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?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's Your Emotional Voltage?

Who hasn’t felt the sharp zap of static electricity as someone comes across the room and touches you? We learned as children that you can build up this electrical charge by scuffing your feet on the floor. The more scuffs you make, the bigger the shock. So there are small insignificant shocks or big, sometimes painful, shocks.

What we feel when someone dies is very similar. Some grief feelings are small. Not really insignificant, but one is able to function normally, and others observing this individual may not even realize that this person had experienced a loss. Some grief feelings are HUGE! Incapacitating! There is no mistaking that the person having these feelings has lost someone, and there is no mistaking that their feelings are so enormous, they have the inability to hide them.

Some people don’t understand why some seem to cope better in grief than others. Some families don’t understand why one family member is coping differently than the rest of the family. Some people have certain expectations on what it is to grieve and are frustrated and disappointed that they aren’t grieving the “right way.” Some people feel so frustrated with their grief response that they feel like they are going crazy.

Why are there so many different grief responses? One of the reasons can be our relationship, our “emotional voltage,” to the person who died. How connected were we to this person? Were they an acquaintance that we saw maybe twice a year or were they your best friend? Were they a grandparent or were they your spouse? Were they your employer or were they your pet?

We have many different relationships with the many different people in our lives and our emotional voltage to each one is just as different. Knowing this can help explain why a surviving spouse may be grieving differently than the children in the family. Or it may help explain why siblings may be reacting to the loss each in different ways than the other.

If you find yourself grieving differently than those around you, ask yourself, “What is my emotional voltage?”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Is There Tomorrow?

It is not unusual for me to hear the stories of sudden deaths that take families and loved ones’ by surprise. It is also not unusual to hear, “I can’t believe they aren’t here anymore!” “I just spoke with them on the phone. How could this have happened?” “We just retired. We were going to do so much. We even planned a trip for next week!”

We read about, and hear things like, “Live for today.” “Live with no regrets.” “Live as if you were dying.” I agree with these mantras and try to guide my clients into a lifestyle of “mindfulness” or “being present in the moment.” I have also recommended reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s books. He has a very easy reading style that presents this concept beautifully with simple exercises that the reader can follow to begin learning and incorporating mindfulness techniques in their daily lives.

However, having this awareness through my work and trying to practice these techniques myself, still does not alleviate the surreal quality of having a loved one die suddenly. It can be quite scary to contemplate this phenomenon of having just had a conversation with someone who had made plans for the following week and then be told that they died suddenly. A relative, who was actively seeking treatment for cancer, dies suddenly. A friend who was waiting for a surgical procedure and was making plans for her recovery, dies suddenly. Even dealing with a loved one who has a long-term, serious or terminal illness, and then they die, can leave you with a feeling that it all happened too quickly.

It IS scary and it IS sad to contemplate the big question WHY? But ultimately the message is that we simply do not know when our time is up. Do we stop making plans? Do we stop living? Do we stop loving? Of course not! So what makes us go on? Hope and Faith. Most people have a spiritual or faith belief and this can provide comfort to those who have lost a loved one. It is comforting to know that your loved one is in a better place. A safe place. A peaceful place. It can also be comforting to us if we believe there is this place for us as well. It can help release us from our fear of death and dying. But even if you don’t believe that there is something after we die, there is still Hope. Hope that there will be a tomorrow. Hope that we will accomplish our goals. Hope that we will die a peaceful death. And in the meantime, there is mindfulness. Since there are no guarantees and we don’t know from one day to the next if we have a tomorrow, we have to live in the present, in the now, in the moment, for today. And one way we can truly do that is through living a mindful existence.

Enjoy the comfort of your bed and the warmth of your house as you get up the morning. Give thanks that you are getting up to face another day, even if it is fraught with challenges. Truly feel the softness of your pet’s fur. Really feel the touch of your loved one as you enfold each other in your arms. Feel each other’s warmth. Be grateful for the companionship and support. Really hear your child’s laugh. See the joy on their face as they experience the world around them. Be grateful for another day in their presence. Really taste your food. Enjoy the texture and the smells. If you do these things, at the end of the day, you can close your eyes with a sigh and know you lived a day well lived. If there is a tomorrow, we can rejoice and be mindful once more.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's never too late!

There are so many people who think as they get older, they have missed opportunities in life. Some lament that it is too late for them, their time has passed. Not true! But there are some that are more difficult to convince then others. From my personal experiences, I know that it is never too late to go back to school, it's never too late to start writing that poem/novel/article, it's never too late to start a new enterprise, it's never too late to forgive and to love - it's just never too late. One person said, "It's not that you are a human being, it's that you are a human doing!" The only time it is too late is if you're dead - obvious right? With every breath you take, you inhale possibility! Think about that while I share a recent posting on my Facebook page. Enjoy and DO!

A story that could inspire you for the rest of your life...

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over." I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead. "I will come next Tuesday," I promised a little reluctantly on her third call. Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into my daughter Carolyn's house, I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren. I told my daughter, "Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and my grandchildren that I want to see right now. I don't want to drive another inch!" My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this weather all the time, mother." "Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her. "But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this." "Carolyn," I said sternly, "It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

So we went! After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, "Daffodil Garden ---->" We got out of the car, each of us took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers! "Who did this?" I asked Carolyn. "Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house. On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking" was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958." For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught me is one of the greatest principles of celebration. That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time. "It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!" My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. "Start tomorrow," she said. She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?"

The Daffodil Principle. Stop waiting.....

Until your car or home is paid off.
Until you get a new car or home.
Until your kids leave the house.
Until you go back to school.
Until you finish school.
Until you clean the house.
Until you organize the garage.
Until you clean off your desk.
Until you lose 10 lbs.
Until you gain 10 lbs.
Until you get married.
Until you get a divorce.
Until you have kids.
Until the kids go to school.
Until you retire.
Until summer.
Until spring.
Until winter.
Until fall.
Until you die...

There is no better time than right now to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. So work like you don't need money. Love like you've never been hurt, and, Dance like no one's watching. If you want to brighten someone's day, pass this on to someone special (like I did to you!) Wishing you a beautiful, daffodil day! Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin. - Author unknown

Friday, January 23, 2009

Let's try this again!

I can't believe I haven't posted anything in over a year! I think I tried too hard to give a meaty, lesson filled article in each posting and burnt myself out. After reading my brother's blog, I noticed that he posted almost daily and most of his posts were brief, maybe some were even just one sentence. But they were meaty, lesson-filled sentences. The lesson for me was that hopefully I could provide insight, differing perspectives, thoughts, advice, suggestions, guidelines, to those in grief, in brief - but meaningful - postings. Let's try - although I reserve the right to get lengthy from time to time. :)

A client came to see me today and was tearful and distraught. This client was doing so well, for so many weeks, that this "grief attack" took her completely by surprise and wanted to know what she was doing wrong in her grief that would produce such painful emotions, remembrances and tears.

Now you know I'm going to say she didn't do anything wrong, right? Right! She had simply experienced an "emotional trigger." She had completed some of that nasty, necessary paperwork that comes with losing a loved one, and then saw a car on the road that looked just like his - BOOM! Down she went!

The paperwork was one more nail in the coffin (sorry about that) to make her realize that her loved one was not coming back. It was the reality of the loss hitting her, yet once again. Then on the heels of this realization came the sight of the car. Another smack of reality - it's not his car. He's not the one driving.

So what could I do to help her? Nothing, really. I let her know that although painful, this "grief attack" was normal. It's an unfortunate part of the grieving process that some people feel YEARS after the loss. It's like pushing your finger into a sore spot from time to time. Yup, it's still sore! The emotional triggers do lessen as time goes on, but they don't completely disappear. Not as long as we hold our loved ones in our hearts.

So the only answer is this - be gentle with yourself when these grief attacks occur. When the emotional triggers happen - allow yourself to feel the feelings - honor the emotions. You truly do have to feel to heal. There is no way around it, only through it.

Ok, so this was not one of those short, concise, meaning filled sentences. Maybe I'll have better luck on the next posting!