Losing a Child

There is a lot spoken about losing a partner. Less is spoken about losing a parent. But, I have noticed that one of the biggest gaps is speaking about losing a child.

I Am Supposed To Die First

Losing a child is a terrible nightmare for any parent. Children are supposed to bury us, not vice versa.

When the child is under 18 it is even harder to lose them.

Losing A Child To Illness

Today I am going to talk about losing a child to cancer or other illness. However, there are many aspects of the loss of a child that apply to any death of a child.

Many parents report the devastation of learning their child has a life threatening illness.

There are many decisions to make about care. This is in addition to adjusting to the possible loss of the future you had imagined for your child.

The Pain Of Watching Your Child Suffer

To watch your child have to endure endless blood tests, x-rays, MRIs, CT Scans, Ultrasounds, and more is very hard.

One parent who saw me reported the day they decided to end the tests and treatments was when their child just resignedly put their arm out for yet another blood test. They realised the limited time their child had left should not be filled with endless tests that were not going to result in their child living.

Filling Their Bucket List

Instead this parent opted to give their child loads of experiences. They took time out to go to playgrounds, theme parks, zoos, run on the beach, eat different foods, go on boats, planes, helicopters, a balloon ride, ride on a surfboard. The list is endless.

For this parent the priority was their child’s happiness.

Accepting The End

Before making that decision there was hope of survival. Numerous chemotherapy rounds, radiation therapy, hospitals and more hospitals took their toll on the family. The pain of watching their child suffer was unbearable. The only thing that kept them going was the hope their child had a future.

Then comes the time when you realise there is no future. There is no cure. This disease is terminal.

Letting Go

This is when the terrible decision to end treatment has to be made. There are always the “what ifs”. What if this next treatment works? What if they live a few more months? Is it better to live those few more months after some suffering or to give them the best life they can have (which won’t involve the pain of more treatments).

All this decision making involves letting go.

Letting go of hope of a future. Letting go of your child. Letting go of the quantity of life over the dignity of life and death. Allowing your child to be as pain free as possible.

After Your Child’s Death

The aftermath of a child’s death is awful.

At the time of their death you are surrounded by supporters.

There will be some people who stay in touch, who support you and check in. There may be ones who supply meals, or are available to listen. But over time the frequency of support reduces.

Grief hits hard once your time is no longer occupied keeping your child alive.

Even other children in the family, or having another child, does little to relieve the pain.

The Experience Of Grief For A Parent

When you are busy looking after other children and just surviving, it is hard to process your grief.

Many parents describe the following ways grief showed up in their life:

• Being easily irritated

• Experiencing panic attacks

• Chasing after anything that will fill the void, even if meaningless

• Feeling helpless

• Feeling life is futile

• Feeling so very sad

• Missing the hugs and hearing their voice

• Feeling part of you has died

• Finding it hard to face the day

• Feeling you are constantly scaling immense cliffs just to survive a day

• Constant reminders and memories of your child

• Learning to smile through the pain

• Feeling no one else can understand the immensity of your pain

• Frightened of overwhelming others with your pain

• Experiencing despair at the loss of your child.

Learning To Live Again

Many parents tell me they learned to live in the moment as the only way to move on in life.

Over time parents learn to accept the thoughts around their child. All of them. They acknowledge the thoughts and the emotions that come with them.

Joining a support group of other bereaved parents can be very helpful. One thing it does is help the parents to know they are not alone.

It is possible to survive grief. You can learn to keep that grief a little more distant. This distance allows you to process your grief and allow you to change. If you allow grief to change you and empower you then you can become a better person than you were before your child died.

Remember, grief will humble you. Grief will shatter you. Ultimately it will strengthen and empower you.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, at the loss of your child or any other loss you are struggling with, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Grief Will Always Hurt And That Is Okay

I see a lot of people who are tired of grieving. They just want to stop hurting.

Over time, the pain settles a little. You still have moments of pain so deep you feel thrown back into the pain of your early grief. But there are also moments where the pain has become a dull ache.

Your Pain Honours The One You Lost

Hurting over someone’s death is hard. As time goes on experiencing that hurt again is never easy.

I often ask people to look at the pain from a different perspective. What if you looked at the positives of that pain?

The consensus here is that people come to see the pain as a “good ache”. It is that pain that leaves you feeling sad but proves you haven’t forgotten the person you loved.

Most people I see are afraid they will forget the person they loved.

This doesn’t mean you should deliberately hold onto the pain. Let it heal, you will feel it when it comes. And it will come.

A Personal Story

Mother’s Day can be a hard time for those who have lost their mother.

My mother died 2 days after Mother’s Day.

That was 21 years ago.

I was on the other side of the world from my children, so I lost Mother’s Day for myself that year.

Every year since my mother died I have found Mother’s Day painful.

This year it was particularly bad. Then I realised that was because the date of Mother’s Day was the same date as the year my mother died. That means the day she died is the same day of the week also.

It floored me to realise that after all these years I could still experience the pain of grief, even when I wasn’t consciously aware of the days and dates matching that year.

Honouring Your Pain

My mother and I didn’t have a good relationship, but the pain of her death is still there. And it is still there 21 years after her death.

So when the pain of your loved one’s death surfaces, honour it. The pain means you haven’t forgotten.

It also means you have survived your grief and learned to live a new life with it.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

You Are Unique And Your Way Of Responding To Life Events Is Unique Too

One of the biggest worries that is presented to me in sessions is the feeling of having reacted to something the wrong way.

This is so common I thought I would write about it today.

Have you had this happen to you?

Something happens and you feel strong emotions and respond based on those emotions. But then others judge you because they don’t agree with your response. And you feel you were wrong and judge your feelings as being irrational and incorrect.

It is always important in these moments to remember that you are hearing another person’s individual response. It is unique to them and is obviously different to your response.

Even if the other person is backed up in judging your response, it does not make you wrong.

Who you are, and your view of the world, is based on what you have experienced in life. Your authentic reaction to something is correct for you. No two people will react to an event in the same way.

Some people are frightened when people react to things differently to them. They may feel frightened and want to dampen their response. If you don’t do that their fear may drive them to judge you and tell you that you were wrong. That is fear talking, not a judgement on you.

All reactions to events are valid.

Obviously, some reactions are morally wrong and even may be illegal. Assaulting someone is not the right thing. But being angry at them can be valid.

Allow those events where you feel you reacted differently to others to be opportunities for reflection. You can reflect on your feelings and how you reacted. If you were angry with someone you can congratulate yourself on not hitting them but reacting in a more productive way. Just because another person chose to retreat and avoid addressing the situation does not make you wrong. All it does is make you different and unique.

Remember to not take on board other people’s issues. If someone judges you for the way you respond to a situation, don’t take that on board. Don’t own their stuff. It is theirs, give it back to them. Own your stuff because it does belong to you.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with understanding yourself and being okay with yourself, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

8 ways to Cope After Losing A Pet

If you own a pet then you can understand how important they are. How wonderful they are for giving comfort and being there through life’s moments, both good and bad.

Pets, particularly those we can interact with, are there through many important moments in life. We form quote a bond with our pets.

Losing a pet can be as painful as losing a member of your family.

So how do you cope with the loss of your pet?

1. Your Grief Is Real And It Matters

The first thing to remember is that you form a deep, loving bond with your pets and that means you grieve for them deeply. It is not “just a dog, cat, bird and so on”. This is a member of your family. One who shared some amazing moments with you and was a vital part of your life.

It is normal and okay to grieve. If you need to take a day off work then do so. If it was a human no one would think you shouldn’t take that day off.

2. Find People To Support You

You may know many people who have lost their pets, or have pets they love and can empathise with losing that beloved companion. Failing that, there are many groups on social media that you may find. Your family and friends may not understand you, but there are many people out there who will, so keep searching.

3. Your grief is valid.

There are many who will say “it is only an animal” and make you feel wrong for grieving. That sort of person is obviously not a pet lover!

Do allow yourself to grieve. That “only an animal” was a vital part of your life and you had a strong connection to it. Of course you are going to hurt and experience grief.

You need to process this loss as you would the loss of a family member or close friend.

All the feelings you are experiencing are valid. If you had your pet for many years then that pet has been there through many events in your life. That makes its loss even harder.

Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel.

If you need to cry, then cry.

On the flip side. If you feel okay at the loss of your pet then that is also okay.

4. Seek Ways To Remember Your Pet

Do something that will commemorate your pet’s life. This might involve planting a tree or flowers. It may be a selection of photos. Or you may get a lock of your pet’s fur and a foot print. Or you may have a photo. Creating a piece of art is also effective, as is writing a letter to your pet.

5. Rituals Are Important Too

Some people set aside time to honour their pet. Maybe you might have people come who knew the pet and hold a small ceremony or wake for your pet.

As previously mentioned, planting a tree can be done as part of a ritual.

Many people have their pet cremated and keep the ashes somewhere special where they can honour the pet.

Do what feels important to you.

6. Look After Yourself.

It is important to be gentle with yourself. Any loss is stressful physically and emotionally. It is important at this time to look after yourself.

You may want to take time out.

You may want to be active.

Many people say they go places they used to go with their pet.

Find the people who support you and surround yourself with them.

Make sure you get enough sleep, good nutrition and exercise.

7. Other Pets In The Household Grieve Too

Be aware that other animals may be grieving too.

They can’t express their grief, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.

After my 18 year old dog died, my 4 year old dog became very clingy. He hated me leaving.

I know other people report similar impacts with the animals left behind.

Just be aware that this may happen and be prepared to emotionally support the remaining animals.

One benefit of helping your other animals is that it helps you too.

8 Don’t be afraid to seek Professional Support.

Seeking support from a grief trained counsellor is also important. It can help you to realise you are not going mad, that what you are experiencing is common to grief experiences of others.

Remember you won’t ever replace your lost pet, but you can find a new pet when the time is right, if it ever is.

To add to the bottom of blogs

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

6 Benefits Of Journalling Your Grief and Trauma

Grief and Trauma are experienced by most people in very similar ways.

The most common ones experienced are:

• There are a lot of emotions.

• Most people experience confusion and disorientation.

• Your trust in the world may be shattered.

• You are likely to feel you have lost your understanding of who you are.

What Research Demonstrates About Journalling

Journalling has been shown by researchers to be a powerful approach to use in healing.

The act of putting thoughts, feeling and experiences on paper allows you to experience them differently.

How To Journal

What you put on paper doesn’t have to be coherent. Early on in the experience of grief you may find words impossible to put down.

This is when other ways of expressing yourself in the journal work effectively.

If you can find a Visual Art Diary that is a good note pad to use for journalling. The pages are blank and thicker than a writing diary. This allows you to use other media if you need to.

Drawing, even if it is just squiggles on the paper, can express what you have no words for.

Painting also is effective.

Some people use collage. They draw great comfort from cutting out pictures and words and sticking them on the paper.

Even if you write random words you can find that an effective way to express yourself.

The Benefits of Journalling

This journalling is a way to express and witness your grief. It allows you to see your experience from a different perspective. It can help you to realise things you may not have been aware of. It gives you a greater understanding of what you are experiencing.

Journalling is also a way to share your story with others, should you decide to show another person your journal.

The journal can also be a beautiful legacy of love.

Another benefit of journalling is that it allows you to put your thoughts where you can see them. Instead of having those thoughts playing over and over again in your mind, you can put them on paper. Putting those thoughts on paper is a wonderful way to release them, to allow yourself to look at them from a different perspective and maybe see them differently.

The 6 benefits of Journalling:

  1. It helps you to process your grief.
  2. It gives what you are feeling a structure. You may name what you are experiencing and that naming of the feeling is important for processing it. In addition it gives you permission to experience that feeling, whereas you may have pushed it aside had you not taken the time to put it on paper.
  3. Grief and trauma happen to you and are out of your control. When you put your feelings on paper you gain control over those feelings and your life.
  4. By putting your experience on paper you change the story. I have written before about the stories we tell ourselves in life. You get to write the story of your grief and journalling allows you to do that.
  5. Journalling allows you to step back, even if just a little. This allow you to see the whole story of your grief. It allows you to move on from parts of your story that you may be stuck in.
  6. Journalling helps you to acknowledge and experience your feelings. Putting your experience on paper allows you to feel seen and heard. If you show others they can understand better that you are going through. They can discover things you may struggle to put into words.

Can I Help?

Sometimes you may not have anyone to witness your grief. Or you may find that other people don’t understand. Or you may feel you are not grieving ‘properly’ and need guidance and reassurance. This is where seeing a grief trained counsellor can help.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief and/or trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

5 Steps To Calm Down When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed

It is really hard to manage life when things happen that make you feel overwhelmed.

Maybe you are running late and encountering things that slow you down. You can feel the sensation of panic rising and feel anxious. You may even start to feel angry and feel like acting out that anger.

Maybe you are in a situation where your have someone else demanding answers from you. They may also be forceful in their conversation, or angry. Or it may just be they are being forceful in what they are saying and their expectation you give an answer now.

You may find yourself in a situation where you are being yelled at and you are feeling overwhelmed and frightened.

Or you may be in any number of situations where you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

What Happens When You Are Overwhelmed

When you encounter a situation like one of the ones described above, your brain interprets it as a threat and your defence strategies kick in. Overwhelm is a form of fight or flight response.

You are in a situation where you feel you have to fight or flee.

When you are running late you may be feeling desperate to get to your destination on time. You have no control over the situation. If you did, you would not be running late. Everything that happens to slow you down is another thing that you have no control over. The situation feels unsafe and your brain takes you into a form of panic that is part of the fight/flight response.

When you feel you are being threatened by another person’s insistence you answer, that is an unsafe situation. You definitely want to run or fight that one. The feelings of overwhelm are enhanced by the feeling you are not safe and maybe have limited control over the situation.

It is the same with you feeling overwhelmed and frightened by someone yelling at you.

Other people may not perceive the situation as threatening. But you do and that is what your brain responds to.

It Is Okay To Feel Overwhelmed.

It is not wrong to feel threatened so be kind to yourself.

I am going to teach you a mindfulness exercise that, if practised regularly, can be helpful when used in a situation of overwhelm.

If you can get away somewhere to take a few moments to calm, then do. If not do this on the spot.

It is helpful of you practice this exercise every day so that you are able to use it to its maximum benefit when you are needing to calm yourself.

The Calming Exercise.

1. If you can go somewhere quiet, then do that. Otherwise just turn your thoughts into yourself. You need to feel safe and this is where practising this exercise daily can help you to feel safe even when in a stressful situation.

Tell yourself you are going to calm down now. This is known as setting an intention.

Take three deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can slightly open your lips and breathe out through your mouth without it being obvious.

Just allow the air to flow out without forcing it.

After three deep breaths breathe naturally.

  1. Now focus on your face. As you breathe, feel your forehead relax, then your eyes, your jaw, the rest of your face. Imagine that as you breathe out you are breathing out tension in your face.

    Now focus on releasing the tension in your neck, shoulders, chest and belly.
    Picture a beautiful, welcoming light pouring out of your heart. Imagine you are surrounded and protected by this light.
  2. Say to yourself the following intentions:

    a. May I be free from suffering

    b. May I find peace and joy
  3. Now picture someone you know but don’t get along very well with. Do not picture an abuser or bully who is really frightening. That is overwhelming. Just picture someone you don’t particularly get along with.

    Consider that person has their own issues and like you wants to feel safe.

    Say the following intentions for them:

    a. May you be free from suffering

    b. May you find peace and joy.
  4. Now pay attention to your breathing, your body and your thoughts. Do you feel calmer now?

The purpose of this exercise is to deepen your breathing to reset your brain to calm down. Then you consciously release tension held in your body. After that you set intentions for you that are safe and calming. Then you look outside yourself to someone else and with them well. This helps to make the situation you are in more objective so that it feels more manageable and less stressful.

As I said earlier, practise this exercise every day so that it will be second nature when you really need it and will work much better to help you calm down.

Can I Help?

If you would like to learn more about how to calm down when overwhelmed and how to release the triggers that lead to your overwhelm, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

11 Things You Can Do To Support Someone Who Is Grieving

In your lifetime you are likely to know someone who is grieving.

I am often asked the question: What can I do to support them?

On the flipside, I see many people who tell me of the unhelpful experiences they have had in their grief journey from other people.

Here are 11 things you can do to support someone who is grieving:

1. People React Differently To Grief

No two people grieve the same. Some will cry. A lot.

Others will appear unaffected (believe me they are affected).

Some will keep busy.

Others will be unable to do anything and will feel very confused.

There will be some who are angry or bitter.

And there will be others who appear to be very happy.

You may find the grieving person talks and talks about their experience.

Or they may be silent and say nothing.

The list of responses is enormous.

2. Ask, Don’t Assume.

It is easy to assume the help you provide another person may be the same as the help you may have wanted in the same situation, or that you gave another person you supported. But that may not be so.

Remember, everyone grieves differently. What one person wants is not what another wants.

Things you can ask.

• What can I do to support you?

• Can I cook you a meal?

• Do you need anything from the shops?

• Do you need someone to sit with you?

• Do you need a hug?

These are just some examples of what you can do to support. There are many other things you can do. You need to ask.

And keep asking. Long after the person has died, ask about them. Always preface that with asking if it is okay to ask about them. Most people like to talk about the one they lost. That keeps their memory alive and gives them a chance to talk about them.

When my mother died, I lived on the other side of the world. No one knew my mother. It was really hard because there was no one I could talk to about her. I really appreciated the friends who asked and listened while I talked.

3. Grief Is Universal, We All Grieve At Some Points In Our Life.

If you haven’t already, it is important to remember that you will experience grief one day. Most likely you will experience more than one grief.

If you have experienced grief you will likely be more aware of the unhelpful things that can be said and done. On the flip side, you may have wanted certain types of support that the person you are now supporting doesn’t want.

Always ask.

4. Grief Never Ends

Although the acute time of grieving will pass and the pain will lessen, there will always be pain around the death of a loved one.

Always be sensitive to that when interacting with someone who has experienced grief.

5. Be With The Person Who Is Grieving

When supporting someone who is grieving, often just being there is important. You may physically be there with them, or you are elsewhere offering your support.

If you visit someone, let them talk, say little, be okay with silence.

Sometimes you may visit someone and they don’t want to talk about their loss. It is okay to talk about other things, but let them lead that conversation.

If you can’t visit the person maybe ring them, or send them messages every now and again. Just say you are thinking of them. Ask if you can do anything to help. Offer specific help.

6. No Judgements, No Platitudes, No Pumping For More Information.

One of the worst things that can happen after a loss are the comments people make.

Examples are:

• They’re in a better place

• You can always have another … (child, dog, cat etc.)

• They wouldn’t have wanted you to be this sad

• Never mentioning the person or the loss of them. They existed. Mention them.

• So what happened? This is one that you may be itching to ask after someone has died by suicide, or been killed in an accident.

• Tell your own stories of loss.

That last one is easy to do. I have been mortified to do it myself. The motivation to tell your own story is often a desire to give the message it is okay and to be worried you may be judging the other person. You may also wish to communicate you have been there and understand some of what they are going through.
We all bring our own hang ups to supporting others.

If you have had those comments made to you in the past you are more likely to make them. You learn about grief from your own grief experiences. Often they start in childhood when a grandparent dies. Or more likely, a pet dies. This is where you learn how to work with grief.

Be mindful of any comments you may make. Pause before saying anything to check that what you are saying is helpful.

7. Be A Safe Place – Support, Be There, Listen, Maintain Confidentiality

When someone is grieving they need somewhere safe, someone safe. You can be a safe person by being there to offer support. Just be there. No running commentary, no rush of words, just be quiet. Listen when they want to talk. Don’t offer solutions – they don’t want one.

Most importantly – don’t talk to other people about what they have told you. They need to know they are in a safe place where they can share things that aren’t going to be spread around to other people.

Actively listen. That means you put your phone down, you look at them, if culturally appropriate you occasionally make eye contact.

When they say something respond to that. You may acknowledge what they are thinking. You may agree with something they have said. You may summarise what they have said.

Do this naturally and according to the context of the conversation.

They may say: “He loved watching the sunset with me.” You may respond: “what a lovely memory”.

8. You Can’t Fix Another Person’s Pain

It is so hard to see someone else in pain. A lot of the unhelpful comments come from the compassionate response to seeing someone you care for in pain.

Hard as it is. You can’t fix it. The best you can do is be willing to sit with it.

If you have your own pain that is brought up by another person’s pain then you may need to tell the other person you are sorry for their pain but that you need to leave. You can always explain later when both of you are more receptive.

Remember, if you need help with this then seeing a grief trained counsellor may be helpful.

9. Your Story Is Not Important Here

You may rush to share your own story here. As I mentioned earlier, you may want to share it from the purest motives. But it won’t come across that way.

Just be with the person and save your story for much, much later when it may be more appropriate to share it.

10. Give Permission To Grieve

It may seem unnecessary, but many people feel pressured by other people and their own expectations to not grieve.

Let them know it is okay to grieve.

Many people who are grieving need to be reminded of this.

11. Grief Is Normal

The final point is that grief is normal.

It is normal to feel like you are going mad. That is a common experience.

Forgetfulness, numbness, confusion, being distraught, anger, bitterness, disbelief, headaches, aches and pains, not feeling hungry, not looking after yourself, obsessively doing things, wanting to pace constantly, wanting to be busy and so on.

These are all normal grief reactions.

And there are many more.

The best support you can give is to let them know it is okay to feel that way.

Don’t rush them off to counselling, unless they ask.

These reactions will gradually abate over time. Eventually the person will start living again and will start looking for meaning in their experience.

If you are concerned about someone keep in mind that grief that is considered problematic is not diagnosed until at least 6 months after the loss.

Allow time.

If you think after 6 months the person is struggling to cope then you might ask if maybe they would find counselling helpful.

Of course, sometimes people want to talk to a counsellor in the initial days or weeks of grief. That is fine for them to do. But don’t force someone and pathologise their experience.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how you can help you with a friend’s experience, or talk about your own experience that has been triggered, or refer a friend who is struggling with grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How The Stories You Give To Your Life Assist With Your Grief

There is a lot to talk about in this topic, so the blog is very long. Allow several minutes to read it, or read it in stages.

All people have a major thing in common. We give meaning to everything in life.

We organise events into a narrative, or story, that allows us to form a sense of continuity and meaning in our lives.

Grief is no different.

We assign meaning to losses and these meanings impact the course of our bereavement.

Assumptions about the nature of life, love, suffering, human vulnerabilities and death inform a lot of the meaning we give to life. We source these assumptions mainly from our culture and our life experiences.

One Story: The Assumption They Were The Only One Who Loved Me

One thing I see a lot in my work is where a person loses someone they love and feels rejected by others in the period after the loss.

Maybe that has been your experience? In which case you may relate to the story that forms where the person who died is the only one who loved you.

As a result of this story you may push others away because of your hurt.

Loss Hurts

Loss hurts BUT memories and what the one you loved has left behind will continue and can help you find a meaningful, productive and hopeful path forward.

So much of loss can involve deep despair and it is impossible to express that loss in words, especially early on in your grief.

It is during this time you may find it hard for your story to be heard.

Putting Your Story Together

You may not have a story that makes sense, even to you. You may not be able to put your story into words. You may need to talk about events before you can put together a story that makes sense.

Maybe those close to you are hurting too and aren’t able to hear your story.

Maybe friends are too busy to hear your story.

Grief groups can be helpful but they only work if others in the group are able to listen and not impose their own agenda on your telling of the story.

This is where a counsellor who specialises in grief can be helpful. I am such a counsellor, and my interest is in hearing your story and allowing you to tell it. I know how important that story is.

Questions To Explore During Your Time of Grief

Some questions that can be helpful to consider are:

• What should I do with this sense of meaninglessness?

• What did my loved one’s life mean?

• What did I learn from them?

• How should I make good use of all the love they gave me?

History Of Beliefs Around Grief

At the end of the nineteenth century, when modern psychological theory was born, it was believed that grief had an end point.

The theory stated that to grieve properly you had to sever attachment to the one who died. Continuing to have an emotional bond with the person was considered pathological!

By the 1940s the time limit of 4-6 weeks was suggested as the correct length of time to grieve!

This is where the belief that you had to ‘get over’ grief and get over it quickly came about.

Many people tell me they encounter others who suggest that now the funeral is over it is time to be over the death! The harm caused by that belief is significant.

It is now known that the brain has to make major changes to its neural networks after the loss of a loved one and that takes months.

Missing My Mother

When my mother was alive she used to ring me every week. I lived overseas and was very isolated with no one to share events in my life with. My mother was that person I talked to.

Then she was dead and there were no weekly catch ups. Things happened in my life and there was no one to share those events with. I missed her.

I mentioned this to my brothers and the response was that I obviously needed to see someone because what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. Of course they were wrong, but at the time I didn’t know that.

More Recent Understanding Of Grief

By the 1980s beliefs around grief had expanded the grieving time to two years. Attachment to the dead was seen as being important. There was emotional energy in the relationship and it was believed you had to withdraw that energy and pour it into other people instead.

This slowly transformed to an understanding that memorialising the person instead of withdrawing emotional energy was actually what was needed.

It was still believed that people would “recover” and go back to normal.

How Grief Is Understood Today

There have been great advances in grief understanding since then and the word “recovery” has been replaced by words such as adaptation, re-integration, management, coping or transformation.

Recovery is considered to portray grief as something minor and fails to acknowledge the importance of loss and something that is not repairable.

The main understanding today is that you “don’t get over” grief.

Life never returns to how it was. Part of working through your grief involves learning how to adjust to the new reality without the one you love.

Ways You May React To The Death Of A Loved One

Grief reactions and responses typically involve:

• emotional distress,

• depressed mood,

• confusion,

• difficulty sleeping,

• forgetfulness,

• crying a lot,

• feeling a range of emotions, seemingly with no control over them,

• loss of interest in forming new relationships and goals,

• disruption of sense of self, worldview and life narrative.

Problems can arise when, over a long period of time:

• it is hard to accept the loss,

• there is preoccupation with the deceased,

• loss of identity and role in life

• and loss of purpose and goals for the future.

This is a situation where counselling interventions are required.

Grief Is Not Full Time

When you are grieving, you don’t spend every waking moment engaged in grief. In the initial period when you are likely to feel numb it is more likely you will be preoccupied with what has happened, but over the next few days you will start to spend time living.

You do take time away from grief. Your brain can’t manage if you don’t. You also need to live. You need to eat, drink, sleep, shower, care for others and so on.

You do need time to grieve, but you also need time to:

• learn the new reality

• develop new roles in your life

• develop a new identity without your loved one

• develop new relationships both to your loved one and those around you.

It is important to also understand that grief is not just something within you, it is also something that is between you and other people around you:

It involves:

• your world view and changes you may need to make to it,

• reconstructing meaning in your life

• forming a continuing bond with your loved one

• reconstructing your identity

• making positive changes in your life as you adjust to your grief.

Meaning Making

There are two aspects to making meaning of loss. These are:

• Assimilating the loss into the assumptions you made about life before your loss and the self narrative you had. This approach allows you to maintain a sense of continuation with your life before the one you loved died.

• Accommodate to the loss by dealing with previous assumptions about life by reorganising, expanding, or replacing them. This will often result in positive changes and personal growth that allow you to continue with life.

To do this three things need to happen:

  1. Sense making – you need to make sense of your life now,
  2. Benefit finding – you need to find a benefit either in the death of the person or your growth as a result of that loss. You may find you grow in your knowledge and sense of competence in your life, you gain valuable perspectives about life, develop stronger relationships with others and establish valuable connections.
  3. Identity change – It has been known for thousands of years that pain leads to growth. After the initial disorganisation of grief you go through a long period of growth alternating with the pain of loss. As the pain of loss becomes more bearable you continue to grow.

What Grief Involves

Grief involves you allowing yourself to feel the pain and all the emotions associated with your loss. Then you will start to reorganise your life and develop a new identity. In the process you will change your worldview to incorporate your experience of grief. You will rebuild yourself and develop a new narrative (story) of your life that includes the grief experience.

This is meaning making.

The type of meaning you make will include the culture of your society and family and how these two cultures understand death. There are different ways of expressing grief, different rituals around mourning, different ideas about what is normal and how to relate to the one who has died. This will have a major impact on how you make meaning of the death of your loved one.

Your outlook on life will also have a deep influence. If you are someone who tends to see the positives in life you are more likely to look for the positives in your experience. This doesn’t mean you won’t experience any pain, but it does mean you will seek to find positive meaning in your grief.

Ultimately, how you view grief will depend on your outlook on life, how your family perceives death and how your culture conceptualises grief.

Why Meaning Making?

When your losses challenge or even shatter the meaning you have given to your life you search for new meaning. Making meaning of their loss is how you understand and make sense of their loss. During this process you will reconstruct that meaning through making sense of what has happened, seeking to find a benefit in your new reality, and identifying the way you have changed.

Strategies to Make Meaning

One of the main ways to make meaning is through storytelling. This is why it is important to have someone to tell your story to. This is where seeing a counsellor can be helpful.

As you tell your story of loss again, and again. As you remember details and share them, even adding them into the overall narrative, you start to gain a sense of the loss of that person.

Your story may be about things you would love to tell the one who is gone.

Your story may be about things that didn’t happen, but you wish had. Or it may be about things that did happen that are now causing pain.

In your story you may be able to find an understanding about the things your loved one did.

The story may involve gaining permission to grieve. This is particularly important if you were not allowed to show emotion to your loved one in their life.

It may also involve an exploration about what death is and how you and the one you loved felt about death. You may even tell a story about whether you believed the death was preventable.

It is important to remember that not all meanings are positive. Some people include a lot of regret in their story. They may believe something could have been done to prevent the death.

Over time, even those less positive meanings can be incorporated in a large, more positive meaning. That doesn’t mean all deaths are positive. It is hard to see a positive in death due to murder, or an accident for example. But it is possible to see positives in what you were able to do after death. Maybe being able to honour their life in some way can be the positive that came out of their death.

Who Am I Now The One I Love Is Dead?

When you love someone your identity includes that person. When that person dies part of your identity is challenged.

You exist as a person in a relationship. But if the other person in that relationship is dead then who are you now?

You may have been a partner, child, parent, friend to the one who died. Now they are dead, who are you? What is your identity now?

Your life had plans, hopes and dreams that included your loved one. What is your life now without them?

Telling your story, over and over helps to put your loss in order and start making sense of it. You can celebrate who they were, cherish the memories you have of them, and feel grateful for what you gained from that relationship.

You also can express the negatives about losing that person. In fact that is what you will most likely spend the early part of acute grief focusing on. As time goes on the time spent on the negatives will become less and you will switch to celebrating their life, cherishing the memories you have of them and living your life to honour them.

Over time you can learn to understand yourself better and form an understanding about who you are. This is an important aspect of grieving.

The Importance Of Your Story

Part of being human involves constructing stories about your life.

Your stories will most likely include things that were important to you. They can be negative things and positive things.

All those stories contain meanings. It may not be obvious when you construct them, but telling others can help you to identify those meanings.

The stories you tell around grieving are not simply stories about the death, they are also stories that affirm life, everlasting love and consolation. Also contained in those stories are the pain, anguish and the often daunting challenges you faced in grief.

Recognising what you have been through and survived is valuable for you in recognising who you are and assists you to make further meaning about the loss of your loved one.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, telling your story and finding meaning in your experience please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How to Learn Not To Fear Emotions

A big problem for many people I see is unprocessed emotional pain. A large volume of unprocessed emotional pain.

It is not surprising given the belief in our society that you should just push those “bad” feelings down and ignore them.

If you didn’t grow up in a family that supported you experiencing that pain and learning how to process it, then you will be unlikely to know how to process it.

Emotional Pain Is Not Bad

Some mental health approaches pathologise the experiencing of emotional pain. As a result they teach the suppression of emotional pain.

This belief and teaching fails to understand the roots of some pain. Unprocessed emotional pain that has been with you for a long time will continue to be with you until it is processed.

You will not be able to process emotional pain until you have developed the courage, strength and skills to stay with those overwhelming emotions until they are fully processed.

Emotional Pain As The Monster Under The Bed

A lot of people tell me they fear those emotions. I can understand that. A lot of these unprocessed emotions relate to childhood.

A child needs to be taught how to process emotions. If they aren’t taught then those frightening emotions are impossible to process. The child learns to fear those emotions because they seem insurmountable.

If you add to that difficulty a family that actively encourages the suppression of emotions, even punishes family members for feeling emotions, then that fear becomes terrifying and deep seated.

The Pain Body

In his book “A New Earth” Eckhart Tolle describes the ‘pain body’. This is the “energy of old but still very-much-alive emotion that lives in almost every human being.”

The pain of old traumas is often described as energy because of the way this pain crops up again and again. The pain is actually stress or trauma that has never been processed so remains in the body. When that stress or trauma was initially experienced the nervous system became dysregulated and the emotions felt at the time became trapped in the body. Things can trigger the memories around this stress or trauma and you are again feeling the old pain.

Not Feeling Into The Body

Unprocessed pain can cause you to fear emotions and their associated feelings. To avoid experiencing what is feared you stop feeling into your body at all. The body becomes a scary place where emotional monsters lurk.

If you can’t feel into your body, you can’t release the pain and you can’t feel safe and relaxed. In order to relax you need to be able to feel your inner body. That means you have to be prepared to feel the feelings there.

Actions Are Trapped In Your Body

Many somatic therapists talk about the actions trapped in our bodies.

Peter A Levine, the developer of Somatic Experiencing and author of many books including ‘Waking the Tiger’, speaks of the experience of animals chased by predators and escaping. After the animal has escaped the predator it shakes its body to release the energy still in the body that allowed it to escape. He likens it to our need to release that excess energy after a fight/flight event. This allows the energy to be released from our bodies.

Eckhart Tolle also talks about releasing energy from stress. He tells the story of two ducks getting into a fight. After they are finished they move away from each other and flap their wings several times. Then they continue on as though nothing has happened. The ducks are also releasing the excess energy.

The Problem Of Holding On To Experiences Instead Of Releasing Them

We humans tend to hold on to these experiences. Instead of the release actions of the animal that has escaped a predator or the duck that has just finished a fight, we hold on to the fight or the escape.

Humans create narratives of events and the escape and fight get woven into our narratives. If the opportunity to process the events and release them does not happen, the events are kept alive and ongoing by continuing to tell the story, even to ourselves.

Remembering Events But Releasing The Energy

We need to remember events. This is how our brain keeps us safe by remembering dangerous situations and alerting us to similarities in situations. The problem arises when we continue to think of the events as ongoing, instead of past events.

The way forward is to learn how to regulate emotions.

Learn not to fear experiencing the emotions. That you can do this and actually those monster emotions are not massive, overwhelming giants, but mild little critters that are quite manageable.

Once you learn how to regulate and that those emotions are not as scary as you thought they were, you can then learn to be kind to your body. You can learn to be present and have confidence in your strength and ability to process painful feelings and emotions.

You can also learn that difficult emotions can be temporarily destabilising. That they may need attention to work through them. But they can be worked through and you can emerge stronger in the knowledge that you have the skills to process your emotions.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you learn not to fear your emotions and to process them, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

4 Questions You Need To Grapple With As Your Grief Matures

It is a strange concept. The idea that grief matures.

Usually it is described in other ways such as time passing, or moving on from the acute grief phase and so on. But as I thought about what I was writing today the word matures popped into my head.

When you think about it, matures is a good word to describe what happens to your grief as time passes.

You do eventually find yourself learning to live with the absence of the person you loved who is gone. You start getting interested in participating in life again. The pain you felt early on transforms into something less acute, still there, just not as sharp.

It takes time. A long time.

So I Think They Aren’t Coming Back

That is bigger than you think. That moment when your head knowledge that they are not coming back is joined by that deep seated belief that they aren’t coming back.

You may not have reached that point yet. You may think it sounds crazy. But when you think about it there is a gap between knowing someone is not coming back and believing it.

Their Loss Is With Me Constantly

Many people tell me that their loss is always with them. The knowledge that this person is not with them. This is particularly obvious when doing something you may have formerly done with the person who is gone.

I remember that feeling. I also remember that over time it stopped hurting so much. And that is what other people tell me as well.

One person I saw told me that they likened their grief to a tape playing over and over in their head. Missing Fred, missing Fred, missing Fred, missing Fred. They were grieving the death of their husband of 40 years. They worked together so every moment of the day was in each other’s company. Missing Fred was the one constant in life. No matter what they did, Fred was always not there.

Why Bother With Life?

Initially many people find their biggest issues are about getting out of bed and going through the motions of the day.

Then they reach a point where they realise life goes on and they can’t make it stop. There is no choice but to move forward in life.

As each day comes, the previous day recedes into the past. What was yesterday quickly becomes last week. Last week quickly becomes last Month and so on.

Life’s forward progression is relentless. At first you were bereaved last week, then last month, then months ago, then last year, then years ago.

It is sad, but an inescapable fact of life. The one you loved becomes part of your past, not your present. Your choice is to keep going or give up. Most people find that keeping going, even when it feels hard to do, is what they do.

Question 1 Who am I, now?

The first question you are likely to grapple with is the big question of who you are now that the person who was part of your life is no longer there.

You are defined by the ones you love. You are defined by the relationships you have. When an important relationship is gone, who are you?

Question 2 What Do I Do Now?

You may continue to do the same things the two of you did or you may choose to do different things.

When making that decision you need to decide if you did something purely because the person you loved did that or you did it because you loved doing it too.

Do you still want to do that thing? Has it lost its meaning now the one you loved is not doing it with you?

Do you want to do new things? Maybe you never did them because you didn’t have time. Maybe now you decide to drop old things and do new things.

Question 3 How Do Other People Fit Into My Life Now?

Many people who lose a partner find their couple friends no longer hang out with them. You are no longer a couple. That is hard to fit in to couple friendships.

You may find you hang out more with other friends.

You may also find you work to make new friendships.

You may also decide you want a different social life. Maybe you want to do completely different things (hence new friends) or go out more or less than you used to.

All these relationships are open to you. It is a different way of being and whatever you do there will be changes.

Question 4 What Next?

What do you do now? What new future are you going to make? You can’t keep the old one with your loved one in it. So what will your new future look like?

You have an opportunity to have a whole new life. Bit first you need to stop and think about what you really want to do.

You have a new freedom. You may find that exhilarating, terrifying or a bit of both.

Allow yourself time to dream and imagine what your life could be. Try things out. If they don’t work you can just move on to try something else.

You have been given an opportunity to change your life. Don’t be frightened to take that breathe of courage and try new things.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz