Don’t Hide From Grief. Let Your Brain Do Its Work.

Grief is a very difficult feeling to explain. Although there are similarities in the way people grieve, there are also differences. Each person grieves in their own unique way.

How you grieve depends on your life experiences, your relationship to the person who has died, what else is happening in your life and what you have been taught about grief.

Grief Is Inescapable

The important thing to remember is that Grief is real. It is not something to be pushed away or run away from.

It is not something you can drink away, smoke away, drug away, shop away or any other activity you can devise to hide from it.

Grief is.

Grief Impacts Your Brain

Neuroscientists studying grief have found that grief activates the same areas of the brain activated by physical pain. In other words, emotional pain causes the same pain reaction in the brain as physical pain.

Grief also triggers the brain’s fight or flight defensive areas. This results in you being alert and restless. It also causes you to feel exhausted as your brain doesn’t allow you to rest.

I Can’t Get The Circumstances Out Of My Mind

People who grieve often talk about the constant churning of the events of their loved one’s death over and over in their mind.

This is something that is often reported as being unhealthy. Replaying events in the brain is something that people are often told is bad and must be stopped.

But replaying the events of a painful experience such as bereavement is essential for the brain to process what has happened.

I am not saying that you keep going over and over the events forever. But you do need to allow them to replay and be resolved.

Memories Usually Lessen Over Time

Those memories should start to lessen over time. You might not think them as often. You might find the memories are less painful. That means your brain is processing them and resolving them.

If those memories don’t lessen. If you still are troubled by the high frequency of the memories. If you feel things are not resolving then you may need help from a grief counsellor.

The Uncertainty Of The Grief World

It is important to remember that the fight or flight response in the brain is triggered by the disruption of grief. All that you knew, all that seemed certain, has been devastated. You are in the grip of uncertainty and that is scary. You will most likely feel unsafe.

In some instances you may be financially impacted by the grief. That in itself is scary.

It is really important to allow others who you feel safe with to financially support you.

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

The Importance Of Support And Openness Around You When Grieving

A recent study in the United Kingdom and Ireland revealed that people in Ireland suffered less from prolonged grief disorder.

One of the areas of difference between the two countries was that in Ireland a wake is held around the time of the funeral. Whereas this is less common in the UK.

What is Prolonged Grief Disorder?

Prolonged Grief Disorder is a disorder where the acute phase of grief with its deep yearning for the one who has died persists beyond 6 months. 6 months being a time when research has shown people are beginning to move out of acute grief into a more manageable grief response.

What Is An Irish Wake?

A wake involves the family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues of the person coming together to share stories and memories about the person, support their family and pay their respects to the person.

Another aspect of bereavement in Ireland is the acceptance of a period of intense mourning and the honouring of the dead.

The wake is usually held some time between the person’s death and their funeral. The coffin is usually there and sometimes it is open so that people can see the person they are farewelling.

The wake usually lasts two to three days and people come and go during that time. The grief becomes a community experience and stories and memories of the person are shared by those present. People also take the time to offer comfort to the family. The grieving is very much a community event and people draw comfort from the collective grief.

Other Ways of Managing Grief.

In contrast the UK way of conducting funerals involves prayers around the grave and is often open only to family members and close friends.

This results in the death being more hidden and offers fewer opportunities for people to express their feelings and become aware of others who feel that way. It also offers fewer opportunities for support from others.

The Importance of Community When Grieving

Researchers considered the community nature of grieving, with its acknowledgement of the loss and willingness to share the experience of grief assisted people to grieve and not get stuck in the acute part of grief.

You may not have access to the support afforded by a wake. But there are other things you can do to help yourself.

Being willing to share with others is helpful. But what do you do if those around you aren’t willing to listen?

The Support a Grief Counsellor Can Give

You may be grieving the loss of one of your parents and the only person you can share with is your other parent who is also grieving. You may also be concerned about this surviving parent. If they are elderly and have been with their partner for a very long time, it may be a time when you are concerned about them. It makes it hard to share your pain when you are worried about them.

This is a situation where seeing a grief counsellor can be helpful. Being able to share your feelings with someone who is able to listen and understand what you are going through is helpful.

In the absence of a culture that supports grief the way the Irish wake does there is a need to turn to other areas of support. Often what you need after grief is a safe place to express your deep sorrow, as well a feel supported and guided.

Sometimes what you need is somewhere to talk about the way the person you loved died. Sometimes you need to talk about the what if’s and the if only’s. If you are going to be able to let those go then it is helpful to talk them out of your system.

You need somewhere where it is safe to be hurt and angry, to feel you failed your loved one. somewhere to cry and admit your weaknesses in dealing with this horrible loss. You need somewhere where there is space for you to attend to your grief, instead of having to put your needs aside to support others.

You need somewhere where you can express what you need to and know you are not going mad. You are not wrong. You are suffering a totally normal grief. You are not a burden. You are someone who is in need.

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

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3 Steps To Helping Your Child Understand And Process Grief

Grief is devastating for anyone.

As an adult, you have an advantage in grieving. That advantage is your brain development.

All things being equal, by the time your brain is fully developed (around age 25) you have learned how to process grief. If you haven’t encountered grief before, hopefully you have learned to seek help in processing your grief.

Children’s Brains Struggle To Process Grief

For a child, the lack of brain development means that processing grief is very difficult.

For an undeveloped brain, comprehending death and the existential issues around it, is extremely difficult. Adults struggle with this. So children will struggle even more without the tools yet to be developed to help them.

Grief In Children Resurfaces At Each Developmental Stage.

The younger the child, the more undeveloped will be their ability to process their grief. It is now known that grief in children will resurface at different stages in their childhood and even into adult life.

It is important to be aware of these difficulties and be ready to support your child.

The developing brain is learning. That is how the brain develops. But without support, the brain cannot learn. The brain needs to learn how to process Grief.

Attending To The Trauma Of Grief

Grief is a trauma. It is dysregulating. A child experiencing grief will be thrown into a major fight/flight/freeze stress response. They will also lose their connection to others and feel very isolated and alone.

Many people think they just have to sit their child down and talk to them and that will help. But a dysregulated brain can’t learn or reason so talking to a child in this situation will not work.

The 3 Steps

There are 3 steps to reaching your child and helping them to learn how to process their grief.

The steps are as follows:

Step 1. Regulate

The first thing you need to do with your child is help them regulate their fight/flight/freeze response and become calmer.

One of the best ways to do this is to be as calm as you can. Research has shown that children cope well with traumatic events when their parents remain relatively calm and can maintain as much as possible regular routines. The main thing is that your child feels safe. They need to feel that you can still protect them. In a world that has just fallen apart with the loss of someone important, knowing you are still there is vital.

Do the best you can

Obviously, if you are grieving as well, it is going to be hard to regulate yourself. You are likely to be crying and finding it hard to focus.

This is the pain of parenting. There are times when you have to put your own needs aside to attend to the needs of your children. It is natural for you to do that, and it may be necessary. But don’t put off attending to your own needs for long. It is okay to be crying when you seek to regulate your child.

After all, your child needs to see you grieving to learn it is okay to be sad and cry, but life still goes on.

One of the best ways to regulate is to hold your child. That helps them to feel safe and also gives you a sense of safety as well.

Step 2. Relate

Holding your child is part of the next step as well.

You help your child to regulate, to feel safer and still cared for.

Now you help them by establishing a connection. Holding your child will help them feel connected to you. This will mean they feel less isolated and alone.

Being Attuned To Your Child

Relating also involved being attuned to your child and their needs. It means you will stop and seek to understand what your child is thinking and feeling. Depending on their age, this may involve (when appropriate) making a general statement such as:

“It is really sad and frightening that x has died.”

This would work best for a young child who may still be learning to understand their emotions. Acknowledging what you sense they are experiencing helps them to feel understood.

For an older child you may ask them what they are feeling. Or you may wonder if they are feeling sad because you are.

It is important to not hide your feelings and allow your child to see you are sad too but that your sadness won’t stop you caring for them.

Be Attuned For A Long Time

Remember that I earlier mentioned that grief in children takes longer and is revisited at each developmental stage.

It is important to keep that in mind. Even after the initial period of adjustment to death your child will continue to grieve.

Always make sure you seek to understand your child. This maintains a connection between the two of you and is also comforting for your child. An attuned parent is one who provides safety and security. Something all children need, but grieving children need it more.

Step 3. Reason

Once your child is regulated and secure in their relationship with you, you can then reason with them.

You can support your child to express their feelings should they want to. You can support your child according to their developmental stage to reflect, learn, remember, articulate and learn how to live with their loss.

How Do I Support My Child To Learn?

There are many aids you can use to help you support your child through their grief. These aids will help them to learn healthy ways of processing grief. This will serve them well now and in later life with other losses.

There are many age-appropriate books you can read to your child. Your local library is a good source of these. If you send your child to a counsellor many will have these resources as well. I have a range of books I use with younger children.

For teenagers, who are already exploring the more existential issues of life as part of their teen development, a more existential approach that emphasises philosophical discussions mixed with some helpful facts about grief and its impacts is really helpful.

Can I Help?

Sometimes you and/or your child/ren will need help from a grief trained counsellor. It can be very helpful to learn what is normal in grieving both for yourself and your child. If you need help, 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

The Grief of Chronic Illness

There have always been people with Chronic Illness. Mostly they remain hidden and few people acknowledge their existence. Occasionally there may be some uplifting story about someone with a chronic illness achieving some great thing. But mostly people are unaware of chronic illnesses in our society.

With COVID there has been slightly more awareness of chronic illness as people have been impacted with long COVID and other side effects of the disease such as the loss of smell and taste.

Chronic Illness Is A Loss That Needs To Be Grieved

There is little attention paid to the necessity of people whose lives have changed dramatically to grieve for what they have lost.

Even people impacted by chronic illnesses that they eventually recover from need to grieve what they lost.

I Have Been There Too

I understand this because as a teenager I had an illness that led to me over a year losing 6 months in three month blocks from school during the last three years of school. When I recovered I still lacked the stamina to do much more than go to school and go home.

I lost those experiences of getting a part time job, socialising with friends, achieving what I wanted to at school, and confidence in myself. Long term illness can do that to you.

I also lost faith in my health, Even now, all those years later, I am aware that I could suddenly lose my good health and be incapacitated. Most people don’t even think about it.

The Great Silence Around Your Losses

When I was sick nobody talked about what I was missing out on. Maybe they didn’t want to worry me. Maybe it didn’t occur to them. But those losses were hard, and it took me a long time to recognise they were losses and that I needed to grieve for them.

Talking about my losses would have given me permission to grieve for them.

I have learned over the years to grieve for what I lost, but I see many people who don’t realise they need to allow themselves to grieve.

The Uncertainty Is Frightening

I didn’t know at the time whether I would get better. Other people didn’t. I didn’t know if my life would never get to start the way I planned. Other people don’t get that chance.

It was a frightening time.

No matter what age you are, discovering you have a life changing illness, one that will not be over in a matter of a few days, is devastating.

What is not generally acknowledged is that chronic illness is a major loss. It needs to be grieved. The feelings around that loss need to be allowed and acknowledged. If they remain hidden they will never be resolved. As with any grief, embracing those feelings is essential to allow grief to progress and for you to move forward with life.

Many who experience chronic illness tell me they have to come to a place of being able to accept this is their life now. Then they can learn how to live with what is.

The Experience of Long COVID

One long COVID sufferer I saw recently spoke about losing their job and the ability to pay for private health, the loan on their house, and the loan on their car. They could no longer manage to take part in all the sporting activities they loved to do. They became a shadow of the person they saw themself being.

They tried to stuff their feelings down. To ignore the enormity of their emotional pain. To adopt a happy persona who saw the positive in everything. But they couldn’t keep it up.

The biggest issue for them was the loss of control over their life. Suddenly their body was taking control and they were powerless to stop it.

This is when behaviours aimed at gaining some sense of control can creep in. Addictions and eating disorders are the most encountered control behaviours. Pushing yourself to “do” things is also a control mechanism. If you can “do” you can control your life and it has the advantage that you can avoid dealing with the grief around the changes in your life.

These behaviours don’t help. They just compound the problem.

Finding Help

Many sufferers report that finding a counsellor who understands this is difficult. Even understanding from family and friends is difficult to find.

An awful lot of time is spent trying to find help or running away from the reality of what is happening.

You may find yourself oversharing on Social Media or directly to friends. Sharing all the symptoms, all the losses, all the emotions. You may find loads of sympathy or you may find people stop responding and start avoiding you instead. Ultimately you will realise sympathy doesn’t help.

What Helps?

What helps are those who help you to process your grief. Those who help you to find a way to manage the new reality. Those who stick by you no matter what.

It also helps to allow yourself to experience all the pain of the emotions of grief and loss. If it is hard to do you may need the help of an understanding counsellor.

Don’t be afraid to seek help. Chronic illness is a hard journey and one best done with support.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief over your chronic illness, 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

Moving through the pain of grief

So many people feel they have to move through their grief fast. The people around them do – which is easier to manage if they didn’t love them as you did. There are no shortage of people telling you that you should be over it by now.

If you come to see me I will tell you that moving through the pain of grief is best done as slowly as you need. Take your time, don’t rush. Ignore the ignorant who tell you that you have to “get over it” quickly. Give yourself heaps of self compassion and understanding.

When someone you deeply love dies it upends your life, your world which includes everything, absolutely everything in it.

The old saying to live each day as it comes is vital at this time in your life. Just be present in the moment. Each moment is simple and also massive. Each moment carries with it peace or overwhelming feelings.

Just be present and prepared to take what comes.

It is helpful at this point to let go of your fear of crying in public. I understand that if you have children, or work with children, it can be frightening for them if you cry. Take this as an opportunity to talk to them about grief. About it being okay to cry because you are sad.

Take the time out whenever you can to cry. If in the moment it is not possible to do that find another time. Even if you have to excuse yourself and go cry somewhere. Don’t stop the tears for long.

Pay attention to your grief and allow it to be. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Allow yourself to have times when you don’t feel the pain.

Allow yourself to see in life the simplicity of love and its enduring nature throughout time.

In time you will find the courage to continue living and allow yourself to continue to love.

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

How do you plan a New Year when the one you love is not there?

This is the time of year when much of the discussion revolves around people’s plans for the New Year. Here in the Southern Hemisphere it makes good sense. One academic year has ended and another is about to begin. Many people have a lovely holiday. It is as if everything has worked up to that point and a lovely summer shutdown with all the public holidays is a wonderful opportunity to relax and reset. Going back to work/school is a whole new world. It is natural to review the year that has been and plan the year to come. Or at least decide what you would like to do in that year.

At this time of year it seems that everyone is talking about their plans for the year ahead. All the things they are going to do, wonderful of course. All the plans they have.

What do you do when the new year you have is not the one you want?

But you have experienced a loss. When each day is daunting, how can you set resolutions and make plans for the year ahead?

It can be difficult to get up after experiencing a loss. Facing the day seems so incredibly daunting. Emotions are high and staying in and away from others may feel safer than dealing with them.

All this is natural. Withdrawing is the automatic response of most people.

But here is a thought of what you might be able to do instead.

The Woman With The Disappointing Year in New York

I was reading about a woman who had a scholarship to study in New York for a year. She was so excited. She found herself a lovely apartment on Manhattan and looked forward to all the activities she was going to do while there.

Then she lost something.

It wasn’t the loss of a loved one, but the impact was still devastating. She lost the expectations of her wonderful year. She became very ill and found it hard to do her work or even get through the day. Suddenly her year and all her plans were shattered remnants.

She didn’t lose someone she loved, but she lost the person she was and the year she had planned. She realised this was as devastating for her as when she had lost her brother. The plans and expectations of her future were shattered.

How She Learned To Cope

Having been through grieving for her brother she had some ideas of how to cope. Having been through the worst years of grieving for him and emerging into a world that was less shattered, she realised there was something she could do.

Once she started picking up the pieces after her brother’s death, she found herself thinking of all the things she did with her brother that were good. She discovered things about him and the life they shared to be grateful for.

She never thought she could feel grateful, but she did.

The Challenge of Just Getting Through a Day

In this time where every day was a challenge to just get out the door she realised she could use gratitude to get her through.

If she made it out the door she was grateful for that. If she had to stay in bed she was grateful for those who supported her on those days. When all she could do was lie in bed and listen to music because she was too tired to read, she was grateful for her music.

At the end of the year she had achieved her study aims and lived as much as she could. She had done the things she decided were important and managed some days of just chilling and having fun with friends.

Learning To See Gratitude

Her year had not turned out as she had planned, but it had been a year of achievements, fun and a lot of good things. As time went on she realised that she remembered more the things she had done, than what she had been unable to do.

It was the same with her brother. Looking back over his life she remembered the good things. Yes it hurt, but she had survived.

This Path is Never Completely Alone

Another thing she realised is that in both memories – the year in New York and her brother’s life – there were people who walked alongside her and supported her. Not always, but often enough.

You are facing a New Year without the person you love. This year is going to be one of surviving. Of learning to live with their loss and grieve. Of learning to live again, eventually.

Along the way you will find people who care and want to be there for you. That might not be all the time, it might be someone you encounter in a day who is there and gone, but they were there to support you for that moment. Don’t be afraid to let in the people who are able and willing to support you. Be willing to ask for help and the support you need.

Just as other people see the New Year as a time of new beginnings, know that you are in a time of transition and new beginnings as you grieve for what you have lost. Don’t be afraid to step out into that new beginning. Find the time occasionally to be grateful for what you have. Some day in the future you may look back and see gratitude for what was there in your life that got you through this year.

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

5 Ways To Navigate Christmas When Life Seems Far From Ideal

Traditionally Christmas is a time when people get together with their family. That is great if you have a family you are happy to get together with. But not everyone is in that position

Maybe your Christmas is marred by memories of someone you used to spend Christmas with but don’t anymore. Maybe it is because they have died, or you are estranged, or they have moved away.

Or maybe Christmas is a time of having to visit family when there are difficulties in relationships. When you feel you have to endure contact with people you are frightened of, or may have hurt you, or are downright unpleasant.

Or Christmas may be a reminder of past traumas.

The Cultural Importance of Christmas

Whether you like it or not, Christmas is important culturally for many people. There are those who believe in Jesus and see this time as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, often with family. There are also people who see Christmas as a time to have fun and catch up with family and friends.

If you watch the myriad Christmas movies that exist, you will see a constant message of people having a lovely, perfect time. Suddenly everyone is friendly and old rifts are healed. People are included. There is fun and laughter and all good things.

The reality frequently fails to meet the expectations of the movies.

Christmas Has Significance In Many Lives As A Time To Be With Others

The significance of Christmas as an occasion in our lives means that it takes on a significance that is hard to ignore. Few people report being happy to spend Christmas alone. Many experience stress at what to do for Christmas. Many are alone, and not happy about it.

Christmas can be a joyous time if you have people to celebrate with. But it can be a sad time if you have lost someone. It can be a stressful time if you have traumatic memories of past Christmases that were horrifying. It can also be a stressful time if catching up with some family members is far from pleasant.

An Experience of a Christmas With Gratitude

I recently had a conversation with a man who was facing yet another Christmas alone. He was estranged from his family after the death of his brother, and had experienced many lonely Christmases. He was looking for something different to do for Christmas and decided in the end to plan his own special Christmas camping somewhere he loved.

His choice for Christmas is not everyone’s idea of a fun Christmas. But his attitude may be helpful. He had decided last year he was going to stop fighting the fact that he was alone at Christmas and instead be grateful and seek gratitude in the season. His plans for this year were the result of that decision.

These are his tips for a joyous solo Christmas.

One. You Belong.

It is easy when on your own to think Christmas is not something for you. After all, the images we see everywhere of Christmas are of people in groups. But being on your own doesn’t mean you don’t belong.

You do belong.

He worked out a few years ago that looking for things in his life to be grateful for reminded him that he was loved and worthy even though he was alone. He saw Christmas as a time to have fun. To relax. To eat all the foods he felt he couldn’t eat at other times of the year. To indulge in special foods.

He listed all his friends and the way they showed throughout the year how much he mattered. So many of them had family Christmases and caught up with him at other times near to Christmas. Even though they couldn’t invite him to their family Christmas, often a long way away, he still belonged.

He decided to see Christmas as a time he may be alone, but not lonely. He decided to be grateful for the friends he had and the richness they brought to his life all year around.

He chose to see his life as a gift to himself and to others and decided to plan a Christmas that honoured this. In his case, it was to go camping in a favourite spot and spend a few days doing what he loved to do, knowing he belonged even if he was alone.

Two. Give Yourself Permission to be Real

He found that as a result of practicing gratitude he was able to accept his life exactly as it was. He didn’t try to deny the reality of his life. He accepted it for all its wonder and all its warts.

He was happy to realise he had given himself permission to see his life as it was and be okay with that.

He allowed himself time to feel the pain of the family estrangement. He allowed himself to be honoured by acknowledging this pain. What he found was that honouring that pain and giving it space did not make him miserable. It actually allowed him to accept what was and find joy in the things he decided to do at Christmas.

Life is full of hurts and absences. Fighting those things only makes it more painful. When you accept what is, you are able to find a way to move forward in life and find joy.

Three. Stop. Look. Go.

As he was researching gratitude he came across this practice of grateful living. The practice is to stop. To pause. To not rush into decisions, action, reactions, but to pause.

Once you stop, look around and within. What are you feeling? What opportunities can you see around you? What does your heart tell you?

Once you have given yourself time to examine your future direction and you are comfortable with what you have discovered, then proceed.

As you proceed keep stopping, looking and then going. You may need to try different approaches to see how they fit. You may have an idea and find you can’t proceed with it. You may start doing something and not be happy with it. Be ready to adapt what you are doing and to go on when you feel ready.

Four. Be Open to Opportunities

Last year, he discovered an elderly neighbour who was alone at Christmas, having just lost her husband. He decided to share his Christmas meal with her and give her a simple present at Christmas. The day turned out to be a special one for both of them, especially as the elderly neighbour died during the year.

He saw an opportunity and acted on it.

His planned camping holiday was another opportunity that arose for this year and he has decided to take it.

Being alert to opportunities is a way to honour your life for all it has to give and for all you are able to receive.

Five. Say Yes to Joy

This last point was one he was delighted to learn.

He felt to be happy, to experience joy, would be a betrayal of his brother.

Instead he found that his happiness and joy was there alongside his sadness at his brother’s death and his family estrangement.

He saw the reality of the advice he had read that joy can be present alongside sadness. That joy is an affirmation of life continuing. He also realised the courage it takes to hold the past in the present and experience joy alongside sadness.

He realised he wanted to enjoy Christmas and he chose to live it doing something he enjoyed. Yes it was going to have its sad moments, but it was also going to be a wonderful day.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about the things happening in your life, 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

The Cost Of Love

I recently had a conversation with some bereaved parents facing their first Christmas without their son. This is what they wanted me to share with you in the hope that it may bring comfort to others in a similar situation. As well as changing anything that could identify them, I have put their thoughts into words that I hope will do justice to their pain.

I am going to call my parents Joy and Father Christmas. That is not their name of course. But they rather liked the idea of those being their names.

Joy And Father Christmas’s Story

As Christmas and many celebrations of family weddings, birthdays, births approach, we realised we needed to take a deep breath and prepare ourselves for the events and the pain.

We tried to plan for joyous occasions and how we could show joy without breaking down in the morass of our own pain.

We planned ways we could quietly and unobtrusively leave.

We felt we were no longer part of this happy society. This group of family and friends going about their lives as through nothing had happened. And for them it hadn’t. Life went on for them in all its glorious joys and splendour.

The Darkness Of Our Pain

But for us life was dark, devastating and full of pain and tears.

All these celebrations with family at their core were devastating for us when we were bleeding and our family was ruptured by the death of our son.

We dreaded the approaching Christmas.

I Used To Love Christmas

In the before time, before our son died, I loved the warmth and generosity of Christmas. I loved getting together with friends and family. I loved the warmth of belonging to a wonderful group of people.

Cooking For His Absence

I love cooking. It is what soothes me. So I have been cooking. A lot. And I have been inviting people over because someone has to eat the food. They come and there is joy and love and warmth and we are surrounded by their love.

But all I see is the one who is missing. The one who would always have been there.

So much of what I find myself cooking is what our boy loved to eat. And it hurts so much to cook these dishes, knowing he will never eat them.

I serve meals for my family with one less place set. And that hurts so much. But setting a place for him seems wrong as well.

Going Through The Motions

We go places. Dutifully attending events of our family and friends. We don’t want to go, but feel we need to, so that we don’t drown in our misery.

We get into the car and there is an empty seat.

Our journeys are marked by the absence of his incessant chatter at all the things he could see flashing past the car window.

It hurts so much.

But no one ever sees.

Time marches on.

All The Firsts

Our other children have had birthdays since he died. Each one a first birthday for them without their brother.

I watch my other children growing older and feel pain that he won’t grow older.

I see friends son’s his age and wonder whether he would be getting taller. What size shoes he would be in now. What his interests would be.

He is forever frozen in time and we try to move on, but it is so hard to escape.

After The Funeral

It has been a few months now and people have stopped asking us how we are. There are no more casseroles at the front door, cards in the letterbox, emails and text messages asking how we are.

We feel as though we have taken on an extra job. We are trying to support our other children. Smooth them through their bereavement. Attend to their every need. Notice every hesitation or sign of being stuck in their pain.

Reaching Out For Support

We try to look out for each other, but that comes a distant last after the needs of our living children.

We have joined groups of other parents who have lost children. We have sent out children to counsellors and groups to help them work through their grief.

We draw comfort from the experiences of other parents, from realising we are not alone in this isolation of grief.

The Forgetting Of Life Moving On

We wait for other people to notice he is missing. To mention him. Some do. Most don’t. That hurts.

We attended a baptism and then a wedding. Both were excruciatingly painful. We left early, worried that our pain would mar the joy of the happy parents and the happy wedding couple.

I run into people through work who don’t know about my son. They ask how the family is. I don’t know how to answer. Do I say each child’s name and what they are doing then add that my son is dead?

I just change the subject.

There are still people in our community who don’t know. Who ask when they see me. Your son used to play soccer, is he not interested any more? No. He is dead that is all. I usually mutter something and get away as fast as I can.

Some days I come home early from work, before anyone else is home, and I can’t go into the house. He is not there and I can’t bear the silence his absence brings.

Hiding My Tears

For so long I hid my tears from my son. I wanted his last months to be happy ones. I didn’t want him to see my misery. Now I hide my tears from other people. They feel uncomfortable when I cry, so I don’t.

Seeking Counselling Support

After the counselling we received. Something that helped us both be able to express our pain without fear of hurting anyone else. After that counselling I realised a few things.

I can look around and see the many who, like us, are facing their first Christmas without the one they love, the one whose absence has left a massive hole in their life and heart.

I realise this is an aspect of being human that we tend to ignore. My resolve is to acknowledge the universality of grief. In acknowledging the pain of loss. In acknowledging the frailty of our human bodies, of the tenuous and frail hold we have on life. I realise that the present moment, each day, is important and not to waste it by worrying about trivial things.

It will hurt this Christmas. Our little family will feel the pain of his absence, but we will also know that our lives are better because he was in them. Because we loved him and he loved us. Love always carries a cost, that of pain when the living relationship ends. But the joy of knowing him was worth the pain of losing him.

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

How do I cope with grief at Christmas?

Right now it is hard to avoid noticing that Christmas is almost upon us. In fact it is three weeks away today.

There are Christmas parties everywhere. You may have been invited to several.

The shops are full of Christmas decorations, Christmas themed window displays and Christmas wrapping paper. The muzak is Christmas themed. Everywhere there are people buying up presents, food, decorations. It is busy and endless.

For many people, this time of year is very exciting.

But for others Christmas brings painful reminders that the person you love is not there.

This can happen with the first Christmas, or the 50th. There is always a memory of the one who isn’t there.

Planning for Christmas and New Year

You may have already planned for this Christmas, knowing it will be hard. It doesn’t make the pain any easier, but from my own experience I find it helps to understand that the pain I am feeling is normal. And that I am not the only one feeling this way.

It is important as you face this season with your grief to be honest with yourself. Yes, it will most probably hurt. It is helpful to adopt some strategies to help cope with the pain.

Don’t Feel You Shouldn’t Be Enjoying Christmas

One other thing to mention is that you may actually enjoy some aspects of Christmas. That does not mean the one you have lost isn’t important. It is perfectly okay to enjoy yourself.

Being miserable won’t bring your loved one back. Enjoying some aspects doesn’t make you uncaring and doesn’t mean you didn’t love this person. It just means you are finding joy in some aspects of Christmas.

Some people enjoy Christmas as part of their grieving. As a way of honouring the fun they had previously with the one who is gone.

But being honest about what hurts is important. Be honest that it hurts and accept the way you react. Whether you react with avoidance, sadness, joy or any other reaction, it is absolutely okay.

Make Plans For How You Will “Do” Christmas and New Year

It is helpful as Christmas approaches to make plans around how you will acknowledge and celebrate it.

Some people adopt new traditions, marking the “after” part of Christmas.

Other people set a place at the table for the one who is no longer there.

Many people visit the grave, place where their loved one’s ashes are, or a special place their loved one enjoyed being.

The Importance of Planning

Whatever you do, it is important to plan Christmas. To plan what you want it to look like.

Although it is tempting to forget about celebrating it is important to mark the occasion. As I have already suggested, maybe you want to start a new tradition.

Maybe this tradition will be something that you enjoyed doing with your loved one.

Plan also to do something to honour your loved one. I previously mentioned setting a place at the table. Another thing people do is to light a candle in their memory, or buy a special ornament to represent them.

Another idea is to have some moments to acknowledge the loved one, even having a moment’s silence in their honour.

Knowing Christmas Is Hard Doesn’t Make It Easier But It Can Help With Coping

Understanding that Christmas can be a difficult time for those who are grieving may not make it easier, but it can help you understand and accept your reactions.

Acknowledging that this time of year won’t be easy, and making specific plans to prepare for it will be helpful to you.

Find Someone Understanding To Talk To

It is also helpful to talk to friends, family or a counsellor who you know will be supportive and allow you to express your feelings without trying to shut you down.

Do let people know that his Christmas is different and you may be doing different things this year. You may not even feel like having much of a celebration.

All Emotions Are Valid

Remember that all emotions are valid. It is okay to feel angry, sad, grief, happiness, excitement, and more. Don’t compare yourself to other people. The way they handle their grief, even if it is for the same person, is going to be different.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. Don’t isolate yourself. Find those who are supportive of you and spend Christmas with them. And don’t forget to look after yourself.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about your grief and managing Christmas and New Year, 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

When Shame Blocks You Grieving Properly

Grief is a natural part of life. Ever since humankind was capable of feeling love, we have grieved for the loss of that love.

It is natural for us to cry and reach out to others for comfort. That is considered the way grief has happened for millennia. Part of grief is to allow the putting into the past of our grief.

Shame is a big emotion that causes other emotions, mainly sad ones, to be stuck. When Shame complicates grief you are unable to put grief in the past and it just keeps on in the present.

Grief and Shame Often Appear Together

When I work with people who are grieving I have noticed that grief is often experienced alongside shame.

Grief is designed to help us loosen, release and reach out. Shame has the opposite effect. It causes us to freeze and isolate from others.

Shame leads to endless loops of worry and rehashing the shameful episode. This keeps it in the present instead of the past where you fervently wish it would go.

Grief involves crying and grieving for what has happened and putting that grief in the past.

Grief needs to be worked with in a different way to shame.

Complicated Emotions

Complicated emotions are difficult. They require different approaches and sometimes need to be separated in order to work through them.

This complication is probably why most people dislike complex emotions in themselves or in others.

Interestingly, children have no difficulty managing complicated emotions. It is as if that maturing, and learning to identify our emotions, stops us from being able to work with the different emotions we are likely to feel at any time.

Accepting Complicated Emotions

One of the best approaches to working with complicated emotions is to accept they are there. To accept that they just are.

Shame is one of the emotions we fear the most. One of those reasons is that when shame is present, we can’t process our emotions as we are supposed to. Instead of being processed and moved on quickly, they remain stuck by shame. Emotions are manageable when they are processed quickly, but when they remain unresolved, they become difficult to manage.

Shame does have a purpose. Its purpose is to keep us safe by lowering the intensity of other emotions. This allows us to curb our reactions to emotions such as anger. That is fine if we then later attend to these emotions. But what happens more often is that shame binds with those emotions and they remain.

All those bound emotions makes for one crowded mind. And a mind that struggles to process emotions. And shame creates an endless loop of being trapped in emotions.

Working Through Grief and Shame

Most people who come to see me about their grief have shame caught up in the grief as well. When I work with you, it is important to identify all the emotions you are working through and then separate them all out to deal with them.

If I don’t attend to your shame and help you work through it you will be stuck in your grief. Usually that stuckness is what brings you to me.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief and shame, 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