grief

Change is Loss and Loss Requires Grief

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

Several months ago, I went on a very restricted diet in hopes of resolving some chronic health issues.  And quite frankly, even with the hope that this change could bring about something good, it was haaaard.  I felt totally overwhelmed by having to figure out a new way to eat, with new recipes and new ingredients, and finding the time and energy to do so.  I wanted to throw a 2-year old style tantrum – particularly by flailing on the floor – for not getting to just eat what I want to eat.  And throughout the process, I was reminded of two things: change is loss and loss requires grief.

Change is Loss

In their book, Leadership on the Line, Linsky and Heifetz note that “people don’t resist change…they resist loss”.  Have you thought about change as loss?  Even when change is due to the best of circumstances, it requires us to lose something – whether it be a routine, a relationship, familiarity, a place that holds memories, convenience, a reputation, a known experience.

Change means unknowns. Change means having to relearn something. Change requires you to face the reality that you’re not in control.  And change often makes us face things within ourselves that we could conveniently avoid when things were status quo.

How might naming the change you are facing as loss be helpful to you in navigating it well?

Loss Requires Grief

The English Oxford Dictionary defines grief as “intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.”  Grief is most often and naturally associated with death – so much so that the Oxford Dictionary even defines grief with a reference to it.  However, any loss we experience – big or small – is a cause for grief.  Not just the death of someone.

I am often asked in the counseling room what it looks like to grieve.  And though it looks different for everyone, in every situation, I believe there are some core components to this process of grieving:

  1. Name what has been lost. This includes very specific details of what you lost – because every single detail matters in understanding how you have been impacted.
  2. Allow yourself to feel. Sadness can be uncomfortable. And deep sorrow can be scary. But healing cannot come until you face your pain.  
  3. Consider if there is something you need to do to honor your pain or what has been lost. Do you need to journal about what ____ meant to you?  Do you need to create a photo book? Do you need to tell someone something?  
  4. Recognize that grieving is not a linear or predictable process. Grief can often be surprising and strike us when we are most vulnerable. A smell, a taste, a word spoken can bring with it a flood of thoughts and emotions that require going back to step one above. That is okay. That is how grief works. It is an ongoing, unpredictable process.

If change is loss and loss requires grief…it logically follows that change requires grief.  Have you considered this in your life?  Even changes that are bringing about something good have some element of loss intertwined with them when we stop to fully consider it.  How might it be helpful for you to name change as loss and grieve that loss today?

The Healing Power of Tears

 

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

 

Tears have a complicated place in our society. Have you ever had a good cry, and felt (strangely) a little bit better afterwards?  Well, there is a scientific reason why that is the case.

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher worked on an amazing photography project called Topography of Tears. In this multi-year long project, she collected and examined more than 100 human tears under a microscope.  Among others, she studied tears shed while laughing, grieving, and responding to change, as well as basal tears (those meant to keep the eye lubricated) and reflex tears (those that respond to an irritant in the eye).

Fascinatingly, Fisher found that the appearance of tears is different based on what elicits them; and not only is their appearance different, but the physical composition also varies – most notably, emotional tears contain the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress to help improve one’s mood.

 

Our physical bodies are so intricately connected to our emotions that a chemical is released to help heal us emotionally when we cry!

 

So this remarkable discovery makes me wonder – when we view crying as weakness, what are we really doing? Why do we have a tendency in our culture, as well as other cultures, to view crying as something to be squelched, and prohibit our bodies from naturally responding to distress? What kind of healing are we missing out on?  It seems that we are rejecting the very thing that can actually physically aid in our healing!  If this is you, what does it look like to let those tears flow? What do you need or to believe in order to do that?

{A Smithsonian article describing Fisher’s project in more detail can be found here – I encourage you to read the whole thing!}

 

Embracing Grief Rather than Running

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC, CCTP

shutterstock_139543490I shared in my previous blog about my journey from fearing grief to embracing it. To embrace grief at any level requires a response from us, and it changes us. 

When we choose to embrace our grief it changes who we are. 

Brene’ Brown expounds on this point when she says, “Grief requires us to reorient ourselves to every part of our physical, emotional, and social worlds”.

Allowing myself to grieve allows my emotions to function as they were meant to.  Acknowledging a sad day or a hard day (even if I have no idea WHY I feel sad or happy) is healthy and good for me. 

When I think about my process of learning to no longer fear grief, I often think about a book I used to read to my boys called, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.  It is a book about a family out in search of a bear and along the way they run into many obstacles.  Each time they come across an obstacle they say, “We can’t go over it.  We can’t go under it.  Oh no, we’ve got to go through it.” 

This is how I see grief – we can’t get around it no matter how much we would like to, but we must go through it to reach our best chance at emotional healthiness. 

Allowing our grief to exist acknowledges that pain, sadness, and loss are a part of our everyday lives.  Acknowledging these hard and painful emotions normalizes the human condition and experience on this earth.  To live is to have pain.  To live is to have loss.  To live is to hurt.  Therefore we must acknowledge its impact. 

Is Grief Good?

Is Grief Good?

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

shutterstock_174741554To allow yourself to experience grief, and to choose to engage in the on-going act of grieving, is difficult and takes courage. I believe it is something we must actually choose to learn how to incorporate into our lives. According to Brene’ Brown, who has studied emotion and vulnerability for 15 years, we fear the emotion of grief the most. I agree.

As humans, we tend to run from what we fear. So if we fear the emotion of grief, then it makes good sense to say we will likely run from feeling and experiencing it in our lives to the best of our ability.

Why do we fear grief so much? As I asked myself this question, I realized I believed lies about grief and grieving.

Here are some lies I have either believed myself or have heard from others –

~”If I let myself feel sadness or pain, it will only make it worse.”
~”If I let myself acknowledge my grief, I will never be able to function again. It will engulf me.”
~”I don’t have time to be sad.”
~”I need to think positively and not dwell on the bad (on the pain).”
~”The pain from my grief will be so painful, I will not sustain under it.”
~”If I let myself grieve, I am just having a pity party for myself.”
~”Grief only comes when someone dies, and no one has died, therefore I shouldn’t be in pain.”
~”Something is wrong with me because its been “this much time” and I am still sad about ____.”

There are some deep-rooted misbeliefs exposed in the comments above. The assumptions exposed are that grief is bad, weak, wrong, only “okay” when someone dies, and that it exists on some sort of definable timetable.

I started learning a lot about grief and grieving 5 years ago when the landscape of my life radically changed through my divorce. Wrestling with betrayal, and the loss of our intact family, is something I am still grieving. My days are no longer shadowed by grief, but it still pops up from time to time. Some days it may pop up for a moment, some days it may take up residence for a few hours. It has taken me awhile to learn that I will be “okay” in living a life now sprinkled with grief on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out okay with my grief. For the better part of a year after my life had radically changed, I was angry at the pain of my grief. I tried to numb it, run from it, and mask it into something it wasn’t. I fought it, and I suffered for it.

I had to learn how to not fear grief, but rather how to embrace its presence. I had to learn grief is not containable, it cannot be managed, and it lacks predictability. It can last a moment or remain for the better part of a day. It does not ask for my permission to overshadow a day. I also had to learn that when grief rears its head, it doesn’t mean I am weak.

My journey to no longer fear grief is much like my process of no longer fearing thunderstorms. As a kid, I feared thunderstorms (and if i’m being honest here…my fear lasted into my early adult years). It didn’t matter if a storm came in the day or night. To me, the loud bangs of thunder and sudden flashes of light freaked me out! Now as I sit with my youngest son during a storm to calm his fears, I wonder, “What was I so afraid of? It’s just a thunderstorm!” I believed unfounded lies about storms: “something bad is going to happen,” “what if it never stops,” “I am not okay and I won’t be okay until the storm goes away…” and on and on my thoughts would go. Do you see the similarity between storms and grief? With both, I feared what I didn’t understand.

Allowing ourselves to feel grief, is as important as allowing ourselves to feel joy. When we try to numb only the emotions we dislike, feeling we set in motion the beginnings of living an emotionally handicap life. Over time, we will not only numb the emotions we don’t like, but the emotions we like become numb as well.

Some Thoughts About Grief

After several years of learning about grief, and being reminded of its power recently through a painful experiences, I thought I would share some thoughts about grief with you that I have had.

Avenues Counseling

 

Here are some things I have learned about grief –

1.  It is powerful.  More powerful then you so don’t fight it.

2.  It must run its course.  You can’t make the pain stop and you can’t circumvent it.  You must go through it.

3.  The duration of grief is undefinable.  At first it will remain present for days or a week – a non-stop presence.  But then it may get a bit tricky because it will come and go as it pleases.

4.  It is exhausting.  You will likely have a headache, your chest will ache from the crying, your body will feel like you just ran a marathon.  You will walk slower, talk slower, think slower, BE slower because you are so tired from the grief.

5.  You won’t think clearly.  Your brain will feel foggy.  You may catch yourself staring at a wall for an unknown amount of time.  Its okay.  You’re okay.  Grieving won’t last forever even though it feels like it will when you’re in the midst of it.

6.  Your motivation will diminish.  Since you are so tired and worn out from your grief, doing normal mundane tasks will likely feel like someone just told you to go climb mount everest.  The laundry will stack-up, the dishes will sit in the sink, showering may happen less often.

7.  Reengaging in “normal” life will take time.

Be nice to yourself and don’t pressure yourself by saying silly things like, “I should be done grieving now.  I should really be over this loss by now.  I have got to stop being sad.”

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

Presents verses Presence

By:  Lianne Johnson

Thinking back on my own separation and ultimate divorce I realize I needed people to offer me both presents and presence.

As I look back to these hards years for me I remember that I was unable to “give” anything to others. If a friend was in crisis I had no energy left to offer a meal, take her kids and give her a break, run errands for her, or just sit with her, etc.  I had nothing to offer because I was trying to get through my own day – get the kids ready for school, remember to pack their lunches, remember what time school actually started so they were on time, get to work and make sure to shower since I hadn’t in days, oh and then I needed to feed them dinner at the end of the day. It took all of my energy to get done the mundane, everyday, habitual tasks that were before me as a newly single mother who was (and still am) in the midst of trying to make sense of my new life situation and heal.

Help
As I look back on this season of my life when I was in crisis – being separated for a year and a half and then divorcing, coming to grips with the reality of things that had taken place, I was broken.

I realize now that I needed two types of people during my own crisis – those who offered “presents” and those who offered their “presence.”

By “presents” I mean people who could offer me help with – food, errands, my kids, dishes, cleaning, laundry, etc.  Sadly, when I was in my crisis I was unable to function.  Perhaps you have experienced something like this yourself.  Life moved slower then it ever had before.  It was like my life had become a movie put on pause but then someone pushed play, but it was slow play.  You know, when the movie still plays but the frames move slower…and for about a year or so my engagement with life was s…l…o…w.

The other type of friends I absolutely needed were those that offered me their “presence.”  They sat with me.  Sometimes for hours they simply sat with me as I cried or stared blankly at a wall.  They watched movies with me, ate with me, they were present.  Nothing was required of them but to simply “be” with me.  Sometimes we talked but most of the time it was quiet.  I desperately needed these friends while in my crisis just as much as I needed those friends who fed me, and helped me get through the mundane necessary tasks in a day.

So perhaps you are in a hard season of life and you have no “presents” to offer, and that’s okay.  Offering your “presence” to your friend may be the very thing they need.

 Or maybe as you read this you are in a season in which you cannot offer either “presents” or “presence,” and that’s okay too.  Trust me as I speak from experience – this season will pass for you and slowly you will be able to give to others.