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.