Monthly Archives: May 2015

Things You Can and Cannot Change

Anyone who has ever been involved in a 12 Step program has been exposed to this concept – determining what we can change and what we can’t. It makes all the difference in how we view the world and our part in our own problems. The following by Ralph Marston is an excellent way of helping me decipher the difference:

There are things that you can change, and there are things that you cannot change. Both have much value.

The things you can change can enable you to create, to achieve, to express yourself, and to improve the world in which you live. The things you cannot change give you the opportunity to grow stronger, to develop real wisdom, patience, acceptance, flexibility and effectiveness.

There is much you can learn from the things you cannot change. And there are countless ways to positively apply that learning toward the things you can change.

The things you cannot change give you a base from which to work. The things you can change give you an ever-increasing world of possibilities.

When you accept what you cannot change and find positive ways to deal with it, you lay the groundwork for success. When you understand what you can change and find positive ways to put that change to work, success and achievement are yours.

You are fortunate to live in a world where there are things you can change and things you cannot. As each moment arrives, you’re in a position to make the best of it all.

The most difficult thing (in my life) that I can’t change is other people’s behavior. I work daily on being nonjudgmental, and I believe I accomplish that much of the time. (The one thing I can admit to being intolerant of – is people who are intolerant of others). And one of my most hurculean lessons, which I’m still working on, is to send them love. I do believe we all come from the same source, but we arrive in an array of different colors, ethnicities, sexual orientations, personalities and genders – for a reason. I practice seeing God/Source/Beloved in each human and animal, which makes it much easier to meet them where they are.

And yet, those I love the most are the ones I have the most difficulty not judging! When we get upset with people’s behavior, what we’re really saying is “You’re not enough like me!” So when I can remind myself that the person before me is exactly who (s)he has always been, and that is the reason I love her in the first place, then I can accept the behavior much more readily. (I don’t have to LIKE it, but again – I can’t change it). Then I can determine whether there is something about it that I can change – not that I can change the behavior, but maybe I can see that his behavior makes perfect sense, given the situation at hand. Or maybe I can change the way I look at the situation, which might make her behavior a non-issue after all.

Bottom line is that the only thing we each have any control over is our own attitudes and behaviors. If I want to live in peace, which I do, then it’s up to ME to make that happen!

Namaste

How to Support the Grieving (Part 3)

This is the last in a series of blogs I’ve posted about how to support someone who is grieving.  It feels fitting that this final part comes on Memorial Day weekend.  Sending you all peace as you celebrate and continue to make sense of the meaning of the lives of those who were once with you on this plane, and have made the journey back home.

When is grief no longer “normal?”  Before we go further into this part of the series on supporting a loved one or friend who is grieving, remember the number one rule:  There are no rules.  No one grieves in the same way as anyone else.  If your friend says they feel like they’re going crazy, reassure them that (as strange as it sounds), that’s normal.

However, occasionally, grief becomes more than “normal crazy”.  In this case, the grief takes on a life of it’s own, and requires more support than friends and family can provide.  This is what we call “complicated grief”.  (Again, all grief is complicated, so there’s no black and white here).

Although their lives are changed forever with the loss of their loved one, the majority of grieving people have good days and bad days after a period of time, and the grief becomes their “new normal”.  Their lives are different, but they can begin to integrate it into their days. They start to live in the moment and begin to look to the future without such overwhelming dread.

But for some, even after months or years have passed, all their days are still bad days, and their life feels impossibly overwhelming all the time.  Their emotions and attitudes appear to be irrational – crying daily, angry all the time – sometimes their personality seems totally different than the person they were prior to the death.  But even as a professional, it’s sometimes difficult to determine if this is still “normal” grief or if it’s become complicated.

If it’s been more than a few months and their symptoms appear to be the same, or worse than they were immediately following the loss, talking to a professional is probably a good bet.  If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to talk to someone with an unbiased, fresh perspective.  And  it gets them out of the house.

From a study conducted at the Columbia University School of Social Work, here are some signs of complicated grief.

Strong feelings of longing for the person who died
Feeling intensely lonely, even when others are around
Strong feelings of anger or bitterness related to the death
Feeling like life is empty or meaningless without the person who died
Thinking so much about the person who died that it interferes with daily tasks or relationships
Strong feelings of disbelief about the death – still finding it difficult to accept the death
Feeling shocked, stunned, dazed or emotionally numb
Finding it hard to care about or to trust other people
Feeling very emotionally or physically activated when confronted with reminders of the loss
Avoiding people, places, or things that are reminders of the loss
Strong urges to see, touch, hear, or smell things to feel close to the person who died

The researchers suggest that 3 or more of these symptoms persisting beyond 6 months may be an indicator of complicated grief.  This next piece is important: Certain factors put a person at greater risk for complicated grief.  The death was unexpected and/or violent, a suicide, a younger person or child, the griever has had previous traumatic losses, or doesn’t have a support system.  Having one of these risk factors does not automatically mean the grief will be complicated, but just that the risk is higher.

HELPING A GRIEVER GET HELP:

First, a pushy friend is not a helpful friend.  You cannot and should not try to force the person to get help.  If you do, you risk them backing away from you, and the trust and sense of safety may be lost.

There are options.  They can see a counselor in an individual setting, participate in a group, attend a conference or workshop on grief (or on the Afterlife) to answer questions they may have.  There are grief retreats, and even online support groups and therapists.  Depending on the person and his/her belief system, they may also want to seek out a medium or a therapist trained in Repair and Reattachment Grief Therapy who can help them connect with the loved one’s spirit.

Depending on insurance or inability to pay, check into local hospices.  Find out if they have EAP services (Employee Assistance Program) through their work.  These organizations offer a set number of sessions at no cost to the client or can refer to professionals who do so.

If your friend says they are willing to seek help, but never make the appointment, offer to call to schedule it and/or drive them to the appointment. Again, don’t be pushy about it, just offer.  If they don’t take you up on it, that’s all you can do.

After the memorial service and family members have gone home, is when they need you the most.  Once all the chaos is over, they can experience a profound sense of isolation. This is when support really counts.

This is a good time to share your stories, pictures and memories of the deceased, or if you didn’t know them ask your friend to share their memories and pictures. Again, take your cues from them, but typically, remembering the loved one’s life and their connection is a huge part of their healing process.

Remember anniversary dates (birthday, death day, holidays and other important dates in their lives you may know). These days are even harder than “regular” days in the life of a griever.

Prepare to see your friend in crisis.  Anger, forgetfulness, wearing the same sweatpants every day, dirty hair, not eating, using substances to escape – are among the symptoms you might see.  Understand that you may not be the person they want to talk to or spend time with.  They may not say thank you.  This is a good time to practice giving from the heart without expectation of acknowledgement or return.  Grief makes us selfish, and they may not notice things you are experiencing.  Be cognizant that you can support them, but you can’t fix anything.

Finally, I commend you for caring enough to read these suggestions, and be there for your friend(s).  Whether that person acknowledges any of your efforts or not, you will be a valuable part of their healing process.

(I want to give credit to What’s Your Grief? for many of the suggestions in these blog posts.  They helped me pull my thoughts together in a much more coherent way than I could have on my own!)

 

Forgiveness

The topic of forgiveness comes up quite a bit in my office. I’ve found that when people begin to discuss something they are finding it difficult to forgive, they take on a sense of entitlement about the issue – as if they (as the “wronged”) have the right to determine whether the other person should be let off the hook or to dictate what that person is allowed to do-or not do.

I found this passage in a little book titled, LOVE IS LETTING GO OF FEAR:

Forgiveness does not mean assuming a position of superiority and putting up with or tolerating behavior in another person that we do not like. Forgiveness means correcting our misperception that the other person harmed us.

The unforgiving mind, contrasted with the forgiving mind, is confused, afraid and full of fear. It is certain of the interpretation it places on its perceptions of others. It is certain of the justification of its anger and the correctness of its condemning judgment. The unforgiving mind rigidly sees the past and future as the same and is resistant to change. It does not want the future to be different from the past. The unforgiving mind sees itself as innocent and others as guilty. It thrives on conflict and on being right, and it sees inner peace as its enemy. It perceives everything as separate.

Whenever I see someone else as guilty, I am reinforcing my own sense of guilt and unworthiness. I cannot forgive myself unless I am willing to forgive others. It does not matter what I think anyone has done to me in the past or what I think I may have done. Only through forgiveness can my release from guilt and fear be complete.

Caring for Yourself

The following hit home for me because of some issues my family is dealing with currently. It was written for significant, partner relationships. But it fits all relationships. I think mothers, or care-givers especially will see themselves here. Although I like to give credit, I have no idea where I came across this – I believe it comes from a meditation book. I hope it’s helpful for you. At the end*, I have listed some questions I ask myself on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to do the same.

It’s a betrayal of a relationship to sacrifice self-care.

It is truly loving to take care of ourselves. If we regularly feel too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, or too ill to enjoy the rewards of friendship and emotional contact with our partner, then we are dropping our part of the bargain.

We have an obligation to notice our own needs, to look after ourselves like a treasured friend, and to make room for our needs with others. That does not mean “me first,” but it means there is room for everyone. If we constantly defer to others’ needs, we may be present only in body, not in spirit. True intimacy cannot occur when one person is an empty shell. When we speak up to each other, our needs will naturally conflict at times. That is a sign of vitality, so we search for solutions that make room for both persons’ needs. A basic rule for intimate relationships: We will pay each other the honor of saying what we want and need, and then talk about it to make room for our differences.

*Spend a few minutes to think of a personal need and how you are taking care of it. How are you communicating it to others? Or ARE you communicating it to others? Are you accepting of yourself, even though you have this need? Are you allowing yourself time during each day to nurture yourself in this area? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” or “I’m not” or “I don’t know,” then you’ve found an area that needs work – not only for your life, but for the health of your relationships!

How to Support the Grieving (Part 2)

Last week I posted a blog about understanding a little more about how grief manifests itself, and about the difference between providing support and comfort.

Today, I wanted to continue this series with a few suggestions on what to do when someone you care about has lost a loved one.   First, please understand, I’m not telling you what is “right” or “wrong”.  Everyone processes grief differently and each relationship has different vibrations, which leads the process in it’s own unique direction.  The most important thing to remember is that you know your friend, and you need to determine how to approach it.   My main concern is to encourage you not to back away simply because you don’t know what to say or do.  I can’t say this enough, if that’s the case, just say “I don’t know what to say, but I want to be here for you.”

If you do nothing else, send a sympathy card.  Pick something simple, without a long elaborate pre-printed message.  A sincere and heart-felt personal note will mean so much more.  You know your friend, so think about him/her when you choose the card, and what you think would be appreciated.  Hand write a personal note and send it snail mail.  You can send a message on Facebook, an email, or text, but send the handwritten card also.  It says I care enough about you to take the time and trouble to let you know.

Say something about the deceased – how they affected your life, a specific memory of them, something you’ve heard about them if you didn’t know them, or just that you know how your friend felt about the deceased. (This can be tricky if you know they had a difficult relationship – but that is all the more reason to offer to be there for them.  Grief can often be much more difficult when the relationship was strained.  Your friend needs you all the more).

There are so many things you can do or say.   Make your contact personal. Something like “I’m here for you if you need to talk, or just sit in silence”  or “feel free to tell me to go away.”  Let them know that you understand you can’t know exactly what they are going through, but it’s OK to feel whatever they are feeling.

You might say, “I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers in the coming days”  or “I promise to speak (the deceased) name often and to cherish his/her memory.”

While it’s OK to say “let me know what you need”, realize they probably won’t.  You tell them how you can help.  Anticipate things they may not even realize they’ll need. Offer to bring a meal for the family once or several times, offer to go to the grocery store, or babysit if there are small children.  Offer to mow the lawn – or just show up and do it. Hire a service to clean the house.  Send something – flowers and plants are nice, but sometimes more practical items, like a gift card for a local restaurant, photos the family might not have,  a check to a memorial fund, a gift certificate for self-care (massage, manicure, private yoga class, etc) are also appreciated. Be creative, it doesn’t have to cost a lot.  And again remember to keep in mind what your friend might need or appreciate.

 What not to say.  Try to avoid stock phrases, such as:  You can always remarry; I know how you feel; He’s in a better place;  At least you have other children.  If you read my blog last week, this is NOT empathy.  That’s you at the top, looking down on your friend who is stuck in the hole.  Remember they need you to climb down and be WITH them – someone who can identify with pain, and who knows connection can help a little.

Don’t tell them they “have to be strong for the children” or for some other family member.  They need to feel supported to grieve in whatever way they need to.  They’re probably already feeling anxiety about how they are handling their grief in front of the kids.  This is your opportunity to take the kids to a movie for them, or stop by to visit other family members who your friend might not feel capable of caring for at the moment.

Be a good listener.  Being present, patient and listening are the most important ways we can support a griever.  Just letting them talk out loud may be what they need to organize their thoughts. You don’t have to have answers. They need to find their own answers.  Trying to understand them is one of the best ways to show someone we care.  Even if what they say sounds senseless to you, let them know you understand it’s important to them.  That’s all that matters.

Grievers will still be hurting months, or years after a death – long after the casseroles and sympathy cards quit coming.  Consistent check-ins let them know you are still thinking of them.  Sending a card or an email, that says “thinking of you” let’s them know the door is open if they want to talk, but it also allows them to choose to not respond if they don’t feel like it.  Don’t be offended if you don’t hear from them.

Finally, don’t pass judgment on how you think they’re doing after a period of time.  Remember, all of us cope differently.  Unless they are doing something harmful to themselves or others, allow them the space they need.  The next blog in this series will focus on what to do if you are concerned that your friend’s grief is no longer “normal”.