Coping with Grief After a Loss

med-1044-depressionGrief is a reaction to a major loss. It can be triggered by the death of a loved one, but people can also experience grief if they have lost a job, experienced an end to a significant relationship, loss of personal property, an illness for which there is no cure, a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion, but it is a normal process that each person must move through. It is not something you get over or can bypass.

Everyone feels grief in their own way. However, there are common stages to the process of grieving. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.

Shock, denial, disbelief, numbness. When you learn that you have lost, or may lose, someone you love, you may find the news hard to accept. Common thoughts include, “This can’t be happening” or “There must be some mistake.” The feeling of disbelief gives yourself some emotional breathing room and protects you from the full effect of the news when you are not ready to accept it.

Anger, blaming others. After you have begun to accept a loss, you may feel very angry. You may blame others or the person who died for the situation even if you know, realistically, that they are not responsible for it. Or, you may let out your frustration by becoming irritated easily or unintentionally doing things that hurt others. All of these feelings are normal. Anger can be a way of hiding your pain when you can’t or don’t know how to express your real feelings.

Bargaining and guilt. Even if you know there is little or no hope for a recovery, you may tell yourself you can do something to solve the problem. You may try to make a deal with the doctors, God, or yourself, promising to make changes if the situation will go away. You may have thoughts like, “I’ll never become angry with my partner or child again if only the cancer goes away.” It’s normal to go over past actions and think, “If only I had done this . . .” Many people also feel a sense of guilt or responsibility that fosters the belief that they can still or should have somehow changed things.

Depressed mood, sadness, and crying. At some point, you will feel the full impact of the loss, and begin to understand what it will mean to go through life without someone you love or whatever you may have lost. At this stage, you may feel very sad and perhaps allow yourself to cry for the first time. Feelings like these usually mean that you are closer to the end of the grief process.

Acceptance, coming to terms. At the final stage of grief, you accept your loss even though you still don’t like this fact. You forgive yourself and others and, perhaps for the first time, may feel a sense of peace about the loss. You may still feel sad, but you have stopped trying to fight reality. You may be able to clean out the room of the person who died or participate again in some of the activities you enjoyed together. At this stage, people often think about trying to find an enduring way to pay tribute to the life of someone who has died.

People’s responses to grief will be different, depending on the circumstances of the event that is causing the grief symptoms. Not everyone goes through all of the stages of grief, or experiences them in the same order and you may also go through a stage more than once. At some point you may think you have moved beyond depression, but you may feel sad again on a holiday or an anniversary. Or, you may get angry when you have to handle alone the everyday difficulties that you used share. Experiences like these are normal.

The grief process can’t be rushed and shouldn’t be. It’s important to let yourself feel the pain and most people find that over time the intensity of the pain will decrease. Even if one denies their pain of a loss, the grief still exists. If it does not affect them at this moment, it will eventually erupt in some way, maybe at an inappropriate moment or during another traumatic event. Most professionals suggest that it is always better to admit our strong feelings about a situation, to feel them, and to move through the grieving process in order to move beyond the event.

It is important to know that grieving is an important, normal, and healthy response to loss. If you feel overwhelmed or very sad for much longer than other people in similar situations, or if you continue to have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying life, you may want to talk with a therapist, social worker, or chaplain.

Advertisements

Grief Camp (Camp Wakanyeja) for Children Taking Registrations Now

Camp Wakanyeja, sponsored by Children’s Miracle Network and Hospice of the Hills, is a one-day camp for children (ages 6-12 years) who have experienced a loss through death within a year.

Hospice of the Hills is holding the camp on Saturday, October 4, 2014. To register, call the Hospice Grief Center at (605) 719-7722 or (800) 209-5719. The cost of the camp is $5 per child or $10 per family. Scholarships are available.

The mission of the Camp is to provide a safe place for kids to express feelings related to the death of a loved one – a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, or anyone else close to the child.

GriefCampWakanyeja_FlyerDownload their flyer or call the Hospice Grief Center at (605) 719-7722 or (800) 209-5719 for more information.

 

 

Father & Daughter Creatively Grieve Their Loss

Grief2Grief can be defined as an intense emotional state associate with the loss of someone or something with whom (or which) one has had a deep bond. It is not always associated with a death. You can go through the grieving process from a PCS, retirement or separation from a job, loss of property, ending of a relationship…the list can be endless.

It is important to note that everyone grieves in their own way and it is normal to grieve. There are five generally recognized stages of grief:

  1. Denial – Rejection or refusal to accept the truth (also known as shock).
  2. Anger – Physical expression of hostility directed toward others.
  3. Bargaining – An agreement between conscious mind and soul involving a negotiation for more time to live.
  4. Depression – Reactive grief over a specific loss and/or preparation for loss.
  5. Acceptance – An acceptance of existing conditions, a receptivity to things that can’t be changed

Recognizing that you are grieving something is sometimes harder for you to realize and then once you realize it, what do you do with your grief? Counseling can assist with recognizing and processing the loss. For Ben and Olivia, they were grieving the loss of a wife, mother, and moving from their home. The following story was shared on the NBC’s Today Show, and the Bored Panda website.Grief

“Ben Nunery and his young daughter Olivia have published a gripping and beautiful series of images in which they bid farewell to their home and to their wife and mother Ali, who died of cancer in 2011 at 31 years of age.”

“Ben and Ali were married in 2009. Because they had just purchased their new home, they decided to take their wedding photos in the home that was to be their future. After Ali passed just 2 ½ years later, however, Ben and Olivia had to move into a new home together. To say goodbye, Ali’s sister Melanie Tracy Pace joined them for one more photoshoot in the home where Ben and Ali had their wedding day photos and where they had lived together. The resulting images, some of which even shadow the original wedding-day photos, are a touching and beautiful farewell to Ali and to their old home.”

Check out the photos on the Bored Panda website (http://www.boredpanda.com/father-daughter-recreate-wedding-pictures-ben-nunery-melanie-tracy-pace/) , along with some more specific information about Ben, Olivia and Ali’s story.

A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope

As we all come to terms with the events of last Friday, our thoughts are with the community of Newton, Connecticut and the families of Sandy Hook Elementary. The national spotlight is on them as they grieve.

Meanwhile, we begin our week as we are expected to: while re-examining our lives, reviewing local policies and procedures we still have to return to our daily routines, many of us sending kids out the door to school for the day. To quote a parent of a Columbine Shooting victim, “The definition of normal changed that day.”

Whether it is 1999 or 2012 we are all now living in a new normal and continuing to build (and rebuild) our personal, family and community resilience. Everyone copes and grieves differently, but children often need more assistance. Below are some tips for parents and teachers from the National Association of School Psychologists in helping children cope.

Whenever a national tragedy occurs, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, children, like many people, may be confused or frightened.  Most likely they will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.  Parents and school personnel can help children cope first and foremost by establishing a sense of safety and security. As more information becomes available, adults can continue to help children work through their emotions and perhaps even use the process as a learning experience.

All Adults Should:

  1. Model calm and control.  Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.
  2. Reassure children that they are safe and (if true) so are the other important adults in their lives. Depending on the situation, point out factors that help insure their immediate safety and that of their community.
  3. Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge.  Explain that the government emergency workers, police, firefighters, doctors, and the military are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no further tragedies occur.
  4. Let children know that it is okay to feel upset.  Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy like this occurs.  Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective.  Even anger is okay, but children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
  5. Observe children’s emotional state.  Depending on their age, children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of grief, anxiety or discomfort.  Children will express their emotions differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel or express grief.
  6. Look for children at greater risk.  Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others.  Be particularly observant for those who may be at risk of suicide.  Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
  7. Tell children the truth. Don’t try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious.  Children are smart.  They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening.
  8. Stick to the facts.  Don’t embellish or speculate about what has happened and what might happen. Don’t dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.
  9. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriateEarly elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change. Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school.  They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence and threats to safety in schools and society.  They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. They will be more committed to doing something to help the victims and affected community.  For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!
  10. Monitor your own stress level.  Don’t ignore your own feelings of anxiety, grief, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, religious leaders, and mental health counselors can help. It is okay to let your children know that you are sad, but that you believe things will get better. You will be better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a productive manner.  Get appropriate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

What Parents Can Do:

  1. Focus on your children over the week following the tragedy.  Tell them you love them and everything will be okay. Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.
  2. Make time to talk with your children.  Remember if you do not talk to your children about this incident someone else will.  Take some time and determine what you wish to say.
  3. Stay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure them and give you the opportunity to monitor their reaction.  Many children will want actual physical contact.  Give plenty of hugs.  Let them sit close to you, and make sure to take extra time at bedtime to cuddle and to reassure them that they are loved and safe.
  4. Limit your child’s television viewing of these events.  If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off.  Don’t sit mesmerized re-watching the same events over and over again.
  5. Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible stick to your family’s normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc., but don’t be inflexible.  Children may have a hard time concentrating on schoolwork or falling asleep at night.
  6. Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed.  These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy. Spend more time tucking them in.  Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it.
  7. Safeguard your children’s physical health.  Stress can take a physical toll on children as well as adults.  Make sure your children get appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  8. Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families.  It may be a good time to take your children to your place of worship, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your child express their feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families.
  9. Find out what resources your school has in place to help children cope.  Most schools are likely to be open and often are a good place for children to regain a sense of normalcy.  Being with their friends and teachers can help.  Schools should also have a plan for making counseling available to children and adults who need it.

What Schools Can Do:

  1. Assure children that they are safe and that schools are well prepared to take care of all children at all times.
  2. Maintain structure and stability within the schools.  It would be best, however, not to have tests or major projects within the next few days.
  3. Have a plan for the first few days back at school.  Include school psychologists, counselors, and crisis team members in planning the school’s response.
  4. Provide teachers and parents with information about what to say and do for children in school and at home.
  5. Have teachers provide information directly to their students, not during the public address announcements.
  6. Have school psychologists and counselors available to talk to students and staff who may need or want extra support.
  7. Be aware of students who may have recently experienced a personal tragedy or a have personal connection to victims or their families.  Even a child who has merely visited the affected area or community may have a strong reaction. Provide these students extra support and leniency if necessary.
  8. Know what community resources are available for children who may need extra counseling. School psychologists can be very helpful in directing families to the right community resources.
  9. Allow time for age appropriate classroom discussion and activities. Do not expect teachers to provide all of the answers.  They should ask questions and guide the discussion, but not dominate it.  Other activities can include art and writing projects, play acting, and physical games.
  10. Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be associated with the tragedy. Children can easily generalize negative statements and develop prejudice. Talk about tolerance and justice versus vengeance. Stop any bullying or teasing of students immediately.
  11. Refer children who exhibit extreme anxiety, fear or anger to mental health counselors in the school. Inform their parents.
  12. Provide an outlet for students’ desire to help.  Consider making get well cards or sending letters to the families and survivors of the tragedy, or writing thank you letters to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals as well as emergency rescue workers, firefighters and police.
  13. Monitor or restrict viewing scenes of the event as well as the aftermath.

For information on helping children and youth with this crisis, contact NASP at (301) 657-0270 or visit NASP’s website at www.nasponline.org

Modified from material posted on the NASP website in September 2001.

© 2002, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, (301) 657-0270, Fax (301) 657-0275; www.nasponline.org

“Music is the Soundtrack of your Life”

Have you ever been listening to the radio and heard a song that took you back in time? All of a sudden, you remember what you were doing, how you were feeling, and who you were with.

It’s a common experience for many people. Often just listening to a song can take many of us back to old sensations, excitements, fears and hopes.

With the passing of Dick Clark this week, many people are experiencing a flood of emotions. Some of those emotions are feelings of grief and loss, but others may be emotions and memories from their lives based on the music that Dick Clark was associated with. In fact, it was Dick Clark that is quoted as saying, “Music is the soundtrack of your life.”

For me, I have always found music a great way to entertain myself as well as a way to destress and relax. If you looked at the music on my iPod you would find everything from classical, country, rock, pop, and even old school rap. There are many songs that bring back memories for me, but there are a few that I could just name and remember all the details of a memory tied to it. Examples would be Restless Heart’s song Bluest Eyes in Texas reminds me not only of my first exposure to country music, but sitting in my dorm room at tech school with my roommate playing this song over and over. Def Leppard’s song Photograph puts me on the black diamond ski slopes in Winter Park, Colorado, skiing the moguls in the winter of 1985 with my Sony Walkman and a cassette of mixed music I made just for downhill skiing. The song right after it was She’s a Beauty by The Tubes and it not only puts me on the slopes, but also reminds me of when I met an old girlfriend, Kristin.

Kristin passed away in 1986, so that song, as well as Andrew Gold’s Thank You For Being Friend and Dionne Warwick & Friend’s That’s What Friends Are For, which were both played at her memorial service, bring up strong emotions for me.

There have been many links showing memories are tied to our senses. In fact, musical chronologies have been shown to be an effective therapy tool. A musical chronology is like a musical scrapbook. The chronology uses meaningful music to help clients connect with feelings, thoughts and memories, identify relevant life experiences and bring perspective to these experiences.

A goal of the chronology is to help clients appreciate the good they have experienced, while also coming to terms with experiences or situations they have left unreconciled. The hope is that by remembering the good, clients can give context to their experiences, and by coming face-to-face with difficult hurts while accessing a more realistic and compassionate lens, they will be better able to put those hurts to rest.

Catherine Somody conducted a study with participants ranging in age from 74 to 88 addressing Meaning and Connections in Older Populations using a musical chronology.

“The power of music and the chronology to evoke emotion was expressed by all participants,” Somody noted when discussing her research. “All reported increased self-awareness and reconnection with many important memories and values.” She went on to add, “The recall of happy memories added to the enjoyment of the process. Recall of hardships contributed to feelings of pride and accomplishment. Some participants connected with feelings of regret.” And consistent with the chronology mission, “Many connected with the experience of forgiveness and ’opened the door to hope.’”

Music can talk about our individual world and communicates our unique mix of cultural and personal experiences. While we may identify with important music from a particular genre, many of us also connect deeply with music from different generations and cultures.

So what is your music chronology or the soundtrack of your life? What are some of the songs that will illustrate your personal story or “life themes.” As we grow older, new genres, artists, and musical trends will be added to each of our chronologies. You might be surprised several years from now what songs will transport you back to the events in your life.

In the meantime, explore where you have been and become more self-aware of those events that have shaped who you are today. Learn from the hard memories while enjoying the happy ones.

Dealing with the Death of a Co-Worker

A sudden death can be a shock and deep loss to any of us, both in our personal lives, and in the workplace. When a co-worker, dies suddenly, our productivity and the dynamics of our work place are greatly affected. We probably have spent many hours with that person, and consider him/her not just a co-worker, but also a friend.

With the death of a co-worker, often we do not think of them ever leaving unless it is to retire or take another position. The death can touch peoples’ feelings about their work and workplace, their own lives, and their own fears about death and dying. People who work together can become like extended family, and when they suffer a loss, friends and co-workers grieve. When the death is unexpected, as from violence, accident, suicide or sudden terminal illness, it can be even more traumatic to the co-workers who did not have a chance to say good-bye.

The following are some suggestions that may help you through this difficult time:

The Grieving Process –

Feelings and symptoms of grief can take weeks, months, and even years to individually process. We do not follow or heal according to a timetable, but over time our emotions do ease. The brief time given to attend the memorial and funeral only touches on the beginning stages of grief. The feelings and symptoms can be different for each of us. They may include: shock, denial, anger, guilt, anxiety, sleep disorders, exhaustion, overwhelming sadness, and problems with concentration.

Some outcomes of grief may include: 1) finding a new balance (which doesn’t necessarily mean that things will ever be the same), and 2) growth (which means readiness to move ahead with one’s life). Most of the time we feel several of these emotions at the same time, but in varying degrees.

Eventually each phase is completed and we move ahead. The extent, depth and duration will depend on how close we were to the deceased, the circumstances of the death, and our own situation and losses that we have experienced.

Some things you might do:

  • Attend the funeral or memorial service – This gives you a chance to say good-bye and offer condolences to the family.
  • Conduct a work-place only event – A luncheon or office memorial is a chance for co-workers to acknowledge their unique relationship with the deceased.
  • Create a memorial – A photo, card, or special item the person kept on his/her desk might be a way to remember. Or you might consider putting up a plaque or picture of the deceased in an area as a remembrance. Depending on space and the situation, planting a tree at the work-site can also be done.
  • Hold or participate in some type of collection- This can be done for a special cause or for the family/children of the deceased, if appropriate.
  • Create a book of memories – This can be given to the family as a way to let them know of their loved one’s work life. These can become unique memories for the family, and a way for you to privately express feelings and memories. It is also a helpful way of letting them know their loved one was a valued employee and is missed.

What to expect:

  • People experience grief differently – You or your co-worker who was particularly close to the person who died, may feel depressed, absent-minded, short-tempered, or exhausted. These are all normal feelings.
  • Creating healthy memories is part of healing – Some people find talking about the deceased helps them manage their grief. Others keep to themselves. Respect the fact that others may feel the loss more or less strongly than you, or tend to cope differently.
  • A death generates questions and fears about our own mortality – If a co-worker dies, we may feel guilty or angry at that person, at life, or at the medical profession. It may cause you to question your own life and how temporary life is with those we love. These are all normal reactions and emotions.
  • Be aware of how you may react to a deceased co-worker’s replacement or even clearing their work area – Your anger and disappointment at his/her performance, personality or work style, may be less about the individual than your grief about the person they are replacing. Clearing the work area is a policy matter that management must adhere to and not about trying to erase the person’s memory too quickly.

Seek help – Be aware that there may be times when talking to a trained professional might be helpful, especially if you are having ongoing difficulty dealing with the loss or if your work performance is suffering. This can be a signal that this loss or others are affecting you more profoundly than you thought.

Coping with Grief After a Loss

Grief is a reaction to a major loss. It can be triggered by the death of a loved one, but people can also experience grief if they have lost a job, experienced an end to a significant relationship, loss of personal property, an illness for which there is no cure, a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion, but it is a normal process that each person must move through. It is not something you get over or can bypass.

Everyone feels grief in their own way. However, there are common stages to the process of grieving. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.

Shock, denial, disbelief, numbness. When you learn that you have lost, or may lose, someone you love, you may find the news hard to accept. Common thoughts include, “This can’t be happening” or “There must be some mistake.” The feeling of disbelief gives yourself some emotional breathing room and protects you from the full effect of the news when you are not ready to accept it.

Anger, blaming others. After you have begun to accept a loss, you may feel very angry. You may blame others or the person who died for the situation even if you know, realistically, that they are not responsible for it. Or, you may let out your frustration by becoming irritated easily or unintentionally doing things that hurt others. All of these feelings are normal. Anger can be a way of hiding your pain when you can’t or don’t know how to express your real feelings.

Bargaining and guilt. Even if you know there is little or no hope for a recovery, you may tell yourself you can do something to solve the problem. You may try to make a deal with the doctors, God, or yourself, promising to make changes if the situation will go away. You may have thoughts like, “I’ll never become angry with my partner or child again if only the cancer goes away.” It’s normal to go over past actions and think, “If only I had done this . . .” Many people also feel a sense of guilt or responsibility that fosters the belief that they can still or should have somehow changed things.

Depressed mood, sadness, and crying. At some point, you will feel the full impact of the loss, and begin to understand what it will mean to go through life without someone you love or whatever you may have lost. At this stage, you may feel very sad and perhaps allow yourself to cry for the first time. Feelings like these usually mean that you are closer to the end of the grief process.

Acceptance, coming to terms. At the final stage of grief, you accept your loss even though you still don’t like this fact. You forgive yourself and others and, perhaps for the first time, may feel a sense of peace about the loss. You may still feel sad, but you have stopped trying to fight reality. You may be able to clean out the room of the person who died or participate again in some of the activities you enjoyed together. At this stage, people often think about trying to find an enduring way to pay tribute to the life of someone who has died.

People’s responses to grief will be different, depending on the circumstances of the event that is causing the grief symptoms. Not everyone goes through all of the stages of grief, or experiences them in the same order and you may also go through a stage more than once. At some point you may think you have moved beyond depression, but you may feel sad again on a holiday or an anniversary. Or, you may get angry when you have to handle alone the everyday difficulties that you used share. Experiences like these are normal.

The grief process can’t be rushed and shouldn’t be. It’s important to let yourself feel the pain and most people find that over time the intensity of the pain will decrease. Even if one denies their pain of a loss, the grief still exists. If it does not affect them at this moment, it will eventually erupt in some way, maybe at an inappropriate moment or during another traumatic event. Most professionals suggest that it is always better to admit our strong feelings about a situation, to feel them, and to move through the grieving process in order to move beyond the event.

It is important to know that grieving is an important, normal, and healthy response to loss. If you feel overwhelmed or very sad for much longer than other people in similar situations, or if you continue to have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying life, you may want to talk with a therapist, social worker, or chaplain.