Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Flip Side of the Holidays

I know this was a tough time for a lot of people.   People have a tendency to become reflective around this time of year.   The holidays are surrounded with many memories – favorite holiday as a child, favorite toy, favorite tradition and favorite food.  But it’s also surrounded with the knowledge that as we grow up, we change – our traditions change, our lives change, and many of these memories become faded or are lost completely.  So the holidays become a time where there is happiness, mixed with tinges of sadness as well.  This can be felt even more so if you have lost someone you loved very much.  People also have a tendency to become reflective around the New Year.  People think back upon the last year and the changes that have happened, the good and the bad.  They then turn toward the future and begin to reflect on what the New Year will bring, what hopes, changes and goals will they try to achieve in the upcoming year. 


It’s very easy to become lost in your thoughts and depression, to think thoughts such as “what’s the point?”, “why did this happen?”, and “how did this happen?”  These are age old questions that I believe have never been answered and probably will never be answered.  It’s called “LIFE.”  If you are reading this post, then you are alive and living.  As long as you are alive and living, you will continue to grow and change.  You will continue to collect memories, good and bad.  You will continue to collect life experiences, good and bad.  You have a choice in how you want to live your life.  If we don’t have the power to change the outcomes of events, if we don’t have the power to get the answers to life’s age-old questions, we have no other choice but to go on living and hoping for the best.  It’s what you decide to do with your life that counts.  Will you focus on the negative aspects of a life you can’t control?  Or will you focus on living each and every day to the best of your ability?  One never knows what is waiting just around the corner, what surprises are in store for us.  Live each moment as if it might be your last.  Be with your loved ones as if that moment with them could be the last.  Try to live with no regrets and no guilt. 


I know – easier said than done – but you do have the choice. 

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's That Time of Year!

The holidays can be an especially painful time of year for people who are grieving.  There are some radio stations that switch their format to Christmas music 24/7 the day after Thanksgiving.  The stores seem to have Christmas decorations up at that same time as well.  The mailbox is jam packed with Christmas catalogs, trying to entice people to buy gifts from their store.  In amongst the catalogs are Christmas cards from family and friends, party invitations and final pleas from a variety of places to give a donation before the end of the year.  Everywhere we look, everywhere we turn, we are confronted with festive sights and sounds.  There seems to be no safe haven to escape and grieve in peace. 


The Christmas Waltz has a famous lyric that most people know, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love.  Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas, may your new year’s dreams come true.’”  People who have suffered the loss of a loved one and are grieving may feel they will definitely NOT have a Merry Christmas and their dreams will NOT come true.  They want their loved one back.  That’s the dream they may have.  At any time of the year, people who are grieving try to hide their grief from friends, co-workers and family.  They don’t want people feeling sorry for them, or they don’t want to burden other people with their problems, or they feel if they cry, they might make people uncomfortable.  Now, during the holidays, this can become increasingly difficult to do.  When one is confronted with so much joy and cheer, how can one be a wet blanket and ruin everyone’sfun?  Particularly if joy and cheerare the last things someone might be feeling. 


When we talked about “coping with the holidays”, in an earlier post, some of the suggestions were to try to be gentle with oneself.  We don’t have to accept ALL the holiday gathering invitations.  We don’t have to send out Christmas cards.  Try not to have such high expectations, particularly around this time of year.  If there is a need to cry or be sad – go ahead.  Don’t worry about ruining the holiday spirit for others, they will understand.  Maybe initiate some new traditions.  Perhaps doing something completely different will turn it from the “holiday without a loved one” into the “holiday where we (insert whatever you want).”  My husband, Jack, came up with the example of making this the time of year to go on vacation, or take a trip, as a way of doing something completely different.  Then the holiday season can be spent organizing, planning and preparing for the trip – not dreading spending the holiday without the loved one.  This is by no means a way to say the loved one will be forgotten – we all know that can never be done – but a way to make a new meaning for this time of year.


Many years ago, my mom died in February.  As we entered into our first holiday season without her, it all seemed so sad.  The tradition of the family gathering on Christmas morning would be different.  We had never had a Christmas apart before.  My mom had made, some type of fried dough covered in granulated sugar, and served it one Christmas morning.  This kind of special memory was gone forever, just like she was, therecipe never to be found.  My sister and I had moved out to be on our own, she with her husband and son, and I with Jack (not yet my hubby).  It was only my brother and my dad, waking up in our home by themselves on Christmas morning.   I didn’t know that Jack had other plans.  He knew how much we missed my mom, and he knew how sad that Christmas was going to be without her, so he wanted to create a different memory on that day.  We went to my Dad’s house, as planned, and we started to open presents.  Jack gave me a present and I opened it to find a beautiful, black lacquered, jewelry box.  I was instructed not to open it yet because he had a question for my Dad and my brother.  He then proceeded to ask them both for their permission to marry me.  After their shocked reactions to the affirmative, I opened the box to find my engagement ring.  That change in tradition definitely shifted the tone and the mood of the day.  A new meaning was made, for me and my family, for this time of year. 


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.



Thursday, December 7, 2006

What Do You Want?

Working in hospice and in bereavement, we are faced with the difficult challenges and decisions that people have to make in what is already a very difficult time.  Thinking about our death, or our loved ones' death is not what we want to think about, so we go in denial.  Let's only talk about pleasant things, let's not discuss uncomfortable, sad and depressing things.  What happens if you get diagnosed with a terminal illness?  What happens if a loved one dies unexpectedly?  Often we see families arguing with each other about what the loved one would want.  This is the time that the families should be coming together in support of each other - not fighting.  However, if wishes are not written down or stated, it's a guessing game as to what the loved one wanted.  Same holds true for people who have a terminal illness.  If their wishes are stated before they die, then the time they have left can be spent sharing meaningful moments and memories with family.  One client stated that it took the pressure off of her and the family knowing what their loved one wanted. 

It's human nature to put off what we know we should do, especially it it's something we're not all too jazzed up about doing anyway.  How many times have you thought, "I really need to make a will, or update my  health care proxy."?  How many times have you thought, "I have plenty of time, nothing is going to happen to me.  I'm young, I'm healthy.  I'll do it tomorrow, or next weekend."?  Well, there is an easy way to get this task done.  There is a simple form titled, "Five Wishes" provided by www.agingwithdignity.org, or you can call 1-888-5-WISHES.

There are five parts to the form, or "five wishes", where you are guided to write down your wishes in the event of . . . .

Wish #1 refers to the Health Care Proxy.  This is where you determine who you wish to act on your behalf if you are not able to voice your wishes.  There is also a section where you can "customize" your living will.

Wish #2 pertains to what you want your caregiver to know about the kind of medical treatment you would like in certain situations, such as if you were on life support, close to death, had brain damage, were in a coma or wished to have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

Wish #3 deals with the kind of comfort care you would wish from your caregiver, such as pain control, how to assess your symptoms, whether you wanted a cool cloth to be applied to your forehead, if you wanted to have your lips or mouth moisturized, if you wanted a massage, or music to be played or spiritual passages read while you were close to death.

Wish #4 is for the kind of treatment you want from others while you are near death, such as whether you wanted visitors, do you want to be touched, do you want people to talk to you or pray with/for you, do you want pictures of your loved ones placed around your bed and where you want to die.

Wish #5 tells your loved ones what you want them to know, such as you love them, you have forgiven them, you want them to forgive you, to respect your wishes, that you want them to seek counseling after your death, to make peace with each other, whether you are to be buried or cremated, where do you want your body or cremains to go, who is the designated person who knows your funereal wishes, what do you want said at your service, what kind of songs do you want played, what kind of flowers do you want or any other special requests.  There is an extra space for other wishes, such as whether you want to donate your organs or your body.

I often share my personal wishes with my husband.  I tell him that I don't want a viewing, I want to be cremated, I want a memorial service that plays certain songs and I want it to be like a huge party where people can share their memories and be a huge support to each other.  Since I've been doing this work, he gets used to my rantings and he simply replies, "Well, you better have it written down somewhere if you want me to remember all of that."  Hmmmmm, I better get the "Five Wishes."

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and thecommunity.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Use of Rituals - KISS

Rituals are used quite often, not only during bereavement, but in our everyday lives.  Rituals specifically used in bereavement offer the griever an opportunity to feel connected to their lost loved ones.  Rituals can also offer a sense of peace and comfort to the griever, even if it's only for a little while.  Often, a griever may have problems working through their grief process because they interpret that if they stop grieving their loved one, they will forget them.  NOT TRUE!  We all come to know that eventually, but when someone is in the middle of their grief, it is very hard to convince them of that fact.  That is when we can use rituals as a way for the griever to honor and remember their loved one. 

The key to making rituals a powerful, healing and symbolic action is in the KISS principle.  Keep It Simple Silly!  Ok, that last word wasn't supposed to be "silly,"  but I don't like the other word, and this is my blog, so I'm taking artistic freedom here.  Rituals can be as complicated or as easy as you want them to be.  However, I have found that the less complex a ritual is, the more likely a griever will use it.  Let's face it - when you're grieving, it can be a chore just to get out of bed in the morning and take a shower.  Who would want to participate in a complicated ritual?  On Thanksgiving, my family has the ritual of everyone around the table taking a turn and saying what they are grateful for.  Pretty simple, right?  Well, it is - but my niece showed me that it could be made even simpler and the power of the ritual was not diminished, in fact, it made it even more special and memorable.  As each person took their turn, most said they were grateful for their family and health.  When it was her turn she said, "I'm grateful for my fish!"  You can't get more simple than that! 

Rituals can be as varied as your imagination and creativity allow.  Here are some common ones that people seem to enjoy. 

Sharing memories of the loved one with others who knew the loved one as well.

Sharing the loved ones favorite food or drink and helping others to know the loved one better.

Light a candle.

Plant a tree.

Play a song.

Release balloons - with or without messages to the loved one.

Build a bouquet of flowers.

This last ritual we actually use a lot in our children's groups and our adult groups as well.  It is very simple and yet very powerful and effective.  I have included the instructions here for your use.  This ritual can even be used with family members. 

Build a Bouquet

Supplies:  Flowers, vase


Lay flowers out on a table.

Have each person approach the table, pick a flower and place the flower in the vase.

As they place the flower in the vase, they can think to themselves, or say out loud, something they would like to convey to their loved one. (I miss you.  I love you.)

The person goes back to their seat and allows the next person to go up to the table.

Once the bouquet has been built, everyone sits quietly for a few moments and observes the beautiful bouquet that was put together with loving thoughts.

Remember, rituals don't have to be complicated.  They just have to feel meaningful to you.  Remember KISS! 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Getting Back in the Saddle - Part 2

A couple of weeks ago we discussed “getting back in the saddle again.”  This week, I would like to explore that a little more.  Clinically, the term for “getting back in the saddle” is “reinvestment.”  Many people are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief, but a similar concept is Therese Rando’s Tasks of Mourning.  The final task is “reinvestment.” 


Therese Rando proposes that a person who has experienced a loss will have to work through these tasks.  These tasks are similar to the stages of grief, in that there is no set way a person goes through these tasks.  It is highly individual and a person can go through them in a step by step fashion, they can bounce back and forth between the tasks or they can even become stuck at a particular task for a very long time.  We typically use these tasks to help an individual in grief recognize where they are in their grief process. 


Tasks of Mourning


1.         Recognize the Loss:  An individual needs to acknowledge and understand the    



2.         React to the Separation:  Experience the pain of grief and offer it a release.   

            Learning to accommodate the loss of the person into their lives.  This period can

            be an emotional roller coaster.


3.         Recollect and Re-experience:  Share stories and relive memories of the

            relationship that was lost. 


4.         Relinquish Old Attachments:  Release the hold on the loved one that has

            passed. It is difficult to hold on and move on at the same time. 


5.         Readjust:  To adapt to a new world without the lost loved one, but not

            forgetting the loved one. 


6.         Reinvest:  To have a renewed energy and interest in life. 


This last stage represents more than just showing a renewed energy and interest in life.  It also represents the ability of the griever to put their heart and emotions into another relationship knowing that there is a possibility of feeling this intense pain again.  If you are a gambler by nature, you might feel more comfortable taking this chance.  For some people, this is a HUGE risk.  But unless you want to face a life of loneliness and without companionship or friendship, this is your only choice.  


When you are faced with making this choice, you find yourself weighing the options of putting your heart out there once again.  If you take the leap, how many years will you get with this relationship?  Chances are you may have many wonderful years with this relationship and have many gifts of happiness along the way.  Surely that is worth taking the risk, because if you do happen to lose this relationship again, the happy memories can outweigh the pain of the ending, right?  It sounds logical at the time, but anyone who has experienced a significant loss knows that is not true.  In time perhaps one can remember the happy memories with less pain, but at the moment of loss, the pain obliterates all and the pain is all there is. 


So let’s not get emotionally involved in any more relationships.  It’s much safer that way, right?  It’s also boring, lonely, miserable, unhappy and most importantly, not a very honoring way to live your life without your loved one.  I don’t know one person that I have loved and has left me, that has wanted me to remain miserable and lonely.  We all know that our loved ones want us to go on living the best life that we can and to continue to offer our gifts to others along our life’s journey.  The experiences we gained from knowing our loved ones are experiences we can give to others as well. 


To me, the most honoring thing I can do for my lost loved ones is to take the lessons they offered me from their life experiences and use them to make future relationships I may be lucky enough to have feel vibrant and fulfilled.  Most lessons people take away are not to take loved ones for granted, to appreciate every single moment we have with them because we never know when it will be our last.  Then when we take the leap again, and if, God forbid, they leave us – we will know in our hearts that we gave them everything we had to give, and with time, when the pain has diminished and we are able to focus on the happy memories again, they will be abundant.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


Happy Thanksgiving!




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Coping with the Holidays

Well, it's hard to believe it's that time of year again, but I have already given a lecture on "Coping with the Holidays" for a local residential home and passed out some info at our support group last night, so I think it's fair to share the same info here.

The holiday season can be a difficult time of year for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one.  Instead of the bustling happiness that may seem to surround you, you may be experiencing feelings of dread, anxiety and overwhelming sadness.  Here are some suggestions and tips that you may find helpful in getting you through this time of year.


Prepare yourself.  Try to give some thought to the challenges that may await you in the holiday season.  Think about what you will say when an invitation to a party comes your way.  Plan an answer for when the family asks if you will still host the traditional holiday feast at your home.  You may want to participate in holiday events and you may want to continue with holiday family traditions; but it perfectly acceptable for you to not want to participate as well.  You may want to suggest making new family traditions.


Know your limitations.  Don’t give in to family and social pressure.  Learn to say no.  You are the only one that knows how much energy you have to deal with, “going to a party”, “baking cookies”, “decorating the house”, “keeping up with family traditions.”  Again, doing these things may make you feel better, but be kind to yourself – if you don’t think you’re up for it – say “no.”  Or say “yes”but make it clear that it will be tentative, based on how you feel when you wake up that morning!


Holiday emotions.  It’s ok to feel sad during this holiday season and it’s ok to feel happy.  Go with the flow.  If you want to cry – cry.  If you need to talk about your loss with someone – find that someone.  If you find yourself having fun – go with it, don’t guilt over it.  Laughing is healing. 


Holiday chores.  If you must do some of these chores, here are some suggestions:


Shopping – Pick a time when there are less crowds.  If you don’t want to go alone, take a friend or family member with you.  Try catalog or on-line shopping.


Sending cards or letters – Try to shorten the mailing list.


Getting a Tree – If you decide to get a tree, try getting a smaller one, or a tabletop version.


Consider participating in a ritual.  Rituals can be healing and a therapeutic way to honor our loved ones.  Rituals can include lighting a candle, playing a special song or listening to special music, reading or writing poetry, etc.  Other ideas are to give gifts on behalf of your loved one as a way of honoring and remembering them.  You can also spend some time reflecting on the "gifts" your loved one has given you in the past. 


If you find that you are alone for the holidays and would like to do something meaningful, there are always volunteer opportunities where you can focus on the spiritual and giving aspects of the season.


Just remember that you know yourself better than anyone else.  You know what you can and cannot handle.  Please be gentle with yourself.


Until next week,




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.









Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Compassion Fatigue

Last week we talked about Caregiver Stress and Strain, which focused on someone who is caring for a loved one.  This week let's talk a little bit about Compassion Fatigue, which is focused on people who work in the helping professions. 

Compassion Fatigue is a concept that has been around for awhile, but seems to be more accepted and recognized as a valid danger for people who work in the helping professions.  Some may be more familiar with other terms such as Vicarious Trauma, Grief Overload or Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The definition for Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder is "the state of tension and preoccupation with the individual or cumulative trauma of clients as manifested in one or more ways including reexperiencing the traumatic event, avoidance/numbing of reminders of the event, and persistent arousal."  Some at risk professions are Emergency Care Workers, Counselors, Mental Health Professionals, Medical Professionals, Clergy, Volunteers and Human Service Workers.  Even people who aren't in the helping professions can fall prey to Vicarious Trauma through the daily intrusions of the media regarding violent crimes and traumatic events.  By being constantly subjected to these images, it can create a persistent arousal state within us and we may not even be aware that it is happening.  Some examples are being an overly protective parent, a hypervigilant female, or the complete inability to trust people. 

The symptoms of Compassion Fatigue are important to discuss, because a lot of them are symptoms that people can experience on a daily basis and just explain them away as being due to the stress of daily living.  However, if you are in the helping profession please be aware that if you have these symptoms, these are warning to practice self-care and prevent burn-out.  The symptoms can be found in these seven areas, Cognitive, Emotional, Behavioral, Spiritual, Personal, Physical and Professional.  Let's discuss some of the more common symptoms in each category.

Cognitive:  We  may begin to feel apathetic about our work, clients or patients.  We may become preoccupied with the disease process, illness or trauma.  Professionals often talk about the occupational hazards of working in the health field.  For example, it is common to hear someone saying they have a pain in their abdomen and they are convinced it's cancer because a client of their's had similar symptoms and that's what they were diagnosed with.  We can live in perpetual fear of what's going on in our body and can begin to question the medical community if we perceive they are not on top of their game. 

Emotional:  Anxiety, depression or overly sensitive.  We may become guilty because we feel we should have or could have done more for our client/patient.  We may become shut down where our patient's and their families can no longer elicit emotional responses from us.

Behavioral:  Irritable or sleep disturbances.

Spiritual:  We can start questioning the meaning of life and our religious beliefs.

Personal:  We can become withdrawn from our loved ones, and have decreased intimacy with our significant others.  This may be done in an effort to not become emotionally available to anyone, or we have given so much of ourselves through work that we have no more to give to our family.  We may become intolerant of others.  We may become overprotective parents.

Physical:  We may have a lowered immune system because of the stressors we encounter on a daily basis, and much like Caregivers, people in the helping profession usually sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others.

Professional:  Our work may suffer because we have low morale, low motivation, staff conflicts, unusual or high absenteeism, fatigue and irritability.

So it's easy to see how mundane some of these symptoms can be, so it's particularly important for us to pay attention to these symptoms, especially if they are compounded.  One way to keep track of how we are doing in our work is by doing check-ins with ourselves.  There are several tests out that very quick and easy that one can take to see if they are in danger of Compassion Fatigue, or worse - Burnout.  These tests can be found on-line.

The Compassion Fatigue Self Test - can be found at www.ace-network.com/cftest.htm.  It's a simple, ten minute test that will rate your level of Compassion Fatigue and your risk for Burn-out.

The Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Test - can be found at www.isu.edu/~bhstamm.  Even though this test has been simplified, it is a little more time consuming, but it will not only rate your level of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout, but also assess your current satisfaction with continuing in the helping profession.

The Caregiver Strain Index - can be found at www.medscape.com/viewarticle/488917.  This is a simple test that is used by Caregiver's but it has the same principles for knowing your level of Compassion Fatigue.  I call it the quick and dirty test to do an occasional check-in.

Now the next thing is you know if you are in at risk category, you know the symptoms you may have, you know how to evaluate yourself to see if you are heading into trouble, but what can you do prevent it?  You have to practice self-care.  We all know this, however it is easier said than done.  I realize this, but seriously - if you want to continue to help people and do the good work that you do, then it is necessary and vital that you take care of yourself.  The first lesson is to practice saying "no."  People in the helping profession have a very difficult time with this.  You may  find it easier to start practicing saying "no" on family members or friends.  You also have to find what is meaningful to you.  Develop your own self-care plan.  What will your plan contain?  You  have to develop the same coping strategies that you would if you were suffering the loss of a loved one.  One of the main tenets for coping strategies in grief, is the value of the support system.  So what are your supports?  I have an earlier blog that can help with this is more detail, but if you are in the helping profession, what about your work environment or agency - use them as your supports.  Who will better understand the pressures you are under at work, than a peer or supervisor? 

Here are some other key strategies that you may find helpful:

Know your own triggers and areas of vulnerability.  Learn how to avoid them and diffuse them.  For example, if your case involves a terminally ill child that is similar in age to one of your own children, then you know that this case may be an emotional trigger for you.  What are your alternatives in dealing with this and preserving yourself?  Can another professional handle the case?  Can you talk to your supervisor about your concerns?  Can you summon a strong support system to help you through the case?  It's important to explore and discuss your options.  You don't have to tackle this alone.

Allow yourself to grieve.  People in the helping profession are expected to respond to the human loss, emotion and tragedy that surrounds them everyday as part of their work, but they are not expected to react as a human.  Impossible!  The fact is there will be clients you become attached to, there will be clients you lose, there will be clients that you grieve their loss.

Set boundaries for yourself.  Boundaries are in place as protective measures.  It is very common to have the boundary line blurred from time to time when you are working in the helping profession, that is only natural, but learn to recognize when you are getting ready to cross the line and why - this will help you keep those boundaries in place in future situations.

Alter irrational beliefs.  There are many different reasons why people are drawn to the helping professions.  A lot of us are perfectionists and don't want to be judged.  We need to know that we can't do it all and we don't have all the answers.  Replace your irrational beliefs with affirmations, such as "I am capable," "I am competent," or "I am good." 

If you still need convincing that you need to take the time to practice self-care, there are a lot of sites on the Internet regarding this topic.  Please explore them and convince yourself that you need to fit yourself in to your schedule in order for you to continue doing the good work that you do for your patients, clients and the community.

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Caregiver Stress

The definition of a Caregiver is one who is responsible for someone else's welfare.  When thinking of this definition one typically thinks of a parent caring for a child.  However, as the picture above depicts, often it can be a child caring for a parent, a spouse caring for a spouse, or someone caring for an individual dealing with a chronic or terminal illness. 

Often the Caregiver is overlooked because most of the focus tends to be on the individual receiving the care.  However, it is important to focus on the Caregiver as well, in order for the Caregiver to continue being an effective caregiver.  That sentence seems redundant, so let me try to explain.

The "real" definition of a Caregiver is one who keeps paperwork organized, is a medical insurance expert, a scheduler, a chauffeur, helps clean the loved one, cooks for them, gives them their medications, runs errands, pays the bills and cleans the house.  In some cases, one can add taking care of the children, and a variety of other tasks as well.  This list is definitely not inclusive of all the responsibilities that are heaped upon the Caregiver, and this list doesn't even begin to mention the emotional components of being a Caregiver.

Some of the symptoms of Caregiver Strain:

Sadness:  Caregivers often feel an intense sadness for a variety of reasons.  Typically when one is making life plans, rarely do they include caring for a spouse or parent who is suffering from a chronic or terminal illness, or the issues of old age.  It can be very upsetting for a Caregiver to see their loved one changing right before their eyes.  To see what was once a vibrant, independent, healthy person now becoming a shadow of their former self.  Also, a sadness for the dreams that were lost and can no longer have, such as retirement plans, special trips, or goals that can no longer be met.

Irritability:  Caregivers are often stretched to their limit and their tolerance becomes limited. 

Mood Swings:  Care plans can change on a daily basis, which leaves the Caregiver in an emotional see-saw situation.

Fatigue and Disruption of Sleep:  The Caregiver often does not have support in the home, so has to be available when their loved one needs them, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  This means that if the loved one wakes during the night, so does the Caregiver.  If the loved ones naps during the day, often a Caregiver does not have the option of doing the same because they are using that time to catch up on housework, pay bills or other errands.  It's like taking care of a baby, you have to take advantage of the quiet times to get as much done as you can.  So when does that leave time for the Caregiver to rest?  It often doesn't which leads to an overwhelming fatigue.

Disruption of Eating Patterns:  The same holds true for eating.  Often when it is meal time, the Caregiver must feed the loved one and then proceed with the post meal clean-up.  Again, Caregivers often don't have the time to eat in a healthy fashion.  The situation is often a quick grab of this or that and the food or meal choices are usually not the best.

Decrease in social activity and a feeling of isolation:  Caregivers often can not find support to give themselves a break, so they may  reject invitations to get out of the house.  Also, once the Caregiver gets out of the house, they are so consumed with worry over their loved one that they find they can not enjoy themselves, so avoid social situations altogther.  This only increases their sense of isolation as their support of friends dwindle.

Frustration, overwhelmed, anger, guilt and feeling like there is not support from family or friends:  Caregivers often find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated with their responsibilities to their loved one.  This can also lead to feelings of anger toward their loved one and family members for perceived non-support.  This vicious cycle leads to feelings of guilt for feeling angry toward the loved one.  After all, this once vibrant, independent, healthy person certainly does not want to be dependent on their loved one for all of their care. 

Typically what happens in a Caregiver Strain situation is when the loved one does die, the Caregiver finds themselves in a strange situation.  What once ruled their daily life, is now gone.  There is a sense of not knowing what to do with oneself or what direction to go.  They feel like their lives have no meaning now without being able to care for another.  In addition, their immune systems are so compromised because of the lack of sleep, the poor nutrition and the general lack of self-care, that it is not uncommon for the Caregivers to break down and succumb to illnesses of their own.  Caregivers also struggle with grief issues.  They either feel surprised at the acute feeling of grief they have, or they feel guilty for not feeling the acute grief and having a sense of relief or acceptance instead.

If you find yourself in a situation of being a Caregiver, it's important to try protect yourself and reduce your symptoms and the strain as much as possible.  Many Caregivers feel like it is a gift or an act of love to be able to provide the care to their loved ones.  You have to take care of yourself if you want to be able to provide a high level of care to your loved one.  This is easier said than done, but it is very important to try to "internalize and own" this concept. 

Here are some key concepts to consider:

1.  Caregivers often run by schedules (doctor appointments, meal times, bathing times, etc.).  Try to put yourself into the schedule.  Schedule an hour to replenish yourself.  What is important and meaningful to you?  Do you like to read, watch a special show, knit, garden, meditate, pray?  Can you find a volunteer, parish member, neighbor, friend or relative to come in for one hour in an effort to provide you with this time? 

2.  Call the Social Service agency in your community for Caregiver tips and ideas.  Often they will have "respite program" designed to give the Caregiver a break or change of scenery.

3.  Try Journaling.  People often find a great release in keeping a journal.  People have used journaling as a way to share things with their loved one, as a way to get out their own feelings about being a Caregiver, or to focus on things they can be grateful for on a daily basis (reframing your situation).

4.  Try to stick to a daily routine.  Change can be disruptive and add chaos to what can be an already overwhelming and frustrating time for the Caregiver and for the loved one.

5.  Keep a folder handy that will help to keep all your paperwork organized and easily retrievable.

6.  Incorporate exercise and proper nutrition into your daily schedule.  This will enable you to keep doing the good caregiving work you offer to your loved one. 

7.  If possible find a support group for Caregivers in your area.  There are several on-line supports available.  Here a few:

Caregivershideaway at http://groups.yahoo.com.  This chat room is designed to be a safe place to share feelings and experiences as they relate to caregivers.


men_support at http://groups.yahoo.com.  This chat room is designed specifically for the male caregiver.


Also, you can try to contact:


The National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP).  This federally funded program provides services to help family caregivers.


National Eldercare Locator (800)-677-1116.  This organization can help you locate your local Office on Aging.  You can also visit www.eldercare.gov.


So if you find that you fit the definition of Caregiver - add caring for yourself in that definition and you can probably prevent the symptoms of Caregiver Strain and the after effects of grief.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back in the saddle again . . .

Well, after quite a few weeks, I'm back in the blogging saddle again.  I must apologize for not keeping up with the weekly articles.  We recently wrapped up our first training for the Sussex County Schools called Healing in the Elementary School Classroom.  Much preparation and organization went into this initiative and it was quite successful.  We had a total of 17 participants representing 14 schools in the county, so we were quite pleased for our first attempt.  The participants were given a lot of information, but the main points were how to implement support groups in their schools and how to create crisis management plans and teams.  If you are interested in getting more information on this workshop, please feel free to contact me at 1-800- 882-1117.

Now for a different getting back into the saddle.  A lot of my ideas for my articles come from prevalent themes from issues I deal with in my work.  In the last couple of weeks, I have had a few clients with issues of being ready to reinvest in life but their children are not on the same page.  This can be a tricky road to navigate.  To put the situation bluntly - a spouse has died, the surviving spouse is ready to start dating again, but the children do not like the idea (and that's putting it mildly). 

We first have to go back to the "Variables of Grief."  One of the variables is "personality style," - how a personality is typically, is how they will grieve typically.  Since families are made up of different individuals and personalities, you can assume that you will have different grieving styles in the same house as well.  This can be difficult as everyone will seem to be at a different stage of grief, or task of mourning.  For example, the surviving parent is ready to reinvest in life (date again), but the children may not even have accepted the death of the parent yet, let alone be ready to reinvest in another parental relationship again.  They typically interpret this as someone trying to take the place of the deceased parent, and become resentful and angry. 

We also have the variable of "age" - what developmental stage are the children?  Do they understand the finality of their parent's death?  They may not accept a new parent if they believe the deceased parent is going to come back one day.  Or if they are a little older, they may understand that death is final, but don't quite understand how death works.  They just know that death can take someone they love, someone who provides for them and keeps them safe.  How can they risk loving anyone else (reinvesting), when death can take anyone at any time? It's much safer to not love anyone or depend on anyone, that way it won't hurt so much if someone does die again.  Another aspect of the reinvestment stage, is if the surviving parent begins dating someone who has children themselves.  So now the children may be worrying about having to love (reinvest) new sisters and brothers, or worry about the new siblings taking some of their parent's attention away. If your child is an adolescent, they may be struggling to gain their own independence.  They will most likely resent any new parent coming in to take the place of their deceased parent.  They will resent any new authority figure imposing new family rules and guidelines.  They will also feel protective of the deceased parent and will often remind the new parent that they are not their biological parent.  They can even become protective of the surviving parent and no one will ever be good enough for that parent, in their teens' eyes.

So, what do you do if you are a surviving parent and you wish to start dating again?  It has been my experience that most families do not handle this situation well.  I don't mean to be discouraging, but simply honest.  If you are a surviving parent and are interested in dating again, you have to know this, and be prepared.  Regardless of the age of your children, I would not introduce new people into their lives, unless you are serious about the new person.  If you decide to introduce a new person into their lives, always be honest and age appropriate with the information that you provide.  Reassure them that the new person is not taking the place of the deceased parent.  Reassure them that you love them just as much as you always have.  Reassure them that their safety and security will not be taken away as a result of this new person coming into their lives.  Reassure them that you will still be there for them. 

Get it?  Reassurance!  Do it over and over again.  Let them know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they might have about this new person.  Listen to them!  Reassure them!  If you get back in that saddle again, it may well be a bumpy ride.  By being prepared ahead of time and anticipating trouble spots, you can smooth out a lot of those bumps. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Emotional Rollercoasters

Often we talk of “emotional rollarcoasters” when trying to describe what it’s like to go through the grief process.  But even I was unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster experienced while dealing with a loved one with a serious illness. 


We talk about “anticipatory grief” in terms of the emotions you experience while dealing with a loved one with a terminal illness, but what if the loved one hasn’t been given a terminal prognosis?  What if your loved one has been diagnosed with an illness and a prognosis hasn’t been given?  What if treatment options don’t seem to be working and you see loved one being ravaged by the treatment?  What if you see your loved one suffering from complications of the treatment?  What if it seems that the cure is worse than the disease?  What if your loved one and their doctor have a game plan, but no one else seems to know what that game plan is?  What if you come from a large family and everyone has their own opinion about what is going on and what should be done?  And so the ride begins.


Now you are on this ride and you have all of the above as factors in how you deal with this situation emotionally, but wait . . . we’re not done!  What if your loved one is in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis, sometimes a daily basis?  What if your loved one had to have emergency surgery to reduce symptoms of the disease or complications from the treatment?  What if your loved one almost dies, due to hospital error, complications or a weakened condition?  What if this happens repeatedly within a week’s time?  What if during all of this activity you have several doctors on the “team” giving you their opinions on your loved one’s condition, diagnosis and prognosis – and they are all different!  Well, heck – this is one crazy ride!


But wait – we’re still not done!  What if you don’t live close to the hospital?  What if you work a full-time job and can’t get to the hospital as often as you would like?  What if you have family members doing most of the care and organizing and you can’t participate as much as you would like?  What if you DO go down any spare time that you have, or you spend that time on the phone getting updates from your family members?  How do you take care of your children?  When do you go to the grocery store?  When do you do laundry, vacuum, pay bills, mow the lawn?  How do you take care of yourself – keep doctors appointments, get to the gym, keep a date with a friend – all without ticking off the other family members?  Can we get off this ride yet?


Most people get off a rollercoaster and they feel dizzy and maybe a little upset to their stomach.  After getting off this particular rollercoaster you might feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, intolerant and emotionally shut-down.  When you read the above, it’s easy to see why you might feel this way, but when you’re going through the experience, it’s not so easy to figure it out.  The important thing is to give yourself a break.  In this case, you are definitely not to going to make everyone happy, so at least try to keep yourself emotionally healthy so that “when” you can be available for your loved one, you are atyour emotional best and can give all that you have in the care of your loved one.  Do your best to meet each challenge as it comes and don’t think to far ahead about “problems” or “what ifs” that haven’t even come up yet.  Deal with what’s on your plate – right in front of you – nothing more.  This will ultimately help with the “ups and downs” of the emotional rollercoaster ride.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Friday, September 1, 2006

Anticipatory Grief

Do you have an elderly parent that you see getting weaker and more dependent with the passing of each day?  Do you have a spouse, parent, sibling, child or friend that has been diagnosed with a terminal illness?  Do you know someone who is suffering from a form of dementia? 

These are just a few scenarios that you may have experienced, or may be experiencing, with a loved one right now.  When confronted with these situations you may find yourself dealing with Anticipatory Grief.  This simply means that you are aware, on some level, of the eventual loss of your loved one and are grieving their death before it has happened.  Just as in grief, anticipatory grief can have very many different feelings and reactions, depending on the variables involved with your situation.  

Do you find yourself avoiding the issues, pretending that life is normal just like it was before your loved one became ill?  Do you find yourself unable to have meaningful conversations and moments with your loved one for fear that it will be interpreted as trying to capture "what time is left" with your loved one?  Do you find yourself avoiding serious questions, and avoiding the exploration of healthcare options, because you don't want your loved one to lose hope or stop fighting?  Do you find yourself having unbidden, or uncomfortable thoughts as you observe the physical changes in your loved one?  Do you find yourself depressed and sad, unable to function at work or at home?  Do you find yourself mad at your loved one for being sick, dependent, or for making end-of-life choices that you do not agree with?  These are all normal feelings, thoughts and actions, when dealing with anticipatory grief.

In some situations, you may feel that you are pulling away from your loved one emotionally.  This too is normal as your mind is trying to make efforts to protect you from the grief that will surely come when your loved one dies.  If you are not emotionally invested now, it won't hurt so much when they die, right?  Maybe.  But it has been my experience, that you will feel the grief, regardless of any protective measures that are put into place.  There is no avoiding the pain of grief, nor the pain of anticipatory grief. 

The best plan, in the event of anticipatory grief, is to prepare and protect yourself in other ways.  Make sure you have a good support system in place.  People in anticipatory grief, need to have someone that they feel comfortable with and can trust to be able to discuss all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that they may experience.  Depending on what your loved one's situation is, there are many organizations, support groups and counselors that specialize in that particular situation and with anticipatory grief.  Use them - that's what they are there for.  Also, talk with your loved one, as honestly as you can and as the situation allows.  Your loved one is more than likely having the same thoughts, feelings and emotions that you are and will welcome the opportunity to share them with their support system - YOU. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.



Monday, August 21, 2006

Are you grieving the loss of a pet?

In an earlier article, we talked about "openly grieving" the loss of a pet.  Grieving the loss of a pet can be difficult because some people just don't understand the close connection that some people have with their pets.  Some people feel that their pets are family members.  I have even heard some people say that they are more closely connected to their pets, than their human family members. 

However, the loss of a pet can be felt differently by different people.  It's just like the "Variables in Grief" article that was posted earlier, -- The grief you feel depends on the type of relationship you had with the deceased. -- This goes for pets too!  Some people are sad that their pet has died, but seem to get over it rather quickly.  Some people feel grief, but get a new pet right away, and that appears to help them in their grief process.  Yet there are others who grieve the loss of their pet so deeply, that they can not even imagine getting a new pet - ever! 

So why are there these differences?  A book titled, "Saying Good-Bye to the Pet You Love" by Lorri A. Greene and Jacquelyn Landis describes it perfectly.  It seems that there are three types of bonding one can have with their pet.  If you read the descriptions, one can most certainly find the category they fit in - and by doing so, find the answer to why they feel they way they do - or just as importantly, prepare themselves for the kind of griever they might be. 

In brief, with permission, I have included these "types" and their descriptions here. 

1.  Conventionally Bonded - Consider their pets as members of the family, but don't give them the same status as human family members.  They provide homes and care, but the loss of a pet is not a major trauma.  They do experience grief over the loss, but seem to recover more quickly than the other two types.  This is the most common type.

2.  Intensely Bonded - Consider their pets as integral parts of the family.  They form deep emotional attachments and provide the same care to their pet as they would for the human family members.  May exceed their financial means in order to provide care.  May refer to their pet as their "surrogate child."  They may experience a long grieving process and great sense of personal loss when their pet dies.

3.  Uniquely Bonded - Consider their pets family members and may refer to them as "my best friend", "my son",  "my daughter" or "my soul mate."  They provide extravagant care and attention.  The loss of their pet is devastating and their grieving may last a very long time.

I personally feel that knowing the type of bond you have with your pet will go a long way in helping you in your grief process.  It provides an understanding on the kind of person that you are.  If a friend or family member doesn't seem to be as supportive as you think they should be, think about the type of bond they might have and you might gain a better understanding for them too.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who is grieving the loss of a companion animal or even for those who are dealing with anticipatory grief issues regarding a beloved pet. 

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Do you have a relative that is grieving?

Our office often receives calls from family members that are concerned about the grieving style of another family member.  We often hear statements such as, "I think they are on too much medication.", "I don't think they have cried since the funeral.", "They won't talk to me about 'the loved one'.", "They say they are fine, but I know that they aren't.", "They won't leave the house."  The bottom line is - the grieving person isn't grieving the way someone else thinks that they should. 

Read that last sentence out loud, several times if necessary.  Does that sound right to you?  It shouldn't!  Why should someone else dictate how you react, feel and behave?  They shouldn't!  However, family members love each other and are naturally concerned for each other's well-being and safety.  Being concerned for a family member doesn't make you a bad person, just a well-meaning person.  So here are some things to think about before reacting to your loved one's grief.

1.  Each person grieves in "their own unique way." 

2.  The relationship to the deceased may help determine the kind of grief reaction a   person can experience.  A parent who lost a child may experience a more prolonged and acute grief than a sibling who lost a sibling. 

3.  Each person goes through the Stages of Grief at their own pace.  A mother may not be at the same stage as a daughter or son, and may never be. 

4.  Each person may have complicating factors, that another may not be aware of, that may make their grief last longer, or make them react differently to the loss than someone else would. 

5.  Men grieve differently than women.  Children grieve differently than adults.

6.  Some people are comfortable talking about their loved one and their grief, others are not.

7.  Some people may be angry at God, their loved one, the medical community - some may not.

8.  Some people may show outward signs of grieving (crying, talking, anger), others may keep their feelings focused internally (thinking, journaling, other activities done in private).

9.  Some people find comfort in support groups, some prefer to "deal with things on their own."

10.  Some may have "visions" of their loved ones, hear their voices, see them in dreams - and others may not.

The important thing to remember is that there is no wrong or right way to grieve.  Each person has to do it in their own way.  Each person will react and act differently depending on a lot of outside factors.  Only a few of these factors were mentioned above, there are many, many others.  If you are not sure if your loved one is grieving in a healthy way, call a grief specialist. 

When in doubt, just let them know that you love them, care for them and are there for them.

Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.


P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Masks We Wear

The decorating of masks is one of the projects that the children in our Children’s Art Therapy Program create.  But the concept of “mask wearing” is not unique to children.  Adults too, wear “masks” everyday.  When we are in grief, we tend to wear our masks most of the time.  We try to protect our children from seeing our pain and our tears, we try to protect our spouses because we don’t want them to feel bad, we try to protect our friends because we don’t want to burden them and we protect our co-workers and employers because we don’t want our feelings to effect our work, or potentially jeopardize our job.  There appears to be a lot of hiding the grief feelings a person HAS to feel in order to get through the grief process.  So when does a person get to work on their grief?  When do they get to sit quietly to reflect and to cry?  Not giving oneself this time can be detrimental to their physical and emotional being.  If a person feels that their grieving is taking longer than they think it should, it could be that the mask needs to come off from time to time.  There is no getting around it – you have to feel to heal.  You have to let your emotions fill you (whatever they are – anger, sadness, guilt, regret), honor them (accept them without judgment), and offer them release (crying, pounding pillows, journaling, performing a ritual or memorial ceremony – lighting candles, planting flowers). 


I found a writing that describes this process beautifully.  Unfortunately the author is unknown so I cannot give credit where credit is due, but I hope you enjoy it and take the message with you.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this article, or previous articles, helpful, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit agency and we operate solely on donations from the community.  Any donation, no matter how great or how small, is greatly appreciated and will be acknowledged.



Please Hear What I Am Not Saying . . .


Don’t be fooled by me.  Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear.  For I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them are me.  Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me, but don’t be fooled – for God’s sake don’t be fooled.  I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game.  That the water’s calm and I’m in command, and that I need no one.  But don’t believe me – PLEASE.


My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask, my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.  Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.  But I hide this.  I don’t want anybody to know it.  I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear being exposed.  That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,a nonchalant, sophisticated fa├žade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.  But such a glance is my salvation.  My only salvation.  And I know it.  That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love.


It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect.  It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself that I’m really worth something.  But I don’t tell you this.  I don’t dare.  I’m afraid to.  I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh will kill me.  I’m afraid deep-down I’m nothing, that I’m just no good, and that you will see this and reject me.  So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a fa├žade of assurance without and a trembling child within.  And so begins the parade of masks.  And my life becomes a front.  I chatter to you idly in the suave tones of surface talk.  I tell you everything that’s really nothing, and nothing of what’s everything, of what’s crying within me.


So when I’m going through my routine do not be fooled by what I am saying.  Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying, what I’d like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can’t say.  I dislike hiding.  Honestly.  I dislike the superficial game I’m playing, the superficial, phony game.  I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous – and me.  But you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to hold out your hand even when that’s the last thing I seem to want, or need.  Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead.  Only you can call me to aliveness.  Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings.


With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding, you can breathe life into me.  I want you to know that.  I want you to know how important you are to me, how you can be a creator of the person that is me, if you choose to.  Please choose to.  You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic and uncertainty, from my lonely prison.  So don’t pass me by.


It will not be easy for you.  A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.  The nearer you approach me, the more blindly I may strike back.  It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man, I am irrational.  I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.  But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls, and in this lies my hope.  My only hope.


Please try and beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands – for a child is very sensitive.  Who am I, you may wonder?  I am someone you know very well.  For I am every man you meet.  And I am every woman you meet.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Expectations in Grief

The grief journey can be a long, painful, confusing time for many.  For some, this may be the first time this grief journey has been experienced.  Or this loss may feel different than a previous loss.  At times one may question if what they are feeling is typical or expected. 


Here is a list of appropriate expectations you can have of yourself in grief:


  • Your grief will take longer than most people think.  Often a griever may hear, “You’re not over this yet?”, or “It’s been a year!  You’re still upset?”


  • Your grief will take more energy than you would have ever imagined.  People don’t realize what hard work grief can be.  Even on a subconscious level, you are constantly working on your grief.  It is important to be very gentle with yourself during this time – for just this exact reason.  Don’t expect so much from yourself right now. 


  • Your grief will involve many changes and be continually developing.  Experiencing a loss changes an individual forever.  Part of the grief journey is the rediscovery of yourself without that special person in your life anymore. 


  • Your grief will show itself in all spheres of your life.  Grief can be experienced in your emotions, thoughts, body and spirit.


  • Your grief will depend on how you perceive the loss.  One of the variables in grief is the kind of relationship you had with the person who died.  If you were closer, then it stands to reason that you may feel the loss more acutely than if you were just an acquaintance. 


  • You will grieve for all the things the death represented, both symbolic and tangible.  These are called “secondary losses.”  You may be grieving the loss of companionship, a protector, a parent, a provider or a friend.


  • Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions.  You may experience anger, guilt, regret, sadness and relief.  You may also experience intolerance for others’ behaviors and actions.


  • The loss will resurrect old issues, feelings and unresolved conflicts from the past.  People are often surprised that a loss has the power to bring up feelings from the past.  It may be difficult to attend a funeral or memorial because it might remind you of a painful timein the past.


  • You may experience some identity confusion.  Some people question who they are now that their loved one has died.  What do they do with their life now?  Their plans have been radically altered and changed.  Do they continue with their plans without their loved one?  Do they find something completely different? 


  • You may experience a combination of anger and depression.  People are surprised to find out that they can actually have both of these feelings at the same time. 


  • You may have a lack of self-concern.  Some people may find themselves just sitting around with their thoughts unable to focus on grooming habits, sleeping, eating or getting dressed for work. 


  • You may experience grief bursts (bursts of grief that may occur with no warning).  I often hear people express disappointment in themselves because they thought they were doing so good on their grief journey and for some reason they felt they backslid in their grief and were surprised to feel the pain just as fresh as if it happened that very first day.  Again, it’s very important that you aregentle with yourself during this time.  You are on a roller coaster ride and you have no control over it.  Just because you have moments of intense grief, doesn’t mean that you have failed or are heading into a depression.


  • You may have trouble thinking and making decisions.  Here again, people don’t realize how much work grief is.  Your mind is constantly working on your grief whether it’s a conscious effort or not.  This is definitely a time where your memory may not be as it always was.  This is definitely a time where grievers are asked not to make any major decisions for at least one year after their loved ones death.  It’s hard to think clearly and be focused during this time.


  • You may feel like you are going crazy.  There are so many emotions and feelings going through a person at this time.  One of my earlier postings mentioned that grief mimics insanity, especially if a griever doesn’t know what to expect on their grief journey.


So know you are prepared with some ideas on what you can expect of yourself on your grief journey.  You are not crazy, you are grieving.  Be gentle with yourself, let others know to be gentle towards you, and don’t expect so much from yourself at this time.  Give yourself some time.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.