Making Space for Grief

Making Space for Grief

All the talk these days on the news is around school — will it begin this fall or not? It was one thing for school to end super early — like even before Spring Break — but quite another to not have it start this fall. Could this be a possibility?

Leadership in America says the schools must reopen, but are leaving it to the States to figure out how to do so safely. Is it safe? Many states are saying no completely or yes to some modified type of schedule other states, and others are going to let school open as normal and deal with the consequences later. It’s all really confusing, especially for the children.

Here’s what I think is important — no matter where you live or what you have decided as a family to do to move forward with educating your children this fall — grief is a major part of this process. Making space for grief as your children learn what is going to happen with school this fall is very important. You may eventually come up with an exciting plan for your kids, i.e. homeschool or additional innovative resources for them to take in that are cool — but there is no doubt that your children are experiencing a major loss in their lives.

If you are questioning if this is true or not, think back for a moment to your own childhood and what school meant to you. My guess is it was a lot more than learning. It was your friendships, teachers, mentors, classroom antics, lunchroom escapades, after school activities, sports, laughter, hanging out and being whatever you are as you are growing up — away from your family. The freedom school affords kids from their home environments cannot be underestimated and it has been – up until now – a critical part of childhood and growing up.

For now, this is being lost to kids. You can try to sugarcoat it and make it as positive as you want, but I think a step before moving into this terrain is growing space and capacity to allow children to discuss all that they are losing, missing, angry about as decisions are made for the fall. Helping children embrace these feelings is not only important for this moment, but it models for kids that it is OK to feel grief when something is lost. One does not need to run to an emotional space of positivity which may deny the very real feelings of anger, grief, and sadness.

Parents sometimes have difficulty embracing these feelings for themselves. However, helping children grieve what is lost is critical at this moment. If your kids go back to school, but not all their friends are there because some parents kept their kids at home, this is loss. If your kids are going to learn on-line all year, this is a huge loss. If your kids are going to go to school on some days and not others, this is loss.

This time is unusual, uncomfortable, and difficult. Help your children make space for grief that they are feeling to move through to a place where what is positive can be genuinely felt without it just being a pretend mask of being OK with what is a significant loss in their lives.

Dear Therapist: End of Lockdown Sadness

End of Lockdown Sadness
End of Lockdown Got You Down?

Dear Therapist:

I know this may sound crazy, but I am sort of sad over the end of the full lockdown period. It came on quick where all of a sudden society was completely locked down with everyone in their homes. That took some time to adjust to, but now I have actually made the adjustment and now I am sad to return to the craziness of life as it was. We were only in lockdown for two months, but it also took hold quick. Presence, old fashioned activities, time to cook, time to be – it was a break from so many pressures. How to grieve the loss of lockdown?

Sincerely, Singing Leaving the Lockdown Blues

It may seem strange to you to own that you are going to miss this interesting time. Even now, writing from an area that is still locked down, there is more movement happening. It’s not the same as it was a month or two months ago when society pretty much came to a standstill and everyone was in their homes in a locked down state of affairs.

It was, as you say, a quick and hard adjustment to lock down, and now that we are able to begin to move again and be together, we know this comes with obligation, being busy, less time for self and family, and the pressures of modern day living. When we actually had a moment to take in how our lives shifted and how this felt, I think many of us felt it was a good shift on some level. No wonder you are struggling — you are going to miss parts of lockdown living.

So, one of the first things to do, which I can see you are already doing by writing in, is acknowledge your feelings of grief and sadness that the pure lockdown state is over or gradually is coming to an end depending on where you live. From there, think about what you want to do differently as lockdown lifts. Perhaps you will cook more on the weekends- instead of eating out the entire weekend as you are enjoying cooking and want this to stay in your life. Perhaps you want to walk your dog rather than having someone else do it for you as you find it fun and relaxing.

There are so many new things and ways of being that have come up during this intense time — take time with yourself to choose how you want to see your life in more normal time – perhaps more present, balanced, enjoying different activities in different ways. Also, take a look at what you really missed and what was really difficult for you and be grateful that those things are now over and that life can return in these ways for you.

Life is always changing and these past two months this has never been more true. Now is the time to act on the changes and create your own new normal. Life cannot remain locked down, but this brief interlude has been a prime opportunity to reset.

My best to you as you move from grieving the loss of the lockdown life to celebrating a new normal for you and yours.

Zoom Exhaustion

Zoom Exhaustion
Zoom Exhaustion Setting In?

When the idea of social distancing became a thing a few months ago, there was the idea that we could all stay connected to our family and friends even as we isolate ourselves in our home. All of a sudden “Zoom” became a thing. I had never heard of it before, but all of a sudden friends were holding Zoom Happy Hours, Zoom Book Clubs, Zoom Dinners, Zoom Movie Nights and then Zoom meetings and Zoom classes for work.

WOW! I had to marvel about the fact that COVID-19 came around when man had developed technology to a point where we could all remain together even as we are apart. It sounded brilliant and every chance I could get I said yes to a Zoom this and a Zoom that. Being together while never leaving my home sounded like the best of both possible worlds.

For myself, I noticed after the first couple, I was pretty exhausted. It felt hard to hear people, only one person could really be speaking at a time, and then everyone had to ring in with a different comment regarding what was said. To try and move on to another topic without giving everyone who spoke a good amount of time for comments and feedback felt rude.

One time, someone shared a tragic piece of health news that she may have wanted only a few people to know, but with everyone gathered at the Zoom Happy Hour, her entire health diagnosis was made clear to everyone. Awkward. I was holding information that I most likely should not have been and under any usual circumstance would not know.

Of course, there are also the technology challenges — slow Internet, bad connection, in and out voices, people muting themselves or not, people’ video popping on and off. I am also doing all of these things too which I know may be adding to someone else’s stressful experience. I think, by now, we all know the ups and downs of Zoom connections – whether for personal or professional use.

So, I guess I am not surprised that all of a sudden there are a slew of articles talking about Zoom Exhaustion. This may come after having been on virtual calls all day, being more anxious and needing time on your own to sort through your feelings, general annoyance at how clunky Zoom meetings feel, obligation to have to connect this way since everyone knows you are home and not going out with supposed time on your hands, and more.

How to handle? First notice do you want to socialize virtually? If so — and I do not assume that your answer is yet — then to what extent do you want to socialize virtually and how often? Once you have these questions answered you can stay true to yourself as you with accept or decline offers to engage virtually. For myself, I engage virtually for work completely.

As a result, in my personal life, I am not too keen to engage via Zoom for fun gatherings. Rather, I prefer to have telephone chats or FaceTime one-on-one with someone. I have been invited to several Zoom gatherings, and I now just tell my friends that I find it too stressful of a medium for me and that I won’t be joining. Of course, I ask them not to take offense and I think most people respond positively, i.e. to do what I need to do to care for myself.

All of us understanding how people are feeling stress and exhaustion even when it comes to social connecting with a medium like Zoom is really important. If you are the person who is setting up the Zoom calls and want to connect, it’s important to take care of you and have the people on the Zoom who really want to be there and not just attending out of obligation to the group.

Everything is a balance, including Zoom calls these days. Remember too, if you are going to engage, keep some Zoom Etiquette guidelines in mind to make the experience good for everyone.

Zoom Exhaustion is real. Respect it and take care of yourself above all. And let us all look forward to the day we can hang out together.

You Are Not Alone

You are not alone card

You are not alone! Say, what? Of course I am, you are thinking to yourself.

I was on my own last week when I heard the postman drop the mail through the slot. Ah! At least we get mail during this time of being at home. Mostly, I find my mail is made up of catalogues, bills, and junk, but every now and again a personal piece of mail is delivered and it totally delights me.

I am one who still writes real letters to friends and family near and far. I don’t do this to receive something in return, and so it is a delight to see that someone has returned the favor to me. I receive it with a grateful and open heart. These days, especially, where I spend the majority of my time at home, a personal missive means so much.

This day a friend had sent me a card with the message “You are not alone” on the front of the card, with hands reaching toward the center of the page where these words were written. Simple, yet powerful. I was feeling lonely or perhaps a little down with the whole situation. It has been awhile since I have seen my friends and family and, although there is Zoom, email, and Facebook, it is not the same as being together in person.

This was a powerful reminder that we are alone together these days. I think I even saw a cheesy commercial saying the same thing. We are apart, but together. All of us are at home, alone, and yet together. Just being reminded of this in such a tangible way gave me a hope and lift in my spirits.

It is important to remember that you are not alone at this moment in time. We are in our homes, doing our own things, and, in many ways, alone. Yet, each day we are a part of a shared collective experience of this across the world. People are thinking of others, people are still caring, people are still people with all the needs we have to be known, felt cared for, and be told we are not alone.

You are not alone. Not today. Not ever. Reach out and let someone you know know.

Do You Have that Forgotten Feeling?

Feeling forgotten like wilted flowers

Do you have a feeling of being forgotten these days?

During this extraordinary time, all of us are spending our days at home. If you are single or living alone for another reason, it is easy to not only feel lonely, but there may also be a sharp edge to this feeling — one that is laced with feeling you are forgotten by others. It is one thing to be lonely, quite another to have a felt sense of being forgotten by your family and friends.

This felt sense of being forgotten by those you care for can land one into a depression thinking that no one remembers you exist and are curious enough to reach out, check in, and hear how you are doing. There is never an excuse for people to not remember, but in the fast-paced world that we normally move in we are left with little space to touch base with those we are thinking of on a regular basis. We become too caught up in our own selves.

But what is happening when all we have is time on our hands? Still, no calls come in to you with people checking in on you. I believe this situation is extraordinary in and of itself and has thrown people off kilter. I am not sure they are forgetting you, but rather are caught up with their own whirlwind of emotions as they face this crisis that they fine there is no extra room for others.

What if you are noticing you are the one always reaching out and thinking of others and checking in? Yet, the same is not returned to you in kind. This may also lead to a felt sense of feeling forgotten by others. Unless you are reaching and doing, nothing is happening. How empty!

How can you move out of the feeling of being alone that is laced with feeling forgotten and into feeling connected and remembered by others? Here are some ideas:

  1. Set up a standing check in time with others and take turns reaching out to one another.
  2. Use your voice and let people know how you are feeling so that people can move in toward you rather than you moving away from them.
  3. In your family, set up a chart of Birthdays and anniversaries and other important dates and share it. Make a commitment to remembering one another.
  4. Reach out and ask a friend to call you
  5. Observe who is making gestures to share time with you. Perhaps there are people doing this, but you are not tuned in to these people as you are focused on someone else remembering you. Keep track of who is present and available to you and show up to this person and be present.

It is a terrible feeling to feel lonely and it is even more complex when there is an element of feeling forgotten. Recognize the feeling and move toward caring for yourself, especially during these extraordinary times. When a friend recently confided how alone and lonely they felt, I made the effort to text this person and sent some real mail. Her sharing her very real feelings with me allowed me to directly remember her and hold her up.

Be open to surprise! Others may do the same for you.

Missing Milestones

Students may be missing milestones like dancing at Prom

It seems that this is going to be a year when high school and college students are going to be missing milestones in their lives. As an adult looking back, proms, senior year antics, and graduation ceremonies feel like distant memories that I do not attach much importance to. However, if I were to be a high school or college senior at this moment in time I would feel a whole lot of negative emotions thinking I was about to be robbed of all of the celebrations I have worked so hard for the past few years.

When I think back on that time in my life, around April through mid-June life revolves around so many fun activities that mark the end of a long journey even as we start to look forward to the next stage of our lives. During this pandemic, people are being forced to stay home and away from friends, any activities that have to do with groups of people are forbidden, and schools look to be out until September. I hear that most will have their degrees mailed to them. Goodbye and Good Luck without any pomp or circumstance.

This is tough!

If you are living with a high school senior or have a college senior back at home this spring, it is important for you to help them navigate this time that surely feels disappointing. As they are missing milestones, how can you help them navigate this disappointing time and mark it uniquely within your family? These are the questions of the moment.

First, allow your child to vent, be angry, express disappointment and anger at the entire situation. Invite these feelings and be present to them. What your young adult is feeling is real and being able to make space and validate these feelings is important. If you are having a difficult time empathizing, remember back to how you felt during these important moments. It may feel long ago and not so important, but at the time it was everything. Recalling your own experience at that time, may help you hold space for your children to vent without feeling the need to shut them down.

Second, don’t jump the gun and think all is lost. Perhaps all will be cancelled, perhaps it will all be postponed — most of us don’t know exactly what is going to happen. It is difficult to live with uncertainty and not be able to make any definitive plans for these celebrations. Rather, one has to just take it day-by-day and be in the moment. So difficult at this time.

Third, if the special events are called off, finding creative ways to celebrate may be called for not only by you, but the entire school community. Perhaps a virtual prom is held as well as a virtual graduation ceremony. I am not sure if these types of events are in the works, but perhaps you could call the school/ PTA or whomever to inquire as to how this end of school could be marked in community with one another without being physically close to one another. If nothing is going to take place via the school, perhaps your own community of friends and families can get together virtually and mark the occasion together. One thing, it will be unforgettable.

Finally, make sure that you, as a family, mark the occasion of graduation. Perhaps you delay the party until it is safe or simply have a family celebration with cake and well wishes and creative gifts. Perhaps you create a video to mark the day. Technology can very much be our friend during such a time. Make sure to make time and make it a big deal for your graduate!

All is not lost during this time that may bring your senior to missing milestones in their school career. However, by allowing space for them to share their feelings, looking into what can be done at a school/community level, and marking it personally will help make the occasions special this season. Hold on to what is important and make sure to not forget even as society battles this pandemic.

Vandalism at the Cathedral

St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral is my church home in Seattle, WA. With a strong mission surrounding social justice in our immediate community and beyond, St. Mark’s serves all, members of its congregation and everyone else. And I do meant everyone else. It is a welcoming place for every single person in our community – whether a believer or not.

How rare to find such a place today, particularly one that is associated with a religious denomination. But we have it right here in Seattle.

That is why my heart has been saddened by the senseless vandalism of its beautiful cathedral recently. Yes, this is what was written on the Cathedral outdoor walls. I can’t make sense of who would do such a thing – but there are many random, awful events happening in America and all the world over today. I guess it has always been happening, but with our cameras on hand and everyone sharing across social media, it’s not easy to hide these horrific acts of violence.

Luckily, it was just the church building – so much worse has happened in churches across America recently.

What do you make of it all? Does it stress you out to see such violence brought against a loving organization that serves the community? How do you make sense of these seemingly small acts of terror taking place each day?

For me, I find it necessary to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open. However, I often want to close it out and not look. How much easier would life be if I didn’t have to engage in seeing what is happening. It is easy for me to understand people checking out. It is hard to stay in.

Second, I look to the leaders for uplifting thoughts and meaning-making of these incidents so I can call myself to see what I may not be able to from the surface. Dean Thomason has done exactly this with his statement regarding the vandalism.

Finally, I take heart that I am not alone in my outrage and that there are many people who feel as I do. I am not in the minority, and together there is strength to overcome.

Still, there it is. The ugly writing on the Cathedral wall. We will wash it away having acknowledged it was there, but what next?

To that question, I have no answer.

A Heavy Heart

A Heavy Heart

A friend texted me the other day and although, like most texts, it was short with very few words, I could feel the heaviness of the person’s heart in that little note.

Now, how can you actually feel a text? I think the Millenials and those younger than me can read feelings in texts just fine with the help of all of the emojis, but for me (& my generation) there is something that still has to be read between the lines. It is implied, but not a given, unless we have the courage to ask or simply reply, “I feel the heaviness of your heart.”

How to handle a friend or a colleague’s heavy heart? Presence. This seems to be a critical key and one that seems to be lacking for younger generations who basically find presence in the on-line, social media driven world. For me, when I received the text, and felt the heaviness, I replied back by naming what I could read and feel between the lines. The person wrote back a note of thanks for me naming what she was feeling.

However, I made a mental note to myself to check in with this person when I next saw her to really show my presence, my care, my concern over her situation. I knew the immediate text of empathy would help, but I also knew that a heavy heart needs presence, interest, a kind word, a show of care that takes a little more time than sending a sad emoji.

This may fly in the face of our tech world, and may be something you laugh at, but when you think back to your hard moments, what was it that you needed? Even though technology keeps speeding up, human beings still function the old fashioned way, The gift of presence can lend a balm to a heavy heart like none other.

Yes, it is expensive as it is our time and no-one has much of it anymore, but it’s also our fellow family, friends, and community. Taking care of the heavy hearts as they arise is critical to holding on to what we all need as people living together on this planet. Do not let your phone an other tech gadgets fool you. Reach beyond to ease someone’s pain.

Grief in the Social Media Era

Modern Day Grief

Thinking about grief over the death of a loved on, a loss of a job, a loss of a pet, and/or any other types of losses that we grieve throughout our life. And then I thought about how social media plays a role in our grieving today.

One of the first things I have noticed in this day and age is how often I hear death news via social media, particularly Facebook. I will simply be scrolling down my feed and will see that someone has died or a friend’s pet has died or someone has been given a terrible diagnosis or someone has lost his job — right there in a status update is often the most devastating news.

The second thing I notice is all of the people adding comments of sympathy, empathy, shared experiences, expressions of hope and faith, and more. Sometimes it is a tsunami of instant balm for a deep grief. Something about the “instant” and the “deep” do not seem to mesh for me, even though this is how we seem to get our news and respond these days.

There was one instance where a grade school friend of mine died very unexpectedly in a car crash headed to book group one night. This was years ago and so my friend had been in her mid-thirties and left several young children. I found the news out by her eldest child, who was around 7 years old, posting that he had lost his mommy and would now be handling her page. Wow! I was bowled over by this shocking news and felt overwhelmed for this little boy and her entire family.

Leaving a comment did not seem “right,” however, the only way I was connected to this person was through Facebook, so I posted a condolence message. I was grateful to have the news, and yet saddened that what I posted really could not convey the depth of my feelings.

It feels like grief in the era of social media has put us into some binds – ones that are often tough to navigate. As mentioned earlier, the depth of grief over such losses is often met with instant support that may come off as flippant given someone may have just found out about the loss while scrolling on their lunch break and feels like she has to say something kind before pushing on to the next update.

One thought is to wait a little while before commenting to compose what you want to say and then say it in a private message, email, or handwritten note and/or card. It may not be an instant offer of support, but taking your time to be present to your own emotions as well as to the one experiencing her grief is precious.

If you feel you need to comment, you could always write something that says something sympathetic and then an additional comment about how you will be reaching out to them in the future.

Although we live in an era of instant communication, grief is not instant. Remembering this and recognizing what we would want during our own times of pain and grief can help us better navigate learning devastating news while scrolling through our daily news feed.