When my father died in October 2001, Wiregrass Hospice shared invaluable information with my family on how to live through our grief and the death of our loved one. Wiregrass Hospice provided this invaluable information for me to share with you…
Understanding Your Grief: The Roller Coaster Effect
It has been said over and over again...grief feels like an emotional roller coaster. How true. One day you feel up and the next day down. Know this...you are not the only person on the roller coaster. Many describe these feelings. Most want the roller coaster to come to a screeching halt so they can just get off. But, it is on this sometimes scary, sometimes exhilarating ride that we truly experience the process of grief. You will feel a multitude of emotions on this ride.
For a while you will probably feel shocked. Life will seem unreal. You may even continue to refer to your loved one as if they were still living. Some days may bring feelings of anger. Other days may be accompanied by feelings of guilt. You may feel as if you have fallen into a big, black hole and you can't find your way out.
To say that all of these feelings are normal would perhaps trivialize your grief process. But, we do want you to know that feelings like these are common when you are grieving for a loved one who has died.
Here are just a few tips that may help during this time:
- Don't be too hard on yourself. It usually requires at least one to two years to fully deal with the feelings that come with grieving.
- Don't isolate yourself. Being alone sometimes is okay, but being alone constantly can make the process longer and much more difficult.
- Keep the lines of communication open with other family members and friends.
- Take care of yourself physically. Be sure you are eating healthy, balanced meals. Exercise at least three to five times per week. Be sure to go to your physician for a yearly physical.
- Believe that your life will get better and that you can be happy again.
- The roller coaster will go up and down for a while, but eventually it will level off, pull back in to the station and you will get off of the ride. That doesn't necessarily mean smooth sailing, but it does mean emotional healing and recovery.
How grief affects physically
When we think about grief and loss we tend to think of its effects from an emotional perspective only. It is important to understand that there often physical reactions that are common during the grief process. This information is designed to inform you of some of these physical affects and to give you some tips on how to deal with the physical side of grief.
First, be aware of these physical affects:
- Sleeping patterns. You may be unable to fall asleep or stay asleep. Also, you may have troubling dreams or nightmares.
- Eating irregularities. You may find that you can't eat, thus you lose weight. But, if you cope with stress by eating, you may gain weight.
- Concentration. Being able to concentrate and focus may be very difficult.
- Fatigue. You may experience feelings of fatigue. This is common specifically you have trouble sleeping patterns. Also tiredness is common because grieving is hard work and can be taxing.
- Other common physical responses include headaches, stomachaches, backaches, dizziness, nausea, and rashes.
- Here are a few tips to help you with the physical problems related to grief:
- First, if you have not had a check up with your doctor within the past 12 months, schedule a visit. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and make sure there are not further health problems.
- Do your best to get 6-8 hours of sleep each night. This will give you more energy for the day ahead. If you have trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques such as peaceful music, deep breathing, or a warm bath.
- Eat well balanced meals. Proper nutrition will help tremendously in your recovery.
- Exercise! Check with your doctor about a proper exercise program and jump in. Don’t wait for the motivation. If you go ahead and start, the motivation will usually follow.
- Plan time for relaxation and enjoyment. Take time for yourself and do something relaxing and fun.
When you are down: 25 things to do when you feel down and out...
The loss of a loved one can leave you feeling down and out some days. Here are some ideas to help when those days come along.
1. Go for a long walk
2. Do something nice for someone else.
3. Put on your favorite music and listen or dance!
4. Take a warm shower or a long hot bath.
5. Love on your pet.
6. Volunteer your time at a non-profit organization.
7. Treat yourself to your favorite dessert.
8. Visit a beautiful garden and stop and smell the roses.
9. Be still. Just sit and be still for a while.
10. Read a book that you will really enjoy and get lost in it.
11. Write down your feelings. Be honest! It’s for your eyes only.
12. Give something away.
13. Start a new project, maybe one that you’ve put off for a while.
14. Get a massage.
15. Sit out on the porch and rock for a while.
16. Call an old friend and renew the friendship.
17. Eat whatever you like at your favorite restaurant.
18. Turn up the radio while driving and sing!
19. Sit outside at night, stare at the stars, and enjoy the night air.
20. Organize something in your home, office, or garage.
21. Forgive someone.
22. Attend a religious service.
23. Organize old photos or take up scrap-booking.
24. Learn to play an instrument.
25. Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!
If none of these ideas sound inviting to you, sit down and decide what does, then do it. Remember that while others can help, grief is very individual. You have to decide what helps you and what really works for you and then do it. Don't allow others to set the pace for you. Move at your own pace. Simply make sure that you are consistently moving toward the light at the end of the tunnel. You will get there!
Getting through special days and holidays
Grieving is difficult any time of the year, but especially on special days such as birthdays and anniversaries and certainly on holidays. There is no magical solution to get through these days, but here are a few tips that will hopefully help you cope.
- Communication is key. Be sure to communicate with your family your thoughts and feelings about plans for the specific day.
- Family get-togethers can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Don’t set expectations too high for yourself or for the day.
- Set limitations, especially during the Christmas season. Realize that it isn’t going to be easy. Do the things that are very special and important to you.
- Remember, what you choose to do this year is not what you have to do next year.
- Holidays and special days are emotionally, physically and psychologically draining. Rest prior to the day. You will need all of your strength.
- Some people fear crying in public, thus they avoid public places. During the Christmas season there are usually public events to attend. Don’t let your tears keep you from attending these events. Tears are therapeutic. Don’t hold them back.
- Do something for someone else, such as volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit those in a nursing home or visit shut-ins.
- Do something in memory of your loved one. Some ideas include donating money or time to a favorite charity, plant a tree, go Christmas caroling, or adopt a needy family and make their holiday season special.
- Consider changing your usual routine on that particular day. For example, go visit relatives or friends or even go away on a vacation.
- Do a balloon release in memory of your loved ones birthday.
- Remember, there is no right or wrong way to handle special days and holidays. You may choose to hold on to family traditions or you may choose to completely change the day.
When a parent dies
Losing a parent is usually very difficult. When you lose a parent you may feel as if you are losing your past or your history. You may think back to childhood times that haven't crossed your mind in years. Most likely you will feel a wide range of emotions. Numbness, guilt, fear, relief, anger, and sadness may be but a few of the emotions that you will experience.
Listed below are a few tips to help you after the loss of a parent:
- Don't be surprised if your feelings of sadness seem overwhelming. Most expect feelings of sadness upon the death of a parent, but many do not expect the sadness to run so deep. This is not unusual. Allow yourself to feel sad.
- Treasure your memories. Look through old family pictures, reminisce with other family members, watch old videos, or visit the old home place. It is important to recall special memories, to retell family stories and remember your parent.
- Reach out to others for help. Friends and family truly want to help you in your grief process. The main reason most do not help is because they don't know how to help. Make your needs and desires known and accept the assistance.
- Find someone with a good set of ears. Those who are grieving usually don't need a lot of advice. They basically need someone to listen. Seek out a person that you trust. Make sure that is a person with whom you can be transparent and a person who you can cry with. Hopefully it will be a person that doesn't mind hearing the same stories and memories over and over. Chances are you will need to tell them over and over.
- Recognize the death's impact on the rest of your family. If you have siblings don't be surprised if their grief reaction is different than yours. In fact, it probably will be. Reactions are different because each sibling had a unique relationship with the parent who died. Allow this death to bring you and your siblings closer rather than separating you.
How Do You Help A Teenager Deal With Grief?
Most people would agree the teenage years are some of the hardest in life. Adding the loss of a loved one to those years can certainly make life much more difficult. This brochure is designed to help you help a teen cope with the grieving process.
- Acknowledge the reality of the grief. Emotions, questions, and uncertainty are three things teens experience after the death of a relative, friend or classmate. Some think that if the grief is not discussed, it will go away. This could not be further from the truth. The teen needs those around to recognize, encourage and accept the process of grief.
- Listen and be open. Teens tend to “bottle up” their feelings because they believe that no one has ever experienced what they are feeling. A parent, school counselor, or a family friend can listen and offer much reassurance. It is important for the caregiver to actively listen and follow through with open ended questions which allow the teen to express feelings.
- Discuss and process the pain. Explain to the teen that the hurt and pain she feels now won’t last forever. If the grief lasts longer than expected they may tend to isolate themselves. A reminder that the pain is not permanent will help the teen feel hopeful and less isolated.
- Now isn’t the time for adult responsibilities. Be careful not to put teens into roles with too much responsibility following a death. This usually happens when the death of a parent occurs and the teen feels he/she has to assume the role and responsibilities of the parent who died.
- There are many signs that your teen may need extra help when dealing with grief.
Be aware if your teen:
- Is unwilling to talk about the deceased
- Displays aggressive behavior
- Has anger-management problems
- Begins to experience academic failure
- Becomes indifferent to regular activities, or friends.
- Shows symptoms of depression
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
- Experiments with alcohol, drugs or sex.
These behaviors are signals of problems. If the behaviors persist, seek further help from a school counselor, church staff member or a private practice counselor.
One other very important aspect of grief recovery for teens depends on the effectiveness of their support system. Support systems are made up of people, places and things. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does my teen have someone with whom he/she can talk?
- Does my teen have an effective way of dealing with anger?
- Is there a place your teen can go where they feel safe?
- Is your teen involved in an extracurricular activity or social club?
Tips to help children deal with grief
There are many misconceptions concerning children and grief. Children cannot be expected to understand death in the same way as adults do, nor can they be expected to grieve as adults do. But children can and do grieve. A child’s grief does not mimic the grief of an adult. Both adults and children are forced to deal with immediate separation from a loved one. The grieving process for an adult involves integrating the reality of the loss into every aspect of life. Children do not have the same concept of death and loss as adults and cannot be expected to grieve in the same way as adults. Children will usually have a lot of questions which vary depending on the age of a child. A five year old may ask, “what is dead?” or “where do you go when your dead?” A seven year old may have many questions about the biological processes of death and be very concerned with issues of emotional security. An older child, say 10-12 years old, may question if they somehow caused the death.
Things Not to Say to a Child
It is very important to be aware of what is said to a child, but equally important to know some things to not say to a grieving child.
- “Uncle Bob Passed Away.” Children do not know what the term “passed away” means. Your child needs to hear that Uncle Bob died. Using the words die, death, and dead may seem harsh, but they are more helpful for literal-minded children. You may need to explain that death means that the body can no longer function. The person is no longer able to breathe, eat, or move.
- “God just needed another angel in Heaven.” Be careful about telling children that God takes people. This may cause the child to blame God for the death.
- “Grandmother just went to sleep.” One of two scenarios may occur in your child’s thought process if death is communicated as sleep. He/she may think the person will eventually wake up, or they may be fearful of falling asleep because they know the person who died never woke up. Children need honest, open communication about death. What may be comforting words to an adult may terrify a child.
Things to Say to a Child
- “I love you”. After a death children need to be reassured of your love. Say it often.
- “Tell me how you are feeling.” If the child’s response is “I don’t know”, then figure it out together.
- “How did grandpa die?” A question like this helps your child to gather information and clarifies misconceptions.
How can I help someone who is grieving?
Most people want to help a friend or relative who is grieving. The reason that most do not is simple… they don’t know what to do to help. While there are some specific needs that your friend might have, there are definitely some general ideas that will assist anyone going through the process of grief.
- Contact the person as soon as you hear about the death. Telephone them or visit them. If at all possible attend the visitation, wake, funeral service or memorial service. Don’t let the contact end after the services are over. Those dealing with the death of a loved one will usually need you more after everyone else has gone home.
- Listen, Listen, Listen. Most people who are grieving don’t need your advice, they need your ear. Be willing to listen to a variety of feelings and the same memories and stories over and over and over.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died. We mistakenly think that if we bring up the name of the person who died that it will cause those grieving to think about them or to be sad. The reality is your friend was probably already thinking of their loved one and they most likely will appreciate your kind word or fun memory.
- Let your friend grieve in their own way. Grief patterns and methods of coping vary from person to person. Allow your friend to grieve in their own way and in their own time.
- Offer practical help such as bringing a cooked meal, caring for small children, doing yard work or helping with housework.
- Offer a hug when appropriate.
- Remember important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Be sensitive during holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holiday season can be very difficult. A card, call or visit from you may help.
- Know that your friend doesn’t need lectures, the theory of grief, false reassurance or to hear “I know how you feel.”
I also learned a lot from reading Healing your Grieving Heart by Alan Wolfelt, PH.D. When someone you love dies, you must express your grief if you are to heal. Knowing what to do with your grief and how to grief doesn’t always come naturally. This book offers 100 practical ideas for helping you mourn well so you can live well and love well again. He has written several other books on this same topic. Dr. Alan Wolfelt is the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Colorado 970-226-6050/ www.centerforloss.com
I recommend contacting a local hospice and/or bereavement counselor to assist you to live through this transition in your life.
Bereavement Counseling and Support Groups
Your Local Hospice ~ Bereavement Services to assist you through your process of grief including the following services: (If you live in the Atlanta, GA and would like a recommendation, please contact me. I'm happy to share with you the hospices that I recommend. We used hospice care for my mother and my father.)
- Individual support from a Bereavement Counselor
- A monthly luncheon with your peers and our staff members
- Grief seminars and workshops
Good Grief Groups ~770-926-3707/ www.goodgriefgroups.com Cecil Fike Good Grief groups are currently located in California, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee. If there isn’t a group in your area, consider starting one or order the workbook and work at your own pace. Make sure to read Good Grief written by Granger Westberg
When a pet dies, just like when any family member dies, we must walk through the grief in order to heal. Give yourself permission and time to grieve. You’ll know when the time is right for you to adopt another pet. Brandy, my first chow, died in January 1999. Bella, my second chow, arrived in heaven 7-1-2011. I was with each of them as they took their last breath. They were cremated and their ashes go where I go. Their ashes, along with the ashes of all dogs I have/had, will be buried with me when I die.
with her gentle expression of love, I began each day smiling
…awakened by chimes of joy around her neck
tail wagging, she entered my room
a morning kiss ~ the tender touch of her nose on my face
our communication ~ a language all its own
beside beloved Brandy as she took her last breath
my aching heart cried out ~ her peace…my pain
wondering, would I ever love another?
searching, I soon found her ~ Una Isabella De La Sol
…awakened by the chimes of joy as she awakes
snorting, tail wagging, she arrives bedside
we snuggle ~ Bella’s paws tucked under or over my arm
many morning kisses~ the tender touch of her nose on my face
training together, constant companions sharing a special bond
complete understanding, unconditional love, and trust
our communication, a language all our own
with her enduring expression of love, I begin each day smiling.
The poem below comforted me, may it also comfort you…
The Rainbow Bridge
There is a bridge connecting heaven and earth. It’s called the Rainbow Bridge, because of its many colors. Just this side of the Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows, hills, and valleys with lush green grass.
When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place. There is always food and water and warm, spring, perfect weather. The old and frail animals are young again. Those who are maimed are made whole again. They play all day with each other.
There is only one thing missing. They are not with their special person who loved them on earth. So each day they eat and sleep, run and play until the day comes when one suddenly stops playing and looks up! The nose twitches! The ears are up! The eyes are staring! And this one suddenly runs from the group.
You have been seen, and when you and your special friend meet, you take him or her in your arms and embrace. Your face is kissed again and again, and you look once more into the eyes of your trusting pet. Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together, never again to be separated.