Sunday, June 7, 2009

"How Are You Feeling?"

When we are on a grief journey and someone asks us, “How are you feeling?” the tendency is to say, “I’m fine.” But we’re not fine and one of my friends said that to me a few months after my daughter died. She said in a rather exasperated voice, “You’re not fine and don’t say you are!” I was briefly taken aback and then realized she was right. Why say you’re ‘fine’ when you’re not. What it taught me is from that point on, I told the truth. My answer became, “I’m doing the best I can. Each day is a challenge and I try to get through it as best as I can.”

What a relief it was to tell it like it was. According to author and grief counselor, Dr. Lou LaGrand, grief is a normal human response that seeks expression when facing massive change due to the death of a loved one. If you try to pretend you are doing well when you’re not, you’ll guarantee that the pain will spill out in unexpected ways. He says, “You will not only prolong the intensity of your grief process, you will add loads of unnecessary suffering to legitimate pain and sadness.” He suggests five essentials used by millions of mourners who have found peace through expression. I paraphrase and add my own comments:

First, admit you are hurting, tell it like it is. Don’t suppress or repress the things you feel because it won’t make you look good. Suppression and repression are the two actions that often lead to reactive depression when mourning.

Second, cry when you feel like it, no matter how long it continues and no matter who is watching. You have lost something very precious to you and can’t bear the thought of never seeing them again. Crying is a good emotion that relieves pent up emotions and allows you to breathe normally and relax eventually. If you belong to a grief group, that is a good place to be yourself. If you have relatives or friends who truly understand, that might be another good place.

Third, being alone in a quiet place is good for you for short periods of time. It gives you time to reflect on the relationship you have now lost. But don’t become isolated. That is not of help in the grief process. You need to be around others to seek their advice and help. At grief group meetings hearing how others cope can help you along in your own journey.

Fourth, examine some literature about other mourners who were convinced they had a sign or message from a deceased loved one. Explore the possibility. Many do believe in life after death. At a recent Compassionate Friends National Conference where I spoke, I was fortunate to hear another speaker whose son died. He showed us proof of the fact that we get signs from our children who have left us that they will always be around for us.

And finally, there is a wide range of normalcy in grieving. Grieve at whatever pace seems right for you even if you find yourself going from a good day to a bad one. When we choose to love, we automatically choose to grieve. And although the person is no longer physically present, love never dies; it lives on forever. Follow your own agenda. The history of loss shows you will survive. “Treasure what you have—a way to peace, knowing that your loved one lives on through you and what you have learned from your experience with him or her.”

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