Lesson Six

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If you are new to this website, I suggest that you begin with the first lesson and follow through consecutively. As in any course of study, each lesson builds upon the previous. You may begin here. You will receive notification when a new lesson is posted.

In Lesson Five, we began to study the Grief Reactions Factors. As a reminder, these include:

  1. Emotional Bonding
  2. Manner of Death or Loss
  3. Obstacles to Healing Grief
  4. Previous Loss Experience

We have covered emotional bonding, how we are “connected” to the person or the event and why this connection is one of the key components to how and why we grieve. We learned that the more intertwined we are with the person or the event, the deeper and more profound is our grief.

Today, we will discuss the manner of death. Was it a sudden death? Or did our loved one have an illness that lingered for several weeks, months, or even years? We will also learn that a sudden, traumatic event can cause similar feelings and emotions as the death of a loved one.

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Sudden Death versus Anticipated Death
by Peggy Sweeney

No matter how our loved one died, we grieve. However, the manner in which the death happens will influence our grieving process.

Examples of sudden death include:

  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • motor vehicle accident
  • suicide
  • sudden infant death syndrome
  • line of duty death of firefighter or police officer

Shock and disbelieve are often our first reactions. When I received a phone call from a family friend that my dad had a heart attack and was dead, I immediately hung up the phone and dialed my parents’ home because I knew the person who had called must have been mistaken. Sadly, they were not.

Examples of anticipated death include:

  • cancer
  • brain injury
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • heart disease

When death occurs as the result of a long-term illness or injury, the levels of shock and disbelief may be less intense than they are with a sudden death because we have known for some time of the imminent death. Nevertheless, when someone we love is slowly dying, we may find ourselves surprised when his or her death occurs. This is not an abnormal response, but rather a belief that as long as there is life there is hope.

On the other hand, some people find it very difficult to watch a family member or close friend become debilitated and suffer a slow, painful death. They may silently pray for a peaceful death; an end to the torment. During the many months that my mother struggled to live, I found myself on what seemed like an endless roller coaster ride. Up one minute when a surgery or medication appeared to correct a problem or ease her pain, then tossed down into the depths of despair when efforts to make her well and pain-free failed. Watching someone you love very much die is never easy. Although mom’s death was very painful to cope with, it was a blessing for her.

What impact do these two types of death (sudden or anticipated) have on us as we begin to heal our grief? Disbelief, shock, denial, and a numbing of our senses may often accompany a sudden death. Some people may be angry, consumed with guilt, or lash out at those around them. Sudden death does not allow us to say a final goodbye or tell the person how much we loved them. We think it is too late to ask for forgiveness or to make amends for hurtful things we may have said or done in the past.

Following a very traumatic death (the death of a child, suicide, homicide, etc.), our brain and our body acknowledge the fact that we are facing something that is overwhelming to cope with. Many people will experience a sense of being on automatic pilot. They will do simple tasks seemingly without any thought

As a mortician, I witnessed this many times. A family member would come to the funeral home to make arrangements. Without any outward sign of emotion—almost robotically—they would answer my questions and offer detailed information concerning their wishes for the funeral and burial. You might think that this indifferent behavior is a sign that this person is coping well, or is emotionally unscathed by their loved one’s death. This is not true at all. It is merely nature’s coping mechanism. Eventually, the pain of grief descends unannounced and unmercifully.

Although we will grieve and have many of the same feelings and emotions as someone who is coping with the sudden death of a family member or special friend, anticipating their death – even unconsciously – gives us the opportunity to complete some of our grief work before our loved one dies.

Unless your loved one is in denial of their imminent death, you both have the opportunity to share your innermost feelings and emotions, right wrongs from the past, and make amends. Many people who are dying not only want to do this, but find it beneficial as they near life’s end. Furthermore, they may have had to relinquish control over many things in their life due to their particular long-term illness or injury: an active lifestyle, driving, cooking their favorite meals, or entertaining guests in their home. Allowing them to take part in an active healing experience such as this will bring both of you comfort and a sense of peace.

Some people may want or need to be sure that their affairs are in order. Planning their funeral arrangements or getting legal issues resolved for surviving family members are of great concern to them. Do not hesitate to assist them should they ask for help. The rewards you will gain in the long run will be well worth your efforts now.

We will grieve in spite of the manner in which our loved ones die. Death is death. Grief is grief. Pain is pain. We cannot go back in time and undo events that have happened or take back words that were said in anger or haste. We must accept our humanness. We must learn to forgive and ask for forgiveness. We must love unconditionally. You never know when death will touch your life.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.

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Consider reading from our Archives
Sudden Death
1…2…3…4…5…6… (military widow)
The Road Less Traveled by Peggy Sweeney
Griefland: Armen’s Story by Armen Bacon

Anticipated Death
Going the Distance by Benjamin Allen
“Because You Were There” by Sally Dalzel
The Voice on the Answering Machine by Linda Campanella

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Have you visited our Good Grief Library? A wealth of topics and titles to help you cope. Divided and sub-divided into specific categories for ease in searching for just the right book. Can’t find what you are looking for? Do you have a title or two that you would like to share with us? Send your questions and referrals to me, peggy@sweeneyalliance.org.

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No Homework Homework ~ Time to Write in Your Journal
As I have mentioned before, I strongly encourage people who are grieving to keep a journal. It offers you the chance to look back and note the progress you have made over the weeks and months since your loved one died.

If you are like me though, I hate handwriting of any kind because I have arthritis and it hurts to use a pen. I refer typing on my iPad or laptop. I sometimes use the “dictation tool” on my laptop. If you haven’t done so already, give journaling a try.

Based on this lesson, answer these questions in your private journal:

1. How did your loved one die? Was it sudden or anticipated? Describe the circumstances surrounding their death.

2. If the death was sudden, what were your reactions to learning of the death? Who told you they had died? What were your first emotions and feelings – disbelief, anger, numbness? Besides coping with your grief, what other issues did you have to deal with; such as, legal and financial issues?

3. If the death occurred after a prolonged illness, what role did you play in taking care of them? Were you their sole caregiver? What, if anything, did you do to help them, and yourself, accept the finality of their death? Did you help them plan their funeral or memorial service? Did they ask you to assist them in getting their finances, will and other important documents in order?

4. What other responsibilities did you have to assume that you weren’t prepared to do? For example, did you have to assume care of an aging parent whose spouse has died? Or, did you become the sole provider for your children after their father or mother died?

There are many other scenarios that occur when some dies. Yours is unique for you.

Our next lesson will focus on obstacles to healing grief

 

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Lesson Five

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In this lesson, we will begin to study the Grief Reaction Factors. When an unpleasant or traumatic loss occurs, the Grief Reaction Factors influence how we will cope with the resulting grief. Much like their predecessor, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, several renowned psychologists have developed stages or factors that influence how we cope with grief. The four Grief Reaction Factors factors that we will study are:

  • Emotional bonding
  • Manner of death
  • Obstacles to healing grief
  • Previous loss experience and family dynamics Continue reading

Lesson Four

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Up to this point in our coursework, we have discussed:

  • the definition of grief
  • some of the many reactions we may or may not experience when grieving
  • the five stages of grief by Kubler-Ross; they were designed for patients with a terminal illness rather than people grieving a death
  • how men and women grieve differently
  • what, besides the death of a loved one, causes grief
  • what we learned or experienced as a child has a profound effect on us as adults Continue reading

Lesson Three

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This lesson will focus on the elements of childhood that effect the way we cope with loss and grief as adults. Also, do men and women really grieve differently? I hope the article, Remember When, sheds some light on why you react to certain events as you do. In some cases, you have had to work on changing your personality, how you react to stress, or do some reading on anger management.

If you are a new student, I would encourage you to start the program with Lesson One. Continue reading

Lesson One

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Welcome to our first class. This is going to be a simple, straightforward class.  Most of you have very active lives PLUS, if you are in the throes of grief, it is VERY exhausting. If you’re looking to write a master’s thesis from all the information I am sharing, you won’t find it here, this is a basic information for the average person. I hope that whatever your struggles are that you will gain some help in healing. Never be afraid to ask a question or make a suggestion. I look forward to your constructive feedback. Continue reading

Lesson Two

Lesson Two

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  • *We come together as people drawn to life, yet acquainted with death.
  • We come full of our memories—those memories that seem hard for us to bear and those that lift us up and give us the courage to go on.
  • We come together today knowing that we are not alone—that others struggle as we struggle, that others love as we have loved and as we love still, hour by hour, day by day.
  • May we find our full share of love and hope in this hour of togetherness before us. Continue reading

Coping with Grief and Stress Through Prayer and Meditation

by Shirley Higdon, RN, BSN and Carol Stead, LCSW
Ave Maria Hospice

Shirley Higdon

Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering we feel when someone we love is taken away. Stress is about our perception of events and how we cope.

We cannot change the situation if we are grieving the death of a loved one, but we can become aware of our thoughts, our breathing and our bodies. Prayer and Meditation can help bring peace and meaning into our world.

Prayer
Prayer is offering ourselves to God. According to Joseph Schmidt, prayer is coming to God with all our brokenness and pain, confusion and doubt and simply saying “Here I am. This is what I bring.” Mauryeen O’Brien in Praying Through Grief says that death forces us to assess our spiritual lives and that struggle can help God enter into our daily existence. Through the eyes of faith we can see ourselves as spiritual travelers on the way home. God is right here with us in our grief.

“We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). “He brings life out of the shadow of death, and when, with human weakness, we are afraid, faith, which sees good in all things and knows that all is for the best, remains full of a confident courage. To live by faith is to live joyfully, to live with assurance, untroubled by doubts and with complete confidence in all we have to do and suffer at each moment by the will of God. The divine life is neither seen or felt, but there is never a moment when it is not acting in an unknown but very sure manner. It is hidden under such things as death of the body and the general disorder of all earthly affairs.” Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jeane-Pierre de Caussade.

Henry J. M. Nouwen writes in The Wounded Healer, “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory. Indeed, the paradox of Christian leadership is that the way out is the way in, that only by entering into communion with human suffering can relief by found.

Meditation
Meditation means giving oneself a time and a place for deep reflection. When we are grieving, it gives us a time, place and technique for acknowledging our loss at the very core of our being – in “that quiet space where God dwells,” according to Mauryeen O’Brien.

The following is adapted from a meditation technique taught at the Benson-Henry Institute in Massachusetts.

  • Pick a focus word, short phrase or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system such as “one,” “peace,” “the Lord is my shepherd,” “Hail Mary,” or “shalom.”
  • Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Relax your muscles progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, neck and head.
  • Pay attention to your breathing and repeat the word or phrase to yourself as you exhale.
  • Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts come to mind, simply let them pass by.
  • Continue for ten to 20 minutes.
  • Slowly open your eyes and come back to the room.
  • Meditation helps us realize that we are doing too much thinking. It stills the mind and shuts off the stream of thoughts that keep us from seeing things as a whole.

“We need to find God and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Mother Teresa

Two helpful internet sites for more information are: Journey of the Hearts and Hospice.

About Ave Maria Hospice: Ave Maria Hospice, founded in 2007 by Shirley Higdon, RN, BSN, serves those persons who have made the decision to spend their remaining days left in this world in the comfort of their home surrounded by family and friends once they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It is unique in that it is a faith-based agency strongly committed to prayer within the organization as well as with their patients if the patients are open to it. The other unique aspect is their strong committed bilingual team to better reach out and serve the presently underserved Hispanic community. The core team consists of a Medical Director, Registered Nurse, Social Worker, and a priest who serves as the Chaplain. Ave Maria Hospice serves Kerr, Gillespie, Bandera and Kendall counties in Texas. For questions about hospice or their organization, please call 830-997-1709 .

Carol Stead

About the Author: Carol Stead, LCSW received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She was a psychotherapist at a small family service agency in Ohio until she moved to Texas nine years ago. Before joining Ave Maria Hospice, Carol was the volunteer coordinator at the Needs Council in Fredericksburg, TX.

Why Support Groups Work

by Debby Threadgill
Weight Watchers

Debby Threadgill

When Peggy asked me to write this article, I wasn’t sure how a weight loss program related to those who are dealing with loss and grief. What I discovered is the common need for help and support. Changing habits is a conscious, often difficult process even if we have made the decision to do so ourselves. Change feels funny, uncomfortable and awkward at first, until time and repetition make it part of our lifestyle. Read more

I see people walk into a Weight Watchers meeting with all kinds of different expectations. Most want to lose weight and feel better. Some come because their doctors advised them to lose weight for health reasons. Still others come to learn what it means to eat healthy. They come ready to change unhealthy habits.

Weight Watchers works for all these people by providing structure and social support. Members attend a weekly meeting which includes a confidential weigh-in, informative literature and a 30 minute discussion. They feel comfortable sharing with each other because they are in the meeting for the same purpose. They share successes as well as setbacks.

As a Weight Watchers leader, I introduce various topics each week that facilitate discussion. These include such food-related topics as healthy food choices, recipes, menu planning and eating out. Other topics involve strategies to make weight-loss a lifestyle change. We discuss how to put ourselves first when we commit to losing weight. We talk about how to encourage support from our family and friends. We encourage each other to be as active as possible.

The Weight Watchers program works by providing structure. All foods have a points plus value and each member has a daily points plus target, along with an extra points plus allowance for the week. There are no banned foods. Each member selects food they like, within their daily target. It is this feeling of autonomy – getting to make choices – that makes it likelier that they will stick to the program.

One of the most important parts of our program is keeping a food journal. This helps control how much we eat. We expand on this by also journaling feelings, activity, weekly goals, successes, setbacks and thoughts at the end of the day. Somehow the act of writing these things down helps us understand ourselves better.

About the Author: Debby Threadgill has been a Weight Watchers leader since 2002. She is a graduate of Texas Tech University with a BA in English. Debby worked as a computer programmer in San Antonio, Dallas, and New York City for over 20 years. Debby is an avid tennis player. She enjoys tennis so much that she officiates many weekends at tennis tournaments as a certified USTA official. Debby has lived in Kerrville for 15 years.

Grief, A Natrural Response to Loss

by Annell Decker, LPC

Annell Decker

Grief applies to the loss of a loved one to death, certainly. It is also a natural and normal human response to any big change in life. Even if we initiate the change (new job or house) and there are advantages. Moving is one of the biggest, requiring changes in: friends, medical care, resources, finances, many everyday securities that give us a sense of “home.” Those who are, or have been, in the military or clergy work experience regular moves. Other changes include: changing jobs, losing a job, divorce, changes in the family, chronic medical conditions, trauma such as physical or sexual assault, medical or physical handicaps. You can probably think of many more.

What can you do about the feelings of sadness, anger, fear, resentment or confusion? First of all, accept that your feelings are real and valid. Feelings are not bad, they just are. What you do about them can have negative or positive results. Talk to people you trust & who care about you. Write in a journal or make a chart of advantages, disadvantages, or whatever works for you. Putting your thoughts down on paper is very therapeutic. Other ideas are to pray, draw or paint.

Give yourself some extra time to process feelings, needs & tasks. Ask for or allow others to help. Those who care about you want/need to do something, let them! If you are feeling rushed or pushed into making a decision, take a break to think, talk, pray, write or meditate until you are more confident.
Getting support from others who have been through the same thing is very valuable. For those who are dealing with specific medical problems, search the internet for support groups & information. If physical or sexual assault is involved, seek the help of professionals. Every county in Texas is served by a crisis center. You can check the phone book for numbers, ask a counselor or clergy. If the change you are grieving is the addiction of someone, look to AL-Anon meetings and literature. Using the Serenity Prayer as a coping skill to sort out a problem can be helpful.

One way to work on resolving childhood trauma is to write a letter, pouring out all the feelings, needs not met, anger & a plan for self-care. Burn the letter as a way to let go, maybe invite a trusted person as witness to the event. Take extra special care of yourself: take a break, mild physical exercise, pedicure, massage, extra sleep, enjoy nature, learn to meditate, learn how to relax, do activities you enjoy, interact with a pet, bubble bath or reading.

Helpful books are plentiful. To explore your core beliefs, try The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Spencer Johnson’s The Precious Present and Who Moved My Cheese are good reminders. Techniques in Coping with the Stressed-Out People in Your Life by Ronald Nathan & Marian Stuart also apply to self-help. Check your local library. Any nonfiction book can be obtained through interlibrary loan. If you want your own copy, look for used books on Half.com, Amazon or other sites.

Copyright Annell Decker

About the Author: Annell Decker has a BA in History and a MEd in Counseling from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. She is a certified Licensed Professional Counselor. Annell worked with the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend, Alpine and the Ray D. Anderson Community Corrections Facility, Brownfield (TX). For the last 7 ½ years, Annell has worked as a Case Manager for La Hacienda Treatment Center in Hunt, (TX). She has volunteered her time with the American Cancer Society, Peterson Regional Hospice in Bridging the Gap and Pathways programs.

Healing, in My Own Words

by Elizabeth Ann Rogers

I was in so much pain after losing my husband, Bill. We had sat out on our deck one evening talking about our future. We kissed goodnight without knowing that it would be for the last time. He passed away in his sleep. He was only 46 and I was 40.

For a long time I was angry and found it almost unbearable to watch older couples together. It seemed so unfair. My husband was not here with me when our only child married. He did not walk her down the aisle on one of the most important days of her life. He was not here when our grandchildren came along. It hurt so much knowing they would never meet him.

I never formally made the decision to keep a journal. In this time of sorrow I could not communicate my emotions even to myself. It seemed as though my writing was my mediator. Those walls were destined to come down no matter how hard I struggled to keep them around me. I tried so hard to keep the truth from myself. He was gone! I tried writing about unimportant events at the time, but this gradually began to change. As I was going through the trivial motions of life another part of me was bursting out on paper. My journal was full of emotions although I felt numb. I did not realize that these words, which were coming from my heart and not my hands, were helping me heal. You do not get over a loss, you must go through it. I allowed my pen to scream onto paper the anger, unfairness, and injustice I felt. I did not want to let go of the pain for I thought letting go of the pain meant letting go of my husband. Nothing was further from the truth. At the time Bill felt so far away, and yet today when I write he is here beside me. Love doesn’t leave, it is forever!

If you cannot express yourself out loud or even if you can, I urge you to write. I can’t explain it, but I found there is a space between paper and pen which holds a healing quality. I urge you to write from your heart and do this for yourself. No one need ever read it, it is for your eyes and for your heart alone. This is your voice which comes from a very private and personal place, as I know. Please don’t underestimate the power of words or the power of prayer. I could not have made it without either of these strengths.

Today I write with joy and not sorrow. That’s right, I have kept writing but how different this is now! I wrote a story for my nephew (which will be in print this July). I can write story books for my grandchildren happily for my husband is sitting right here beside me. Through my daughter and I they know him very well. They laugh at the stories we tell them about him (he was always laughing), and this keeps him alive. They understand how full of life he was, and to them and through all of us he truly lives on.

Now that I have come full-circle, I can see clearly how invaluable my journal was to get me through the most painful period in my life, even though I was not writing about what had actually happened, it was my outlet. I wasn’t dealing with the pain in my life. I was dealing with it on paper. This is what made my journal such a powerful tool.

If this helps just one person cope with their pain it will give purpose to my life and loss and to that of my dear husband’s life. This is another way he will live on.

About the Author: Following the sudden death of her husband, Bill, in 1995, Elizabeth Ann began keeping a journal. Over the years, her writings eventually led her to in-depth writing about loss and grief. Her first book entitled, The Scale of Peace, is the story of a young boy and a young dragon learning to deal with the prejudices of their elders. She is currently working on a sequel.