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.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Men and Grief

This is an article printed in Helping Hands by Katherine Fair Donnelly and Judith Haimes.  I invite you (man and woman) to read it in its entirety and to think about your perspectives and society’s perspectives on men and grieving.  Although I feel that we are growing, as a society, in our views on such matters – through my counseling experiences, I still hear some men apologizing for crying and I still hear some women saying that seeing their husband cry makes them uncomfortable because he’s supposed to be the strong one in the family.  So, please read this article and ask yourself, “How do I feel about this?”


A Man’s Grief


It has been said that a man would rather suffer a heart attack than let his emotions show.  Yet, experts say that tears are a healthy outlet and may account for why women outlive men, in part.


Most men fear the loss of their masculine identity if they openly display any signs of distress and often mask their feelings, hiding them from view.  Fearful of being considered weak or unmanly, they endure the psychological impact of their loss; they must also brace themselves to meet the ever-present eye of public opinion.


In building an image to fit what our society expects, a man who reveals his emotions during a time of tragedy believes his is looked down upon by others.  After all, have we not been taught that a “real” man will be strong in time of crisis . . . strong in time of war . . . strong under fire?


But, bereavement doesn’t rank side by side with other stress factors.  The loss of a loved one transcends the barriers of do’s and don’ts for emotional behavior.  The honest gut emotion of crying is similar to lancing a wound to drain the infection ---and a man or a woman is entitled to the right of diminishing the pain of sorrow.


For example, it is a natural response for a man to experience the same devastating upheaval in grieving the death of a child that a woman does.  In suffering a loss of such magnitude, it is also natural for a man to deal with feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, frustration, and other real and gnawing thoughts.  Grieving is a period of adjustment – for men as well as women.


A primary fear of men who hold in their grief and painful thoughts is losing control if they “let go.”  They also fear emotional involvement – in the sense that if they start to talk, they will become vulnerable.  For these reasons, a lot of men do their crying in private, preferring to be alone when they are hurting.  But, in doing so, they may commit a great injustice to themselves as well as to their loved ones.


Most men cannot grieve because they do not know how other men feel.  This cannot be emphasized strongly enough.  Men who believe they must contain their emotions also believe that other men know how to handle those feelings.  So, their reasoning is: “I have to be as stoic and strong as they are.  Surely they must not be feeling the way I am.  See how unemotional they are—there must be something wrong with me for feeling this way.”


Often, men are simply unaware that other men are really suffering the same way, struggling with the same inner pain, and the same conflicts of guilt and anger.  They can’t conceive that this is “normal” behavior for a man who is grief stricken.  When a man hears another man speak of a parallel tragedy, he then becomes aware that other men do indeed feel as he does.  Suddenly, it hits him:  “I am not the only man who feels like this!”


It is so important for men to be in touch with their feelings and experiences – and no matter what these are, to know they are valid and okay.  Not every man has a similar reaction, but it is hoped each will permit himself a healthy grief process without the chains of the macho roles imposed upon him.


Sometimes it is difficult for a man to understand just what is going on inside himself.  He may have trouble identifying feelings of grief and may not know how to deal with them.  Counselors can help if they are aware that many times they need to give men permission to express pain, usually in the form of tears.  But it is equally important that counselors indicate that tears are not the only signs of grief.


It is imperative for men to realize grief is a process that must be gone through.  As one bereaved father said, “We grow according to how we experience this process. . . There is no healthy way around it –only through it.”





Personal note:  If you are a man who is grieving, or you know a man who is grieving – you/they may want to participate in a support group.  It is in a support group that men will see other men sharing stories and expressing their pain through tears and anger.  It is in a support group that men will see that it is ok to feel this way, and more importantly, to express these emotions openly.


So, how do you feel about this?  Is it time to change your perspective?


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, July 10, 2006

Pet Loss

Last week we talked a little about disenfranchised grief.  However, disenfranchised grief is more than just "ways that people die."  Disenfranchised grief can be due to the type or kind of relationship we had with the deceased.  One of the key definitions of disenfranchised grief is the inability to grieve openly due to the socially unacceptable aspect of the loss.  So to put this is relationship terms, perhaps one could feel that they could not fully grieve the loss of a co-worker, a celebrity, a friend or acquaintance, or perhaps a pet.

Pet loss is a difficult loss to grieve.  Many people feel that their pets are family members, or treat them as their children.  The pain of this loss is great indeed and should be grieved openly and fully, just as any other loss - but how many times have people been heard to say, "But it's just a pet.  You should be over this by now."  People who are grieving the loss of a pet don't have the benefit of being able to go to the many bereavement support groups in their area because their loss is not recognized as being big enough, or important enough,  to participate in a group where people have lost a spouse, parent or sibling.  But those of us who have lost a dear pet, know that this is not true.  Here is a reprint, with permission, from Dr. Alan Wolfelt that shows that people have a "right" to openly and fully grieve the loss of their pet.

                                                                THE PET LOVER’S CODE






Though you should reach out to others as you journey through grief, 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 grieve the death of a pet.

You loved your pet.  Your pet loved you.  You had a strong and profound relationship.  You have every right to grieve this death.  You need to grieve this death.  You also need to mourn this death (express your grief outside yourself).


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 about your grief.  Other pet lovers who have experienced the death of a pet often make good listeners at this time.  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 variety of emotions.

Confusion, anger, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey after the death of a pet.  Feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just are.


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

After the death of a pet, 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 like doing.


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 it is normal and natural.


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

After a pet dies, you can harness the power of ritual to help you heal.  Plan a ceremony that includes everyone who loved your pet.


7.                  You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

At times of loss, it is natural to turn to your faith or spirituality.  Engaging your spirituality by attending church or other places of worship, praying, or spending time alone in nature may help you better understand and reconcile your loss.


8.                  You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, “Why did my pet die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not.  Ask them anyway.


9.                  You have the right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of a special companion animal.  Instead of ignoring your memories, find ways to capture them and treasure them always.


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

Reconciling your grief after the death of a pet may not happen quickly.  Remember, grief is best experienced in “doses.”  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 a beloved pet changes your life forever.




Excerpt from


When Your Pet Dies

A Guide to Mourning, Remembering, and Healing


Reprinted and distributed with permission from


Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Center for Loss and Life Transition

3735 Broken Bow Road

Fort Collins, CO 80526

  Grieving the loss of a pet openly, and fully, is becoming more accepted, but there are still some people out there that may say some hurtful things.  So please remember that you have a "right" to grieve your loss.  Please remember that there are groups out there to support this special kind of loss.  A great website to visit is The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement ( and Lasting Friends (  Finally, please know that grief counselors are available to support all types of losses, including pet loss.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at or 800-882-1117. 

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, July 3, 2006

Are you grieving a death due to suicide?

If you are, then you are a “Survivor of Suicide.”  This does not mean that you tried to commit suicide and failed.  This means that a loved one committed suicide and left behind survivors of their aftermath.  Always there are family, friends and acquaintances that are left behind to wonder and ask the many questions that may never have answers:  “Did I miss something?” “Did they leave any clues to what their intentions were?” “I should have taken them more seriously!” “Why didn’t they trust me?”  “Why didn’t they love me enough to stay here and fight?” “How could I have not seen any signs?”  The list goes on and on.  It is this unending list of doubts and questions that plague the survivors of suicide.  These unanswered questions, these unresolved issues can lead to complicated and disenfranchised grief.


In earlier postings we briefly discussed the concepts of complicated grief.  Complicated grief can occur due to a variety of factors (back to back losses, traumatic and unexpected loss).  Complicated grief can also occur when a person is experiencing disenfranchised grief.  Disenfranchised grief occurs when a person cannot openly grieve or talk about their loved one because the death was socially unacceptable (HIV, overdose or suicide).


Complicated grief basically means that a person can experience the effects of grief for a longer period of time, perhaps years after the loss.  In normal or typical grief, a person is helped through the grieving process by talking about their loved one.  As counselors, we encourage people to tell their story, to remember, toshare as much as they can, as much as they want, to whoever will listen.  Being able to verbalize thoughts, feelings and emotions about the loved one’s death, is one the best ways to move through the grief process. 


Imagine not being able to talk about your loved one’s death because you were embarrassed, or didn’t want your loved one judged by others.  Who do you turn to?  Who do you talk to?  How do you verbalize your thoughts, feelings and emotions so that you can begin to move through the grief process?  It is no surprise to find out that family members grieving the loss of a loved one due to homicide, overdose or suicide have difficulty with grieving for years after the loss. 


So once again, the important thing is to establish a support system.   Put into place a system that involves people you trust, people who care for you, people who won’t judge you or your loved one.   Refer back to the earlier post on “support systems” and fill out the form.  If you find that you are lacking in your support, then find professional support.  Don’t be shy – pick up the phone and call 800-882-1117 or e-mail at  Individual counseling with a counselor who specializes in grief and bereavement is always encouraged.  Sometimes it is helpful just to talk to a counselor on the phone once in awhile.  There are also people who enjoy e-support, where they can e-mail with the counselor, back and forth.  Some have even shared that it is a form of journaling for them.  These are all encouraged.


Finally, try a support group.   However, I caution going to a support group that has “generalized” loss.  It is my experience that people who have survived a suicide may find a specialized support group to be most beneficial.  You can go to to get information on groups in your area.  You can also go to  


Until next week, be well and have a happy 4th of July holiday.