Posts

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Heart to Heart Communication: What to Say/ What Not to Say

Honing consoling skills for meaningful friendships…

The Art of Consoling Conversation:  swift to hear, slow to speak.

The silence of listening has a clear message, “I’m right here.  I care and I’m with you.  I’m not sure what to say, but I’m ready to listen”

Real listening comes from the heart because that is where sympathy and healing begins.  It’s a silent way of sharing in the moment but is also a way of helping the bereaved to find their own solutions.

The best things you can possibly say:

Frequently people avoid mentioning the deceased on anniversaries and other special occasions, thinking it will cause sadness and depression.  Talk about their partner and continue his memory.  There is comfort to survivors knowing that their lost ones are not forgotten, that their past life experience is valued.  Remember the birthday of their partner.  Remember anniversaries.

Healing conversation starters:

  1. I’m so sorry.  Was your father ill for a long time?
  2. I am at a loss to know what to say, but I sense how difficult this must be for you.
  3. I have been thing about you and wanted to know how/what you’ve been doing.
  4. This must be a bewildering and incredibly complicated time.  It must be very hard for you (and your family”
  5. What it like for you these days?  How are you coping?
  6. Do you feel like talking for a while?

Suggestions for positive communication:

  1. Perhaps another time…if they aren’t ready to talk or it’s not opportune.
  2. Listen without judgement… people are still sorting out their thinking and feelings
  3. Focus your attention…eye contact, learn forward, nod
  4. Avoid interrupting
  5. Maintain a positive outlook…mention the positive qualities an strengths about them
  6. Rational answers are irrational…Death can never be explained away with logic.
  7. Suggestions are better than advice.
  8. Share, don’t compare, experiences.
  9. I’d like to do something to help…give me a job.
  10. I can only image how hard it is/how awful you feel.
  11. I miss him, too.
  12. Spend Sunday with us, we’d love to have you.
  13. I remember when…tell stories about the person who has died.
  14. He’d be really proud of you.
  15. I’m going to take the children out for the whole day.
  16. You’re doing a great job.
  17. Shall I come round and bring dinner with me?
  18. I’ll do the driving.
  19. I’m so very sorry.

Top things NOT to say to someone who’s been widowed- and why

  1. I know how you feel.  (You don’t unless you’ve been widowed…and everyone is different.)
  2. At least he had many good years. It’s a blessing in disguise. (She is now alone.)
  3. You’re being so brave.  (She’s not.  She’s just getting on with life.)
  4. Call me if you need anything. (She won’t be able to.)
  5. When my dad died, my grandmother got cancer, I was divorced etc….(It’s not the same.)
  6. Don’t cry; try to keep control of yourself.  (Everyone grieves differently.  It takes longer than you’d expect.  She’s not enjoying it.  This is not her choice.)
  7. You should be resting, taking it easy, being kind to yourself. Don’t do anything for a year.  (There are still life demands.)

Tears…

“If There’s Anything I Can Do…How to Help Someone Who has been Bereaved” by Caroline Doughty, White Ladder Press, Britain, 2007  (insight and suggestions for helping widows with young children)

“The Art of Condolence, what to write, what to say, what to do at a time of loss” by Leonard Zunin, MD and Hilary Stanton Zunin, Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.

Tears…The chemistry of tears is distinct to stress.  It’s an intense physical release that’s needed at the time.The etiquette of tears is NOT handing the tissue or handkerchief.  This rush to stop the process is more about the discomfort to the observer and only adds more stress and embarrassment to the tearful one.  Best is to just sit quietly through the moment and let him/her work through to conclusion.   Placing

The etiquette of tears is NOT handing the tissue or handkerchief.  This rush to stop the process is more about the discomfort to the observer and only adds more stress and embarrassment to the tearful one.  Best is to just sit quietly through the moment and let him/her work through to conclusion.   Placing tissue or such nearby makes it available but doesn’t make a subtle request that the flow stop.Someone mentioned “The 8 seconds of grief” that happens with time.

Someone mentioned “The 8 seconds of grief” that happens with time.  Spurts of grief can swell despite the passing of time and are expressed in an 8 second experience.   I noticed this little phenomena with the passing of my mother.  Something would touchingly remind me of her.  I would tear up and it would pass. I didn’t dissolve into a messy puddle of emotion.  The emotion would swell up and, in roughly 8 seconds, it would subside.   Just go with the moment without fret.  We are emotional beings with heart.

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Resting vs. Stuck

There are times when resting is healing.  There are times when resting becomes stuck.

Stuck is a control issue.  Stress causes a sense of powerlessness so our minds go into a heavy-duty control mode.  Holding tight to what is known feels safer.  To let go might feel like powerless chaos.  Our minds trick us into thinking that by holding on, we are in control of something we cannot control-the loss of a loved one. It takes conscious choice in dealing with reality.  Control is actually letting go.

Self awareness:

Has self preservation turned into self-absorption?

Who am I really?  Am I extremely intolerant of others response to me?

Do I demand sympathy? Do I have difficulty with anything new?

St Francis prayer:  “Accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can.”

“If There’s Anything I Can Do…How to Help Someone who has been Bereaved” by Caroline Doughty, White Ladder Press, Britain, 2007 (insight and suggestions for helping widows with young children)

“The Art of Condolence, what to write, what to say, what to do at a time of loss” by Leonard Zunin, MD and Hilary Stanton Zunin, Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.

“When a Spouse Dies, What I didn’t Know about helping myself and others through grief,” by Barbara R Wheeler, DSW, Plain Sight Publishing, 2012.

“Transitions, Making sense of life’s changes” by William Bridges, Lifelong books, 2004.

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Restocking your “Cope Chest” with Your Own Lifelines

Attend to yourself; attending to others is possible but very difficult

Being kind and tolerant to yourself is more healing than self-criticism

Exercise lifts mood, releases stress but does not solve the issues.

Busy is a helpful distraction from the pain.  Balance the pain with a counterweight of quiet time to do the inner work.

Journaling…Write it out.  Get it out.  Look at your thinking.  It’s a physical method for the inner work.

Music can be comforting.  It can be warmth that nourishes the soul.

Accept help from others. Grief is a lonely place.  Allow others to learn, grow and prepare for their own grief by sharing your experience. Seek a support group .

There is no best way:  It’s our personal responsibility to manage our pain.  Each of us is ultimately in charge of our own healing.

“When a Spouse Dies, What I didn’t Know about helping myself and others through grief,” by Barbara R Wheeler, DSW, Plain Sight Publishing, 2012.

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Understanding the Emotions of Grief

Emotions might follow a flow: shock, numbness and disbelief; experiencing the pain; acceptance.

Shock, numbness and disbelief

Mind and spirit go into shock with a severe emotional jolt.  Emily Dickinson called it, “the hour of lead”.

The first and nature response is to doubt or deny.  It’s an unconscious way of preventing emotional overload.  It helps to face the loss bit by bit as one gathers inner resources and external supports.

Numbness is also a buffer that makes it possible to do what must be done in the immediate aftermath of a personal loss:  make arrangements, take care of daily needs, attending to others.  This feeling of unreal and emotional distance is a temporary support.  Periods of clarity can weave with the inability to think, restlessness and confusion as the reality sinks it.  It’s the waffling between “I’m OK, I’m not OK” until the numbness is replaced by the strong presence of emotion.

Experience the pain.  Numbness gives way to feeling.  When grief reaches the heart, the real pain begins.  The reality of loss begins a reminder of a time that once was. Four strong emotions intertwine in endless and often troubling patterns…fears, sadness, anger and guilt.  Emotions serve their purpose and subside in time.

  • Fears come and go without warning and surface without predictability.  Fear of being alone is what motivates relationships with others.
  • Sadness is often the consuming emptiness.  Hopelessness and helplessness spill forth at unexpected times.  Enjoyment is lost, then a fleeting sensation.  Tears, though often embarrassing, are part of the healing process. Sadness redefines priorities, goals and sense of purpose.
  • Anger may be rational and focused or irrational and broad.  Feelings of irritability, bitterness, hostility and aggression are often so surprising that mourners may fear themselves on the verge of a breakdown.  Powerful energies of stress are released when issues reach a point of resolve.
  • Guilt, anger turned toward ourselves, can be disabling.  It erodes self esteem and evokes self-condemnation.  If not resolved, the healing cannot be complete.  Surprisingly, guilt is a natural response when one first begins to feel happy again after a long path of grieving.
  • Amidst all the emotional turmoil, physical and intellectual stress can add layers of complications and distractions.  There are physical complaints, emotional swings, thinking disturbances and changes in behavior.  Sleep disturbance, excess energy/lethargy, overeating/lack of appetite, confused thinking, changed behavior…Threads of stress weave together to form the fabric of mourning.

“The Art of Condolence, what to write, what to say, what to do at a time of loss” by Leonard Zunin, MD and Hilary Stanton Zunin, Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.

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Awareness of the Moments of Grief

There is a succession of stages yet each experience has its own internal logic.  Each personal works their way through these tasks in their own way in their own time.  They often ebb and flow, revisit

There are five primary goals or tasks in the grief process that flows from denial to being calm and settled.

Accepting the finality of the loss.  Buried in this stage is our sense of safety and survival. Loss feels like fear.  It looks like brain fog: the inability to think well and focus attention.  It’s the sense, “I am totally alone.  It’s all up to me.”

Accepting the painful thoughts, feelings and behaviors is the process of mourning.   Grief is a time when every aspect of the relationship with a loved one is felt, examined and reexamined including experiences, hopes, feelings, thoughts and memories. It’s the realization of what was and what will be no more.

Reclaiming and redirecting the love energy once focused on the lost relationship.  It means letting go.  This energy is needed to again find a place in the world and to develop new relationships.

Reviewing and crystallizing memories of the deceased.  The dam of memories breaks and the mind searches the past to make sense of the experience.  Initially the mind buffers itself with positive images to cushion feelings of regret, guilt and anger at a time when one has little ability to cope.  In the natural progression of healing, this review eventually becomes more realistic and balanced, containing both positive and negative recollections.  Gradually, an image of life with the deceased is created.

Selecting memories to incorporate in the fabric of life going forward.  Through the process of remembering, replaying and integrating, one becomes her next self by adapting and changing in behavior, self-perception and expectations.  The goal is adapting to an accepted changed state:  “This is who I am now.”Healing is hampered by resisting the process and suppressing natural expression as we try hard to be brave and courageous as we endure.  We want to hurry it along so we aren’t a burden or a drag.

Healing is hampered by resisting the process and suppressing natural expression as we try hard to be brave and courageous as we endure.  We want to hurry it along so we aren’t a burden or a drag.It’s realizing that it’s best to go with the flow.

It’s realizing that it’s best to go with the flow.Healing is done with the ability to remember, without anguish, the joy and disappoints of the lost relationship, a wholehearted return to regular activities and energy into a new life.  One moves from getting through the day” to a turn in the road where laughter returns and perspective includes others.  It’s the return of the ability to look forward to life ahead.

Healing is done with the ability to remember, without anguish, the joy and disappoints of the lost relationship, a wholehearted return to regular activities and energy into a new life.  One moves from getting through the day” to a turn in the road where laughter returns and perspective includes others.  It’s the return of the ability to look forward to life ahead.   Grief is a testing that can cultivate a sense of self-sufficiency, an increase in self-trust and worth, a show of courage and grit that prepares us for independent life ahead.

Grief is a testing that can cultivate a sense of self-sufficiency, an increase in self-trust and worth, a show of courage and grit that prepares us for independent life ahead.

“The Art of Condolence, what to write, what to say, what to do at a time of loss” by Leonard Zunin, MD and Hilary Stanton Zunin, Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.

“When a Spouse Dies, What I didn’t Know about helping myself and others through grief,” by Barbara R Wheeler, DSW, Plain Sight Publishing, 2012.