A new year often comes with resolutions with the goal of doing or being “better.”
For 2023, we hope that instead you all resolve to treat yourselves with compassion and kindness, be gentle with your hearts, and reach out for the support you need to cope with your grief.
With sincere gratitude, we would like to provide a reminder of the incredible individuals who shared their grief journeys and bereavement expertise with COPE and its community this past year for you to use this coming year as you are looking for tools and opportunities for connection, healing, and support:
Shaina Fawn, LCSW https://www.therapeuticbridges.com/
Mary Clohan and Ed Zareh https://www.longlostjohn.com/
Josh Robinson https://joshrobinsondrums.com/
Heather Stang MA C-IAYT https://heatherstang.com/
Lynn Trotta https://www.lynntrotta.com/
Kathy Eldon https://www.kathyeldon.com/
Danaelle Rodriguez, RYT 200 https://danaelle.info/
Carla Blowey https://www.dreamingkevin.com/
Joanna Warren MPS, ATR, LMHCA https://joannalynnwarren.com/
Amy Gross, PhD https://pausetobepresent.com/
Janet Zimmerman, LCSW-R https://www.lipetloss.com/
Irene Hajisava, LCSW https://irenehajisava.com/
Susan Capurso CEOLD https://susancapurso.com/
Judy Lipson https://www.judylipson.org/
Jean Kaiser, Advanced Reiki Practitioner reikipeace2day@gmail
Jody Cukier https://www.jodycukier.com/
Michael Trotta https://www.storymischief.com/
Maya Roffler https://www.thesurvivingsiblings.com/
Lisa Strahs-Lorenc https://www.familiesmoveon.com/
Pregnancy Loss Support Program https://www.pregnancyloss.org/
Cara Martinisi https://lovefromheaven.org/
Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., A.T.R.-BC https://www.drrobingoodman.com/
Susan Lax https://susanplax.com/
Warm wishes for a peaceful new year,
I was recently scrolling instagram when I saw a quote from therapist and New York Times best-selling author Nedra Glover Tawwab (@nedratawwab).
An expert in family and relationship dynamics, she had this to say about grief:
“There are some things that you may never get over. You aren’t supposed to exist as if things didn’t happen to you. Grief is a sign that you care deeply and that you were impacted. Feel without trying to forget…[you] do not have to “get over” things to keep going.”
You aren’t supposed to exist as if things didn’t happen to you.
Though her entire quote was spot on for coping with grief, that one line resonated with me deeply. You are the result of what you have experienced in life. The good and the bad. The easy and the difficult. The triumphs and failures. You are allowed to have feelings about what has happened to you even if they’re not just the bright and shiny ones.
You are different now and there is no getting back to normal because that normal is different now too. You do not have to pretend or put on a brave face. You do not have to be easy going, positive and hopeful, and act like nothing is wrong to be “grieving well.” It is OK to cry, admit you are having a hard time, ask for help or special circumstances, or choose not to participate in social events when you need some time and space for yourself (re-read that last part if you’re struggling with what to do during the holidays!!). Something happened to you and mourning that loss is normal, necessary, and healthy.
I often talk with COPE families about the difference between “moving on” and moving “through” or “forward” with your grief as a part of your life. You do not move on from the loss of a loved one. Losing a child or sibling or partner is not something you simply get over. It is something that impacts you, changes you, and molds you. Your grief becomes woven into who you are, how you connect with those around you, and how you experience life. You carry it (and them) with you wherever you go. The weight of your grief might be lighter or easier to bear at times, but it stays with you. As it should. This person matters to you and is still a part of your life, albeit in a new way.
Now, if you can learn something from your grief and integrate that into your life in a positive way, especially if that is having more compassion for others and their own difficult experiences, then that is meaningful and admirable.
But start first with honoring your experiences and emotions and giving yourself permission to grieve.
You aren’t supposed to exist as if things didn’t happen to you.
In my professional education, clinical training, and personal practice of yoga, meditation or even my childbirth experiences, I have learned and practiced a number of ideas designed to help encourage, accept, and heal your thoughts and by extension your feelings.
These concepts go by different names – positive self-talk, mantra, prayer, affirmations. They are all unique, rooted in different belief systems and cultural traditions and by no means are meant to be considered interchangeable, but they have similar attributes that can provide an important layer of support during challenging times should they align with your beliefs and practice.
Often when working with grief, we focus on the feelings we are having and what we can do to help ourselves feel better – reach out to a support system, go to therapy, practice good self-care, spend time in nature, or use journaling or meditation or music. Sometimes though, the work needs to be done internally with one’s thoughts.
After a loss, your thoughts might be perseverating on the What Ifs?, fixating on questions you can’t answer, or replaying the death or how you found out. Self-talk might help you distract yourself from these ruminations or even argue their validity. You might be anxious thinking about how to get through a difficult event or day and a prayer or mantra in quiet solitude beforehand can provide that centering and strength. You could be giving yourself a hard time about not being “over” your grief or not doing as “well as you should be” and an affirmation can provide the kindness and self-compassion you need.
Positive self-talk is not about only looking on the bright side or labeling challenging thoughts as “bad.” Pushing them down or ignoring them does not allow you to process them.Negative or difficult thoughts should still be expected, accepted, and allowed without judgment. Self-talk is rather about learning to tune into the positive, self-affirming thoughts that can offer that strength and support from within.
Affirmations or mantras are deeply individual and are most meaningful when rooted in their appropriate context, but ones that I have used, learned, or taught in the past are:
This too shall pass.
Today I am enough.
I can do hard things.
I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.
You are here with me.
Today I am grateful for…
Today is a hard day and I will be gentle with myself.
I am allowed to feel this way and I am allowed to not want to feel this way.
There are so many versions of positive self-talk that can be used as a daily exercise or in very specific circumstances. Consider exploring one or more of these practices as part of supporting you in your grief journey.
July is Bereaved Parents Awareness month. On the heels of Mental Health Awareness Month, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Memorial Day, it can sometimes feel like there is always a reminder of our grief. We hope that each day or month of awareness is another opportunity for us to recognize and honor our grief and for others to learn more about grief and support those who are grieving. Sometimes though, it might seem like pressure to do or feel something specific and it is just as appropriate to let these days pass by. For this month, I simply want to remind you of your rights as a grieving individual in all circumstances, 365 days a year. This list is adapted from Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition.
MY GRIEF RIGHTS
- You have the right to experience your own unique grief
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do.
- You have the right to talk about your grief
Talking about your grief will help you process. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much and as often as you want about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
- You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions
Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
- You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Do not allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
- You have the right to experience “griefbursts”
Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is expected and natural.
- You have the right to make use of ritual
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn.
- You have the right to embrace your spirituality
If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs and help you process any anger or loss of faith related to your loss.
- You have the right to search for meaning
You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. Avoid clichéd responses like, “It was God’s will.” Instead consider putting your energy into “making meaning” through honoring their memory – if that feels right for your grief experience
- You have the right to treasure your memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone we love. Allow yourself to remember both happy and more difficult times and find others with whom you can share them.
- You have the right to move through your grief and heal
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient, tolerant, and kind to yourself. You should always remember that the loss of someone you love changes your life forever.
Waves in an Ocean of Grief
When considering what to write this month I found myself continuing to encounter examples of the constant presence of loss and grief in our lives both in the small everyday ways and larger, tragic events. Whether I heard it in session with clients, in support groups, talking with friends and family, or watching the news, people in general and especially grieving individuals are recently finding themselves overwhelmed by the impact that recurrent loss or reminders of loss can have on their wellbeing. As a mother and a grief professional, I too, have recently struggled to find the balance.
We often talk about the grief and healing experience as coming in waves. There are ups and downs and we are constantly moving, backwards and forwards, sometimes with more difficulty treading water than other times. Sometimes we feel like we are making progress, whatever that might look like for us. And sometimes we are just staying afloat. But what about times when it seems that we are overcome by not just waves, but rather an entire ocean of grief where there is no relief, no calm waters, only huge swells and an uncertain horizon?
In grief there are typical, everyday “grief bursts,” or sudden bursts of feelings that come out of nowhere or are tied to an otherwise seemingly innocuous occurrence like a song on the radio or a familiar smell that reminds us of our loved one. There are the common, expected triggering events like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or special events that underscore their absence in our lives. These grief bursts or triggers are normal and expected, but they can still lead people to worry about their grief process, expressing concern that they felt like they were doing better, but are now feeling worse again. Grieving individuals can feel discouraged that they are “right back where they were” despite how much time has passed. Yet as time continues and people are able to ride these waves and find relief in the times in between, they can often learn how to avoid them, plan for them, or practice how to cope with them.
But then there are times, as we seem to find ourselves in now, that the constant presence and reminders of grief and loss can overwhelm us with those all too familiar feelings of sadness, pain, trauma, and isolation.
The recent rise in COVID-19 cases has reignited those feelings of fear and worry about the health of those around us, especially the most vulnerable. COVID positive individuals needing to isolate themselves, even just for 5 days, is bringing people back to the crippling isolation and loneliness they experienced at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown 2 years ago. The progress towards normalcy we’ve made with lifting mask mandates and gathering in celebration again is reminding those who have to miss out because of COVID exposure or sickness how much we as a society have missed out on for the past couple years – the graduations, the weddings, the births, and the everyday milestones.
The shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, and countless other communities, whether it affects us directly or is consumed by us through the news, surrounds us with anger and sorrow. Witnessing such pain can be extremely traumatic and scary for all of us, and even more so for grieving individuals. It can bring us back to that very raw, visceral place in our grief, reminding us of the trauma we’ve experienced and seeing ourselves in the anguish of those who are currently suffering. Grief has an enormous impact on both our emotional and physical health and hearing the news that the husband of one of the slain Uvalde teachers died 2 days later of an apparent heart attack only underscores the need for bereavement support.
I was asked earlier this week what words of support I would have for the families of Uvalde and I found myself at a loss. As grieving individuals know, sometimes there are no words.
But for those in our community, in times like these when the ocean of grief is wider and deeper than feels possible to manage, be gentle with yourselves.
Turn off the news when it becomes too much to bear. If you have young children you’re caring for, make it a pajama and TV day. If activism or service feels meaningful and productive, do that. Give yourself the opportunity to process feelings with those around you and give yourself the space to not talk about it if that’s what you need. Have compassion and grace with the feelings that arise and use every tool you have to care for yourself.
Know that just like with the song on the radio or that milestone anniversary, you will make it through this time and none of us has to do it alone.
Claire Sharkey, LCSW
Clinical Director, COPE Foundation