Moving through Grief

Moving through Grief

Moving through grief. What does this even mean?

As a therapist in training I ran a small grief group. The weekly meetings across ten weeks were meaningful and significant — for the participants. Not to say those meetings were not important to me — I was learning, I was training, I was in the work. Yet, I was not in grief. For me, I understood and yet I did not understand at all what people were feeling. I could be present, empathize, hold space and contain feelings — but I could not move through grief that was not my own.

I realize this now as I have been experiencing a significant season of grief. I lost my Scottish Terrier on Thursday, February 4th 2021 around noon. Even eleven weeks later – notice how I still count the weeks from that week – I still mark the days of that week by how my Pepper walked through his final days and how I walked alongside him.

To say it has been a mysterious time is an understatement. I suppose my unique journey of moving through grief has been largely to dwell in the mystery and to go slow with myself feeling what I feel in the moment. Over this period of time I would often break out into tears as I listened to a song, saw him in my memory in all of his favorite places, felt robbed that he was gone so young and so fast. I didn’t bottle it up — all of my tears – instead I have let them flow.

Moving through grief has been marking his passing in significant ways — framing his paw print with a friend’s little memorial drawing of the letter “P” for his name — taking his hair clipping and making a piece of memorial jewelry that I wear close to my heart each day – creating a plan to scatter his ashes in his favorite place – being open to talking with him on a regular basis. I have my most favorite picture of him on my vanity table and I sit each morning there putting on my makeup and tell him about my day. Sometimes I light a Glassy Baby candle that captures my feeling toward him for that day — like Honor, Thank You, and To The Moon.

For a long time I was quiet. I was able to thank people through handwritten notes for their kindness of holding me in their thoughts, but for a long while I could not speak to anyone. Nor did I want to. I wanted to be quiet and hold him all to myself. These days I find I am having people over to my home and I show them where Bubby died and I can talk about how painful this season has been for me. I am finding my words. Also, I am learning that there are friends who will hold space for my pain and be present to me.

On some level, I hate to see the weeks roll on by. It adds up to more days without Pepper. He surely would have loved the sunshine and warm temperatures. He ruled his corner of the world and would be out all day long keeping guard over the neighborhood. He loved his walks — rain or shine — and always was up to play tug. The days keep moving forward and there is nothing I can do to stop time. I can only continue to hold close to myself and my memories as I move forward.

I love Maira Kalman and she has a book titled Beloved Dog that looks at dogs through her own whimsical lens. She had a dog whom she loved and lost, but in this book she also talks about losing her husband and she wrote something profound on a page that continues to stay with me during this period:

When Tibor died, the world came to an end. And the world did not come to an end. That is something to learn.

Indeed, I have so much to learn moving through grief.

A Pandemic Ending

Pandemic Ending

A pandemic ending. Can it even be possible?

Only a year ago, the entire world was going into lockdown. True lockdown days where the government actually counted cars on the road to see if we were doing a good job in WA State of staying home. Except for a trip to the grocery store every now and again, you were meant to stay inside.

Although life became strange, the lockdown provided many with a reprieve from having to be social. Many who feel pressure to live up to others’ expectations no longer need worry about it. Family occasions came and went and there was no need to make uneasy excuses as to why you didn’t want to attend.

The pandemic of course. It allowed for many to have breathing room to slow down, not care so much, and be true to themselves.

A pandemic ending? Now what?

All of a sudden, with everyone soon vaccinated, people are going to be out and about wanting to gather socially. All of a sudden the pressure to keep up, discuss post-pandemic plans, and be with others is on. Even before it actually is over, everyone is chomping at the bit to make plans. It’s no longer a long breath moment of silence and hunkering down. Now it is all about the other and getting out into life.

But what if you aren’t ready? What if you want to stay in lock down a little bit longer or even a lot longer. What to do? Perhaps all of us found a space that felt new and different that we don’t quite want to give up as the pandemic ends. Perhaps you love cooking more or family game nights have become a tradition or working on your creative projects deserve your time. These all feel like easier things to keep as a part of your life even as life resumes to normalcy.

How about drawing boundaries with friends and family? Now that everyone is going to be able to actually see their dear ones without a pandemic looming over us, what if you don’t feel like rushing out to be with everyone? How to handle? Being honest with one’s self seems to be the start. On your own, what did you learn about yourself as far as the others you share time with? Perhaps this is the time to put in motion how to be with others and be true to yourself. Perhaps that is not seeing people, perhaps it is not spending as much time, perhaps it is saying no, perhaps it is saying yes. Having courage to interact with others out of new knowledge garnered while in lockdown feels important as the pandemic ending is about to unfold.

If you are grieving the end of the pandemic, it is perfectly normal. For over a year, we have found a new way to live life that was quite different than life before. Taking some time to think about the losses that you will endure as life resumes also feels important at this time. As we went into lockdown, I don’t think anyone saw that this was going to go on for over a year. We lived into it as it unfolded.

As we have more notice of the pandemic ending, grieving what is over and lost, preparing how you want to engage with the other, and determining what parts of your lockdown life you want to keep are all ways to prepare for coming out of lockdown and engaging in normal life over the next few months.

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.

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.

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.

Letting Go of 2019

Time to Let Go of 2019

It’s that time of year. Ready or not the year is coming to an end. Not only that, but this year, with the end of 2019, comes the end of another whole decade. How did that happen? Wasn’t it just 2010 and it was all just beginning?

Time stops for no one, even if one is not quite ready to say goodbye. Do you mark the end of a calendar year in any special and/or significant ways? I notice that my mind takes a wander through each of the months of the past year and I think about the events and other happenings that marked that particular time during the year — for both good and bad.

Not only do I go through the calendar year by month in my mind, I also think about the various areas of life and whether or not there were any shifts to note?

These categories include:

  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Professional/Vocation/Career
  • Personal – my role as a wife, daughter, sister, friend
  • Home Life
  • My Pets and their lives

There may be others to add, but I sort of take stock and think about what has gone on in these areas and how do I feel about them? In this way, I have a good sense of what made up the year and sets my mind intentionally on the new year.

These practices allow me to linger with 2019 for a little longer as I prepare to let go of the past dear year.

Do you have any practices you engage in to help you let go at this time of year?