Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rules For Managing Grief

I've mentioned before that I think Dr LaGrand writes excellent articles on grief and grieving. His most recent article is no exception. I personally have used every single rule, and I can vouch for how much of a difference they have made in my life. As you read them, make a conscious decision to start applying just one of the rules in your life today. That old adage about time healing all wounds only works when you actively do something with that time. Here's what to do:

7 Rules For Managing Grief and Loss

Grief and loss are inherent parts of life. No one gets off scott free from facing the emotional and physical pain of accepting the death of a loved one. Yet, all too frequently, we maximize our pain out of a lack of insight into the reality of major change and the common problems of adapting to life without the beloved.

Here are seven rules that will help in the challenge to deal with the inevitable changes to be faced and re-orienting to a new and different life.

1. Never allow thoughts to turn into actions without your full consent. Negative thoughts pervade most loss experiences. We tend to look back at what we lose and ahead to all the real and imaginary obstacles that have to be faced. This occurs in an atmosphere of fear and confusion which maximizes our concerns. Then a universal law takes effect: what we focus on expands. In this case, fear grows and the obstacles appear insurmountable. There is nothing wrong with being scared in facing the new and here is how you can deal with it.

Full consent always implies deliberation. Deliberation means reasoned dialogue and thinking. Frequently, get with those you trust to share all concerns and ask for feedback on your thoughts. Let the fear, guilt, or loneliness out. Not easy to do, but the results will be essential in making the right choices and defusing limiting beliefs and fears. Doing the right thing will take courage that you can muster with help from friends. Use them with humility.

2. Be open to new ideas, assumptions, and beliefs. Loss challenges our beliefs about life and death. Grief is a time when reevaluating the way we were taught that life is, usually has to be challenged. There is more to its mystery than our little version. For most, there is a lot to learn, especially in how to accept impermanence.

Big, life-changing events often cause us to examine our values and put things in perspective. Revising beliefs will also bring new meaning to loss and an easier reinvestment in life. In reality, loss is a great teacher of the importance of relationships, humility, and gratitude.

3. Allow failure to be viewed as a normal part of coping well. Accepting failure as a tool for learning always spawns success. Having been utilized for centuries, it is just as true for coping with loss as it has been with some of the greatest inventions.

Be aware that we are programmed early in life to expect immediate success or to feel we are not up to the task. Examining where we make mistakes, and taking action to rectify them, is the road to follow. See failure when grieving as a friend, as part of your education about loss and life.

4. Start reconnecting as soon as possible. Loss and the emotions that accompany it are strong forces of isolation. Isolation especially hinders your ability to adapt and accept the new conditions of existence. Everyone needs a variety of connections; they are surefire lifelines. Do this: strengthen connections to your faith, friends, work, and mission because it is critical to reinvesting in life and developing new routines.

New routines are an absolute must due to the absence of our loved one. Make these new routines into new habits, which is an important key to coping well.

5. Cultivate solitude on a regular basis. Take time out each day just for yourself. This is just as important as building your circle of interpersonal relationships. It is a positive state time leading to comfort, enhanced spirituality, and creative coping with your great loss.

Find a place where you enjoy being alone, a particular room in your home, an area in a park, at the beach, or some other natural setting. Give yourself permission to take a cry break or listen to soothing music. Take a walk by yourself. Meditate. Meditation will reduce your stress and raise your energy level. Give yourself a pep talk. Do what is best for you.

6. Trust your inner knowing. This resource is seldom consciously used. So listen to what your intuition and your body tell you about the choices to be made and the direction to travel. You have wisdom within, if you will take the time to be honest with yourself and listen. Then make yourself take that first difficult step in tackling whatever problem you have to face that day.

When discouraging thoughts start to build take action to stop the downward spiral by asking yourself "What do I need to do right now?" Listen to what comes up from your intuitive treasure, trust it, and reverse your direction. Keep repeating this new action.

7. Make the "D" word the cornerstone of your new life. Determination is a commitment you can make. Talk to yourself and say that you are going to prevail in this difficult adaptation. Write specific inspiring phrases on a 3 by 5 card that you can whip out and read when you start feeling the blues.

Then combine your self-coaching with getting up and moving into another room or going outside when things seem unmanageable. Consider calling a best friend or develop a method (create any affirmation) to interrupt the pattern of thoughts causing discouragement. With conscious determination you can redirect emotion.

All of the above can be worked on, one rule at a time. Remember what was said earlier: what you focus on expands. This not only holds true for fear and negative thoughts. It is just as powerful for visualizing yourself meeting and successfully negotiating a particular problem. It holds true for focusing on a positive memory or a gratitude memory. Those positive events will expand in importance and assist your transition.

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

I'll just mention that I read a quote recently, attributed to Gene Simmons of Kiss fame. He talks about being "ruthless" with your thoughts. In reference to the first rule, I found I needed to make a conscious decision to no longer entertain certain thoughts about Deb and my past role as her husband. It has made, and continues to make, a big difference in my life. I hope it does in yours also.

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