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

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

Grief is learning and learning takes time

How many of you have experienced grief and felt very disoriented?

In all the losses I have experienced I have definitely felt disoriented. I thought I was going mad until I went to a grief course and learned that this is the most common experience of people.

There is the here and now. There is reality. But it is new and so different.

The Loss Of The Familiar, Safe Framework

All the normal routines and things that anchor the day are not there anymore.

The day-to-day interactions with the other person, whether face to face or through telephone conversations and messaging, or online connections, have gone. What is left is very new and frightening. You no longer feel that safe framework around you.

The feelings of disorientation will eventually pass, as you learn the new routines and learn to feel safe again within the framework of those new routines.

You never forget the old routines and what they felt like, but you learn new routines that help you to feel safe again.

There Are Many Losses To Grieve.

What I have described so far has been fitted to someone close dying, or the relationship ending and them not being in your life anywhere. I will continue to write about that perspective, but there are many losses where you experience the same disorientation and learning.

This could also apply to:

• a new house,

• a new location,

• a new country,

• changes in your health that impact how you live your life,

• changes in the health of someone close to you,

• the loss of a pet (due to death or no longer owning it),

• losing your job,

• losing financial security,

• and so on.

The Role Of Adaptation In Learning

As you progress through the days after your loss, you will learn how to live in this new reality. The term used for this is adaptation.

Many people see adaptation as learning how to live the same life again.

But you can’t. Your life isn’t and never will be the same again.

There is a lot of pressure from society to get over the loss and “move on”. There are non grief trained counsellors who will work with you to move on within the old framework.

But that old framework doesn’t exist any more. Trying to fit back into it is doomed to failure.

What adaptation is about is learning to live in the world as it is now. This applies to anyone moving through life. But for you, dealing with grief, this is about adapting to the new reality, the new world in which you live. The world without the person you loved and still love.

The Brain Is An Expert At Keeping You Alive.

Your brain is designed to keep you alive.

One of the things it does is predict what will happen. This frees you to focus more on interactions with other people, which are always potentially dangerous.

Your brain will pattern much throughout your day as it predicts the routines and dangers in your world.

How Your Brain Predicts Regular Interactions

If you have had a relationship with someone that lasted many years, your brain has strong connections to the normal daily interactions you had with that person. So as you go through your day at the times where interactions normally happened, your brain will expect them. If those interactions don’t happen, that is confusing for your brain. You notice. You again experience that sense of loss.

Over time, your brain learns that those interactions won’t happen and the reminder, coupled with the fresh sense of loss, slowly abates.

It takes your brain months to learn the new reality.

That means the sense of disorientation will continue until your brain has learned and adapted.

Your Brain Works On The Assumption That Your Loved One Will Be There

Your brain is designed for connection. There are several structures within the brain that feed that connection. There are hormones within that brain that feed that connection. Your brain works hard to maintain those connections. Your safety framework is part of those connections.

Your brain seeks those connections. When someone you have a connection with is gone, then your brain seeks for the connection and can’t find it.

That is very disorienting.

Who Am I When Not Part Of That Person?

So much of your identity includes the people you love. Your brain actually has structures that connect you with the people you love.

When someone you love is no longer in your life, your brain has to remove the connections. This impacts on who you see yourself as, as well as impacting your connection to that person.

This means you define who you are in relation to the people in your life that you love and the places you go and things you do.

• Who are you if you lose your partner?

• Who are you if you lose your child?

• Who are you if your pet dies?

• Who are you if you are no longer working in a particular job?

• Who are you if you live in a different place? A different country?

• Who are you if you have lost a body part?

• Who are you if your health has changed?

This is more work that your brain has to do and it is disorienting.

Why Do I Keep Seeing, Feeling or Hearing This Person?

Many people report feeling their loved one is close to them, or think they see them in a crowd or hear their voice.

When you consider how the brain works, this is not surprising.

You are not deluded. You are not going mad.

Your brain will continue to predict the presence of that person for a long time.

After my mother died I would want to pick up the phone to tell her about something that had happened. This is part of the brain’s prediction of the person still being there.

Other people will say they still expect the person to walk through the door. They may say they feel the person is walking through the house. They may report feeling the other person touches them.

You are not going mad if that is your experience. It is your brain. Part of your brain is predicting those connections and not yet aware the person is no longer there. In time the brain will learn they are not there.

After my grandmother died I would go to the house and clean it. I often felt her presence in her old bedroom because that is where I expected to find her.

Forming Continuing Bonds With What You Have Lost

As your brain learns that the one you have lost is no longer there, it changes to allow the past memories and learn the new present. In that healthy state you will continue to feel a connection with and love for the person.

That is known as continuing bonds.

Integrating Your Grief

Another healthy way your brain will adapt is that the relationship to the one you have lost and the pain you experience will settle into a longer term response. In this place you will learn how who you are now that person is gone. You will learn how to live your life with the grief. You will learn how to remember alongside the grief.

This is know as integrated grief. You will still hurt, but it will be less acute.

You will have reached a point of learning to live and accept the new world, as it is now, and our place in it.

It Is Okay To Ask For Help

Grief is a long and continuous process. This is no smooth path. It is a long process where some days you will feel as though you have made great progress, and other days you will just want to turn your back on the world.

I liken it to a Northern Hemisphere autumn where the sun is often covered by clouds, there are winds that are no longer warm, and leaves are changing colour and falling off the trees. Everything is different and confusing. Some moments are beautiful and some moments are depressing.

You may wake up to a beautiful sunny sky and a late day of great warmth. Then you may wake up to clouds, wind and rain with a bleakness in the air.

And there is the constant flurry of emotions mirroring the multicoloured leaves as they leave the bare trees and blow around.

You may feel pressured by others or by yourself to “move on” and “get over it”. But you can’t get out of this place of swirling emotions, of good and bad days, of feeling you take a few tentative steps forward then hurtle backwards.

Navigating this time is hard. Sometimes you need help. This may be talking to a friend who understands. This may be talking to a grief trained counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with the learning in 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

Grief Is About Living, Not Just Losing

Everyone lives life with expectations about what life will be.

Eventually there is disappointment when life doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. The way you believe it should be.

In life there are two ways to deal with disappointment.

The first is to protest: I didn’t sign up for this!!!

Life has not turned out as you wanted it to. The trouble is you can get stuck in that protest place and feel miserable and never free yourself to grieve.

Or you can choose to grieve and transform the disappointment.

Some people have learned to transform. They take life as it comes and roll with the punches. They can manage with uncertainty. But for most of us, we have yet to learn this lesson and disappointment, coupled with surprise or shock, leads to grief at the loss of our expected life.

Learning to accept the uncertainty of life allows you to:

• See things as they really are. This allows you to understand life better.

• See opportunities you didn’t realise were there.

• Feel more at peace and comfortable as you switch your attention to what you have instead of what you want and don’t have.

Grief Is About Every Loss In Life

Grief is not just about losing someone you love. Anything in life that is lost, be it a limb, friendship, home, job, life expectation and so on is a loss that you grieve.

The fact that these losses are not recognised as things that are grieved for, makes it harder to grieve.

Examples of big losses in life that need to be grieved for are:

• Having a child born with severe disabilities that changes the expectations you had for the life of that child. You may love that child and determine to always support them, but you still grieve for the lost expectation.

• Future plans to retire and enjoy life changes when your partner becomes very ill and you have to be their full time carer.

• Losing a much loved and valued job.

Grieving Is A Skill

Grieving is a skill that you can learn. People who experience a lot of grief often learn the skills to allow them to process their grief faster.

Whatever the cause of your grief, remember that it is normal. The normal trajectory of grief is that over time the grief diminishes and becomes less. You also start to discover meaning in your life again.

How Long Does Grief Last And Is It Always This Intense?

To answer this question, I am going to ask some questions of you first.

What Was Your Relationship To What Or Who You Have Lost?

If your emotional needs were primarily met by the one you have lost then you are going to need to find someone to meet those needs.

Initially a counsellor can help with that. You can also join a grief support group. In the long term you need to find ways to get those emotional needs met.

How Supportive Is Your Social Network?

The strong supportive social network helps you meet your emotional needs and is there to support you when you need help.

Do You Have Meaningful Activities In Your Life That Are Not Affected By Your Loss?

Having activities in place that are meaningful for you will help you continue with your life.

Part of grieving involves finding new meaning in your life. Having some meaning already can help shorten that process. For some people, their loss changes their life priorities. If that is you, then you may find you need to seek new ways of finding meaning in life.

How Counsellors Help

The biggest way I help people is to allow them to talk to me without any judgement or “fixing” from me. Being able to express your feelings in a safe place allows you to process them better. You can contextualise your grief better with counselling. You can also organise your grief better so that it is more manageable.

So What Does This Have To Do With The Grief Of Lost Expectations?

One thing to consider when you grieve lost expectations is to identify where they came from.

Society is great at teaching you what you should expect from life.

From birth you are introduced to concepts of the ideal life. From the story books you have read to you, to the children’s television programs. These all teach you expectations of what life will be.

As you grow up you observe what people around you are doing. You learn to expect your life to be like that of others. Older people in your life teach you this too. Maybe they talk about what you will grow up to be. There are expectations that you will have a job when you grow up. Expectations that you will find a life partner. Expectations that you will have children. Expectations that you will live in some sort of home.

Advertisements, movies, television series, the conversations of those around us. All these give you a picture of the life you should expect to live.

So where in this perfect picture does a disabled child fit? Or a partner requiring your care? Or you becoming disabled and needing to be cared for? Or losing that wonderful job that means so much to you?

All these things are contrary to what you learned to expect in life. All lead to grief. All need to be grieved.

Life Wasn’t Meant To Be Easy

That may be some put down by a politician, or a platitude thrown at you by someone uncomfortable with your struggles. But the reality is that all life contains suffering. Some people may get a lot more than others, but all will experience some.

If you allow it to, suffering can teach you things.

You may find good people who help you when you didn’t expect that to happen.

You may discover strengths you didn’t realise you had.

You may learn to appreciate life more.

You may find a different way of living that suits you better.

Expectations Around Your Latter Years

For many people I see whose long-term relationships break down once they are over the age of 50 there is often a lot of grief around the future. When you have been in a relationship with someone long term there is that expectation of a future together.

As the Beatles suggested in “When I’m 64” there is the expectation of being in the relationship forever and growing old together. What happens to that? Will you grow old alone? What does that mean for your quality of life? Will you have no one to care for you? No one to notice if you fall? No one to be there should you die at home? What about money? How will you survive? Will you actually have a home to live in? Or will you end up homeless?
These are very real concerns. So Grief is complicated by fears for safety and companionship in the future.

The Value Of Problem Solving

A lot of these lost expectations revolve around what you imagine will give you happiness.

But what if happiness, true happiness, is found elsewhere?

Researchers have found that people who solve problems in their lives report greater happiness and sense of agency than those who don’t solve problems.

That may sound strange but it makes sense.

If you encounter a problem in life it can feel very disempowering. But if you work out how to resolve that problem then you feel good.

Working through your grief and learning how to solve the problems that grief has caused is empowering and builds happiness.

How To Engage Problem Solving

So you had a picture of what your future would be like.

What was that picture?

How has it changed?

What is missing from that picture now?

You have identified what is missing. Now you know what you have lost.

Was what you thought the future would be like realistic? After all, we all imagine amazing things, but they rarely happen. And we are usually fine with that because on some level we know they were unrealistic. Also that realisation usually unfolds slowly, not abruptly when something major happens.

Identifying the unrealistic expectations can help with being able to let go of them.

What you are left with are the expectations that were more realistic. Maybe they were long cherished dreams that are now shattered. These are the ones you need to grieve. Because you put in the work to identify these deep losses, it is actually more manageable to work through them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it is now a more manageable size.

You may be able to work through these losses on your own or you may need help.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grieving your losses in 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

Finding Meaning in Grief

I often write about the importance of finding meaning in your grief.

You may well wonder how you do that, or even if it is necessary.

The first thing to note is that finding meaning is necessary and most people intuitively seek out that meaning. Sometimes finding that meaning is not easy or your intuition has not kicked in to prompt and guide you into this important step.

As to how you do it, the aim of this blog is to try to guide you into a place where you can seek meaning.

The Vital First Steps

A vital part of finding meaning in your grief is to acknowledge that your grief will never end. Yes it will most likely lessen in intensity over the years, but it will never end.

Another aspect of finding meaning is allowing yourself to be in this place where you have understood your grief will never end but you allow yourself to be fully open to the emotions you are experiencing. It is only then that you can start the exploration to find meaning in your grief.

Why Meaning?

Finding meaning in your grief will allow you to take your grief and transform it into something deeper, richer and more fulfilling. It will allow you to find more to this experience than just pain.

The loss of losing something is a terrible wound that often paralyses you. The way forward out of that place of paralysis is through finding meaning. Meaning gives you the power to find that path forward.

Finding meaning in your grief is also a way to make sense of what has happened.

People who can find meaning in their grief tend to have an easier time grieving than those who are unable to find meaning.

Those who cannot find meaning often find themselves stuck in their grief. They can turn to addictions to cope. They may become an angry person. They may isolate themselves from others because they fear losing others. They may become obsessed with what they have lost and lose their purpose and direction in life. They may become depressed. They may become bitter.

Meaning Empowers You After the Disempowerment of Loss

When something important is lost and you are grappling with grief the initial search for meaning can be sidetracked into finding someone responsible for what has happened. You can see this after a natural disaster when people try to blame some level of government for what has happened, when in reality the disaster is what happened and governments were as powerless as the victims to prevent what happened.

Assigning blame for a loss can make people feel some sense of power in a situation of total powerlessness. But this is counterproductive. In most cases there is no one to blame. And even if there is, focusing on blame blocks finding meaning in your grief.

So what is meaning?

People who have experienced loss and report finding meaning in the grief have reported their meaning as:

•    Feeling grateful for the time they had with their loved one,

•    Finding a way to commemorate and honour their loved one,

•    Realising how brief life is and how valuable it is – this has led to them making a major change in life

•    Realising they can’t help their own situation but can help others. For example, establishing a foundation to support those in similar situations.

•    Finding a way to sustain their love for what was lost while moving forward with a life you now realise is precious.

•    Learning new ways of living.

Where Do I find Meaning?

Meaning can be found in many aspects of your loss.

•    You may find it in the death of your loved one. You may find it in the loss you experience. You may find it in the event that led to your loss. You may find it in the life of the person you loved. Or you may find it in your own life. 

•    You may find it in an exploration of what life means to you.

•    You may find it in the rituals you observe around your loss.

•    You may find it in the connections you form after your loss. 

•    You may find it in gratitude for the gift of life and relationships.

•    You may find it in the realisation that life matters and so do relationships and that making being with those you love is your highest priority.

Finding Meaning is Not Easy

One grief expert, David Kessler, wrote about losing his 21 year old son to a drug overdose. He struggled with his grief. A friend and colleague Diane Gray told him “I know you’re drowning. You’ll keep sinking for a while, but there will come a point when you’ll hit bottom. Then you’ll have a decision to make. Do you stay there or push off and start to rise again?”

This is the important thing to remember. Meaning is not something you acquire within moments of your loss. It is not something that comes to you a day or so later. It is something you develop after a long time of acute grief at what you have lost.

Many people who come to see me have been in acute grief for a while and find themselves wanting to lift their heads out of the mire of grief just for a few moments. This is when they often decide that they don’t want what they lost to be meaningless. They don’t want their life or that of the person they lost to be meaningless. They want to live. They want to remember the good that they had before their loss. They want to move forward in life and learn how to live life, remember and feel the pain of loss.

A Guide to Your Search for Meaning

Here are some thoughts that may guide you in understanding meaning:

•    Meaning is both relative and personal. There is no such thing as one size fits all. The meaning others find will not necessarily be the meaning you find.

•    Meaning takes time. A lot of time. You may not find it until months or even years after your loss.

•    Meaning doesn’t require understanding. You don’t have to understand why your loss happened in order to find meaning.

•    Meaning is never greater than what you lost. What you gain in finding meaning will never be better than what you lost.

•    Despite what you may be told, loss is not some sort of test. It is also not a gift or blessing. It is not a punishment either. Loss just is what happens in your life. You have no control over it. Meaning, however, you make happen. Meaning you have control over. 

•    Only you can find your own meaning.

•    Meaningful connections will heal painful memories.

•    Meaning will mature and develop as time goes by.

Can I Help?

Sometimes moving forward in grief and finding meaning is hard to do. There are times when you may need help with finding meaning. This is where seeing a grief counsellor can help.

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