Friday, May 30, 2008

Feeling, Not Thinking

For the last month, I've been pondering the answers to two questions I was recently asked about grieving. The first one came as a result of a woman reading my blog posting about What We Can Learn From Grief and wondering how we can get out of the way mentally and let our body grieve. The second question was asked by a relatively new widow: how does one facilitate the grieving process?

I believe the answers to these two questions are related, so I'm going to attempt to answer them both simultaneously. First, let's start with the premise that grief is primarily a feeling process, not a thinking process. Why is this important? There's a big tendency here in the West, especially for men, to intellectualize grief. We can think about our grief all we want, but we're not likely to heal much that way.

OK, fine. I need to feel in order to heal. But what does that mean in practice?

I was very lucky as an early widower to be aware of a healing process called Focusing. The best book I found on the subject is called The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing. As a man, I found this technique to be very helpful as it taught me how to listen to what my body was trying to tell me. I highly recommend it.

I read recently that the primary purpose of our neo cortex is to produce thoughts, which lead in turn to movement. When I attended a Vipassana meditation course, this was elaborated on a bit as follows:

  • First, a thought comes to our mind

  • This thought produces a feeling or sensation somewhere in our body

  • Due to this feeling, we react in some way

Can you see how intellectualizing grief is counter-productive? I don't know about you, but when I was in the throes of grief, I had more feelings than I knew what to do with! I certainly didn't need to have thoughts generating even more feelings. Instead, I needed a way to work with the feelings I already had. And I needed my brain to be quiet.

What I learned through 100 consecutive hours of silent Vipassana meditation was how to allow a thought to come to mind, feel the sensation, but not react to it in any way. This not reacting included not generating additional, related thoughts and perpetuating the cycle. By the end of the course, a thought could come up and pass away, and I felt no need to follow it or react to it. As a result of not being needed, my mind grew very quiet. I guess it didn't like being ignored ;-) With this quieting of my mind came a deep and healing peace. I finally met the real me, that guy who doesn't have any problems.

It was right after I came back from Vipassana that I learned about a Hawaiian healing method called ho'oponopono. It says that any problem we experience in our life comes as a result of a memory. The solution? Let go of the memory. I have written a fair bit about this method and how it has helped me.

In my next post, I'll explain more about how we can help our body heal from grief.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lack of Meaning

Noun. Relative worth, merit, or importance; import or meaning; force; significance; liking or affection; favourable regard.

One of the more fascinating attributes we humans possess is the fickleness with which we assign value to things. When you were married, you probably had a pretty good idea about the value to you of your house, car, job, possessions, friends, spouse, even yourself. And then in an instant, it all changed. Now that your spouse is dead, does anything have the value to you that it once did? What would you give up to have your spouse back, if that were possible? Is there anything you wouldn't part with? Things you may have staked your entire career on, like a big house or car, can now seem almost meaningless. Overnight, your entire value system has likely undergone a major upheaval. And the aftermath can last for months and years.

I'm not real interested in the fast car or the big house. Never have been. Of far more interest to me is the value that we assign to our own lives, and to life itself. Several months after Deb died, I remember staring up at the ceiling one morning for 3 and a half hours with little thought other than "life is pointless." The meaning and value with which I had previously regarded life had all but vanished. But if life held no meaning, what was my place in it? What was the meaning of my life? Oh great, just a simple question like "what is the meaning of life?" My life. Or at least the one I now found myself living.

After Deb's death, this niggling meaning-of-life question would surface every now and then, adding to the sea of uncertainties in which I floundered. Did my life have meaning any more? What was that meaning? Hard, universal questions, and the only answer seemed to be, "the meaning you give it." It took me many hard, hard months of reassigning values to lesser things before I could even begin to conceive of the value I would give to my own life. Was I a father? Single dad? Friend? Co-worker? Naturalist? Idealist? Realist? Essentialist? None of these answers came quickly or easily.

The truth is, I have always been interested in the answers to these questions, and I still am, even though I am now at peace with both the questions and the answers. So it was with some interest that I read "Finding Meaning In the Second Half of Life" by Alexander Green. I'll just quote a few of the pertinent passages, but I encourage you to read the whole article. This will probably be more helpful to those of you who have already passed the one year mark and are beginning to grasp the need to reinvent yourself as a single person. There's lots of food for thought here...

Psychologists believe that roughly a quarter of Americans with symptoms of depression suffer from a chemical imbalance that, like diabetes, is most effectively treated with medication.

Others are experiencing a kind of reactive depression that is triggered by a serious reversal of some kind, an unexpected layoff, for example, or the sudden loss of a loved one. This form of depression can be severe but will ordinarily fade with time.

Yet, according to Dr. James Hollis of the C.J. Jung Educational Center in Houston, millions more suffer from a chronic melancholy that emanates from an entirely different source: a lack of meaning in their lives...

Many of them are haunted by the vague notion that something is missing in their lives. Often they can't put their finger on it. But it gnaws at them, creating fear, anxiety and, in some cases, depression...

But if meaning is missing, where can it be found? Some find the answer in their religious traditions. Others discover it by studying the world's wisdom literature, the great writings by history's wisest souls. Still others are fortunate enough to see it modeled by a parent, friend, or teacher, someone who is not merely living up to someone else's expectations but is instead busy living "an authentic life."

These men and women are too rare. And when they appear, society has a tendency to label them eccentric. As the poet T.S. Eliot once observed, in a world of fugitives, the person who is headed in the right direction will appear to be running away...

"Despite the blandishments of popular culture, the goal of life is not happiness but meaning," writes Dr. Hollis, author of "Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life."

To determine whether you're on the right track, he suggests you ask yourself a simple question: "Does the path I'm on enlarge me or diminish me?" Your answer, he says, should be immediate and instinctive...

Living an authentic life is not an easy choice. The poet e.e. cummings said, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

So expect conflicts and hurdles. Setbacks, too. Finding creative solutions to these challenges fuels the mind with positive energy. It gives you the opportunity to show yourself - and those around you - how much you really want it.

And, in the process, it gives your life meaning.

Does the path I'm on enlarge me or diminish me? What a great question to ponder as we make our own road.

Monday, May 26, 2008

No Time For Goodbyes

Tonight I've got another great article by Dr LaGrand about what to do when there was no time to say goodbye. In my case, there was lots of time to say goodbye, but Deb and I never really wanted to discuss it. Looking back, I can see that after Deb died, I did several of the things listed in this article, like writing a goodbye letter and refocusing my thoughts, and I did find that they helped me. I hope they can help you also:

What To Do When Someone Dies And There Was No Time For Goodbyes

Not infrequently, death occurs and surviving family members and friends do not have the opportunity to say goodbye to the loved one who died. Fatal automobile accidents and heart attacks, hurricanes, murders, and many other unexpected events are the catalysts for much anxiety and deeply felt grief.

Many survivors are guilt ridden when in fact there is clearly no outward cause for such guilt. They did nothing wrong. Yet, unexpected death often wipes out our ability to see that we did not create the circumstances to cause the emotion being experienced.

Sometimes dying people choose to die when those close to them are not present in order to spare them additional pain. Also, it is not uncommon for a person to die in a hospital or hospice setting when a family member is rushing to get there. All of the pain of these events is maximized by the thought of not being with the person at the end.

So what can be done to reduce emotional pain and provide support in the face of deep sadness? Plenty. One or more of the following can prove helpful.

  • Say goodbye in a private setting. I often tell those who are mourning the death of a loved one that there is nothing wrong with talking to the person who has died. It is a successful coping response used by millions of people and a meaningful way to say goodbye. Find a quiet room in your home, place a picture or other symbol of the loved one across from you, and say whatever you need to say. Explain why you were not there, why you are sorry, and that your love will always be with the person. If you believe in an afterlife, ask the person to send you a sign that they have heard you and are okay.

  • Be sure to go to the funeral service and the viewing of the body. The funeral is traditionally the time and place where you get to say goodbye to the person who died
    (something all children should be told). It can especially be your informal opportunity to say your goodbyes. If you are unable to attend the scheduled service time or showing, then find someone to go with you at another time when you can view the deceased.

    It is very important for you, especially on an unconscious level, to have seen the person who died.

  • Write your goodbyes in your diary or a letter. Writing thoughts and descriptions of feelings can provide a profound emotional and physical release. Write as though you are speaking directly to your loved one and be specific. Put an I Love You in it, and that you will never forget the person. When you are burdened by your thoughts of not having said goodbye, reread what you have written. You may also want to add something else to your writing at this time.

  • Write or paste messages to the loved one on a biodegradable helium-filled balloon for release. This can be a wonderful opportunity for a ritual of goodbye as you watch the balloon ascend into the sky. It will give you a planned occasion to think of your loved one if you are alone or discuss memories of the loved one if it is a group or family ritual.

    Be sure you purchase a biodegradable balloon as others are very damaging to wildlife and the environment.

  • Learn to refocus your attention and thoughts. When guilt and anxiety arise over the unintended event of not being able to say goodbye, an important survival skill involves immediately refocusing your attention. First, believe that the loved one understands your inability to say goodbye and would not hold a grudge. Then divert your awareness to a pleasant memory of the deceased or visualize her forgiving you. Change what is happening in the moment. This technique takes practice but it is a powerful coping response to develop and can be used for dealing with many other unwanted thoughts.

These approaches for dealing with not being able to say goodbye have a common goal: the acceptance of one of the sad events often associated with the death of a loved one. In the final analysis, each person has the ability to say a belated goodbye, let go of anxiety, recognize that separations without goodbye happen often, and start on the road of reinvesting in life.

Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena). His website is

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Only Way To Heal Is To Feel

Once in a while, I find a great grief article that just nails it: concise, packed with realistic, helpful advice, and lots of keen insights. The following article from Chandra Alexander packs a lot into five key paragraphs. What really struck me was her fifth point, that you cannot think your way through grief — you must feel. As a guy, I had to learn how to feel my way through grief. Intellectualizing my way through grief came naturally, but it brought little relief. It was only after I learned feeling techniques like Focusing and Vipassana that I was able to complete the bulk of my grief work and to be at peace.

Anyway, without further ado, here's Chandra's excellent article:

Are You Grieving?

Are you grieving over the loss of a loved one? Whether you are around friends, family, acquaintances, or strangers, understand that grieving is a natural and normal part of life. If you are grieving and are having trouble being with others, here are a few ways to better deal with your loss.

  1. Grieving is a natural part of life – we grieve when we lose something we love.
    • For some reason, in the West, we deal with grieving, death and dying, as unspeakable subjects. It is as though we think if we don’t talk about them, they will go away.
    • But they don’t go away because they are inherent in life; the cycle of birth and death rages on.
    • Every death – the death of a loved one, the losing of a job, the ending of a relationship, even though it might have been dysfunctional, - summons up every other death. Judith Rossner says in her book August, "After the first death, there is no other."

  2. There is no "normal" timeframe to stop grieving – the grieving stops when you are done mourning.
    • If you surrender to the natural process of grieving, you will move through grieving and be done when you are done.
    • Everything is moving all the time. When you feel the passing of something, you allow yourself to grieve and give yourself permission to feel your sadness.

  3. Do not pretend to be "happy" if you are not.
    • Pretending is the opposite of authenticity.

  4. Talk about the person you loved and lost... even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.
    • You have a right to talk about things you want to talk about as much as the next person.
    • It is not your job to make someone else feel comfortable.

  5. You cannot think your way through grief – you must feel.
    • I often say the only way to HEAL is to FEEL.
    • Thinking keeps the "feelings" in the head, in a very intellectual way, never allowing them to come down and rest in the heart
    • Until you are willing to feel your feelings of sadness, you can never move through the natural process of grieving.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rebuilding Self Esteem

After our spouse dies, we can suffer a tremendous hit to our self-esteem in addition to all our other losses. This is especially true if you identified strongly with your role as husband or wife to your late mate. If your wedding vows were anything like mine, they read "until death do us part." So legally and contractually, you are no longer that wife or husband, regardless of how you feel about that. But if that role was your primary identity, then who are you now? It is no wonder that your feelings of self-worth can plummet.

Even for those of us who can accept a little more readily that we are no longer married, it can be very, very difficult to build up our self-esteem. We feel inadequate on so many levels. When I was married, I felt totally competent at being a husband and father. After Deb died, I felt totally inadequate as a single dad, and I was less than competent (or ready) for being a single man contemplating dating.

Now that our spouse is dead, we have been unwillingly thrust into a multitude of new roles we neither want nor understand. Anything from financial skills to grocery shopping to fixing the car to raising children to unplugging a drain. If our late mate took care of those things, we now face taking care of them alone. Because we lack the skills, we make mistakes — lots of them! And each mistake can further mar an already shattered self-image, dragging us well into depression territory.

But we can rebuild our self-esteem, and in fact we need to in order to survive and thrive in our new life. I found a great article by Dr. Joe Rubino which gives a number of great tips on how to overcome self-esteem issues. While it is written specifically for business professionals, it details out some solutions which have universal applications. I won't quote the entire article, focusing instead on the last three paragraphs, and I'll insert a few of my own comments pertaining directly to widow/ers:

[from The Impact of Lacking Self-Esteem on Business Professionals]

The answer to escaping the vicious cycle of lacking self-esteem, diminished confidence, and the never-ending, frustrating quest for fulfillment lies in the 3 step process as laid out in detail in The Self-Esteem Book. The process starts with healing one's past so that it no longer robs us of energy and consumes our attention. We do this by reinterpreting the upsetting events of our childhood [Ed: and the death of our spouse] in a way that involves empathy, forgiveness, and gratitude [Ed: ho'oponopono is a great method for doing exactly this]. We create empathy for those who said or did things that hurt us and caused us to lose esteem by asking the question "What could it have been like in this person's world for them to have acted as they did?" This is not the same as condoning hurtful behavior. It is simply making the observation that they acted in alignment with how they viewed the world. As a child we gave these happenings meanings that resulted in our decision that we did not measure up in some way to the standards of perfection we set for ourselves. We can then make a conscious decision to both forgive those who hurt us [Ed: like Don't Get It's!] and forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. And lastly, rather than focus on our weaknesses, we can decide to be grateful for our strengths and gifts. We can learn to acknowledge ourselves for the things we do well and for the unique, special gifts we bring to the world.

Once the pull of past ghosts is complete, we can then turn our attention to properly analyzing our present state of affairs. We can identify what's working in our lives and what's missing to support living an upset-free life in choice, a life that honors our most important values and inspires us to live passionately. We can analyze each of the six predominant areas of our lives: our health and physical appearance and makeup, our occupation or life's work, our wealth and finances, our relationships and family, our spiritual and personal development, and our fun, recreations, and passions. We can highlight our strengths and decide to work to improve upon the things that we see as lacking in each area.

And finally, we can take that magic wand that is our birth-right, wave it over our lives and design our future deliberately. We can choose to do so in a way that excites us, as we cast off that gloomy state of low self-esteem, unhealthy resignation and self-pity that no longer supports us. We can create a vision for who we are and the qualities for which we wish to be known. We can decide how we will spend a typical day at work or at play. We can envision the things that we will have around us in our lives, including such things as where we will live and with whom. And we can decide how our lives will be spent so that we honor our most important values, who we will contribute to, and what passions and gifts we will focus on manifesting. We can decide to read such a written vision daily and replace our negative self-talk with powerful affirming statements that support our self-worth. In short, we can live with the intention to honor our God-given magnificence and lead happy, fulfilled lives that fully contribute to others as we embrace our humanity and share the unique and special person we are with the world.

Dr. Joe Rubino is an internationally acclaimed personal development trainer, a life-changing success coach, and best-selling author of 9 books and 2 audio sets on topics ranging from how to restore self-esteem, achieve business success, maximize joy and fulfillment in life and productivity in business. An acclaimed speaker and course leader, he is known for his groundbreaking work in personal and leadership development, building effective teams, enhancing listening and communication skills, life and business coaching, and optimal life planning.

Dr. Rubino is the CEO of The Center for Personal Reinvention,, an organization committed to the personal excellence and empowerment of all people. He has impacted the lives of more than 1 million people through self-esteem work, personal and group coaching, and personal and leadership development. Dr. Joe offers powerful personal coaching to support business success and life fulfillment.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

10 Ways to Handle Change

I subscribe to BeliefNet's daily email, and I found this great series on handling change. It was this article that prompted me to look more into Ariane de Bonvoisin's website, First30Days. From there, I read her 16 page report on how people respond to change, and that inspired me to write my second post on Grieving Successfully. Now you know a bit more about how I come up with these posts every other day ;-)

You may find this article more helpful if you are past the first year and looking for ways to create a new life for yourself. Because our spouse is dead, we have to change all our habits that used to involve our late mate. If you are feeling a lot of pain in your grief, you likely have quite a few of these habits you have yet to change. Easier said than done! How does one go about changing our habits? Here are some good hints:

10 Ways to Handle Change
By Ariane de Bonvoisin

Everyone experiences change — it may be a job change, relationship change, health change, or a change you've initiated that suddenly seems daunting. If you find change difficult, you're not alone. Many people think change is hard. But it's possible for the change you're going through to be easier, smoother, and less stressful — you can find the positive in transitions and learn to love your life more... you can become a Change Optimist.

1. Remember That Change Happens to Us All
Change happens every day, to everyone; it's the one constant in life, the thing that connects us all. And whether life has thrown a change at you or you've sought one out, it's natural to find it difficult.

But I believe change is positive, that anyone can change (you're never too old or too young), and there are always ways to make change easier. It's time to learn one of life's most important skills: how to navigate change!

2. From Every Change, Something Good Will Come
People who are good at change always focus on the positive that will inevitably come from any transition. The gift that comes from change may not be related to what you're currently going through. For example, you may lose your job but find yourself in a rewarding new relationship that you wouldn't have had time to pursue.

Change may lead you to new people, help you develop a stronger faith and belief in yourself, give you new opportunities, or inspire you to live a healthier life. It's important to be on the lookout for good changes, and not necessarily where you expect to find them!

3. Your Beliefs About Change Are Your Foundation
What you think about change will have a direct effect on how easy or hard you find the process. If you believe that change is difficult and terrible, then you will probably have a difficult and terrible time. But if you believe that change exists to teach you something — to make you a better person and put you on a new path — the transition will not be so daunting. Identify your beliefs — what you think and say to yourself and others during change — and turn them around.

For example, if you are having financial trouble, you may think "I am incapable of managing money." Or if you're going through a difficult break-up, you may believe "I am unlovable." But you can trade these disempowering beliefs — and their accompanying negativity and complaining--for thoughts that will give you strength and hope.

4. Get 'Unstuck' with the Change GPS
Because of emotions brought up by change, it's easy to get stuck in the past and to lose your ability to move forward. You may feel trapped by these Change Demons, but you can get unstuck by turning on your Change GPS! A GPS navigator only asks two questions: "Where are you now?" and "Where do you want to go?" Your Change GPS helps you move through transitions by alerting you if you're off-course and encouraging you to focus on your final destination.

If you're hoping to lose weight, for example, be honest about where you stand today (how much you need to lose and the most realistic approach), then create a plan and stick to it. The GPS won't tell you what you did wrong yesterday or what you could have done differently; it simply keeps you moving along the path to your ultimate goal.

5. Turn to Your Change Support Team
It's normal to feel isolated during change. We often think what we are facing is so unique that no one else can help or understand us. But change is easier when you let other people in. Whatever the situation, there is always, always, someone who can help.

One of the quickest ways to embrace change and move through it is to surround yourself with a team of supportive people. They can be family, friends, clergy members, therapists, co-workers — or anyone else who might help you through a change. These people are there to listen, support, and encourage you. They believe you can change, they want you to change, and most importantly, they will keep you on a path of hope and optimism as you move through the transition.

6. Change Demons Are a Healthy Part of Change
Change Demons are disempowering feelings that arise during any change. These emotions — fear, doubt, impatience, shame, blame, and guilt — can wreak havoc with your self-esteem and destroy hope. But they also remind you how you don't want to feel during change so you can return to how you do want to feel.

When Change Demons visit, remember: 1) they are temporary; 2) they encourage you to make a choice — you can choose to feel better or worse than the emotion you are currently experiencing; and 3) they can be replaced with better, brighter emotions that will help you move through change with ease and grace. Faith, patience, endurance, and honesty are some positive emotions that can replace Change Demons.

7. Use Your Spiritual Strength
When everything is changing, it's important to find the part of yourself that doesn't change — your calm, centered, spiritual side, your higher self. It's the part that's connected to something greater and uses your intuition as a guide. You need to reconnect to it through prayer, meditation, nature, silence, or journaling... anything that helps you go back inside, where your true spirit and power reside.

While your lower self may slip into self-pity and hold grudges, your higher self doesn't allow you to become a victim, to blame someone else when things get difficult, or to get lost in anger. This side helps you shine in strength, compassion, and clarity. During change, make an effort to act from your higher self and ask: "What would the better, wiser, calmer part of me do or say or think right now?"

8. You Have a Change Muscle
Everyone is born with a will to survive, get better, and be happier — I call this the Change Muscle. It helps you accept the reality of your situation and find your center again. Every time you are faced with a change and move through it, you are activating that muscle. And once you flex it, it's strengthened for life — you can never lose all that you have gained from experience. Next time you're faced with transition, remember that your Change Muscle will give you the strength to get through it.

9. Accept Change
When change happens, you often look longingly back to what used to be. You don't like where the river of life seems to be taking you, so you cling to the rocks or row vigorously upstream — that's what makes change tough! Accept change by taking in your new circumstances without fighting, arguing, explaining, or asking "What if?" It may be difficult at first, but you will soon see that life will lead you through this change and into a place of greater happiness and peace.

Go in the direction that life is taking you. If it's a divorce, accept it; if it's a health diagnosis, accept it — only then can you focus on re-aligning yourself with a plan and an optimistic view that focuses on the future, not the past.

10. Take Action
People who are good at change stop talking and take positive action. Whether life has thrown you a change or you want to make a shift, get a journal and start writing down your feelings. Then make a plan that feels right and is realistic and hopeful. Next, start moving physically. Getting some form of exercise is an absolute must when going through change — don't forget the S.E.E.D of all change. (Sleep, Eat Well, Exercise, and Drink Water).

Doing something for someone else — helping a neighbor, calling a lonely friend, spending extra time with your child — will also help to keep you moving forward during change. You can also try something brand new — a new route home, a new class at the gym, a new restaurant, to get things flowing. During transitions it's also helpful to create a "wall of change" with images of what you want to shift and work towards.

Change is a natural part of life. From your birth, to your education, to starting and losing jobs, to falling in and out of love, change has been with you from the beginning. Who you are today is the sum of all the changes you've experienced — the fun ones and the difficult ones, the big ones and the small ones. Going forward, change doesn't have to be hard; you have access to tips and wisdom from others who have been there, as well as expert advice, resources, and ideas that will help get you through any change.

Visit Ariane's new site, where you'll find information and inspiration on over 50 specific life changes. And you'll find guidance through change — with optimism and hope — in her book "The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Any Change (and Loving Your Life More)."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Successful Grieving III

Tonight I intend to finish my mini-series on grieving successfully. I wrote a bit in the first post of the series about having a goal and understanding that success is a gradual process. In the second post, I shared some fascinating research about how people who handle change well acquire a positive outlook, reach out for support, and make a plan. Fine. But how do we motivate ourselves to do anything when we feel ultra-depressed and powerless to handle the biggest change of our lives?

A small disclaimer: this series is likely to be more helpful to someone who is well into their second year of grief or beyond. For me, so much of that first year was just getting a grip on what this thing called grief is. Getting through another day was a major accomplishment. But after the first year, and after a ton of reading about grief, I was better equipped to face life and begin rebuilding my life. To do that, I needed all the motivation I could get.

I was lucky enough to have discovered professional motivational speakers over 13 years ago, and tonight I'll share some excellent advice by Les Brown from his "Choosing Your Future" program. I bought this audio program in 1995 and have relied on it many, many times over the years. I'll expand a bit on his key points in the context of grieving as a widow/er.

Motivational speakers for grief recovery??? No, I'm not on crack ;-) And no, I don't think that being motivated to grieve well is a silver bullet, or that saying a few affirmations in the mirror will "cure" you of your sorrow. I do think that, as bereaved people whose spouse has died, we can use every bit of encouragement out there, from any and every possible source. There were days I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning, days when I wondered if I was just going to be in endless pain and agony forever. It was those days, when it felt like the ship I had been sailing on had just exploded underneath me and left me floating in a flaming sea of debris, that I most appreciated having little pearls of wisdom to hang on to, to get through one more day, to hope for brighter days ahead.

So, as we begin the process of reinventing ourselves, there are 6 points to keep in mind when choosing our future:

  1. It's Possible
    It is possible to heal fully from the pain of losing a spouse. How do we know that? Because others have done it before us. Running a mile in under 4 minutes used to be thought to be impossible — until Roger Bannister did it in 1954. Since then, thousands of people have done it, including high school students. In the pain and agony of intense grief, it is helpful to know that it is possible to recover and that we will not feel like this forever. Just knowing it is possible can be enough to make it through another 5 minutes or another day.

  2. It's Necessary
    It is necessary to go to work on our grief. Freeing up the emotional investment we have associated with our past married lives is hard, painful, exhausting work. If we avoid it, years can go by with no lasting relief. But we're not robots, either — we need to take it easy on ourselves and give ourselves frequent breaks. Once we have caught our breath, though, we need to dive back in and get on with reinventing our shattered lives. Why? It's necessary.

  3. It's You
    Your future life is what you choose to make it. No one cares more about your new life than you. If you have family and friends for support, that will help. If you have a stable financial situation, that will help. But in the end, it is the person in the mirror who will make or break you. Another way to say this: "If it is to be, it is up to me."

  4. It's Hard
    This you already know. Grieving is probably the hardest thing you have ever done. And you have to keep doing it for longer than you would ever want to. And it tends to get harder before it gets any easier. But knowing it is hard can give a bit of comfort in that you know this is normal. Grieving is supposed to be hard.

  5. It's Worth It
    This can be hard to wrap your head around. After your spouse dies, it seems like nothing has any value anymore. This can sap your energy and make it hard to go on. But understand that working hard at your grief work will pay off eventually. The pain will subside, and you will likely emerge as a stronger, more compassionate, and more grateful person than you were before. You will appreciate life so much more, and it will take on a deep richness.

  6. It Is Done
    This is where you begin to live your life as if you have already come out the other side of grief. Imagine how you would live if you were no longer in pain, if you had completed the bulk of your grief work, and the rest of your life was in front of you. What would you do? Once you make up your mind that you will get through the desert of grief, begin to live your life as though you are already healed and at peace.

These six points have helped me at various times in my grieving. It is my wish that they can offer you both some help and some hope.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

One Journey

I find it extremely helpful to read stories from other widow/ers, for a number of reasons. One, it gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow. Two, it lets us know that we are not alone, that there are many, many fellow travelers on this road. And three, we can learn how others experience their loss in their own unique way, and we might take away something that can help us in our own grief work.

I read a great post on WidowNet on the 18th of April, and I caught up with the author recently to ask to repost her story. I'll let her introduce herself:

I'm Pam Arterburn, an English teacher living in Southern California, and my husband died in his sleep early in 2005. He had not been ill. We'd been together since I was thirteen and he was fifteen. I live with my two kids, 25 and 15, and still take writing classes at UCLA and am working on some memoir pieces and poetry.

Pam shares a number of helpful tips, and she has a real gift for inspiring others who have lost a spouse. Here's her post:

One Journey — from Day Two to Three Years Down the Road

The day after you lose your spouse is the first day of life on a strange, new planet. It looks like the old one -- same house, same car, same dog. But like the old Twilight Zones, it's not the same. The self you were with him or her, the person you only became when the two of you were together, is gone. You are left with only yourself. The thought of having to live this weird existence mingled with so much sadness and strangeness is unthinkable. Then you wonder -- how long will it take until I feel "normal" again? And what is "normal" going to be like? I remember thinking at first that there is NO WAY I could spend two or more YEARS grieving this loss! I'd surely jump off a cliff!

Well, it has been three years now since I lost my husband — three days before our 30th anniversary. We got married young, so I was 48.

For those of you whose losses are more recent, I will just share with you what these three years have been like for me.

The first three months are hazy. It was like being in a tiny boat on a foggy sea with no visibility in any direction and no oars. Just floating in a grey fog. -- Don't expect anything of yourself in this phase. Getting up and making breakfast is a major accomplishment. Be proud that you can stand up and carry on a conversation!!

My boss at work set me up with a blind date at three months -- turned out to be a former co-worker. Thus began a strange period of dating. Immediately, even though I'd tried for years, I dropped 30 pounds. I just yearned for human contact like a person lost in the desert needs water. But since I hadn't dated anyone other than my
husband since I was a teenager, it was like a second adolescence. Emotionally, I was about 15 years old. I had to learn how to be in a relationship again -- and how to push bad people away when it was time. Yes, I was taken advantage of. I was even lied to. Know what? I don't regret it at all.

Nobody can decide for you what's right or wrong when you are grieving. You'll get so much advice that your head will spin! Those people mean well, but they do not walk in your shoes. Only YOU can decide how to make it past the worst loss of your life.

My friends said I was dating to postpone grieving, that I wasn't facing the situation. Ok -- so what! It bought me some time. For goodness sakes, I was LIVING the "situation"! I needed that time.

If you need to be alone, it's OK! It took so much energy out of me to talk to my friends for a while. I pulled away because I couldn't handle having to rehash how I was coping ten times over. To explain how I was handling things made me see that I wasn't doing so well at it. I did not want to re-hash my life every time the phone rang -- I could barely stand to live it.

So I stopped answering that phone for a while. My friends were worried and nagged me to talk. But I could not help it. Sometimes, talking just isn't what you need. You're re-working your entire existence, and it's so complicated. If you need to spend the evening staring at the stars and wondering what's in store for you, that's what you should do.

I went back to college for a year, took writing courses at UCLA and became a student again. It was expensive and required zillions of hours in the car. But it changed me, forced me back into the world and made me look inside. Writing helped me cope. I met new friends and felt alive again. Once again, I began to feel moments of joy, of hope, of life winning over that dark pool of doubt.

This is the story of the first two years following my husband's death. But I did tell you it's been three years.

The third year has been better, like I can see a horizon line now -- the vista in front of me looks more familiar. I'm doing better at work, but I still miss days because I just can't do it. The happy times last longer. I don't sink so low.

Overall, I am glad to be alive, and you know what? Looking back, I can see that I was brave. There have been adventures, stories to laugh about, silly things I did along the way. But the journey out of grief, from where some of you are standing right now, is not going to be as bad or hard as you're afraid it will be. Just do it your own way, and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

I still make mistakes all the time, and I'm not proud of everything about my life. But it's kind of amazing that life will endure, and you will too.

I wish you all an amazing journey.

With love and so much hope for you,


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

First Year Grief

I'm always on the lookout for resources that can help new widow/ers in that first critical year of grief. I stumbled upon the following article by Kay Talbot, Ph.D. and received permission from the publisher, Abbey Press, to repost it here. It originally came from a "CareNote" on the One Caring Place website. I hope you will find it helpful:

What Everyone Should Know About the First Year of Grief
Kay Talbot, Ph.D.

The first Christmas after her husband's death, Marta knew she couldn't stay in their home for the holidays. "After my 'have-to' list was done," she says, "I ran away to Hot Springs, Arkansas and stayed for three days in a hotel. I indulged myself in the famous hot springs baths and got a massage. A Christmas Eve service on TV and telephone time with my family on Christmas Day was all of the holiday that I could handle. The rest of the time I read, cried, and ate chocolates. I allowed Christmas to flow around me that year. It was the best that I could do."

Getting through the holidays without our loved one is one of many challenges we face in the first year of our loss. We are challenged in so many ways that we cannot take loss in all at once. We can only see the world from where we stand; and to most of us, our new world looks and feels like landscape without gravity. There are no maps to guide us through this fresh grief. But others who have made the journey can help by sharing what they have learned. They show us it is possible to turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones along the way.

Working your way through.

After my daughter's death in 1982, I learned that the first year's grief doesn't flow neatly from one stage to the next; it has multiple patterns, fluctuating cycles, and lots of ups and downs. First-year grief will surprise you in many ways, but here are a few things you can expect.

Expect sudden "grief attacks."

Practical matters demand attention in early grief when we are the most confused and least interested in things we used to care about. We must decide how to get through each new day. Some days, getting out of bed may take all the energy we have. Trips to everyday places like the grocery store feel so different. In my case, simple things like seeing my daughter's favorite cereal on the store shelf brought immediate, excruciating pain.

I call these unexpected reactions "grief attacks." And unlike the response we would get if we had a heart attack while shopping, those around us don't know what to do. We get good at hiding our pain, at postponing grieving for a more appropriate place, a better time.

Expect exhaustion and disruption.

Early grieving is perhaps the hardest work you will ever do. It is common to have difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and blood pressure, tense muscles that are susceptible to strains, a weakened immune system. Be sure to tell your physician about your loss and any physical symptoms you have. If your doctor can't or won't listen, find one who will!

After a loss, many people return to work, school, or other activities feeling vulnerable, less confident about their capabilities, less able to concentrate, distracted by memories, and flooded with emotions that disrupt thinking. For others, work is the only place they are able to concentrate-focusing on tasks helps take their mind off their loss for a while.

Those around us may have unrealistic expectations as we return to work or school. When one mother whose only child had died returned to work, her supervisor greeted her by saying: "I'm sorry about your loss but I want to talk to you about improving your work performance." Expect to be stunned by the ineptness, thoughtlessness, and discomfort of some people, and to be thrilled and deeply touched by the kindness and sensitivity of others. Sometimes those you expect to support you the most can't or won't meet your needs, while others you weren't that close to before reach out unexpectedly.

Expect ongoing "echoes."

We experience so many emotions after a loved one dies. We may feel relief that our loved one no longer suffers, and then feel guilty about feeling relieved. For a time we may be unable to feel much at all. While learning to live with the hole in our heart and fatigue in our body, other responsibilities beckon. We must file insurance claims, pay bills, write thank-you's, decide what we want to do with our loved one's possessions, and on and on.

Just when we think everyone surely has heard of our loss by now, the reality of our loved one's death echoes back to us. A call comes from the dentist's office about scheduling her a checkup, or we run into his old friend who just moved back to town. Once again we must tell our story, respond to someone else's pain, experience fresh waves of grief. Knowing certain events are coming, such as seeing the grave marker or reading the death certificate or autopsy report, does not prevent us from hurting. These are tangible reminders of the reality of death, while part of us still hopes it's all been just a bad dream.

Expect "if onlys" and "should haves."

Most grieving people have some unfinished business with their loved ones. It helps to talk with someone you trust about these concerns. You may not have had a chance to say good-bye or resolve certain issues. You may regret doing or not doing something. Perhaps you believe his death could have been prevented, or her life prolonged.

Prior losses or several losses at the same time can complicate your grief. As much as possible, sort through and separate the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that accompany each loss; then decide what action to take. Do you need to forgive yourself or others? To ask your loved one for forgiveness and guidance? To do something to fight evil or prevent tragedy?

After Wendy's sister and niece were killed by a drunk driver, someone special told her that the experience would either make her "bitter or better," and that she would have to make a decision about how to live her life without her loved ones. She chose to join Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), to do what she could to prevent future tragedies and help other grieving families. Our loved ones live on in positive ways, and we are able to move beyond our regrets, when we make these kinds of choices.

Expect deep questions.

Loss causes us to re-examine our beliefs about the Universe, God, and how the world works. Your faith and belief system may comfort and sustain you during the first year of your loss, or you may feel angry and disconnected from it. Remember that it is okay to question. As Job learned, God wants to be in relationship with us no matter what we are feeling.

You may be drawn to people who have experienced a loss like yours and can understand some of your feelings and questions. This is one reason many people in early grief find comfort in bereavement support groups. But remember that no one can ever totally understand your grief, your questions, and what your loved one means to you. Like all relationships, each person's grief is unique and complex.

Take your time, but do your grief work.

During early grief, you may want to stay busy all the time, avoiding painful emotions and the exhausting work of grief, hoping time will heal you. There's no set schedule and no recovery period for grief. But time alone does not heal-it's what we do with the time that counts. Take the time you need to do your grief work. But also take time away from grieving to do things you enjoy, to rest and replenish yourself.

When a loved one dies, our hoped-for future dies, too. Beginning in this first year, and continuing on from there, living with your loss means taking on new roles, new relationships, a new future-without forgetting your past. Sometimes, life takes surprising turns. Before my daughter's death, I never would have imagined I'd become a grief therapist. It wasn't part of my "plan." But as the wise adage goes, "Life is what happens to us while we're busy making other plans." Confronted with loss, we can weave the strands of our past into a new, meaningful future we never would have planned to live. Doing so is a conscious choice.

Take heart.

Getting through the first year of your grief is like winding a ball of string. You start with an end and wind and wind. Then the ball slips through your fingers and rolls across the floor. Some of the work is undone, but not all. You pick it up and start over again, but never do you have to begin at the end of the string. The ball never completely unwinds; you've made some progress.

My daughter's spirit and our continuing bond of love gives me strength each day. May your loved one be there to help you during this painful first year, and in all the years to come.

©2001 CareNote. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of One Caring Place, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, Indiana. Duplication in any form prohibited without consent of the publisher.

Kay Talbot, Ph.D., is a certified grief therapist and author living in Vallejo, California. For more information contact, One Caring Place, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, IN 47577 or visit the One Caring Place website at

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Successful Grieving II

In my last post, I talked a little bit about what successful grieving means to me. The two main ideas I covered were the importance of having a goal, and understanding that success comes gradually, not suddenly.

Tonight, I'd like to share some fascinating information I discovered while perusing a neat website called The founder, Ariane de Bonvoisin, has created a website dedicated to helping people change positively. There is no arguing that the death of a spouse is a major change! Kind of like hurricane Katrina "changed" New Orleans. While the website is geared mainly towards managing less catastrophic changes, like career, attitude, or health-related changes, there are some excellent articles on there about grief and grieving.

The information I'd like to share tonight came from a survey report commissioned to discover how people respond to change. You can get a copy of the 16 page report here. It "found interesting conclusions about the characteristics that make someone succeed through a change:" [pg 16]

Though the passing of time is important and inevitable, people can also be more proactive in responding to change, and with a bit of planning and consciously taking some positive steps, can manage change better. First30Days seeks to help people with this active approach. Within the first 30 days, those who report a successful response to change assemble for themselves, in some manner, three things:

  • attitude (positive outlook),

  • support (they reach out), and

  • a plan (they learn about it, know what to do, and/or make a plan.)
The key is doing all of those, and right away, which is a key premise of the mission of the First30Days.

Looking back at my own grief journey, I can see how I too assembled these key ingredients. Mind you, I'm not sure I did them within the first 30 days of Deb's death. In fact, I know I didn't get started on my plan for at least 5 months. Then again, it is not like the death of a spouse is just one change — it is many changes simultaneously. I wrote a bit about these different losses in Why Grieving Takes So Long.

Still, I know for certain that within the first few days, I had decided that I was going to get through widowerhood. I knew I had support from my family and friends, and I guess my initial plan was to get on with my life after I had finished rearranging my affairs and settling Deb's estate.

For about 5 months, I was successful — at grief avoidance :-P Then, the shock phase wore off and I started experiencing the raw, agonizing pain of grief without the benefit of all those lovely brain-numbing chemicals my body was kind enough to produce immediately following Deb's death. This too was a change! Here's where I started really implementing the 3 keys as outlined in the report. As before, I maintained a positive outlook — I was determined that I would get through that horrible pain. Second, I knew I didn't have enough support, so I went to my first bereavement support group at Bereaved Families of Ontario. And finally, I went to work on my plan. This meant learning about what grief is, as well as how others had successfully come out the other side.

So, if you are reading this because you are newly bereaved, you might want to ask yourself how you too can implement a positive outlook, an effective support team, and a plan of action. That plan might be as simple as, "I will make it through the next 5 minutes." Or, if many years have gone by and you still find yourself "stuck" at some point in your grief, you too can ask yourself how you can implement these 3 keys to successful grief recovery.

How long will it take? Ah, the question with the elusive answer. The only answer I know is that it takes as long as it takes. For me, that hard road was about 16-17 months of heavy slogging.

For my next post, I'll give some helpful tips on how to take action once you've got your grief recovery plan in place. Until then, if the road ahead seems daunting, keep in mind the wisdom of Lao Tzu:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Successful Grieving

How does one grieve successfully? Can this really be achieved? What is the best way to facilitate grieving? These are some questions I have been contemplating over the last few days. I think often of new widow/ers and how I can best help them during this nightmare stage of their lives.

First, let's work with the definition of success that I am most comfortable with:

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.
— Earl Nightingale

A few points flow directly from this quote:

  • One needs a goal in order to be successful

  • Success is a gradual process, not a sudden event

So, back to successful grieving. I needed a goal. In my case, I quickly determined that my goal was to be at total peace with Deb's death. Easier said than done! Still, I had my goal out in front of me. Next, I needed to take gradual steps to realize this goal of total peace. But in what direction should I head? This was my first real experience with death, and I found that societal support was pretty much non-existent.

Still, I knew it was possible to grieve successfully -- others had done so before me, and many of them had documented their success. A key component of success is imitating those who are already successful, making use of their hard-won acquired wisdom. So, one of the first directions in which I set out was the public library where I signed out Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld. A big insight I acquired from reading this book was that grief work would likely be carried out over a period of years. This was disheartening, but I was glad to be reading about my first success story nonetheless. It also helped me to read such a detailed account of someone else's grief.

The Importance of Asking "How" Questions

I stress this point a number of times on this blog. "How" questions will lead you to your goal. Yes, there tends to be a period of time where our thoughts are dominated by "why" questions. For me, those questions included,

  • Why did Deb die at 32 years of age?

  • Why did she get cervical cancer and suffer such a horrible death?

  • Why did she say goodbye to me emotionally 15 months before she died?

  • Why was I left to raise a 2-year old by myself?

You'll notice, of course, that none of those questions were getting me any closer to my goal. And no matter how many times I struggled with those questions, I never did come up with any real answers. However, I've since read that this is a normal phase of grief, so it is good to know that I am normal ;-)

I think part of the reason I didn't spend too much time dwelling on "why" questions is because I read Lester Leavenson's highly irritating quote in Happiness Is Free: And It's Easier Than You Think!:

Try to see the perfection where the seeming imperfection seems to be.

"Seeming imperfection" - give me a break! But you know, a little seed was planted the day I read that tidbit, and I began to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was a good reason for all this crap to have happened. Maybe things were unfolding perfectly, however demented it seemed to contemplate such a thing at the time.

Back to "how" questions. The main question I kept asking myself was, "How can I be at peace with Deb's death?" As I began asking this question, I started getting answers.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Memories From A Western Perspective

While attending my monthly meeting at Bereaved Families of Ontario — Ottawa, I was again reminded about memories and the principal role they play in bereavement. I am really noticing now when longer-term widow/ers say that they insist on holding on to their memories of their dead spouse, that the memories are "too good" to let go of. Based on my understanding of Buddhist thought, it is this desire to cling to and hang on to those memories that results in suffering (Saṃsāra). In this tradition, freedom from suffering lies in letting go of cravings and desires.

But tonight I want to give the Western perspective a fair shake. While my preference is clearly for an Eastern view in the long term, I realize that everyone grieves in their own way, and we will likely adopt many different perspectives as we progress through our grief journey. In fact, many consider it vital within that first year to spend a lot of time revisiting our memories and "refiling" them, regardless of how much pain this causes. This is where the advice about taking it easy on yourself comes in ;-) Grief work is exhausting. Some of the hardest grief work I did involved making a conscious decision to revisit memory after memory. And I was hungry for advice on the best way to do this. I'm not a glutton for punishment ;-)

I've just finished reading "Understanding Grief" by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, and he explains that the purpose of grief is to change our relationship with our dead spouse from one of presence to one of memory. He has a number of suggestions on how to go about doing this, and I think you will find something that can help you in your own journey [pp 110-112]:

Do you have any kind of relationship with someone when they die? Of course. You have a relationship of memory. This need involves allowing and encouraging yourself to pursue that relationship.

Some people may try to take your memories away. Trying to be helpful, they encourage you to pack all the pictures away, tell you to keep busy, or move out of your house. You also may think avoiding memories would be better for you. And why not? You are living in a culture that teaches you that to move away from your grief is best, instead of toward it. Yes, you still have a relationship with the person in your life who died; however, a change must occur from one of presence to one of memory. Memories that are precious, occasional dreams reflecting the significance of the relationship, and living legacies are examples of some of the things that give testimony to a different form of a continued relationship. Your ultimate healing calls out for this new form of relationship that is firmly rooted in memory.

The process of beginning to embrace your memories often begins with the funeral. The ritual offers you an opportunity to remember the person who died and helps to affirm the value of the life that was lived. The memories you embrace during the time of the funeral set the tone for the changed nature of the relationship. Meaningful rituals encourage the expression of cherished memories and allow for both tears and laughter. Memories that were made in love can be embraced with people who shared in your love for the person who died.

Embracing your memories can be a very slow and, at times, painful process that occurs in small steps. Remember — don't try to do all of your work of mourning at once. Go slowly and be patient with yourself.

In a culture where most people don't understand the value and function of memories, you may need help in keeping your precious memories alive. You will need to have people around you who understand your need to share them. The following are a few examples of things you can do to keep memories alive while at the same time embracing the reality that the person has died:

  • Talking out or writing out favorite memories you shared with the person who died.

  • Giving yourself permission to retain some special keepsakes that belonged to the person who died.

  • Displaying pictures of the person who died.

  • Visiting places of special significance that stimulate memories of times shared together.

  • Reviewing photo albums at special times such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.

Perhaps one of the best ways to embrace memories is through creating a "Memory Book" which contains special photographs you have selected. Organize them, place them in an album, and write out the memories reflected in the photos. This book can then become a valued collection of memories that you can review whenever it seems appropriate.

I need to mention the reality that memories are not always pleasant. If that applies to you, addressing this need can be made even more difficult. To ignore painful or ambivalent memories is to prevent yourself from healing. You will need someone who can nonjudgmentally explore any painful memories with you. If you repress or deny these memories, you risk carrying an underlying sadness or anger into your future years.

In my experience, remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible. Your future will become open to new experiences only to the extent that past memories have been embraced. Hope for your healing means to embrace memories!

As a reference, you can review all my posts about memories by selecting the memories label link on the left.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Healing Through Writing

I've written before about the usefulness of journaling during grief, but there are other forms of writing that you can employ. I wrote early on that writing a long letter to Deb using the format in The Grief Recovery Handbook proved to be a major milestone in my grieving. I'm sure that at some level writing this blog is helpful as well, even though I'm writing this more for the benefit of others as opposed to myself.

What writing should you consider?

The more I read Dr LaGrande's work, the more impressed I am. Here's another of his excellent articles, this one specifically about what to write and why. Once you've finished reading it, please consider taking 30 seconds and writing a comment on my blog ;-) Thanks!

Why You Should Write When Mourning
Writing is a form of self-expression that can be a major factor in how you cope with the death of your loved one. This can be especially important as a supplement to having a small support system or if you live alone. It may also be a special skill you possess that can give you additional satisfaction when expressing yourself.

On the other hand, anyone can write. You don't have to be a good writer or speller to use writing as a potent tool to cope with the death of a loved one. Nor do you have to write a lot each time you sit down with pen in hand. Simply write what you feel at the time is the basic rule.

So why is it important for you to consider writing as a coping technique? Think about the following.

1. Writing consistently leads to healing. It helps you obtain and understand new insights and ideas that often surface when alone and in a contemplative mode. It can jar your memory. You may discover a tinge of anger, hidden resentment, or even clarify some of your guilt feelings.

2. Writing a letter to the deceased loved one can be an excellent way to finish unfinished business. Many people have written about their sorrow over not having been with the loved one at the moment of death or for things that were said in haste. Others write to tell of their love and concern.

3. Write to the person who has been most faithful and understanding of your needs. It can also be therapeutic to tell your best friend or family member in writing how much you appreciate all that has been done and that you love him/her. Be sure to give specific illustrations of how their support was comforting.

4. Write a letter to God. Ask for assistance in trying to find meaning in the death of your loved one, which is an important task in dealing with your grief. You may wish to ask for a sign that your loved one is okay or for the courage and strength to make the adjustment to life without the physical presence of the loved one.

5. Consider a daily diary. You may want to consider starting a daily diary where you record and reflect on your day, and the most difficult as well as the most helpful things that occurred. Daily writing can be especially useful as you look back over earlier entries and realize how far you have come in your efforts to adjust.

6. List the inspirational and loving statements that you can remember your loved one saying. As you review your life and relationship with the loved one, writing down key phrases or ideas that were spoken can give much information to mull over with regard to how you would like to keep his/her memory alive in your life.

7. Write to clarify your goals. You can also write out the way you will deal with certain issues associated with reinvesting in life. Developing a plan to deal with your new life (the concept of a new life is an important one to adopt) can give you needed direction and a sense of accomplishment. It can be especially useful to make a "to do" list at the close of each day as a guide for the following day. This structure is also useful in limiting the time spent on focusing only on your loss.

It is critical to understand that the more attention you give to your loss the more power you give it to dominate life. Since the grief process is a series of making choices, at some point in your mourning it becomes essential to decide whether you will be continuously loss oriented or restoration oriented. Loving in separation and reinvesting in life are not mutually exclusive. Together they are part of moving forward.

Through trial and error decide when it is best for you to write. Some like to do it in the morning, others before they retire for the day. By using writing as an outlet for your thoughts and feelings, it will also help physically because every thought and emotion affects you at the cellular level as well. You will never forget your beloved, and writing will insure that this is so.

Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How To Help A New Widow Or Widower

I found this article today that really hit home. I have always wondered what I would say to someone that now finds themselves bereaved, something that would be helpful, not hindering. I don't want to be a Don't Get It (DGI) for someone else! I did attend a funeral a year and a half ago, and I'm not sure I said anything helpful to the new widower. But then I wasn't really there for him anyway — I went more to grieve for myself in a place where it would be acceptable for me to cry publicly (which I did from the moment I walked in the door ;-).

Anyway, as soon as I saw this article, I knew I needed to post it so others could benefit, as well as myself. You might even want to print it out and send it to people you know. Enjoy!

7 tips to help a widow/widower

This really helped me the first few times I felt abandoned by family/friends/church members who had insisted they would be there for me...and then a couple of months later... "life" happened to them as I was desperately trying to stay still and not lose the fragile state of denial I was in. LOL I copied and sent via email to all the people I know. The ones who responded have said it really helped them to feel okay about feeling awkward and not knowing what to say. They have an awesome article about friendships and changes in those also. Just FYI it is a faith based webpage. Hope it helps.


1. Please do stay connected. There is already a huge hole in our universe. Do not assume we need 'space' to grieve.

2. Please do say you are sorry for our loss. We would rather you tell us you do not know what to say than tell us your story of loosing your friend or even close relative We may be able to listen to your story later, but not now. Do not tell us you understand.

3. Do call and ask specifically, "Can we go for a walk together? May I run errands for you? Meet you for coffee?" Do not say, "Call me if you need anything."

4. Do refer to our spouse's acts or words - serious or humorous. We are so comforted by knowing our spouse has not been forgotten. Do not leave our spouses out of the conversation.

5. Invite us to anything. We may decline but will appreciate being asked. Do not assume we no longer want to participate in couples events.

6. Do accept that we are where we are. Marriages are brief, long, healthy, dysfunctional, intense, remote. Death comes suddenly or in tiny increments over years. Again our experiences are so different, as are we. So is our journey through grief. Do not assume we go through the outlined grief process 'by the book.'

7. Walk the talk. Do not make 'conversation only' offers. "We'll call you and we'll go out to dinner." — and then not follow up. Yes, we are sensitive in our grieving, but we'd rather hear you say, "I've been thinking of you," than make a 'conversation only' offer.