Christmas and Helpful Communication In Times of Loss

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

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December is upon us and during this month, many will spend time with loved ones for whom Christmas does not bring joy but instead exaggerates their grief responses. While we tend to associate grief with the death of a loved one, there are actually four major types of losses that those in our workplaces and personal lives may be grieving. These are: the loss of meaningful relationships and include losses resulting from death, separation, divorce, abortion, or of children taken into foster care. Losses of meaningful objects are the second major category and include the losses of a home or treasured objects; and can result from a house fire or relocation such as what happens when someone enters a long-term care facility and can take only one box and one suitcase of possessions. A loss of context is the third major type of losses and includes losses of routine and the familiar; these losses can also include losses of goals and dreams and a loss of a sense of one’s past, such as happens when a parent dies, or a loss of a sense of one’s future, as what happens when a child dies. The fourth major category is losses of parts of the self. These losses include sensory losses, loss of a body part, a loss of identity, or a loss of a sense of self, self-worth, or dignity. These major categories of losses are not mutually exclusive, for many who experience a significant loss in one category will subsequently experience losses in another or even in all the other categories.

Many who desire to be helpful, struggle with the best ways to communicate with a griever, especially with those who are in the early stages of grief, or with those who are experiencing a renewed rawness of their grief and of all the memories of what they no longer have and will never again have. A renewed rawness of grief is often triggered by an anniversary reaction, such as what happens at Christmas time. The following points on helpful ways to communicate and not-communicate with a griever can allow a caring person to become one who is capable of knowledgeable caring:

  • Create opportunities that allow the griever to speak about the losses or about the person who has died, since a great fear for grievers is that their loved one will too soon be forgotten. Relating any positive life events and memories of your experiences with the griever or of their loved one who has died can boost the griever’s self-worth and help them to know that their loved one or their contributions are not forgotten.
  • Be comfortable with tears for they are a normal part of grief and can help grieving persons release deeply felt emotional and soul pain. It is also okay to shed a tear as you listen to the griever’s tear-filled stories. Remember however, that crying and weeping are not the same things. When we have a tear in our eye, grievers can sense our empathy. When we weep however, we have altered the relationship for we are no longer able to support the griever for something about what they have said or done has triggered unresolved feelings within us and the griever may end up comforting the one who should be providing the comfort, but is no longer capable of doing so.
  • Remain focused on the griever and on the griever’s experiences. Many people have a difficult time remaining “other-focused.” The moment a griever attempts to describe a portion of their grief experience, a listener that is unable to be other-focused for more than a few moments, will piggy-back on the griever’s story and interject into the conversation, a life narrative of their own grief. To do so may make the griever feel that the listener does not hear the significance of, nor really care about, the griever or about what the griever is attempting to communicate.
  • Allow the griever to describe their beliefs about their life circumstances rather than offering “false reassurance.” False reassurance is delivered in expressions such as: “It was for the best.” “It was God’s will.” “Something good will come from this.” While these phrases may seem comforting, they are considered by grievers as the least helpful words spoken to them. Expressions such as these come from the speaker’s belief system and may not match the beliefs of the griever. False reassurance has been shown to increase anger at God as well as at the conveyor of such expressions, and thus interferes with the therapeutic relationship.
  • Offer the griever undivided attention. A griever’s life and sense of self have been destroyed. Grievers deserve the full attention of their listeners. To give full attention that conveys care, support and empathy, turn your entire body toward the person, make direct eye contact and drop everything else you are doing as the grieving person is speaking. My youngest daughter taught me the power of facing the speaker and making eye contact while listening. One afternoon, while I was busy at the stove and she was excitedly relating her kindergarten day’s events, she stopped mid-sentence to retort. ”Mom you are not listening!“  “Oh yes I am,” I replied, and repeated some of the things she had said. “But,” she cried! “You’re not listening with your eyes.” My child’s honest expression made me remember that the eyes truly are the windows of the soul and to make eye contact when someone is attempting to share deeply with me communicates that I am emotionally and soulfully present to them.
  • Keeping our eyes connected also keeps our eyes and hands off technology devices, such as phones or iPads. Focusing on devices when another is relating their feelings indicates in numerous nonverbal ways that we are more interested in what we are doing on the devices than we are with the person who at this moment needs our undivided attention.
  • Encourage the griever to create a nonverbal signal that communicates when they are becoming overwhelmed in a situation where they may not be able to tell you this in words. The nonverbal message can be anything from pulling on their left ear lobe to rubbing their right knee. Once the nonverbal communication strategy is established, it will then be an indication for you to find a way to excuse the griever from a situation in which they are becoming physically and/or emotionally exhausted.

Christmas is for many, a time of family gatherings. Contained within such gatherings are often reflections of the joys and family gatherings of past Christmases. These reflections, the season itself and all it contains, including the expectations of what it should contain, can add to the emotional emptiness felt by grievers. Many of us will, over the holidays, spend time with one or more persons who are experiencing grief. While we may not be able to make their lives joyful, we each can communicate in ways that convey care and support, knowing that feeling cared about is a first step in regaining a sense of hope that may one day lead to inner peace, the true gift of a joyous Christmas.

When Suicide Becomes An Option

When Suicide Becomes an Option
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Worldwide, suicide ranks among the three leading causes of death for adolescents and young adults.Nearly 90% of all suicides are associated with a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder.2 The unbearable feelings of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness resulting from their mental illness, trauma, significant grief or abandonment can, despite the best efforts of loved ones and professionals, cause nearly one million people globally, to attempt suicide each year.3 The feelings of loss experienced by professionals and loved ones are magnified when the death they grieve is by suicide. Those whose grief results from a suicidal death are at high-risk for developing a major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal behaviours and prolonged and complicated grief.4

photo of someone depressed perhaps suicidal

The above information and my experience of working professionally with clients who are threatening suicide and with those who are attempting to heal from the effects of complicated grief and the associated feelings, including the stigma and shame which keeps them from seeking the help and resources they need, has led me to develop a training program to assist professionals in offering effective help to those who threaten suicide and to support the bereaved when suicide results.

This forty-hour Suicide Intervention Certification training is accredited by The Canadian Counsel of Professional Certification Global (CCPC Global.) Graduates of this training from Taking Flight International may apply to CCPC Global for designation as a Certified Suicide Intervention Specialist (CSIS.) Certified graduates of this training also receive 27 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) toward certification or re-certification as a drug and alcohol counsellor from the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation (CACCF;) as well as from the International Association (ICADC).

1. Young I T., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., et.al. (2012). Suicide, Bereavement and Complicated Grief. Clinical Research, LLS SAS. www.dialogues-cns.org

2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Surviving a Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing Guide. Available at http://www.afsp.org Assessed, 2016-08-01.

3. Ibid Young, et al.

4. Hawton, K., van Heeringen, K. (2009). Suicide. Lancet, 18,373:1372-1381.

PreRequisite: Trauma Recovery Certification

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The Not-So-Happy Father’s Day

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

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On June 19,th many will extend a “Happy Fathers’ Day” greeting that is received with feelings of joy; yet the day and its associated traditions will be for others, a further reminder of what was once paramount and is now of little significance. This holiday, because it vibrates with expectations of personal and family happiness, and satisfaction with traditional roles and responsibilities, can conjure up feelings of deep grief over what once was, and is no longer. These same expectations can also trigger painful reminders of the disenfranchised grief resulting from goals and dreams that have never been and, because of circumstances, will never be achieved. For those Fathers whose life experiences do not match the social and traditional expectations, the Father’s Day holiday and all the expectations regarding what and how a Father should be, can be a source of increased emotional pain and mental anguish. It is my hope that the following suggestions will assist family members whose circumstances require them to find supportive ways to honor a Father who is mired in grief that can result from any one of the major types of losses.

The first major type of loss is a loss of meaningful personal relationships such as what happens following a death, relocation, retirement, or job loss. The second major type of loss is a loss of valued objects and includes the losses resulting from a theft or a house fire. The third major category is a loss of parts of the self. Such losses include the loss of a body part, a sensory loss, or the loss of mobility or strength. Also included in this categorization are psychological losses, such as the loss of identity, self-respect, and self-worth. Included also in this category can be a loss of Spirit resulting from soul brokenness. The fourth major category is a loss of context. Context describes one’s way of being and one’s set of circumstances. These losses can result from an inability to achieve aspirations or fulfill a role, and can include the loss of a sense of a bright and fruitful future. This categorization helps identify that, while losses result from many sources, each loss is grieved, even when the losses are disenfranchised. Disenfranchised losses are those that are not acknowledged for what they are; thus leaving the griever unsupported in the pain.

While the categorization advances understanding of losses, it is important to recognize that a loss in one area tends to be accompanied by losses in one or more of the other categories. This overlapping of losses also tends to be disenfranchised and therefore unsupported. Following the death of our son, my husband had a subsequent need to leave his long-time and much-loved career; this second major loss then also overlapped with his loss of identity and self- worth.  

Some experts believe that males grieve differently than do females, with women tending to have a greater need to be supported while they express feelings; while men tend to work through their feelings in more industrious ways. Others believe that this is not so much a process of nature but rather one of nurture, meaning this behaviour results from how men are socialized regarding their need for touch and the expression of their feelings. While it is important to recognize that human beings, regardless of gender, do grieve in their own unique ways, because we tend to socialize our boys to believe that the needs to be held, cry, and verbalize feelings are signs of weakness, during times of grief both men and women may need help in overcoming these beliefs. As I walked beside my grieving husband, I was aware of the need to reframe my own beliefs and help him reframe his ideas of what was “okay” behaviour for a grieving man. While I too, was struggling with grief, our crisis forced me to acknowledge and permit his need to grieve, even though witnessing grieving behaviors in the man whom I had always thought of as strong and capable of supporting and protecting me, threatened my sense of safety and security.

During that time I was taking a counseling course. The required practice exercises made me recognize that certain ways of communicating convey acceptance and enhanced self-worth. The exercise that I believe made the biggest immediate and long-term difference in helping heal my husband’s grief and in perhaps helping our relationship thrive is the one I will share with you to hopefully encourage you to also use to support the grieving man you wish to honor on this Father’s Day and on future days.

In this exercise, I was guided to give my husband my full attention each time he spoke. This meant stopping anything else I was doing, look him directly in his eyes, and listen earnestly, conveying in nonverbal ways an interest in what he was saying. I recall being truly amazed at how this seemed to almost immediately change how he began to share with me how vulnerable he felt and how he ached with pain. This in turn increased the depth and intimacy of our conversations and of our interactions, thus our relationship, and I believe in time helped him and I to make the steady progress required to heal from our own grief.

During my time of healing and in helping my husband heal from grief, I learned the power of the Nairobi proverb, “Hold the one you love with both eyes and with both hands.” My wish is that on this Father’s Day, every father be honored in this way. I wish this to be especially so for all the not-so-happy fathers.

 

Grief and Trauma Care during Pregnancy

© Jane A. Simington, PHD

It is well recognized that a mother’s varying stress levels affect her unborn child. Grief and trauma are major stressors, causing physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social responses. Therapists who work with grieving and traumatized clients will at some points in their careers struggle with the decision of whether to leave a grieving and traumatized pregnant woman to manage these stressors as best she can, knowing their impact on the unborn child or, to offer her therapeutic services. The decision is not an easy one since the therapist will also recognize that, as the pregnant woman examines the issues surrounding the difficult events and moves through the healing processes, she will re-experience some of the same reactions she felt at the time of the initial tragedy. This will cause her body to release many of the same neurochemicals it did originally. These resultant reactions and neurochemicals will in turn, be transmitted to her unborn child.pregnancy

Here are some guidelines I have found helpful and I encourage you to consider them when you are working in situations that involve a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

If the mother is in the first trimester of her pregnancy, the brain and nervous system of the fetus are still being formed. During these three months, it is best to teach the mother self-care strategies to decrease the impact of the stressors. Affirmations, deep breathing exercises, grounding and shielding strategies are all appropriate. When the mother has learned to keep herself grounded, she will feel a decrease in the fear and anxiety she experiences and thus less of those highly charged sensations will be transmitted to the fetus. Teaching the mother to communicate with the unborn child, continually telling the child it is “safe, loved and protected” is also highly recommended. After the mother has learned to shield herself, she can be encouraged to visualize shielding her child in a similar way.

To assist the mother in feeling safe and protected, you will also find it valuable to help her connect with the unborn child’s and her own Spirit Guides, including their power animals. You as the therapist will also feel more secure, as you work with her, knowing she has established these connections.

When the mother is in her second and third trimester, you will want to continue to use all of these same safety measures before you move more deeply into any therapeutic work and healing processes. It can be helpful to audio-record grounding and shielding meditations to send home with the mother; or alternatively, give her my CD audio recordings, Journey to Hope and Healing, and Shielded with Light. Both of these recordings are also available in MP3 format that she could download from www.takingflightbooks.com.

When you assist a pregnant woman to heal the wounds and scars of unhealed grief and trauma, you help her to create a significant and positive difference in her life and future and in the life and future of her child. Ponder the impact on the lives of the many others these two healed people will then be able to make, and hold in your heart that through your knowledge, skill, genuine love and care, you will have been the catalyst for the healing of many.  

SWL front insertJourney to Healing insert card

Wind and the Seasonal Changes of Life

 ©Jane A. Simington PHD, September, 2014

As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

– Psalms ciii:15-16

Early this day, as I stood to welcome the sun, I was acutely aware that the whispering breezes were announcing “change.” I lingered to identify from which direction it came. I believe that Spirit rides on the wind and the message Spirit brings depends upon the direction from which the winds blow. This morning, the winds of the West announced that one season was ending and a new was about to begin. I pondered how, during my career as a nurse, I was so aware that when the Wind of Spirit ceased to blow, one way of being had ended and a new way was about to begin.

Autumn trees by Jane's lake

The following information and strategies has assisted many caregivers who choose to help the dying free up their Spirits, so when they cease to breathe, their breath is freed from its restless tides to rise and seek God unencumbered.

1) Recognize the three stages of dying.

Outward focused: The person continues to be interested in the outside world, especially in anything related to their family. Visits and conversations about present events are still desired.

Inward focused: The dying person is reviewing every aspect of life to determine what yet needs to be said and done. During this stage it is helpful to share “remember when” stories. Describing shared experiences can help the person feel a sense of satisfaction with the aspects of their life being reviewed. During this stage, the dying person finds the radio and television annoying for these “noises” distract from, and interfere with, the important task of reviewing life with the goal of bringing a peaceful closure to relationships.

Future focus: The person who is close to death is focused almost solely on the afterlife. During this stage many have dreams of a spiritual nature, and visitations from loved ones who have already crossed-over. Listening respectfully, with an open mind and heart, to anything the dying person chooses to share about such experiences is of great value to the dying person as well as to the listener. Being gifted with sacred stories can alter life in many positive ways.

2) Recognize the difference between pain and suffering.

Both from a clinical and research base, it is recognized that suffering is more than physical pain. When the dying person’s spiritual, emotional and relational concerns have been addressed they can relax and focus on what is of immediate importance, which is to bring peaceful closure to this life and move toward the next. When there is pain that is uncontrollable, even with medication, often the source of the suffering is a need to forgive or be forgiven. A question that can be helpful during such times is: “What do you want/need and from whom do you want/need it?

3) Use the Hand- Heart Energetic Connection –

A loved one can give a lot of energetic support to the Spirit of a dying person by using this Therapeutic Touch technique. To do so, hold the dying person’s right hand with your left hand and place your right hand in the middle of his or her chest. Then using your breath to draw on the light and love energy from above, bring this energy into your own heart’s energy centre and send as much love and light down your right hand and into the dying person as possible. Sending positive energy in this ways helps the dying person feel connected to the energy of the light source. Many energy practitioners who are also nurses testify to the value in using this technique during times of suffering and during times when the Spirit of the dying person is getting ready to transition.

In Conclusion

Because of my varied life experiences, I have been gifted to witness many infants take their first breath and have been with many of all ages as they took their last. I am grateful for these opportunities to witness the Wind of Spirit and its association with these times of great change. This morning as I pondered the wind and reflected on these associations, I recognized that as the West wind whispered change, it was not only announcing a change of the seasons in the natural world, it was reminding me that the Spirit of the Wind blows through each of the seasonal changes in life.