Grief is powerful and universal. It is something we all experience at some point in our lives. Most of us are poorly equipped to deal with it effectively because we resist the pain, fatigue, feelings and continue longing for what was.
If you had a flat tire, would you change it with your bare hands? Of course not, you would use tools. So why not learn the tools of Mindful Grieving to move through grief?
You can practice Mindful Grieving by:
1) Recognizing the many facets of grief: fatigue and tired to the bone; overwhelm and don’t know what to do next; constant changes in emotion; aches and pain in the body.
2) Feeling, listening to and experiencing the fear of grief vanish by taking time each day to be in grief. Give it your attention by talking to your loved one’s photo, crying regularly in the shower or the car.
3) Take really good care of yourself for that entire first year. Ask: “What is the most kind and loving thing I can do for Myself in this moment?”
Grief is a natural component of human adaptation to change. While bereavement usually refers to those who have lost a loved one, anticipatory (or preparatory) grief occurs both in the dying and in those close to them.
Anticipatory grief can develop in response to receiving a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, as well as anywhere along the course of illness, particularly as symbolic losses accumulate. This can include loss of physical abilities, autonomy, control, predictability, mental clarity, role or status in family, future hopes and dreams, sense of belonging, and sense of purpose
- Know that grief tends to fluctuate and experiencing joy and grief simultaneously is possible. Emotional ups and downs are a “normal” part of facing a life-limiting illness.
- Share your thoughts and feelings with a family member or friend who is able to supportively listen, without giving advice or passing judgment.
- Try to stick to your regular routines to maintain a sense of normalcy, making adaptations to adjust for any physical or cognitive changes.
- Develop a strong working relationship with your medical providers so you can feel comfortable getting your questions answered and sharing your fears or concerns.
If your emotional “downs” stick with you (rather than fluctuate), or your grief is accompanied by poor self-esteem or thoughts of actively harming yourself, consider meeting with a social worker, chaplain, counselor, or psychologist for professional support. Make sure your clinician has experience working with individuals and families facing serious medical illness.
By Meghan Marty, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Transitions Professional Center
This article talks about the best things to say and do when lending support and showing sympathy to people you know who lost their loved ones.
It’s human nature to want to be there for a friend or a loved one in times of loss and grief. However, not everybody knows the right, most appropriate way to do this. Most of us feel awkward or unsure on what to do and what to say. We’re afraid that we might say something that can offend the grieving party or do something that will make them feel even worst. Most of the time, we think too much about it that we get exactly the kind of results that we were afraid of in the first place.
While there’s no easy way to deal with this matter, know that you’re not there to take away the pain. Your role is to provide that much needed support and comfort and the best way to start doing this is going to the funeral and showing the grieving party that you care. There isn’t a perfect blueprint to support those who experienced loss because everyone is unique. However, generally speaking, the techniques below have been shown to provide the needed support for friends or family.
Just being there is enough
Losing somebody is one of the most painful experiences that one person can go through. The bereaved will often feel intense pain, fear, guilt, and insecurity. He or she might even question every single thing in the world and doubt everything that they used to believe in. However, it’s important for you to know that you’re not going to the funeral to give advice or to provide answers. Simply being there and listening when they vent out is often more than enough. Sympathize and offer a shoulder to lean and cry on. If unsure on what to say or what to do, just listen and offer hug. It will be deeply appreciated.
Understanding the pain
For people who are supposed to be there to provide support and comfort, it’s important to understand the pain that the bereaved is going through. The more you understand how they’re feeling, the more effective you’ll become in helping them out. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know how hard it is.
Know that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. People who have lost their loved ones have different ways to handle their pain. Some would spend enormous time in their rooms alone while others would like to be surrounded with friends and family members all the time. There are some who would resort to doing things like traveling or going back to school to get distracted. Let them grieve the way they want to and never tell them how they SHOULD do it the right way.
Also, understand that although some people can easily move on from the death of their loved ones, there are those who need more than just a couple of months to ease the pain while some may grieve over a few days as they deal with deep emotions that surface over time. Do not rush the bereaved person in feeling better or in forgetting about the death of their loved ones. Believe me, it wouldn’t help.
What to say
Very few of us prepare for situation like this. We usually do not rehearse the things that we want to say on our way to a funeral. Sadly, there are times that we’re unable to find the right words once we get in contact with the bereaved and this can be pretty awkward. Although there aren’t enough words to ease the pain, there are tips on how you can do this effectively.
First, acknowledge the situation and express your concern. For example, you can say, “I’m sorry. I’ve heard about what happened.” Encourage the person to talk about how the person they loved died. Often, talking about their feelings can somehow help in easing their pain. If you’re not sure on what to say next, just be honest and sincere. Don’t forget to offer support and a shoulder to cry on.
The following are other tips to keep in mind:
- Do not force the bereaved to talk. Everybody has his or her own way to grieve. While others wouldn’t want to stop talking and crying, there are those who would prefer to just stare and say nothing. This is perfectly fine. What you can do here is just squeeze their hands, offer eye contact, or simply give them reassuring hug.
- Listen. If the bereaved party wants to talk about how their loved one died, you should be willing to sit and listen no matter how much time it will take. These people will appreciate the fact that there’s somebody there to talk to. Sometimes, listening is all they need to get pass through this sad situation.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Tell the bereaved party that crying or even breaking down is perfectly fine. Encourage them to express their feelings the best way they know how to. Avoid giving unsolicited advice. If you’ve gone through the same situation, it might help to tell your story but never pretend that you really know what they’re feeling.
- Offer assistance. People who are grieving usually do not have the time to do the things they used to do before their loved ones died. Most of them would rather spend time alone in their room than run their errands. Offer to do things for them until they feel a bit better. For example, you can do their grocery shopping, cook a meal, mow the lawn or watch their kids every now and then.
- Watch out for warning signs. It’s normal for people grieving to feel disconnected and depressed. However, if you think that they’re not feeling a bit better after a considerable amount of time or if you see that they’re getting worse or becoming clinically depressed, step up and help them get professional help.
Supporting a grieving person is very important. Your presence and support could be everything they need to cope up. So, be there and know the right things to do and say to console them.
I met Lily while walking the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park near the Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon. She sat chomping on a patch of clover paying no attention to me or my girlfriend. I knew this wasn’t a typical wild rabbit—the kind you see scurrying around the woodlands. This was a small Netherland Dwarf that someone turned loose. “You know what?” I said to my friend, “If that bunny lets me pick her up, I’m going to take her home.” Lily was accommodating, so I tucked her in the sleeve of my sweater and drove home.
Lily was a little princess, a house pet, not a rabbit to keep outside in a hutch. I loved her. She was little, cute, and spunky. She enjoyed snuggling and licking my neck with her tiny, pink tongue. And, it only took 20 minutes to potty train her in the kitty litter.
I enjoyed Lily for almost two years before I found a lump in her breast. Alarmed, I took her to our veterinarian. As I feared, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The decision to remove the diseased breast was an easy one. I wasn’t told that rabbits often die of heart attacks coming out of the anesthesia.
And, that’s how Lily died–a heart attack. I felt horrible for not being there when she came out of surgery. Everything must have seemed scary and foreign to her. I could have comforted her–held her as she awakened. Would that have saved her? Lots of what-ifs swirled around in my mind.
I gave Lily a proper burial in our backyard. My two daughters, husband, and best friend joined me in the ceremony. I carried her blanketed body while my family and best friend followed in procession holding lit candles. At her gravesite I spoke about what Lily had meant to me, and shared stories of her antics. I thanked Lily for her unconditional love, asked for her forgiveness, and said goodbye.
Memorializing our pets help make the loss a reality. Inviting others to share in the ritual gives us an opportunity for social support during our grief journey. Other activities that encourage healing are many and may include physical activity, journaling, singing, artwork, meditation, and yoga. Many make tiny altars where they can place their pet’s ashes in urns, light candles, and view framed photos of their departed loyal companion.
When a beloved pet dies, the grief is the same as with the loss of other loved ones, perhaps not as intense or long-lasting, but it is substantial grief none-the-less. We need to develop new eyes after any kind of loss because our worldview is altered after the death of someone we love—human or animal. We need to re-examine and reorder our lives. For me, when a loved one, including a pet friend, dies it means immersing myself in the natural world by walking or running. When I’m experiencing grief, I spend an inordinate amount of time in nature, my place of solace and peace. I also surround myself with non-judgmental people who understand my loss and provide the freedom and safety for me to give sorrow words.
These days, the general population acknowledges pet loss as a legitimate grief. This hasn’t always been so and grieving pet lovers have endured comments such as “it was just a dog/cat/bird. You can get another one.” Bereavement in pet loss requires the same kind of support given to any other family member. We bond with our animals just as we bond with the important people in our lives, and our attachment levels are often very deep. Our animals provide pure, honest and unconditional love. They offer forgiveness without question, and there’s never a day that owners aren’t greeted as royalty. These traits are rare in human to human relationships and many times owning and loving a pet fills the empty places in our lives. I love the popular bumper sticker that states: “Dear God, help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”
From time to time, I revisit the grounds of the Pittock Mansion, stopping at the cyclone fence where I first spotted Lily. It is there that I feel her presence and celebrate our relationship. When a beloved pet dies, it is important that we acknowledge the loss, feel the pain, and give ourselves enough time to heal before adopting another. Grief takes time; it requires the telling of stories, shoulders to cry on, reordering of worldviews, and psychologically relocating our pet so as to enable continuing bonds.