Friday, July 24, 2009

Who is Your Reason?

“What’s your reason for doing that?”

“The reason I said that was . . .”

“The reason that happened was. . . “

Do any of those above statements come close to describing the title of this article? What about “You’re my reason for living.”? That comes much closer, doesn’t it? We’ve all probably heard that one before in movies or in a romance novel.

When we think about the loss of a spouse and think about “the reason,” we can see why this type of loss can be so painful for some. When our spouse dies, we struggle with the loss of our companion, our friend, our lover, our past, present and future – just to name a few struggles.

I was pondering the struggles that my clients have experienced and thought to myself, “If my husband died what would I miss? What would I struggle with in grief?” The answer was, EVERYTHING – I imagined I would feel empty and without direction. I imagined that it would be difficult to go back to work, it would be difficult to be with friends and family, it would be difficult to tend to the daily chores, it would be difficult to learn new tasks, it would be difficult to be emotionally available and present for my family, and the list goes on and on and on. Then I started to ask myself, “why?” Why would I have such struggles? Being a grief counselor and educator myself, wouldn’t I have all the answers to help myself in my grief? I don’t think so, and the “reason” is that my husband IS my “reason.”

Now, this was huge. I had to sit with this for awhile and think about it. He’s the reason that motivates me on a daily basis to go to work, to be creative, to be a better wife, to be a better pet mom, to keep our home clean, to have clean clothes, to cook and even to get mad. He’s the reason. Imagine losing your reason. It would make perfect sense to lose direction in your life, to lose sight of goals that were planned, to lose motivation, to lose that zest for living.

Do you know someone who lost their “reason?” Then just be gentle with them, now that you have a new found understanding of what they may be going through. You can be a supportive presence for them – that is enough!

Did you lose your “reason?” Then hopefully this article normalizes some of the feelings you may be going through. Know that as each day goes by, some of these struggles will lessen.

Do you still have your “reason?” Then let them know that “they are your reason!”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Grieving the Loss of Iconic Figures

Time to pull out something from the archives - I'm reaching way back to July, 2007 where we discussed Grieving the Loss of Fictional Characters. Remember that one? It was the one where we talked about the sad feelings people were having over the ending of the Harry Potter series. I ended that posting with the quote from USA Today, saying "“It’s not any more of a pretend emotion to mourn a fictional character than to mourn a princess you never met whose subject you were not.” - referring to the death of Princess Diana.

Which brings us to today, where the last couple of weeks have delivered the news of some celebrity's death and we find ourselves mourning the loss of these icons. Why? We weren't related to them. We probably have never met them. To mourn the loss of someone, isn't it necessary to have a connection with them? What if it were an emotional connection? Ahhhhh, now we're talking!

Iconic figures are ripe for emotional connections. We become emotionally connected through no fault of our own. It's brilliant marketing and it's how they become famous. They attach themselves to a product, enhance their incredible talents and features, and learn to speak to us on a deeper level so that we buy into whatever they are selling - an album, a television program, a laundry detergent - whatever.

These connections are made because of a variety of reasons: we identify with them, we want to be like them, we want to be friends with them, we want to marry them. Yes, I said "marry them." Sigh! Time for self-disclosure. When I was a budding teenager, I was "In Love" with Elton John. All those wonderful songs he sang - he sang them for me. Not for you - ME! I was convinced that if I planned hard enough and got to meet him, he would realize that we were meant to be together. I even slept with his picture on my pillow and kissed him good-night every evening. Now, imagine if Elton had died during that time - the grief that I would be feeling would be experienced as a significant loss. As the years have passed and I have grown (I would have said matured, but I know the flack I would receive), that emotional connection has changed from a love struck teenager entrenched in fantasy, to a whimsical remembering of a time that once was. If Elton were to die now, I would definitely feel sadness, but not the deep grieving I would have experienced in the past.

So when we hear the news of David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, Karl Malden, and Michael Jackson, we see and hear many differing expressions of sadness and grief. We see people in different stages of their lives, having differing emotional connections to these icons, for many different reasons. We may not always understand why someone is showing such a depth of feeling for a celebrity, but it's not for us to understand. It's not for us to judge. They have a different emotional connection to that celebrity than we do.

What we can do is support the person in any way that we can. Let them talk about why that celebrity was so important to them. Let them share why they were so connected to that person. This is a form of Life Review and Reminiscence and is a great way to help go through the grief process. It's our way of trying to make sense of what just happened, make peace with it and honor their life and memory. It may even be helpful to be a part of the rituals that occur when an event like this happens. Go to the place where the celebrity lived, join the fans that are mourning and will understand the grief that you are feeling. Leave a flower, or a note, at the designated memorial site. Attend the viewing, even if it means that you are standing in line for hours just to do so - it's a form of pilgrimage which gives meaning to the act.

It seems fitting to pull something out of the same archived article to end this post. I had opened the article with the quote from USA Today, saying "Fans' teary eyes are all on 'Potter'." We can change that to say, "This week, fans' teary eyes are all on (insert favorite iconic figure who recently died here). In so doing, we can honor our emotions, not judge others for their emotions, and remember why we were so emotionally connected to that person.

Please be gentle with yourself.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Grieving after a long-term illness

JoAnne Funch of Heartache to Healing was kind enough to post my article on Grieving After a Long-Term Illness.

If you lost a loved one after caring for them as they struggled with a long-term illness, this article may be helpful. Grieving caregivers face a unique set of challenges as they navigate the grief process. It's important to share your thoughts and feelings, and it's equally as important to practice self-care. Please follow the link provided above to find out more.

You can follow me on Twitter: and you can follow JoAnne too,

Please be gentle with yourself. Diana

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grief through a child's eyes

My new friend, JoAnne Funch, has a great website/blog called "Heartache to Healing." JoAnne has used her personal loss, pain and healing to help others who may be in a similar situation. Please visit her website and read her blog. I have included the link here to an article I wrote for her titled, "Grief Through a Child's Eyes."

As always, please be gentle with yourself. Diana

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons in Grief

In Life -
We say little to those who mean so much to us . . .
In Death -
We say too much, too late, to those who meant so much to us.

(c) 2009 John Kruse

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Never Have To Say Good-bye

We notice that our pet is not acting quite right. We take our pet to the veterinarian to make sure everything is ok. Nothing serious, right? Our veterinarian is sorry to tell us that our pet has _________. Fill in the blank - Cancer, Renal Failure, Congestive Heart Failure – whatever . . . Our heart starts racing, our mind is racing – “What is he saying? This can’t be true?” We are now faced with a terminal prognosis for our pet. We listen while being told “options,” “choices,” “pharmaceutical therapies,” “surgery,” “euthanasia.” What?! Wait! Slow down! We need time to think. We need to get out of there!

On our way home, we’re trying to process everything the vet just told us. What is the best choice for our pet? What would make our pet the happiest, the most comfortable, give the longest prognosis? What if money is a factor? This could potentially and unfairly cut our choices down even further. Then we’re dealing with the guilt that we are making major life decisions for our pet based on money. But let’s face it – if pets had health insurance like people do, it would be all good. Imagine if we didn’t have health insurance for ourselves or our family? Would we be able to get all the tests, scans and other procedures doctors recommend? This too is an unfortunate fact of life for some – but that’s a completely different blog topic.

Whatever choices were made, now lead us to THE moment – THE decision – should we euthanize our pet? Help ease their suffering? Some pets make this choice for us and die on their own. Some seem to suffer so much that we feel it is kinder to help them in this way. There are people who can help with this kind of decision, because this is never an easy decision to make. The veterinarian is the best person to help with this decision. I find that no matter what decisions are made or how a pet dies, most pet owners will suffer guilt and regret. Always asking themselves, “Did I make the right choice?” “What if I chose this option instead?” “What if I got a second opinion earlier?” It’s really not much different than when a human dies. I believe it’s our human condition to do the "shoulda, coulda, woulda’s".

We go through an anticipatory grief when we’re trying our best to make our pet comfortable while they struggle through their illness. If we are very attached to our pet, we may try everything there is to offer in an attempt to keep our pet with us for as long as possible. Then when the end does come, we enter into the real grief, which is fraught with anger, guilt and regret.

For most, an endless tape of memory plays over and over again in our minds, replaying the last few moments of our pet’s life. It will take weeks to months for this endless reliving to subside. But it will subside – as the grief begins to subside. Gradually, the tape is replaced with different memories, happier memories, and we really know that we are moving forward when we can remember our pet and smile fondly, or even laugh a little. It’s in this remembering, that we can stay connected with our pet, even though their physical presence is no longer with us. It’s in this remembering that we realize that we never have to say good-bye.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Are You Planning?

Have you thought about your death?

How old will you be? How will it happen? Will it be sudden? Will it be a long, drawn out illness? Will it happen when your children are young or will they be older and taking care of you? Will you die at home, on a trip, in the hospital or in a nursing home? Will you predecease your spouse? What happens if you’re in a coma? Who will make the decisions for you? Will they make the decisions you would have liked them to make? Will you have a will? Who will you leave things too? Will you leave it to the state to decide the fate of your estate, family and pets? Are you still reading this, or are you saying, “Oh no, I’m not going there.”?

There seem to be two different ways of thinking on this. You might be the kind of person who has no trouble thinking about life and death, is quite practical, has everything organized and decided, right down to the last detail of your funeral and burial. Or you may be the kind of person that feels extremely uncomfortable thinking about your mortality and would rather have your fingernails pulled out than make a plan for your care if you became incapacitated, make a will or think about your funeral.

What about your obituary? Surely you’ve taken a peek to see who died, how they died, how old they were. Recently I saw two women’s obituaries. They both wrote them before they died. One was quite elaborate, stating all of her accomplishments, her awards, her education, and her charitable contributions throughout her life. It was probably one of the longest obits I have ever read. But, that was what she wanted and she wasn’t going to leave it to others to do it after the fact. The second one was very short and sweet, but no less powerful. She stated that all who knew her knew what she did in her life and those who didn’t know her wouldn’t care. She further stated that she wished to have no viewing, funeral or memorial. She had control of her life all the way through to the end.

Control! We have none! We think we do, we try to have it – but when it really counts, we have no control over death. Life takes many twists and turns that we don’t expect nor even want at times, yet there it is. So the best way to take control of the uncontrollable is to be proactive. Make your plans as best you can, while you can. Don’t be afraid. Think about the future and what it may hold. What do you want?

Have you ever been to a funeral or memorial and wondered what yours would be like? Would there be that many people? Who would do the eulogy and what would they say? What kind of music would they play? Would there be a lot of flowers, or would there be a lack of flowers due to donations made in your honor? These are the things we can have control over – NOW. Of course you can take care of all of this in your will or advanced directive, but there is a really great document called “Five Wishes” and it’s a very easy to read and complete form that will let others know how you want to be taken care of in case you can no longer speak for yourself. It further goes on to let others know how you want your arrangements in the event of your death, right down to the kind of music you want played, who will do your eulogy, what you want people to know about you and whether to have flowers or donations.

So what are you planning?