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.

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.

 

The Golden Altar Metaphor for Healing From Grief

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

A few weeks ago I visited the Church of the Golden Altar in Panama City. Legend has it that when the Welsh pirate Morgan was burning and looting the original settlement, a resourceful priest had this huge altar of gold, painted in black tar, so that its value was disguised. As I viewed the priceless treasure, I was reminded of a parallel experience in Bangkok. On that morning whilst in a small temple in Thailand, I gazed in awe at a Golden Buddha, which at one time, to mask its value from invaders, had been cast in clay. The similarities in those two accounts, one Christian and one Buddhist, caused me to reflect. Regardless of belief systems, universal truths do exist and continually reappear inviting us to ponder the symbolic messages and their applications to our lives.

Golden Altar

In both instances, I recognized that deeply buried beneath layers of our own construction, lays a “Golden Buddha” and a “Golden Altar.” Our task is to clear away those outside layers so that we can be similar to the symbolism of the Golden Buddha and the Golden Altar, and become beacons to automatically reflect our True Essence, giving others permission to witness it, and perhaps do likewise.

I have created a series of complimentary teaching videos. In these videos I describe ways to help others heal from their intense grief, which without healing, can leave them buried beneath heavy coverings of fear and hurt.

Click here to view the free videos.

 

As Life Ended He Knew He Had Done the Best He Could

Jane A. Simington

Developmental theorist Eric Erickson1 described our final developmental task as being the need to review our lifeto determine if the gods are pleased. In doing a life review, we sort through the various aspects of our life and conclude either with believing we have done the best we could, or determining there are things we need to make right within our self or in our relationships.

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Some time ago, my husband called me for help with the frightening visions that were being experienced by his dying father. As my father-in-law’s life was drawing to a close he began having visions of uniformed soldiers walking around his bed. Each time he described the experiences, he concluded these were the soldiers killed during WWII battles because of the orders he, as their commander, had given.
My father-in-law described that over the years he had often thought about these men, wondered how their families managed their grief and how they had survived without the son, husband or father who had been killed. He mentioned that he had often pondered what the dying soldiers thoughts were of him. Had they blamed him? Had they cursed him? As he reviewed this time of his life and these circumstances, he indicated that over the years, and especially now as he was examining the various aspects of his life, he thought a lot about some of the choices he felt were required of him during the war years.

As my husband and I listened to his testimony, I became aware it was likely that my father-in-law’s feelings about his fears and regrets had become embodied. Embodiment of emotion is not uncommon both during dying and during grief. Known as personification, it is a process in which inanimate abstractions or feelings become endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.
Acknowledging that part of bringing a satisfactory closure to his life required allowing him to share these deep emotions, and to describe in more detail some of the life events he was now reviewing, his son and I listened attentively.
Over the next days we became aware that in relating some of his experiences, most of which he had rarely spoken of, the visions of the soldiers moving around his bed seemed to lessen and become less terrifying for him. Following one such vision, when he described the uniformed figures and how threaten he felt by them, I asked if it was possible these were soldiers from the unit he had commanded, and that they were coming to welcome him to the other side where he would again be in comradeship with them? My father-in-law was able to accept this reframing of his visions, and through it, alter his own interpretation.

My father-in-law’s remaining days appeared to be peaceful, and since he never again spoke of the soldiers, my husband concluded his father had completed reviewing that aspect of his life and was now able to rest peacefully believing he had done the best he could.

Reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, is activated by many things including visits, photographs and song. These things naturally stir memories that when stirred can be explored. Happy memories can be re-lived and re-enjoyed, and ways can be found to release the emotional load attached to the difficult ones. In many cases, it is the sharing of a difficult memory with a trusted person that allows for the release of the emotion attached to that memory.

Robin Butler2 described life review as a human need to balance the good in life against the negative. The goal, when assisting another during life review, is to have the person recognize that while their life was made up of both positive and less than positive events, the good outweighed the negative. Circular questions, such as “Tell me what happened after that,” followed by “And then what happened?” and again followed by “And then what happened?” are valuable when helping the person acknowledge the positive outcomes that flowed from what was initially viewed as a negative experience.
It is also important to help a person who is examining past choices recognize we often judge past events based on today’s standards. There is great value in helping the person view events within the context of the circumstances when their choices were made, and then to assist in helping to reframe perceptions of those past circumstances so the person is able to acknowledge that the best possible choices were made.

References

1).Erickson, E. H. Childhood and Society. New York: WW Norton.
2).Butler, R. N. Aging and Mental Health: Positive Psychosocial and Biomedical Approaches. . St. Louis: Mosby.

Love Saved a Life

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

For quite some time following the death of our son, my husband’s thoughts were punctuated with self-loathing, resulting in occasions of suicide contemplation. While I, too, was struggling with grief and remorse, I knew my husband needed my help to reclaim his sense of worth and his desire to remain among the living. Up to that point in life, I had for the most part, taken for granted the giving and receiving of love between us. This crisis forced me to recognize that the giving of unconditional love could not be taken for granted, but instead required a concentrated effort. Now, years later, in retrospective contemplation, I reflect on the verbal and nonverbal techniques that were the most effective in helping my husband survive those turbulent days and nights; I most especially think about the efforts, which over the years, seem to have contributed significantly to the sustenance and growth of our longtime relationship. Below I note what I believe were the most effective ways I communicated unconditional love. I share with you what I feel is at the top of my list for creating a loving partnership following a relationship crisis.

Love Saved a Life
1) I learned to listen totally and completely

I recognized that to help my husband again see himself as worthy of living a good life, I needed to let him know how much I valued and appreciated him. My first counseling class taught me that one of the best ways to show I value someone is to listen attentively when that person speaks. It was also during this class I realized what a poor listener I actually was, for when I really began to listen to my husband, I discovered that he knew a lot about some very interesting topics and had some delightful stories to tell. As time went by, and even though I had previously heard many of his stories, each time I stopped what I was doing, made direct eye contact with him, and concentrated fully, not only on what he was saying, but also on him. As a result, I felt an increased sense of admiration for the man I married. In turn, he picked up not only my attentiveness but also my renewed admiration. This simple act seemed to slowly, but surely, return the gleam of light to the windows of his soul.

2) I learned the value of setting aside precious time just for the two of us

I gain a lot of pleasure from accomplishing tasks that I set my mind to completing, and because of that I can be quite task-orientated. Not long after I became aware of my need to help my husband emotionally and physically survive our crisis, I recognized that showing someone he or she is valued and appreciated requires allotting time to be totally available. To meet this goal we began a routine of being together, just the two of us, each Friday evening. We would pick a secluded table and take turns listening to each other express our grief and sorrow and share any forward movement we believed we had made along our healing journey. These times of intimate conversation positively and significantly impacted both of us and in many ways strengthened our relationship.

3) I learned the power of using therapeutic touch

During studies for my Master’s degree I explored the benefits of touch as a therapeutic modality. I learned that caring, loving touch is necessary for the survival of infants and for the maintenance of emotional and mental health at all ages. Nurturing, caring touch can increase endorphins; the body’s own pain relief. Similar to the effects of opiates, nurturing touch has the potential to create a euphoric response. Although previously I had not considered the value of touch as a means to convey care and acceptance, I began to put into practice what I learned about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of stroking an arm and rubbing a back. I also learned that when my husband’s grief was raw and he could not hear my words of love, he could still feel my touch and absorb the acceptance it conveyed.

I love the Nairobi proverb, “Hold a true friend with both eyes and with both hands.” February is considered the month to convey love since in many countries the feast day of St. Valentine is celebrated on February 14th. Perhaps this year on February 14th it may be appropriate to begin a practice of increasing the power of your love by applying the Nairobi proverb teachings. Gazing deeply into the eyes of the person you love, hold both this person’s hands in yours as you convey the words; “I value and appreciate all you are and all you do for me. I love you for all you do and for all you are.”

Hope Helps Dreams Take Flight

 

Jane A. Simington, PHD., March, 2014

hopeAs we grow and develop, our life becomes structured around our ability to trust. We normally rely on trust during the course of any day. We trust that we are safe in our homes, that the health care system will meet our needs; that the person will stop at the red light; that our children will come home safely from school each day. But what happens to us and our sense of trust when our lived experience does not match what we have always taken for granted? No longer able to trust the universal order we feel a lack of control, continually threatened, anxious and fearful that other misfortunes might befall us. Our fears can impair our movement forward for we feel powerless to control our future. Feelings of powerlessness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair and even helplessness.   

Since hope is a critical dimension of spirituality, eliminating feelings of hopelessness and despair, requires the reestablishment of trust and hope in a Divine Force, in one self and in others.  And since hopefulness is associated with spiritual wellbeing, hope-fostering activities can include religious beliefs and activities but extend to broader conceptualizations of spirituality that encompass finding new meaning and purpose in life by redefining our self and our relationships. For me, and for many I have helped beyond their despair, redefining the self and relationships with others and with God required breaking the idols of youth.

While the challenge to break those idols forces many into a spiritual crisis, it can also be an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth, for during those times we shut out the views of the world. This time of sorting though the beliefs and ideas given to us by others, allows for a discarding of what had been burned away by the fires of our own experiences. When we are finally able to view the sunrise on those first mornings after our souls’ dark nights, we know we are armed with a deeper truth, a deeper trust, and a sense of hope that despite all we have endured, life is good and filled with promise and opportunity.   

Hope is also a mental state characterized by a desire to accomplish, but with some expectation that the desired goal is attainable. Hope is therefore a sense of the possible. Even though risking after a challenging life event can take great courage, a hopeful person wants a change and is willing to risk to make that happen. During a time when I felt powerless to control my future, I learned the value of risk- taking behaviors. I recognized that taking one risk each day, and moving from the goal that was easy to achieve and be successful at, to the more difficult yet rewarding when achieved goal, seemed to automatically help me reestablish trust in my own abilities, regain a sense of personal power and mastery over my reality, and began, even without my conscious awareness, to sprout feelings of a new found purpose in life. This in turn provided me with a sense that I could again contribute something of value to the world and thereby help others find hope after their tragic life events.

The relationships between risk-taking behaviors and hope were recognized by the ancient Greeks and described in the myth of Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus angered Zeus who retaliated by offering her a box that contained evil in all its forms. Even though warned not to, Prometheus, risking more anger and disapproval, opened the box. Upon doing so, Pandora released all the evils. Only hope, lying on the bottom, remained. This myth is a great reminder that hope can reside at the base of all that we view as wrong in the world and in our lives.

Mythology and folklore for other cultures have also been used for centuries as models for life. As a therapeutic helper I often ask people what folklore or fairy tale hero is most like them. Together we explore the theme of that folk story. Then I ask the person to ponder, “How does that story end?” This question and their reflections on the parallel of the hero’s journey to their own life, can offer a glimpse of how they too can respond similarly.

While hope is an essential factor for well-being, many experience times when life seems to hold little promise. During such times, since hope is intangible, I often find it valuable to encourage strategies that make hope more tangible, even visible and touchable. One of my first opportunities to do so was when I worked with a community group, offering mental health services to depressed older persons. After assessing the relationship between their depression and feelings of hopeless, I handed each a disposable camera and asked them to go out into their homes and community and take a photo of anything that looked hopeful. Their developed pictures then became the focus of our group discussions and of my one-to-one sessions with each of them. The theme of those sessions was based on the notion that if they could see those hopeful things outside themselves, what did that reflect from within?

Therapeutic art activities also prove effective in helping both the old and young resonate with aspects of hope. In the very beginning when depression looms large, it can be hard to draw hope, so I invite the individual to pick a colored marker as a response to my question “If you could imagine hope what color would it be?” Then I encourage the person to draw hope, following my question “If you could imagine what hope looked like what shape would it be?” After any color or amount of color is placed on the paper, I encourage the expansion of the expression with the invitation “If hope were to grow, how big could it get, and what other colors would it need?”

A further therapeutic art activity I have found to help despairing persons recognize elements of hope in their lives, is the creation of a collage. For this activity I invite them to create a collage that would show all the things a hopeful person might want to have. This creation allows them to externalize in a depersonalized and therefore safe way, ideas and feelings they are not yet consciously aware of. The collage can then become a mirror reflecting a pathway to hope. As we process together their completed collage I often find symbols of hope. These include the anchor; the dove, the swallow. In Aesop fables, the swallow symbolizes hope, because it is among the first birds to appear at the end of winter. Other symbols of hope include a rainbow, a sunrise and other images of morning. There are often moments of awe and increased feelings of empowerment when people recognize that these symbols have appeared on their work. This gives me a great opportunity to remind them, that creativity is the voice of the soul.

Since trust and hope are hand-holding sisters, when there is a sense of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness, there is also a need to heal the circumstances that fractured trust. After years of searching for ways to reestablish trust and to help another reestablish trust, I have discovered that it can be valuable to work somewhat backwards. I have recognized that when we take calculated risks and have successes, we begin to trust that things can get better and we begin to lay hopeful plans for the future. I have seen this backward approach work so effectively and so often that I now place efforts to reestablish hope at the base of my pyramid of healing and work upward from there. I find great value in helping people rekindle hope for hope helps dreams take flight.



Embracing a Life of Joy and Promise

 

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

 
A number of years ago, a school therapist who worked with grieving and traumatized children told me her goal was to ensure that at the end of the school year each child in her programs would know that God loved them. I questioned whether it might be a better goal for each child to come to know self love, since it is difficult to see outside of ourselves what we do not see within.
 
Any major loss brings with it multiple subsequent losses, and most people, after experiencing a difficult circumstance, are surprised at how the tragedy has ripped away at their self worth. There is often a sense of having been taken apart and put together wrong, which in turn creates a need to redefine one’s identity and then come again to love and cherish this new self.
 
Learning to love and cherish a self that we are just beginning to know does not happen automatically, but with desire and focused effort we can reclaim a life that is rich with satisfying experiences. Here are some tried and true suggestions for ways to relearn how to love your new identity, cherish your new self and embrace a life that is filled with joy and promise.
 
Allow more pleasures.  The Talmud, The Jewish Book of Wisdom, states that “We will be called to account in the hereafter for all the God-given pleasures we have failed to enjoy.” Yet after the death of a loved one, we may need to come to terms with feelings of guilt when we allow ourselves to have fun, dress elegantly, wear jewelry, or buy something we admire. We may feel that to enjoy the pleasures of life is somehow dishonoring our grief and dishonoring the one who has died. It is, however, important to recognize that part of embracing a new life is to learn to celebrate as much as we mourn.
When describing his prison of war experiences, Victor Frankl noted that, for him, what often made the difference between life and death was to find one thing of beauty to focus on each day. Sometimes that would mean something as simple as focusing on the sun shining on a brass button of a soldiers’ uniform. 
 
Allow laughter back into your life. Laughter increases Endorphins, the body’s own pain relieving medicine, and likely also increases Interleukin 2. Interleukin 2 is a neuron-enzyme associated with cancer prevention. High levels of stress decrease Endorphins and Interleukin2 levels, and grief and trauma both place a tremendous amount of stress on every system of the body.
 
Some years after my son’s death, on hearing the laughter of my sisters, I realized that I had not laughed in a long time. Yes, I smiled, although barely, but by then, it had been years since I had enjoyed a good out-loud belly laugh, the kind recommended for health and healing. So beginning the very next morning, out in the prairie field, far away from the eyes and ears of anyone who might surmise that I was on the verge of insanity, I forced myself to laugh. I did it again and again and again, day after day after day, until once again laughter was able to find its way out of my body of its own accord.
 
Downplay the small stuff. Life can be lumpy but a lump in the breast is not the same as a lump in the gravy. Finding joy and inner peace means crossing the threshold from being a bundle of grievances, into being a force of honoring the goodness in life and in all. This little poem attributed to an unknown Tibetan Monk reminds me of the value in re-framing thoughts and shifting perspective.
 
“Once little cares annoyed me, when little cares were few;
And one fly in the ointment would make me fret and stew.
Now my life has taught me each little joy to prize;
And I am happy to find some ointment, in my little jar of flies.”
 
Spend time in nature. Being out in nature each day allows us to be a part of the rhythmic pattern of life and to recognize that the seasonal changes that are occurring around us also occur within us. The metaphoric teachings of nature remind us that even the worst and coldest winter is followed by spring. Spring turns to a time of productivity and eventually to a time of ripening and harvest.
 
Tragic events can knock us off course, making us feel anxious and ungrounded.  Spending time amidst the trees and flowers can help us regain our footing and allow us to again feel like we are walking among the living.
 
Live a life of gratitude. While in the beginning following a tragedy, it may be almost impossible to feel a sense of gratefulness, a large part of embracing a new identity and reclaiming a life of joy and promise, means to acknowledge all the goodness that is present all around us.
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Some years ago I began a practice described by Abe Arkhoff in The Illuminated Life which is to frequently call to mind at least one thing I was grateful for equal to the number of years I had lived. I found the practice helped shift my consciousness from concentrating on, because of my son’s death, what I no longer had, to focusing on the benefits and good things that were in my life. This practice helped me recognize that what I was grateful for then seemed to come to me in greater abundance.
 
If it is time for you to embrace life more fully and completely, I highly recommend applying the above techniques to your life. As you do so, I trust you will recognize that you have within you the power to reclaim a new identity and to live a life more filled with joy and promise.



Beyond Christmas Grief: Reducing the Anniversary Reaction Effects

©Jane A. Simington (2013)

 Anniversary reactions can be times of intense emotional struggle for the newly bereaved. Anniversary reactions are experienced usually for a number of years following a death. These often occur at times that held a lot of family time and are often associated with ceremony and celebration. Following the death, the bereaved will often feel an increased sense of loss during such times. Each anniversary makes the more aware of the finality of the relationship they have had.

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Here are some activities I have used both personally and professionally helpful. While I have titled this handout as Christmas and Grief, most of these strategies can be applied any time there is a need to prepare for an anniversary situation. It is well recognized that “preparing for” can alleviate much anxiety. When we are “prepared” we tend to move through the experience with more emotional ease than when we are “ caught off guard.’

 

    

1) Acknowledge that Christmas is coming and that this may be a difficult time for you and your family.

 

I find that acknowledging and planning help us get through difficult times. It is when we allow things to simply happen, for example, if we just “float” into Christmas, that we can more easily get caught off-guard and become overwhelmed.

 

2) Avoid being caught up in what you should do and waste a lot of time and energy on feeling obligated.

 

Instead, decide what it is you really want to do and then place your energy into planning for that, by making a list, letting others know and perhaps even asking for help to ensure what you want to take place does indeed happen. If you do not plan ahead it will likely not happen.

 

3) Remember there are no right and/or wrong ways to celebrate Christmas.

 

There are many lovely restaurants that now offer a beautiful meal. Some even have soft music, gentle songs and harp playing on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They are becoming so popular you must make sure to have a reservation well in advance. A week at the Ocean, relaxing in the sun at an all-inclusive resort may be better than any amount of grief therapy you could receive this season. What about a ski weekend? One older woman decided to spend her first Christmas alone serving meals at a community kitchen for the homeless. She told me it was one of her most fulfilling experiences.  Could someone else do the cooking this year? Is it essential to have a turkey dinner; would a roast of beef work as well? Can you serve buffet style instead of a sit-down dinner?

 

4) It is okay to create new traditions

 

After my son’s death, I found it important to acknowledge that Christmas would never be the same for my family. Once I acknowledged that I was able to make the decision to do my best to make the season and the day as good as possible. And from then on, even though it was not “great,” it was “okay.” Making that decision, freed me up to make the choices that were right for me and my family. Part of making those choices involved creating new traditions. In making those choice I discovered, that the best way to make it “okay” was to create new traditions. 

 

Remember, all traditions started by somebody changing the order of the way things were done. If you don’t like what you do this year than you can change it again next year. You may try hanging a new ornament in memory of your loved one. Donate money to a favorite charity using the amount of money you would have spent on your loved one’s Christmas gift. Create a collage of favorite past Christmas pictures and honor the good times had. Decorate your loved one’s picture frame in a beautiful Christmas motif. Place a planet on the grave-site, or donate a plant to be placed on the altar in your church.

 

5) Honor your feelings and let others know you will need to do so.

 

When you accept an invitation, it may be important to tell your host and hostess, this is a difficult time of year for you and that you may only be able to stay a short time. Then allow yourself to leave when you need to.

 

6) Spend your time only with friends and family who can support you.

 

You do not have the energy right now to pretend. Be with those who are comfortable with your need to cry and to sometimes be withdrawn and alone. Be with friends who are comfortable when you talk about your loved one. Friendships change during grief as do family relationships.

 

7) Spending money on yourself and looking nice, does not dishonors the one who has died.

 

Buying a new outfit, wearing makeup or jewelry, and spending money on a massage, manicure or pedicure or even on travel are all excellent self-care strategies. These in no way indicate you are not grieving, nor do they say you do not treasure the one who has died. They do say you are trying to move through this difficult process in the best way possible

 

8) Honor your true feelings

 

Cry when you feel sad and lonely and also allow moments of joy to creep in. It is okay to smile again. It is even okay to have a laugh or two. 

 

9) Take good care of your physical self

 

Eat nutritionally; get some physical exercise. Limit alcohol intake. While it can initially make you feel relaxed. It can quickly depress and make your feeling erupt out of control. It is also easy to make it a habit of “drowning” our sorrows. Limit caffeine intake; it can interferes with sleep which is so needed during times of grief.

 

10) Find beauty in the season

 

Let the sights and sounds and smells ofthe season enter your empty spaces. While this will not evaporate your grief, it is a step forward – and that is what grief recovery is all about…one small step at a time.

 

11) Go for a winter stroll.

 

Spending time in nature is a very healing strategy. Nature helps us remember the cycle of life and death and by doing so brings new hope and promise into our lives. Many find nature to be the greatest healer. It was for me, personally. Beginning a “walking out of doors program,” was the best thing I ever did for myself. I can now honestly say “ I walked my grief away.”

 

12) Give yourself permission to add some peace-filled moments to this Blue Christmas

 

This particular Christmas will be a part of your life story for the rest of your days. Make a conscious effort to include aspects, that many years from now, when you recall this season, you will be able to encourage another, by telling them of the things you did which helped you make this very difficult season a little bit brighter.     

A Father’s Love is Eternal

©Dr. Jane A. Simington PhD. June 1,2013

father   When I was a child, I loved to spend time with my father. Being the youngest girl in a large family, I learned early in life that if I wanted his undivided attention, it was up to me to be with him when he was alone. One misty morning as I tagged beside him on his walk to the far pasture, I heard my first echo. As my dad called to the cattle his words returned. Fascinated, I tried. What I sent, I received.

   Numerous times throughout my life I have pondered the Law of the Echo. What we send out returns to us. When we holler hello into a rain barrel, hello comes back.  When we holler “love” into the rain barrel “love,” comes back. The universe is a giant rain barrel from which the echo returns in the form that it is sent forth from us.  Continue reading