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after your spouse dies. Treasure those memories that comfort you, but also explore those that may trouble you. Even difficult memories find healing in expression. Share memories with those who listen well and support you. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry. In either case, they are a lasting part of the relationship you had with a very special person in your life.

You may also find comfort in finding a way to commemorate your spouse’s life. If your spouse liked nature, plant a tree you know he or she would have liked. If your spouse liked a certain piece of music, play it often while you embrace some of your favorite memories. Or, you may want to create a memory book of photos that portray your life together as a couple. Remember-healing in grief doesn’t mean forgetting your spouse and the life you shared together.

Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because your spouse died, accept this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

You may hear someone say, “With faith, you don’t need to grieve.” Don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not mean you don’t have to talk out and explore your thought and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems to build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.

Move Toward Your Grief and Heal

Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Be compassionate with yourself as you work to relinquish old roles and establish new ones. No, your life isn’t the same, but you deserve to go on living while always remembering the one you loved.

 

Helping Yourself Heal When a Parent Dies

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Your mother or father has died. Whether you had a good, bad or indifferent relationship with the parent who died, your feelings for him or her were probably quite strong. At bottom, most of us love our parents deeply. And they love us with the most unconditional love that imperfect human beings can summons.

You are now faced with the difficult, but necessary, need to mourn the loss of this significant person in your life. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings about the death. It is an essential part of healing.

Realize Your Grief is Unique

Your grief is unique. No one grieves in exactly the same way. Your particular experience will be influenced by the type of relationship you had with your parent, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background.

As a result, you will grieve in your own way and in your own time. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people, or adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.

Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions

The parent-child bond is perhaps the most fundamental of all human ties. When your mother or father dies, that bond is torn. In response to this loss you may feel a multitude of strong emotions.

Numbness, confusion, fear, guilt, relief and anger are just a few of the feelings you may have. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

While everyone has unique feelings about the death of a parent, some of the more common emotions include:

  • Sadness

You probably expected to feel sad when your parent died, but you may be surprised at the overwhelming depth of your feelings of loss. It’s natural to feel deeply sad. After all, someone who loved you without condition and cared for you as no one else could have is now gone. If this was your second parent to die, you may feel especially sorrowful; becoming an “adult orphan” can be a very painful transition. You may also feel sad because the loss of a parent triggers secondary losses, such as the loss of a grandparent to your children. Allow yourself to feel sad and embrace your pain.

  • Relief

If your parent was sick for a time before the death, you may well feel relief when he or she finally dies. This feeling may be particularly strong if you were responsible for your ill parent’s care. This does not mean you did not love your parent. In fact, your relief at the end to suffering is a natural outgrowth of your love

 

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  • Anger

If you came from a dysfunctional or abusive family, you may feel unresolved anger toward your dead parent. His or her death may bring painful feelings to the surface. On the other hand, you may feel angry because a loving relationship in your life has prematurely ended. If you are angry, try to examine the source of that often legitimate anger and work to come to terms with it.

  • Guilt

If your relationship with your parent was rocky, distant or ambivalent, you may feel guilty when that parent dies. You may wish you had said things you wanted to say but never did-or you may wish you could unsay hurtful things. You may wish you had spent more time with your parent. Guilt and regret can be normal responses to the death of your mother or father. And working through those feelings is essential to healing.

As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Let yourself feel whatever you may be feeling; don’t judge yourself or try to repress painful thoughts and feelings. And whenever you can, find someone who will hear you out as you explore your grief.

Recognize the Death’s Impact on Your Entire Family

If you have brothers or sisters, the death of this parent will probably affect them differently than it is affecting you. After all, each of them had a unique relationship with the parent who died, so each has the right to mourn the loss in his or her own way.

The death may also stir up sibling conflicts. You and your brothers and sisters may disagree about the funeral, for example, or argue about family finances. Recognize that such conflicts are natural, if unpleasant. Do your part to encourage open communication during this stressful family time. You may find, on the other hand, that the death of your parent brings you and your siblings closer together. If so, welcome this gift.

Finally, when there is a surviving parent, try to understand the death’s impact on him or her. The death of a spouse-often a husband or wife of many decades-means many different things to the surviving spouse than it does to you, the child of that union. This does not mean that you are necessarily responsible for the living parent; in fact, to heal you must first and foremost meet your own grief needs. But it does mean that you, a younger and often more resilient family member, should be patient and compassionate as you continue your relationship with the surviving parent.

Reach Out to Others for Support

Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself at this difficult time is to reach out for help from others. Think of it this way: grieving the loss of a parent may be the hardest work you have ever done. And hard work is less burdensome when others lend a hand.

If your parent was old, you may find that others don’t fully acknowledge your loss. As a culture, we tend not to value the elderly. We see them as having outlived their usefulness instead of as a source of great wisdom, experience and love. And so when an elderly parent dies, we say, “Be glad she lived a long, full life” or “It was his time to go” instead of “Your mother was a special person and your relationship with her must have meant a lot to you. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Blended or nontraditional families can also be the source of disenfranchised grief. If you have lost someone who wasn’t your biological parent but who was, in the ways that count, a mother or father to you, know that your grief for this person is normal and necessary. You have the right to fully mourn the death of a parent-figure.

Seek out people who acknowledge your loss and will listen to you as you openly express your grief. Avoid people who try to judge your feelings or worse yet, try to take them away from you. Sharing your pain with others won’t make it disappear, but it will, over time, make it more bearable. Reaching out for help also connects you to other people and strengthens the bonds of love that make life seem worth living again.

Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.

Allow yourself to “dose” your grief; do not force yourself to think about and respond to the death every moment of every day. Yes, you must mourn if you are to heal, but you must also live.

Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of your parent’s death, realize this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

You may hear someone say, “With faith, you don’t need to grieve.” Don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not insulate you from needing to talk out and explore your thoughts and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems to build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.

Allow Yourself to Search for Meaning

You may find yourself asking “Why did Mom have to die now?” or “What happens after death?” This search for the meaning of life and living is a normal response to the death of a parent. In fact, to heal in grief you must explore such important questions. It’s OK if you don’t find definitive answers, though. What’s more important is that you allow yourself the opportunity to think (and feel) things through.

Treasure Your Memories

Though your parent is no longer physically with you, he or she lives on in spirit through your memories. Treasure those memories. Share them with your family and friends. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry, but in either case, they are a lasting and important part of the relationship you had with your mother or father.

You may also want to create lasting tributes to your parent-child relationship. Consider planting a tree or putting together a special memory box with snapshots and other keepsakes.

Move Toward Your Grief and Heal

To live and love wholly again, you must mourn. You will not heal unless you allow yourself to openly express your grief. Denying your grief will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. And never forget that the death of a parent changes your life forever.

 

Exploring the Uniqueness of Your Suicide Grief

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.”–ÑBen Okri

The wilderness of your grief is your wilderness. The death of someone from suicide feels unlike any other loss you may have experienced. The traumatic nature of the death may leave you feeling turned inside out and upside down. Your wilderness may be rockier or more level than others. Your path may be revealed in a straight line, or, more likely, it may be full of twists and turns. In the wilderness of your journey, you will experience the topography in your own unique way.

When suicide impacts our lives, we all need to grieve and to mourn. But our grief journeys are never exactly the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own unique way. Do not adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Just consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach. Doing so allows you to mourn at your own pace. One of my personal affirmations is “No reward for speed!”

This article invites you to explore some of the unique reasons your grief is what it is in the “whys” of your journey through the wilderness. The whys that follow are not all of the whys in the world, of course, just some of the more common.

Why #1: The circumstances of the suicide

Obviously, the circumstances of suicide impact the terrain of your journey. I have outlined below many specific features surrounding potential aspects of your experience. As you explore these, I encourage you to reflect on those that apply to you.

Nature of the Death is Traumatic
A suicide death is often very traumatic. You have come to grief before you are prepared to mourn. By its very nature, your grief is naturally complicated in that the death is premature, usually unexpected, and calamitous. The combination of sudden shock and the stigma and taboo associated with suicide result in a kind of psychic numbing to your spirit.

Potential “Why?” Questions
The nature of the death can lead to natural “why?” questions. You may instinctively feel the death was preventable and should not have happened.

Potential Self-Blame
As you mourn the death of someone to suicide, you may judge your own actions, attitudes, and any sense of responsibility related to the death.

Potential Investigation by Law Enforcement
Often, suicide deaths initially have to be investigated as if a crime may have taken place. At a time when your heart is broken, you may have felt you were under suspicion and experienced being interrogated surrounding the circumstances of the death.

Potential Focus on the Act Itself
Some people around you may put more focus on the act of suicide itself than on the importance of supporting you. Sometimes the first question people ask is, “How did he do it?”

Multiple Losses
You may not only be mourning the death, but loss of support from some insensitive friends and family.

Support May Be Lacking:
Some people do not know what to say or do, therefore they say or do nothing. The result for you is an experience of abandonment at the very time you need unconditional love.

Potential Relationship Cut-offs
You may find some people who literally go away and let it be known they have no desire to talk to you or support you in any way. Again, this creates more hurt on top of your overwhelming grief.

Potential Discovery of or Witnessing the Suicide
You may have discovered the body of the person you loved or even witnessed the act of suicide. This may result in you having additional special needs and may require an experienced trauma or grief counselor. This is not in any way to imply that something is wrong with you, but rather that your experience was so horrific that you may need special help to support you in your grief.

Potential Autopsy
Often, a coroner will request an autopsy as standard procedure. Some people have strong emotional and spiritual reservations surrounding an autopsy being carried out. If this decision is out of your hands, it can become very painful.

Potential Life Insurance Problems
Many life insurance policies contain a suicide clause that prohibits any claims for a suicide for a set period of time (often two years) from the life of the policy. Some families have difficulty collecting on these policies, resulting in additional grief on top of grief. Consult a qualified attorney if this is your circumstance.

Potential Media Coverage
Some print and television media seem to take some perverse joy in covering suicide deaths. This can be an additional source of anguish for suicide survivors. The public realm may have laid claim to this death, but it is still first and foremost your personal loss.

As you can see, the list of potential circumstances surrounding suicide grief are multiple and complex. I imagine there are some additional influences you can think of. Whatever the circumstances, you the will be well served to explore them and see how they shape the terrain of your journey.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “I have experienced other deaths in my life, but never one like this. So many things came together in ways that make this so hard. There seems to be so many things around the circumstance of suicide that make this so overwhelming. It’s too much for any one person to cope with.”

Why #2: Your relationship with the person who completed suicide

Obviously, the relationship you had with the person who completed suicide will have a major influence on your grief experience. At one end of the spectrum, maybe you were very close and considered yourselves soul mates. Or, maybe you were “best friends” as well as husband or wife. Or, if your child completed suicide, you may be struggling with the loss of all the various aspects of the parent child relationship. Perhaps your parent completed suicide and you were always “daddy’s little girl.”

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you had a very difficult relationship with this person. Maybe the person had an alcohol or drug problem or was in and out of trouble with the law. Perhaps you were abused or neglected by this person. Maybe there were some mental health problems that naturally made your relationship complicated. Or, you might have had a very ambivalent relationship that was full of ongoing conflict. In some situations, it is very normal to feel a sense of relief or release after the death. Sometimes you mourn for what you wish you could have had in your relationship with the person.

Whatever the circumstances, you are the best person to describe and work toward understanding your relationship with the person who died.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “I had been trying to help my son for years. I always loved him, but he wasn’t easy to like. I know I will always have some sadness around what I wish we could have had in our relationship.”

Why #3: The people in your life

Mourning the death of someone to suicide requires the outside support of other human beings. Because suicide is a topic where many people don’t know how to support you, some people in your world will probably pull away. This potential lack of support can be painful and agonizing.

To integrate suicide grief into your life demands an environment of empathy, caring, non-judgment, and gentle encouragement. The good news is that even one compassionate, supportive person can be a real difference-maker for you. Find a trusted family member, friend, fellow survivor, or sensitive counselor to companion you through the terrain of your grief. This person can and will help you survive at a time you are not sure you can.

Yes, I recognize that asking for support can be more challenging than it may sound. Early in grief it is a major accomplishment to get your feet out of bed and take a shower, let alone have the capacity to reach out for help. Yet, you need and deserve unconditional love and support.

Sometimes other people will assume you have a support system when you don’t. For example, you may have family members and friends who live near you, but you discover they have little, if any, compassion or patience for you and your grief. Sadly, some people (in an effort to protect their own emotions) like to assume you should be “over it” and “put the past in the past.” In addition, some people, fearing they will be insensitive, tend to create an environment of mutual pretense. This is where they know it was a suicide death, you know it was a suicide death, yet the unstated rule is: Don’t talk about it! When this happens, a vital ingredient to your eventual healing is missing.

At the other end of the spectrum, do look for people who are more willing to patiently help you by listening without criticism or judgment. Those people know you are the expert of your own experience and gently allow you to teach them where you are in the terrain. They know to use your loved one’s name and realize you may need to re-tell your story over and over. They often offer, when you are ready, to locate a support group or a sensitive counselor to help you on your path. In my experience, these people have often been impacted by suicide at some point in their own lives.

Even when you’re fortunate enough to have a solid support system in place, do you find that you are willing and able to accept support? If you project a need to “be strong”, “carry on” and “keep your chin up,” you may end up isolating yourself from the very people who would most like to walk with you in your journey through the wilderness of your grief.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “Many of my friends think they are helping me by not talking to me about my husband. But I have come to realize I need to talk about him and what happened. People don’t think they should use the word suicide, but I need to hear it.”

Why #4: Your unique personality

What words would you use to describe yourself? What words would people use to describe you? Are you a serious person? Light-hearted? Quiet and deeply reflective? Are you a nurturer? A fixer? Are you openly expressive or do you tend to naturally inhibit your emotions? In other words, what is your personality like?

The point is that whatever your unique personality, rest assured it will be reflected in your grief. For example, if you are quiet by nature, you may express your grief quietly. If you tend to be expressive, you may openly express how you feel about your grief.

How you have responded to other changes, losses, or crises in your life may be consistent with how you respond to this death. If you tend to run away from stressful aspects of life, you may have an instinct to do the same thing now. If, however, you have always confronted crisis head on and openly, you may walk right into the center of the wilderness. Keep in mind there is no one right and only way to mourn. Part of your experience will be to accept that you are mourning in ways that reflect your unique personality.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “I have always been a person who thinks better than I feel. Yet, now I realize I have no choice but to stop thinking in my head, and really feel with my heart. It is so scary, but I’m doing the best I can.”

Why #5: The unique personality of the person who completed suicide

Just as your own personality is reflected in your grief journey, so, too, is the unique personality of the person who completed suicide. What was this person like? What did he or she bring to the dance of your life? You, in part, have known who you were based on having this person in your life. Now you have and essentially lost a “mirror” that helped you know who you were. The world feels different without him or her in it.

In part, personality is the sum total of all the characteristics that made this person who he or she was. The way she talked, the way he smiled, the way she ate her food, the way he worked, the way she related to the world around her, all these and so many more little things go into creating personality. It’s no wonder there’s so much to miss and that grief is so naturally complex when all these little things are gone all at once. Also, depending on the relationship you had, there may be things about the person that you don’t miss.

So ask yourself: What do I miss about this person? What, if anything, do I not miss? Is there anything I wish I could have changed (but realize I couldn’t) about his or her personality?

Whatever your feelings are about the personality of the person who completed suicide, find someone who will encourage you to talk about him or her openly and honestly. The key is finding someone you can trust who will listen to you without sitting in judgment of you. Yes, authentic mourning requires you be open about what you miss and what you don’t miss about this person’s personality. If you don’t have someone who can listen to you, at the very least write about it in a journal.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “He struggled with depression for years, but when he told a joke, he got this huge smile on his face. Yep, that is what I miss so very much, that big smile that could make me so happy to be around him.”

Why #6: Your gender

Your gender may not only influence your grief, but also the way others relate to you. While this is not always true, men are often encouraged and expected to “be strong” and restrained. Men tend to grieve more privately, making them at risk for putting their mourning on hold. And when men do mourn, they often do so with fewer people than women do.

I have also observed that women are more likely to seek the support of a counselor or attend a support group. Men often return to work more quickly than women do, seeming to find some support in the structure and demands that are inherent to the tasks at hand.

At bottom, here is an obvious truth. Men and women are different! Based on that reality, we are going to be influenced by our gender when it comes to mourning. This also relates to the “pressure-cooker phenomenon”. After a suicide death, everyone in a family has a high need to feel understood and little capacity to be understanding. Combine this with gender differences and you are set up to feel distant from each other. This can be particularly true for any of you as parents who are mourning the suicide death of your precious child.

I cannot emphasize enough that to take pressure off the pressure-cooker, you must, one, be respectful of how you will mourn differently than each other (that doesn’t mean you don’t love each other) and two, you must seek support outside of each other to release some of the pressure you feel in your relationship. Actually, by seeking outside support, you will ultimately have more to give each other.

Obviously, we must be careful when it comes to generalizations about gender differences. Sometimes too much is made of the difference between gender and not enough is made of the organic capacity to grieve and mourn. Once you welcome mourning into your heart, willingness and capacity to mourn often transcend gender.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “I was always told that to be a man, you shouldn’t cry. But now I have no choice but to cry. If I don’t, I will come apart at the seams.”

Why #7: Your cultural/ethnic/religious/spiritual background

Your cultural and ethnic background as well as your personal belief system can have a tremendous impact on your journey into grief. When I say culture, I mean the values, rules (spoken and unspoken), and traditions that guide you and your family. Often these values, rules, and traditions have been handed down generation after generation and are shaped by the countries or areas of the world your family originally came from.

For example, some cultures are more expressive of feelings (Italian, Irish), whereas others may be more stoic (English, German). Again, while we want to avoid the trap of over-generalizing, ask yourself how the culture that has been passed down to you influences your grief.

Your religious or spiritual life might be deepened, challenged, renewed, or changed as part of your grief experience. Suicide grief can naturally disrupt the spiritual terrain of your life, and you may well find yourself questioning your beliefs as part of your work of mourning.

As you are probably aware, suicide has a long and complex history with religion. It wasn’t all that long ago that suicide was thought to be a sin by almost all major faiths. Thank God that in contemporary times and surrounded by much information and education, suicide is no longer considered a sin by the majority of world religions. Many, but not all, communities of faith offer compassion and support to survivors. If you are part of a faith community, I certainly hope and pray that is your experience. If not, be assured that there are many faith communities that can and will support you in your grief.

Let me be very direct with you if you turn to a clergyperson for support and he or she tells you that suicide is an unpardonable sin, go someplace else to get the support and non-judgment you both need and deserve. And remember what someone wise once said: “The God I have come to believe in is not in the judging business.” Find someone to support you who is a good fit for your spiritual needs right now. Also, if you are not a person of religion, don’t allow people to force you to “find God” or seek out religious answers that do not speak to you. Your journey through the terrain of your healing is yours alone, and the paths you take to do that are up to you.

Yes, when someone you are connected to completes suicide, you may feel very close to God or a Higher Power, or you may feel distant, perhaps even hostile. You may find yourself asking questions such as, “Why has this happened to me?” or “Where is God in this?” When you are faced with a suicide, you are faced with mystery. No, you may not discover answers to your questions about faith or spirituality, but that doesn’t mean you should not ask them. After all, the greatest religious figures in history have done this very same thing. As I mentioned earlier in this book, mystery is actually the ancient name for God, and God can handle your questions.

Faith means to believe in something for which there is no proof. For some people, faith means believing in and following a set of religious rules. For others, faith is a belief in God, a spiritual presence, or a force that is greater than we are. Whatever your beliefs, in befriending the mystery surrounding the suicide of someone you love, there is an acknowledgment that certain things cannot be changed. Yet, even as the reality of the death cannot be altered, you and I can have hope for our healing.

I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you to be alert to folks who project to you that if you “have faith,” you can bypass the need to mourn. If you internalize this misconception, you will set yourself up to grieve internally but not mourn externally. Having faith does not mean you do not need to mourn. Having faith does mean having the courage to allow yourself to mourn!

With the death of someone to suicide comes a natural “search for meaning.” You have probably found yourself re-evaluating your life based on this loss. You will need someone who is willing and able to honor your need to explore your religious or spiritual values, question your attitude toward life, and support you unconditionally as you renew your resources for living. This part of the terrain of your grief takes time, and it may well lead to some changes in your values, beliefs, and lifestyle.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “I have to change some of what I call my faith friends.’ Some people have had the nerve to tell me my wife is now in hell. That is not my God. So I have had to be careful whom I spend time with. My best friends are now what I call my non-judgmental friends.'”

 

 

Why #8: Other changes, crisis, or stresses in your life right now

There is often a ripple effect of additional losses that impacts you following a suicide death. Although we think it shouldn’t, the world does keep turning after the tragic death of people in our lives. The normal demands of going to work can be overwhelming.

Maybe you or someone in your family has an illness that demands your attention. You may have people who are dependent on you to care for them. You may have a number of commitments yet little time and energy for all the demands you are experiencing.

Whatever your specific situation, I imagine your grief is not the only stress in your life right now. And the more intense and numerous the stresses in your life, the more drained and empty you may feel at times.

You may well feel like your life is in total chaos right now. That is why you will want to pay special attention to the importance of nurturing yourself and reaching out for and accepting help. Yes you are overwhelmed right now, and it may be difficult to believe you will survive this death. Allow me to gently remind you to be patient and self-nurturing during this time of overwhelming grief in your life.

Why #9: Your experience with loss and death in the past

One way to think about yourself is that you are the sum total of all that you have experienced in your life so far. One “why?” of your response to this death is your past loss history. Perhaps this is your very first experience with death, particularly a sudden, traumatic death. In contrast, some people experience a series of deaths and are overwhelmed by these multiple losses. What about you? Also, what other non-death-related losses have you experienced in the past?

Regardless of your prior loss experiences, there is little that can prepare you for the wilderness you are now in. However, I have found that it is helpful to invite you to reflect on your history of losses and consider how they influence, if at all, your current journey into grief.

A SURVIVOR SPEAKS: “I have had three deaths in the last sixteen months, this last one being a suicide. I have had to get help because I’m not just mourning one death. I have discovered each death is so unique.”

Why #10: Your physical health

How you feel physically has a significant effect on your grief. We know that your immune system is compromised when you experience death and loss, particularly a sudden, traumatic death. Be sure to take good care of yourself, should you experience physical issues/problems be sure to consult a physician.  Consider that taking care of yourself physically is one of the best things you can do to lay the foundation for your need to mourn well, so you can eventually go on to live well. Yes, despite what you believe right now, you can and will go on to experience the miracle of healing and discover renewed purpose in your life.