March 24, 2015

10 tips for surviving grief - Clarified - part B

When life gives you lemons...
For those of you who want to understand more about the process I went through – here you go…

No Guilt! Guilt is a terribly negative emotion that really has no positives to go with it. In fact, according to some experts such as Louise Hay - guilt can bring about sickness in the person feeling it. And yet, this letting go of guilt is extremely difficult. Why? For some reason, we have to blame someone for the death or loss we are experiencing. And even if our rational mind tells us it's not our fault, we tend to remember all the moments we were imperfect. The fight we had. The fact that the night before Yarden died, I went to a play... Sorrow is good. Sadness, confusion, anger. But guilt? A therapist I had been seeing at the time suggested, "Why not try to put it into a little box and place it up on a shelf in the closet, far away." That seemed like a good idea. After all, what kind of mother would 'let' her child die. So, I couldn't totally let go of guilt. But I could put it far away.

Join a support group! Early in the process, I read "Love, Medicine and otherMiracles," by Bernie Siegel, in which he described his concept of support groups for "exceptional patients" which helped people cope with the illness and learn to help in their own healing. After reading this book, I found a group in Israel (where I was living) called "Hosen" - which stood for "Cancer patients who fight," although fighting was an often debated name for the most warm and loving group I have ever had the opportunity to participate in. Not everyone will be lucky enough to find a group like I did, but if you aren't happy with the groups in your area, then why not start one of your own? The idea is not to talk about the medical issues, but rather to learn to hold onto the preciousness of life itself, through sharing, through meditation, dancing, holding hands...

Weep loudly! I am not a person who cries easily. My best option, when I want to cry, is to watch a really sad movie. Lately, "Call the Midwife," does it for me. However, those tears are not usually ones meant specifically for Yarden. What I found helpful to me was to go to his graveside, all alone, and let myself cry, howl and just be in the overwhelming sadness of that loss. Tears have been proven to be a good stress reliever, and while some people think - "If I start, I'll never stop," I have seen that this usually isn't the case. And often - you'll feel greatly relieved once the tears are out and some real sobbing has been accomplished. Some people might need someone to help them get there. (see no. 7 on the list).

Goodbyes are essential to the grief process and to being able to eventually move on. Sometimes we are protected by those with good intentions and told not to go to a funeral, or we think we won't manage our feelings if we do go. But the ceremony - whatever kind it is - is extremely helpful because it allows us to touch those feelings of sadness. Many wise people have said - and so it must be true - If we don't allow ourself to feel the negative emotions, then how can we feel the positive ones? Brene Brown talks about the value of vulnerability. This moment of saying goodbye makes us feel vulnerable and also allows others to share that moment with us. Any ritual at all will do.

Need I elaborate on the good memories? Whatever your belief system, most people can imagine that their loved one wants to be remembered well,  and that the last moments of their life may not have been included in those highlights. Especially if we have accompanied someone through a long illness, we might have a lot of memories that are not so much fun. My son was sick for half of his life, and in and out of hospital for a lot of that time, but he was a silly kid who loved to dance and sing and cuddle his sister. He was clever and funny although he also believed that Elmo was really talking to him from the computer.  

Keep stuff! I would say - don't throw away all the clothes... There will come a time when you want to smell your loved one, strange as that may sound. In the beginning, the objects, clothes etc can be too much. The house can be too packed with all their belongings, and this can be hard for some to bear. On the other hand, I found that I couldn't move right away, and was very grateful we could stay in our same house for 2 years after Yarden had died. After we gave away many of his things, I am so happy to have his special hat (which used to belong to my sister when she was little!), his Yarden t-shirt, his first toy duck, and a few other items which I keep on a little memory table in whatever house I live in. 

Talk to people, because people will be afraid to talk to you. Don't blame your friends if they shy away from mentioning your loved one's name. They are likely unsure what to say, and how to say it - and don't want to cause you more pain by talking about it. Little do they realize how good it makes us feel when we are asked how we feel, and are listened to. Sometimes it helps to talk to a professional, since the person we loved and lost may be also lost to our friends and family. In my case, I was the backbone of the family, holding it together with my cheer and easy smile. Deep inside, though, I also needed (and sometimes still do need) to be listened to - to let out my feelings and anguish. That's what therapists are for. They get paid to do that stuff and they have trained for it too! Go for it!

It takes time. The grief process doesn't have a specific time span. While you might have to go back to work after a few days or right after the funeral, that doesn't mean that you will "be okay" by then. If other people ask you if you are alright, they want to think you are, so they can stop worrying about you. So, if you tell them that they don't have to worry, but you still will need time, then it can become a win-win situation. You won't have to pretend that all is fine, but they won't have to send the good Samaritans around to babysit you. Things will get better, but then they will get worse. And then better again. 

Rituals are important and it helps you and those around you to have a way to 'celebrate' the life of the person you have lost. We have sent up helium balloons with little notes, baked birthday cakes (Yarden didn't like chocolate!), and written poems on his website. Open a photo album, light a candle...

Drora & I - in Jerusalem
Live joyously because you can. There's not much more to add to this. I have seen people waste away after the death of the person they lived. Until they died too. I know that we all grieve differently, but my choice has been to hold onto life, and to celebrate it in many ways. Today I lead a Joyful Living thru Art group, where we paint, listen to music and share the joys and troubles we all have. Every year I try something new I haven't done, or at least something I haven't done in a long time. Life is too short for me to mope around. And I get lucky. Sometimes I dream about Yarden, and I know he's smiling down on me. 

In memory of Yarden, my son, 1994 - 1998, and Drora, my amazing friend, and Tomas Day, whose pain is still too fresh. And the many others I have loved and lost who have gone somewhere too far away... 

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