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

Focusing on the Emotions of Grief

So many people come to see me because, in the wake of their grief, they can’t handle the swirl of emotions.

It is not just the emotions that they struggle with. It is the belief that there is something wrong with them for having those emotions.

It is heart breaking to see people feeling they can’t express their emotions. Either because someone tells them it is bad to do so, or because other people immediately seek to shut them down.

Like it or not, grieving involves a swinging from the emotions of protest at the death of the one you love and despair that they are not there anymore.

Things that Complicate Grief

Complicating grieving are the security of the relationship you had with the person, and any unresolved issues within that relationship.

By this I mean how secure your relationship felt. Did you feel safe and secure with this person? Or were you constantly battling to feel reassured of the security of the relationship? Were there hurts that you had never had a chance to resolve with that person? It will be hard to grieve for that person while those hurts remain unresolved.

Also relevant is anything that has happened in the past that impacts on the current grief.

Factors that Impact How You Cope With the Emotions Around Grief

A major factor in how you will cope with the emotions is your history of how you regulate emotions. If you find it hard to express your emotions then expressing those around grief are going to be difficult.

If you can’t express your emotions then it is impossible to be able to sit with those emotions, face them and work your way through them.

How Rituals Can Help

Rituals around death can also be helpful. What were you raised to do when someone died?

Some are taught to not show emotions, not talk about the death and feel intense shame if you cry.

Others are taught to cry as part of the ritual around the death of a loved one.

Then there are the rituals where the person is commemorated, maybe you will have “sorry business”, or you may light a candle every day for a prescribed number of days in honour of the person.

The above are just some of the ways rituals are used to mark a person’s death.

All, with the exception of the one where you suppress emotions, are very helpful to those who are grieving.

Learning to Manage the Overwhelming Emotions

When I see a grieving person I look for ways to manage the overwhelming emotions. Ways to process what has happened.

I never look for pathology. Although, if you come to see me and it has been 6 months since your loved one died I will ask you to fill in a questionnaire as an aid to measure your progress while seeing me.

Often all you need in your grief is a companion to walk beside you. Having that companion a grief trained counsellor is really helpful. I won’t pathologise your experience. I will help you to express what is so hard to express. I will ensure you realise how normal your reaction is.

Questions to Consider

As we walk together I will ask you to tell me about the one you lost. Tell me about your relationship. What about the history of their death? How did they die? Did you have to make a decision to turn off life support? Did they choose a medically assisted death? Was their death long and painful? Was their death peaceful?

What was the experience of their death like for you?

Were you present in the moment, or did you push your own feelings aside to support your dying loved one, or other family members.

It can be very easy to get stuck, unable to express your own feelings, when you are in a situation of supporting other people.

Were you isolated at the time of death and its aftermath? Being isolated is very traumatising.

Did you feel unsafe in the situation, with all your emotions swirling around and no one there to support you?

The Goal of Therapy

When you work with me the goal we work to is to help you see the strengths that have carried you this far.

Additionally, when you had to support others at the time, I give you the space and support to make that emotional contact with your own feelings so that you can support yourself now.

Together we can be curious and open to explore your experience and the places you are frightened of visiting. My aim is to help you make contact with yourself again. To give you the chance now you are out of survival mode to experience your feelings.

Visiting that experience will most likely involve a lot of reminiscence about your relationship with your loved one. Reminiscing about the things you did together and the events of the end of their life is also important. It allows you to experience the things you may have pushed aside to support others.

What about the present?

An important aspect of grieving is learning to live in the present.

The one you love still exists in your mind. That is something that needs to be explored. How do they exist to you? In what ways do you still rely on them? Do you have a sense of their presence? Do you imagine they help you when you feel lost and not sure how to proceed?

All this is known as continuing bonds. This is an important part of grief. Forming these bonds is how you form the new relationship with your loved one.

“I have a new life. Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some final resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds.” ~ Robert Anderson

Grief is not something you ever “get over”. It lasts for the rest of your life. It just gets easier over time to think about the person. You learn to forge a new relationship that is based on them being dead.

That Can Impact How You Grieve

There are many things that impact on how you grieve.

Grief you have experienced in the past, and the way it was managed, has a deep impact on how you are grieving now.

Trauma in your past will also impact on how you perceive grief and how you are able to regulate your emotions and access support.

Having previously learned to suppress your emotions will make it hard for your to experience them now.

One thing I like to do is to take your back to those final moments for you to experience the feelings you had then. It is helpful for you to experience those feelings in a more receptive way. At the time you would have been barely surviving. Now you are better able to be aware of the experience.

Working on that Moment

Sitting with what you were feeling at those crucial moments in the death of your loved one allows you to experience emotions you had to suppress in order to get through these moments.

Many people will realise they felt great sadness, anger, sadness and longing.

One man told me that at the moment in his life when he was in the worst situation he had ever been in, losing the one he loved, the person he could count on to support him wasn’t there because they were dying.

The person is dying or dead and you don’t want to let them go.

Learning to accept the pain

In time most people are able to live with the horror of their grief. They can learn to accept the pain rather than avoid it. They give themselves permission to cry and not try to hide what they are feeling.

Most people learn to continue a relationship with the one who has died. They may still have conversations with them. Some even write a journal for their loved one of all the things they want to tell them.

It becomes possible to be reminded of the one you lost. You no longer avoid the places that strongly remind you of them. You can remember the good and bad times.

Most importantly, you can accept that you are a different person now. And being that different person is not bad. It is okay.

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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Grief

Rituals

GriefRecovery

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

Surviving Grief: Push Back or Pull Towards

I have written a lot about the experience of grief. About the spinning out of control feeling, especially in the early days of grief.

I have already written a lot about the juggling of grief and living you have to do.

And I have written about finding meaning in that grief.

One thing I haven’t written about is the choices you have.

The Choices in Grief

This is not something to be doing in that acute phase when your body is still in fight, flight or freeze. This is something for later when you feel more in control of your brain.

This choice is about choosing how you are going to react to your grief.

The Choices

When bad things, such as grief, happen you protest. Not surprising. I don’t know of anyone who happily accepts awful things happening. Most people are shocked, devastated, and confused.

At the point of being able to gain control of your brain and make choices you will have two choices to make.

The Protest: Pushing Back

You can continue protesting, in other words push back against the pain.

“No.”

“It shouldn’t be happening.”

“I don’t want this.”

“I want things to be normal again.”

“I hate this.”

And so on.

Transform: Pulling Towards

Or you can consider what your needs are in this situation.
You can acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
You can surrender to them and accept the pull towards feeling the experience of your grief. Through this decision you can transform the situation and proceed with your life.

It is not easy to do, but it is possible.

A Constant Series of Choices

You will find that on any given day you will have numerous occasions when you need to make that choice. It is not a one off, but a constant series of choices.

In a way, making the choice over every step of the way is easier than trying to make the choice over the entire process.

It does require a lot of effort, hence the exhaustion many people experience in grief. Sometimes you may protest and push back instead. Other times you will pull towards and transform your experience.

There will be times when you will need the support of others who will allow you to be with your experience and make your choices without pressure.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with pushing back and pulling forward, 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

What is Prolonged Grief Disorder and Do I Have It?

If you have ever experienced the loss of someone or something that was important to you, then you will know that grieving a loss is never simple.

For starters, grief hurts. A lot.

You will think your pain is settling down then something will trigger a memory and you are caught up in that pain again.

There will always be pain.

There will never be a time that it doesn’t hurt.

But for most people you learn to live with that pain and still function.

It is when grief continues and you can’t function well that grief can be considered to have become stuck and may need help to be able to function well in life.

This is what is known as Prolonged Grief Disorder.

Who Gets Prolonged Grief Disorder?

Anyone can suffer from Prolonged Grief Disorder.

Some people are more vulnerable to being affected this way. If you were particularly close to the person you are grieving, you will be more likely to be affected.

If you suffered from depression before experiencing this grief that may make you more susceptible.

If the death was sudden, traumatic or due to suicide it can also be more likely to happen.

It is important to acknowledge that Prolonged Grief Disorder is not just something that happens when someone dies, it can also happen with a job loss, the loss of a house, the loss of a country, the loss of a body part, the loss of a relationship, and so on.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Prevent This Happening?

It is really important that you give yourself space to acknowledge what has happened and allow yourself time to experience those feelings.

Don’t be pressured by other people to “get over it”. Don’t allow the expectations of others to force you to push your feelings aside and not process them.

Do recognise you will hurt for a long time. It is likely that before you are finished the worst part of grieving you will be fed up with being so sad. That is a good sign. It means you are getting ready to learn how to live with this pain.

Be willing to get help. See a counsellor, join a support group, use the support of understanding friends and family. Be prepared to experience your grief.

How Do I Know If I Have Prolonged Grief Disorder?

The first thing to remember is that no attempt is made to diagnose Prolonged Grief Disorder until at least 12 months has elapsed since your bereavement.

I have had people come to see me who are struggling to process the death of a loved one over a year ago, but then tell me another close family member only died a few months ago. If you have two major bereavements that close together, expect to be dramatically affected. You are not suffering from Prolonged Grief Disorder. You most likely need support, but you are not suffering from Prolonged Grief Disorder.

This is the criteria for an official diagnosis of Prolonged Grief Disorder:

• The bereavement occurred at least 12 months ago.

• You need the above plus at least three of the points below.

• You have lost your sense of who you are,

• You struggle to believe the person is dead,

• You avoid reminders that the person is dead,

• You are still experiencing intense emotional pain (sorrow, anger, bitterness for example) related to the death,

• You are having trouble getting back to work or social involvement,

• You feel emotionally numb,

• You feel your life is meaningless,

• You feel intensely lonely or feel totally detached from life.

If you feel this may be you then it is helpful to see a specialist grief counsellor.

What About My Children?

Children will grieve differently to adults. How they grieve will depend on their developmental stage and each new developmental stage will include a new period of processing more grief.

Another issue for children is the reaching of life stages where the one who has died may have been expected to be present. This is a fresh reminder of their absence and will include a new period of processing more grief.

Teenagers are included in this as their brains are still developing.

What you may see in children is:

• They may wait for their loved one to come back. This is particularly so with small children who have trouble understanding the concept of death.

• They may be frightened other people in their life may die too. With the death of someone in their life their sense of safety is disrupted and will take time and possibly assistance to regain.

• They may develop separation anxiety and not want other people to be away from them.

• They may think they just have to complete some task in order for their loved one to be alive again. This is known as magical thinking. Children can find it hard to understand that things happen in life and they cannot control them.

• Acting out behaviours that may not appear to be related to the loss. You may expect your child to cry or be sad. But what if they become angry and combative? Or they adopt destructive behaviours? Or they act like they don’t care about anything? There are many different behaviours you may see as your child tries to process these unfamiliar and overwhelming emotions.

If your child/teen is exhibiting behaviour that may suggest they are not coping with their loss it is helpful to arrange an appointment with a specialist child counsellor. Later teens are okay with a specialist grief counsellor but I would recommend a specialist for your younger children.

How To Treat Prolonged Grief Disorder.

There are many different therapies that work well with Prolonged Grief Disorder. In my work I use talk therapy, sand play, painting, movement, journalling, writing, poetry, therapeutic cards to name a few.

Please note that there is no medication treatment for this disorder. You need to process what has happened and medications do not facilitate that.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, whether prolonged or not, 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

Grieving that isn’t allowed

In life you will meet a lot of people. Some will matter very much to you but the relationships will end, or will become more distant.

Examples of this include someone you were once in love with, a family member you lost contact with, a close friend who grew distant when the two of you moved in different directions.

When a relationship ends there is an initial grief for that relationship. But grieving for that relationship does not mean you are not going to grieve again when that person dies. In fact, you are more likely to grieve again over their death.

Denying your right to grieve

The difficulty is in other people recognising your grief, or considering you have the right to grieve.

This type of grief is known as disenfranchised grief. It is a denial of your right to grieve.

The idea of disenfranchised grief is grounded in the concept of human dignity. It is a recognition of human attachment and the needs of individuals to grieve for those they love when they die. For some people, others actively deny them the right to grieve for the one they love. An example is that of an estranged family member who is denied by the rest of the family the right to be at the funeral or say goodbye to the person they love.

For others there may be an assumption by those around them that they wouldn’t feel grief at this person’s death. An example of that is of the ex-partner who moved on from the relationship but still holds love for the person. Many assume that once a relationship is over there is no love there, but that is not true in most cases.

Other ways grief is disenfranchised.

For people in non traditional relationships, grief may be disenfranchised.

In the past people in same sex relationships were often disenfranchised in their grief. Those having extra-marital relationships are also often disenfranchised. Other people may have a close bond with someone that other people do not realise exists. This may happen with a work colleague or a friend.

The loss is not recognised as a loss

If people don’t consider you have lost anything then your grief becomes disenfranchised. This happens frequently with miscarriages, still births, abortions, deaths of companion animals, someone you love being brain damaged or suffering from dementia.

You are not capable of grieving

The belief that you are not capable of grieving happens particularly with children. The old belief that children are resilient fails to acknowledge the impact loss has on a child at any age.

This can also happen with elderly people, especially those with dementia, and those with intellectual disabilities.

The way your loved one died

In this type of loss people may judge the one who has died and consider their death was deserved or not worth grieving over. This can occur with suicide, death from a stigmatised disease, death from overdose, or death due to recklessness – as in a car accident where the person was the one at fault.

Grieving differently to other’s expectations

If your style of grieving does not match what other people expect you to show you may be judged by others and your grief discounted. You may be shut down in your way of grieving which acts to disenfranchise you from being able to grieve.

In many cultures there are different ways of grieving. Being able to observe those rituals is important. If you are denied that then your grief becomes disenfranchised.

When people expect you to “be over it now” that also disenfranchises your grief.

Respect for those who are grieving

It is important to respect those who are grieving and to respect their suffering and their right to suffer.

In grieving there is a drive to experience your suffering. There is also an ability to thrive and live meaningfully after your loss. Allowing you to grieve in your own way to allow your natural resilience to guide you through the difficulties of grief. I will explain this more further in the blog.

Resilience is driven by hope and the potential within you to live meaningfully again. When you are not allowed to grieve at your own pace in your own way it hinders your natural resilience.

The lack of understanding around grief

When other people fail to understand and appreciate what you are living through they are more likely to interfere in your grief. This interference often destroys your natural grief.

People can be well meaning in the way they respond to grief but it can be the wrong approach. When my grandfather died I was staying with my brother, 4 hours drive from home. We were particularly close to my grandfather and could have comforted each other upon learning of his death. Unfortunately my mother decided to let us know individually after I had returned home. She was concerned I wouldn’t be able to drive home safely. My grandfather had died two days earlier so I would have had two days to be with my brother so we could both process our grief together.
My brother, who lived on his own and was a single teacher in a one teacher school, found out when there was no one in the house or his workplace to talk to. I arrived home, one hour before I had to go to my work as a registered nurse, and saw a message to ring my mother at her work. I was alone in the house and had no one to talk to either. I had to drive to work on my own so that wasn’t any safer. At work I was on the relieving roster so spent the evening working with people I didn’t know and with no one to talk to.

Both of us were disenfranchised from the grief at our grandfather’s death.

Unhelpful, disenfranchising comments

The following are a list of comments people on an online poll reported being told. In all cases they felt their grief was devalued and downplayed:

• When things like this happen, all you can do is give it time, wait it out.

• Eventually, you’ll get over this.

• I don’t see how his life can be worthwhile again. He’s lost the only thing that really mattered to him.

• Somehow it feels disloyal to laugh or try to be happy. I sometimes feel that I owe it to him to live in sorrow.
What can I possibly have to look forward to?
Response: The best thing is to try to put what happened behind you and get back to normal as soon as possible. Try to go on as if nothing has changed.

• There’s no point in looking for meaning in something like this. Suffering brings us face to face with absurdity. The best thing is to try to forget.

• You shouldn’t be looking for anything positive in this. There can’t be any such thing.

• Oh, that’s just a coincidence. You’re reading too much into what happened.

• I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that in some ways I seem to have grown from the death of my child.
Response: Face reality. She is dead. You will have to fill her place with something else.
Response: Everything she meant to you is undone.

• If you’re going to grieve, you have to let go completely. It is all about the heartache of goodbye. If you don’t let go, you are stuck in the past.

• Remembering adds to your pain and prolongs suffering. Spending so much time with memories can only bring you down. Let the past stay in the past.

• Don’t keep talking about her. You should be more focused on those who are still here.

You have to let go completely

One thing about the comments listed above is the message that you have to let go of the one who has gone. So often people feel they are not allowed to grieve their loved one. Instead, they are expected to push away all memories and thoughts of their loved one and stop being sad.

Much of this pressure comes from people who feel uncomfortable at another person’s pain. But how can you push away memories of the one you loved so much? Love doesn’t end just because the other person is dead. You will always love them. You will always feel grief and pain at their passing. You will learn how to live with it and you will even learn how to be happy again, but you will never forget.

Grief is constructive

Strange and profane as it may seem. Grief is constructive. It takes resilience to work through grief and find the capacity to thrive and find meaning in life again. It takes strength to face the pain and learn how to live with it. It takes drive to learn how to live again in a changed world. Grief is about experiencing the pain but still saying Yes to life. Saying yes to learning how to forge new patterns of living, find new narratives in life and learn to live in a way that honours you and allows you to live a meaningful life again.

The drive of the Soul

There are two major areas of the self that are worked on in grief. The first is the soul.

Many grief commentators refer to the soul as a drive within. This drive finds the ability to keep going, to find a reason to be living in the present.

The drive of the soul is one to connect to life and other people. It is this drive that leads you to love others and love life. This is the core of the strength and resilience that allows you to continue with life.

This soul drive pushes you on despite the pain. It drives you to reconnect despite the hole left in your world by the one who has gone. This drive pushes you back into life. It pushes you into life with the absence of your loved one.

The drive of the Spirit

The other area of the self is the Spirit.

This is another drive. This drive allows you to get through the acute phase of your grief. This drive allows you to move forward into the future. A future with more unknowns than you thought it may have held. Despite those unknowns, this drive gives you the strength and motivation to step forward and determine to survive and find a new way of living. It guides you to find meaning in your life again.

As with the soul drive, this drive is the core of the strength and resilience that allows you to continue with life.

This is your grief

You can be disenfranchised from grief in so many ways.

There are the losses where you are not recognised as having a right to grieve.

There are the losses where your are not recognised as having lost anything.

There are the losses where people believe you are not capable of grieving.

There are the losses where people judge the worth of the one who died.

There are the losses where you don’t grieve according to the belief of other people.

There are the pat statements that are unhelpful and deny your right to grieve.

There are so many more ways that grief can be disenfranchised.

But you have two drives within you that help you grieve and move forward into life again. The drive of the soul sustains you for the long haul. Alongside this the drive of the spirit helps you through the days of acute grief.

Sometimes you can get through your grief with those you can find to support you. Other times you might need the help of a grief counsellor.

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

7 things to know about grief

There a so many opinions about grief and about the way grief plays out. But in all these words some of the most basic things are left out. Below are the things I tell people who come to see me.

  1. Life will not always be this awful. It will not happen tomorrow, but one day you will realise you are beginning to feel better. There is a lot of misinformation out there about everything being better after 2 years. For some people, after 1 year they are starting to feel better. For others, after 2 years they are feeling much better. For others it takes much longer than that. The main thing is that gradually, little by little, you will start to feel better.

Think in terms of years to recover. That is a much more realistic time span than months.

  1. You will survive this. Yes you are in dreadful pain. But instead of fighting it, allow it. Be okay to have days where you don’t want to get out of bed. Be okay to have days where you just want to cry, where anything that reminds you of the one who is gone leads to floods of tears. Be okay to have days where you find yourself laughing. All this is normal and you will survive. You will be bruised and battered emotionally, but you will survive.

Allow yourself to hurt. Give yourself time off away from the busyness of life, walk on the beach, in the bush, alone or with friends. Go to Yoga, Zumba, the Gym, whatever allows you to move stretch and feel good about yourself. Meditate or just sit quietly somewhere. And if tears join you, that is okay.

  1. Get plenty of sleep. If sleeping at night is difficult have daytime naps. Make sure you eat healthy food and get enough water to drink. Your brain is working hard and that is exhausting. Try to avoid junk food and alcohol – they will make your grief feel worse.
  2. With grief I use the metaphor of the seasons to explain to people the variable nature of grief. If you think about it, the seasons are a circle that goes on year after year. Just as autumn passes into winter, which passes into Spring and then summer, your emotions will pass through many different seasons as you adjust to your grief.

Here is the link to a blog I wrote about the seasons metaphor of loss The Journey of Demeter – PLC Blog (plentifullifecounselling.com.au) https://plentifullifecounselling.com.au/wp/the-journey-of-demeter/

  1. Grief encompasses a multitude of emotions. Everyone expects a grieving person to feel sad and that is the emotion most people experience. But there are other emotions that can be experienced as well. Many years ago, the husband of a friend died suddenly. At the funeral his widow was angry, very angry. That anger was the predominant emotion she experienced for some time.

Other people experience relief, guilt, shame, regret, fear, a sense of abandonment, feeling lost, feeling confusion. Many people feel bad if they feel emotions around how they will cope, or feel angry at their loved one for dying. They feel they are being selfish. But it is not selfish to worry about you, how you will cope, how you will attend to practical matters. There are also many aspects to grief and not all are emotional.

  1. Be willing to think about how you will fit the loss of the person you love into your life. This is often referred to as meaning. What meaning will you find in your life because of the loss of the person you loved? The meaning can be as simple and profound as finding what your life as a single person is, what your life as the parent of a dead child is, what your life as one whose mother, father, or both are dead. And so on.

An important aspect of grief is finding that meaning and learning how to live with the loss and grief.

  1. Be kind to yourself. At the funeral don’t run around worrying about everyone else. Be okay to drop the ball and cry, lock yourself in your room, go for a walk. Whatever you need to do to cope. After the funeral be okay again to look after yourself. Obviously, if you have children, you need to care for them. But make sure you look after yourself too.

If you have a spiritual practice that brings you comfort, then do it. If you want to have a lovely long soak in a bath, then do it. If you want to look through old photos and reminisce, then do it.

One important thing to remember is that your brain has a lot of work to do processing the loss of your loved one. It has to rebuild the neural networks that connected you to the one you lost. This takes time and hard work on the part of your brain. Roughly about 3 months. You are likely to feel physical discomfort, confusion, woolly thinking, rapid changes in emotions and myriad other feelings. Your ability to make decisions at this time is compromised. If you can avoid it, try not to make major decisions for a few months. I have seen too many people quit jobs, move, even end or start relationships that they have later regretted.

To summarise, when you grieve, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to fall apart if necessary. Allow yourself to feel the full impact of your loss. If it is too much, allow yourself to take time off grieving and come back to the grief later when you can cope with it. Ignore the people who say you should be over it, or you can’t be happy and go out/on holidays because you are grieving. You know what you need. Be sure to allow yourself to meet your needs.

If things get overwhelming, or you need reassurance you are not going mad, or you feel you have been grieving too long then see a grief counsellor.

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

Seasons of Grief

You sit in your grief
Frozen
It is as though an icy reminder of winter has invaded the autumn
You suddenly find yourself in.

You sit in the icy numbness.
Then the numbness passes.

And you are tossed around by the autumn winds
Blowing their cold breath
Causing all to hunch forward and rush to shelter.
Leaving you alone in your grief.

You stand there
In the midst of the swirling leaves
Reds, oranges, yellows and brown.
Echoing your own swirling emotions
And you long for the time when you felt only numbness.

Then you sighed
And settled in for the long haul of the winter of your grief.
The days when it was icy and still.
When snow muffled every sound
And the world seemed deserted.

Just you and your pain.

As you stood on the edge of the ocean.
Antarctic blast hitting you with its icy needles
The waves whipped to a frenzy by winter storms
You remembered that all healing comes in waves.

The intensity varies.
Sometimes you can feel almost normal.
Other times you feel like you can’t go on.
You are out there in the white caps
Drowning.

And then you realise you will heal
Eventually.
You look around and notice the gradual budding of leaves at the ends of branches.
You look at the ground as tiny flowers emerge from their bulbs.

The wind comes warm and you dance in the beauty of it.
Then the wind blows cold and you are back in the thundering waves
Drowning.

Be okay to feel what you are feeling.
To feel those exhilarating days of warm breezes
And those terrifying days of drowning.

Allow it to take time.
Don’t rush.

You will be fed up with grief
Long before it is finished with you.

Allow the pain.
In that pain is growth.
In that pain is the way to learn how to live with your loss.

A day will come when you will stand on the edge of the ocean
The sun will dance on the gentle waves
A warm wind will gently caress you
And you will feel at peace.

Nan Cameron 24/7/2023

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 End of a Relationship: An often ignored grief

When someone dies, the living relationship you had with them dies also.

The person you love is no longer in your life and what also dies is the hope of ever seeing them again.

That is incredibly hard, but it is final.

Gone but not dead

When a relationship you are in ends and you part company with someone, they are no longer in your life. However, there is always that small hope that you will see them again.

There is therefore no finality in that relationship.

Often when a relationship ends, there is hurt and acrimony left. So that any time you may see that person it is not the same.

How do you grieve a relationship that has had no finality?

If you add to this the complication of dividing up property and child custody and access arrangements, it gets even more difficult.

The difference between losing someone to death and losing them to a relationship end

There are similarities between losing someone through death and losing someone through the end of a relationship, but there are also differences.

For anyone who has lost a relationship, whether to death or a break up, life has to continue. You still have to go out there and work.

There are still bills to pay. If you have children, there are still their needs to attend to. You can’t just lock yourself away from the world until you feel better.

As I already mentioned, the death of someone involves the death of hope that you will ever see them again. But when your relationship has ended, that hope is still there. If the relationship has become acrimonious, the pain of seeing that person again is compounded.

The hope is there but you hope for the old relationship, not what has now developed. It is like twisting the knife.

It is okay for the bereaved to grieve. But what about those whose relationship has ended?

Another difference between the death of a loved one and the end of a relationship is the recognition given to the pain of bereavement and not to the end of a relationship.

People understand that initially you will feel hurt, but the support you will receive is likely to fade away faster than if you were bereaved.

Plus there are other things to grieve for as well as the end of the relationship.

Am I defective or unloveable?

If someone stops loving you, what does that say about you as a person? Does that mean you are unloveable? Does that mean you are defective? If the other person left you for someone else does that mean you are not worth having a relationship with? Even if you are the one to end it, what does it say to you about your romantic choices?

In a close relationship you define yourself through the relationship. When that relationship is gone, then your definition of self is damaged.

If the relationship end is acrimonious and there are nasty things being said, particularly about you and your parenting ability, it is hard for you to see yourself as worthwhile.

My idea of being a parent just disintegrated

There is also grief at the end of your picture of parenting. You are likely facing co-parenting. No matter how well you and your ex handle that, your picture of what being a parent was has disintegrated. Maybe in time you will build a new picture, but for now that hasn’t happened.

I have to leave my dream home

You are quite likely going to have to leave your family home. If you own it, selling it becomes part of the property settlement. If you are renting, you may not be able to afford to continue to pay that rent on your own.

I struggle financially now

Your financial situation may deteriorate as well. When there are two incomes, then you can often live comfortably. With one income it becomes a lot more difficult.

Grieving the end of a relationship – a summary

When a relationship ends you have many things to grieve:

• The person you loved is no longer in your life.

• You may continue to see them, but the relationship has changed, so there are constant reminders of what was and what you cannot
have any more.

• Where there was love, there may be hurt and acrimony.

• They may start another relationship.

• Your picture of how you would parent your children has disintegrated.

• Your sense of yourself as being a good and loveable person is damaged.

• Your financial status is reduced.

• You may lose your home.

• And so many more losses not listed here.

What can I do about this?

One of the most important things to do is to love yourself. Surround yourself as much as possible with people who will hold you in their love and support you.

Never forget you are wanted. You are lovable. You are not defective.

Remember, emotional pain is processed in the same part of the brain as physical pain. Don’t dismiss your emotional pain. You don’t dismiss physical pain and emotional pain is just as real as physical pain.

Be kind to yourself

You are grieving.

You have lost a relationship, your future dreams, your financial security, your sense of safety in the world.

You spent a lot of time with this person you loved. They occupied your time and your emotions. Their departure leaves a large gap in your life.

Just as with the death of a loved one, your brain has to rearrange its neural networks to adjust to the loss of this person from your life.

Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to grieve. Allow yourself days to be upset and not cope well.

Grief takes time, so be patient.

Remember you are grieving and it is okay for you to grieve.

Grief takes time. It must run its course. Things may seem hard right now, but there will be a day when it will feel easier.

Give yourself permission to cry, scream, lock yourself away for a short time.

Be okay with hating your ex, with being angry, with being sad, with frustration and confusion.

To heal, you must first grieve. There is no way of skipping the grief step.

Give yourself some slack to have bad days.

If it gets too difficult to manage then seek help from a counsellor.

The way of the Triskelion

A few years ago I read about applying the idea of an ancient symbol, the triskelion, to your situation.

This ancient symbol has been used in many cultures for thousands of years. In our world the Celtic interpretation of this symbol is
often applied.

For the Celts the Triskelion had many meanings.

One was that it represented birth, death and rebirth. In terms of your recovery from the end of a relationship that has died there is
the rebirth that will come later.

It is also considered that the Triskelion revolves around strength, progress and the ability to move forward and overcome extreme adversity. These can all be goals to aim for as you allow yourself to grieve.

The path of rebirth

As you work your way through your grief don’t expect to find the type of closure you get with death. In death there is an end to things and eventually a sense of meaning.

With relationship endings it is not possible to end things. You have to find your own resolution and your own meaning in the uncertainty of the end of a relationship.

Over time you will heal and be able to remember the good times and process the bad times.

It will be scary, but you can continue to live after the end of a relationship.

In time you may find another relationship. Or maybe you won’t.

The important thing is that you have survived grief. There will always be that pain, but you will be able to live a happy and productive life.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting 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