<![CDATA[Personal Growth & <br />Grief Support Center - Reflections]]>Sun, 25 Jun 2017 13:35:58 -0600Weebly<![CDATA[Balance in this Election Year]]>Sun, 22 May 2016 02:10:22 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2016/05/balance-in-this-election-year.html Dare I mention our elections?

We all know that what is happening in the world of American politics is outrageous in so many ways. Truth is too often ignored or at best illusive. I am not even going to mention the names of those seeking nominations in their respective parties....we all know them too well. I have made my choice for voting in April and I imagine most of you have also. I imagine most of us are pretty worn down by the lies, exaggerations, attacks, polls, predictions, finger pointing, promises and yes, even violence.

What might be helpful for all of us to remember is to take a breath and to practice balance. There is really no need to read every article, every post on every social network or to watch every debate. Check yourself as you watch or read. It is not a calming experience and it seems pretty futile to me. Spending precious hours paying attention to the wrong sources each day is not going to change anything. However, your vote and appropriate support for your candidate will help. I have gained insight from reading local author Mike McCabe's "Blue Jeans in High Places." His plan and the actions he and his followers are taking make sense to me. www.bluejeannation.com

A balanced approach to this election year can be an important piece of living well. We have many months ahead of us and not much is new at this point. Balance can include going to sources you believe are reliable, track what these sources are saying a couple times a week (more or less) and then go for a walk in nature on these beautiful May days.

I am NOT suggesting people walk away from politics. Just the opposite. Our voices matter. Educating ourselves matters. Action matters. But wasting time listening to and reading the same old, same old futile information over and over and over again seems to me to be a waste of time and energy as well as a source of frustration. Throw your energy behind your candidate in positive and helpful ways, ways that matter if you so choose...when the time comes to do so.

Balance is such an important approach to our lives. Not too much and not too little of anything can lead to peace and calm even in challenging times. It matters with exercise, nutrition, our emotions, relationships, work, socializing, involvements (just look at your calendar), solitude and stillness, and so much more.

Think about looking at the pieces of your life to see if balance is an essential practice. Try sitting at the river's edge, alone, and look inward to see what needs changing and then create a plan, one at a time, to make changes. Perhaps include how you plan to deal with this election year.

And as you increase balance in your daily life, also remember  to vote.
<![CDATA[After the Celebration]]>Fri, 19 Jun 2015 15:21:16 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/06/after-the-celebration.html
A few weeks ago someone posted a graphic on Facebook that read a bit like this: "there is something to be said about driving and singing to very loud music." I have always agreed with that and found myself doing just that as I returned from Chicago where I spent four days attending the long awaited celebration of my brother's 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Given his health from age 28 (2 weeks after ordination he was in cancer surgery not expected to live) until today, he should not have made it this far.
It was pouring rain during most of the five hour drive home on Monday and I later learned there were tornado warnings around me. I was totally exhausted and overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions including joy, sadness, excitement, grief, gratitude, loneliness, and oh so many more. My dear life long friend, Cathy, sat next to me at the Mass, hugged me at the reception and became a link to Bill for me.
My brother Jim is a charismatic man who is loved and admired by many. Beloved relatives from various states were there along with lifelong and new friends. Jim had hundreds of friends there from various chapters in his life. On Saturday evening, we celebrated with a family pizza party, an uplifting Mass with hundreds of people, a moving sermon and incredible music. Following that, we hugged all these people and chatted with them at a reception and later enjoyed a dinner with 60 family and friends. It all ended at breakfast on Monday with my sister, brother-in-law, brother and my cousins (my mom's twin brother's son) who took all the pictures.
There were tears shed by many as my brother spoke and choked up several times during his homily. I shed tears often when my husband's name was mentioned by so many throughout the weekend and as I felt his absence. And then at the dinner, I broke down when I honored Jim with a brief talk. Throughout the weekend, we laughed, we cried, we hugged, we remembered dozens who have gone before us including our parents, my Bill, relatives and friends. Gatherings like this emphasize the absence of those we miss so much.
I missed chatting with Bill, holding his hand, laying in his arms at days' end, and crying/smiling with him. No one could fill that Grand Canyon size gaping hole. How grateful I was when friends called as I drove home and after I arrived. How grateful that Bentley, our Golden Retriever, clung to me when I picked him up at the kennel. This celebration was symbolic of so much: first that Jim is still here with us; that Bill is not here physically; the end of a huge era in our lives; the beginning of another; the joy and pain that sits in all of our hearts and lives and so much more.
So why the loud singing and music as I drove? It was all about release...releasing emotions that were just overwhelming me, a jumble of emotions I had no time to really deal with all weekend. I was bursting at the seams. Each day I moved almost moment to moment from tears to joy as this person and then that one hugged me and shared. I moved from sad memories to glad memories, from agony to elation, from old friends to reminders of those who died and as I drove home my entire being just overflowed with emotion. So....I sang...a lot...loud (and cried)....Bridge Over Troubled Water, Be Not Afraid, Feelin' Groovy, Abide With Me, Impossible Dream, and several of Bill's and my love songs like The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; In My Life and more. Finally I listened to our favorite composer Mahler whose music always provokes tears. The windshield wipers moved water from my view but nothing moved the tears from my eyes as they overflowed with feelings. At one point I pulled over to take a phone call only to notice a couple of other friends had called and yet another when I got home. So grateful for those who are there for me...who ask how life is! How I am! Who listen and hug...and for who get it.
So the celebration has ended. Everyone has returned to their lives. The photo of our parents that Jim placed on a table near the altar and at the receptions has been hung back on his wall. My sister, her husband and brother Jim and I will now await the next celebration, a smaller but sacred and exciting one in September when our new grand nephew will be baptized in Rockport, Massachusetts.
The need for release preceded the let down that follows months, even years, of anticipation, preparation and the event itself. The silence of the first day home as I unpacked, fed Bentley, mowed grass, and just sat wrapped in exhaustion, led me to relive and remember. And as I sat, in that silence, that has become all too familiar, I felt enveloped by my solitude and my loneliness for Bill. I was back to my reality, one that still feels new, raw, painful and yet too old...one in which I often find myself looking back and remembering with grief and gratitude...and yes, tears.

I doubt I will sing loudly on the airplane as I return from Massachusetts in September. I live my life, as do we all (if we choose deep awareness), with grief in one hand and gratitude in the other; in joy and in sorrow. I will continue to choose to walk into my feelings, cherish them and hold them in my heart. It is walking into them, allowing them, that helps me make it.

And someday when joypain overwhelms me again, I will get in my car...turn up my CD player and sing loudly (and cry...and remember).
<![CDATA[Mom]]>Fri, 08 May 2015 17:03:58 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/05/mom.html
Mom (age 96) excited about her trip to Rockport, MA
Mom was a twin and the youngest of 14 children. She grew up on an Iowa farm with no electricity or running water. I remember her telling me how she learned to cook by helping her mother prepare meals for the large family most of whom were out in the fields helping my grandfather plant and reap.

Some of my memories of her include her making our lunches every day and always have a hot meal on the table for dinner. I remember going to the church with her on Saturdays to help her put flowers on the altar or deliver newly ironed vestments that she took care of. As she aged, she aged gracefully maintaining her sense of humor to the end. When she was 98 I asked her if she would send me a sign when she got to heaven letting me know she was OK. She smiled and said she would send me an email, then pausing she said, "No, I will send you a butterfly." I also asked her if she believed in reincarnation and she told me she loved being our mom but she did not want to return since she worked so hard to get to heaven.
When Mom died, she was going on 100 years of age. She had been in a coma for two weeks, never opening her eyes even once. The night before she died, I was sitting up with her all night and getting ready to leave and get some sleep as my sister was about to take my place. I got up on her bed, removed her oxygen mask and getting about 4 inches from her face told her it was ok for her to die, that I knew she wanted to see her parents and family. She quickly opened her eyes wide, looked right into my eyes and said, "What will you and Jim and Sally (my siblings) do without me?" I told her gently that we were all in our sixties now and though we will miss her terribly, it is ok for her to go to Jesus. Then she said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." and died 45 minutes later.
I thank her on this Mother's Day for the deep love she gave to all of us;
the sacrifices she made and
her determination to provide for us through many difficult times.
I know she is with me yet as are so many I have lost.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom!
<![CDATA[Losing Our Pets]]>Fri, 08 May 2015 16:40:47 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/05/losing-our-pets.html
Those who know me know that my buddy and companion Golden Retriever Bentley, was diagnosed last summer with a slow growing form of lymphoma. When the UW (University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine) could not determine the cause, they recommended I send his blood to Colorado State University (CSU) where research to determine why 60% of our Goldens die of cancer when the rate is 40% for other breeds. They are both too high but that is a subject for another day.  The Goldens in the CSU study diagnosed with this newly identified form lived 6 to 33 months and some did not die of lymphoma. This length of time is quite unusual. They also see, now, that some of their symptom free (i.e. normal) subjects (sweet Goldens) also have the cells found in and used to diagnose Bentley. This is early in the study for them to know all the pieces of this newly identified form of lymphoma. So far, one year later, I am blessed to have Bentley with me and doing fairly well. He is happy, eats well and outside of periodic rounds of infections, hot spots and loose stools, he is comfortable and I believe, pain free. As I write this on May 8, he and I are dealing with his fourth round of problems in as many weeks.
Many who have pets have been through sickness and death with them, be they furry, feathered, or finned. You who have lost a pet you love dearly understand that grieving the loss of a pet is as real and can be as difficult (or even more so) as other losses. The sad news is: pet loss is often not taken seriously. If we, as a society, do not deal well with grief when we or someone we know loses a beloved person, imagine how little compassion and understanding is often given to those who have lost a pet. Too many people say things that hurt ("Oh, you can get another dog." "It's just a cat.") or worse...they just ignore the loss. 
Losing a person we love deeply knocks the wind out of our sails and changes us and our lives forever. That is what happened when my beloved husband Bill died five years ago and I am still working to rebuild a life and deal with my grief. Losing a beloved pet is also incredibly difficult. Actually it is no different than losing a person we love. Our grief depends on the love and the relationship we had with that person or pet. Our pets love us, cuddle with us, respond to us, and bring life into a silent house (especially following a loss). They greet us when we arrive home and become, become our confidants, read our feelings, and become our constant companions. In many instances, like my own, a pet is the living link to a significant person we have lost.

When Bill died, Bentley jumped up on the bed, licked Bill's hands, made three circles and settled in with us for the next two  hours.

Consider how many pets are left outside year round tied with a rope or chain or how they are mistreated in other horrendous ways.

It was peace lover Mahatma Gandhi who said:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
I hold that, the more helpless a creature,
the more entitled it is
to protection by man from the cruelty of man."

Hopefully when a friend loses a pet, we can reach out with compassion and non-judgment, just as we would if it was a human being who died knowing grief is unique to each of us. Hopefully when we lose a pet we can give ourselves permission to grieve that loss just as we would the loss of a significant person. I know when Bentley dies, be it this year or next, that the silence that followed Bill's death will once again be deafening; that my tears will fall for a long time; and no other dog can ever replace him even when I am ready for another dog in my life. I will be forever grateful for Bentley's life and personality. He has graced my days for many years and helps me through these years of grieving Bill's death. I will be forever grateful for his presence and I will miss him forever.
In the meantime, I plan to enjoy every minute and day we have together. I care for him, deal with his symptoms, provide the best medical interventions I can provide and when the time comes for him to leave this plane, I will not delay his leaving for my sake. I will, with the help of my kind veterinarian, assist him to Rainbow Bridge trusting he will be waiting there for me some day, with Bill at his side.
One needs to be sure when searching for articles on loss and grief that the authors are current with the research and knowledge. Here are some sites  and articles that you will find helpful.





The Death of a Pet Can Hurt as Much as the Loss of a Relative

<![CDATA[What We Do To Grief]]>Thu, 26 Mar 2015 18:00:00 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/03/march-26th-2015.html Recover, Heal, Transform, Grow, Integrate, Learn, Medicalize, Complicated, Disordered, Untimely, Get Over, Process, Move On, Renew, Move through, Stages, Get Past....and on and on and on.

These terms and more are used regularly regarding the time following the death of someone we love. Somehow we find a need to label our grief, to judge it and even medicalize it. It seems as if just saying "I am grieving" or "I am mourning" is not good enough. The labels we insist on using, however, convey a philosophy about grief. Usually a pathetic philosophy. In our death and grief phobic society, (and a society that judges people so quickly and easily) we look for goals such as recovery, transformation, healing, learning, move through stages, move on, get past, integrate the experience, grow from grief and more. We cannot just let grief be grief. Instead we have to solve it as if it was a problem. We medicalize it as if it were a disease. We put it on a time table or turn it into some lesson or change. Grieving people get trapped in this mentality and following a loss too many want to know how long this will take, when does "it" end and shouldn't I be "moving on", getting better, healing? Those who try to help often come from good intentions but too often lack the information they need, feel frightened and/or helpless and perhaps have an inability to accept their own raw or repressed grief.
All of these terms bespeak the need our society has to first of all label people and experiences. The great Krishnamurti put it so well when he said, "The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again."  How true! The first time the child sees that fluffy, alive, moving object, and you say to him, "Sparrow," then tomorrow when the child sees another fluffy, moving object similar to it he says, "Oh, sparrows.  I've seen sparrows. I'm bored by sparrows." I believe this is what we tend to do with grief. We just can't resist labeling and then once labeled we never again just see the pain and the person. We see a process, a stage, an expectation, an outcome or goal, a hoped for transformation or who knows what. http://www.katinkahesselink.net/other/mello.html

In this society, so hell bent on denying or at least controlling and limiting pain; on achieving, doing and setting goals, on time itself; we toss grief into the ring and almost instantly want to see the end rather than allowing ourselves to feel the pain which is a sign of the love we have for the person who died. Can we just allow it without searching for an end point, a goal, a lesson or whatever? We are a destination/goal/doing oriented society that tends to abandon the "nows" in our lives when "now" is all we really have. But if "now" is painful or is about loss and death, among other things we call negative, then we must figure out a way to make it useful or end it or at least label it so that it is just like everyone else's pain or loss.

And then if the "process" or "length of time" or "transformation" does not happen according to how it "should" happen (i.e. like the norm, like at least 64% of the population-really more), we label it again and call it complicated or disordered or untimely or sick.

Can we get to a place where we just honor our feelings, our pain, our grief, where we are today, and quit twisting it into what it is not? When, if ever, will we come to a place in our society where we do not have to judge and label someone: their pain, their behavior, their feelings, their likes and dislikes, their fears and joys, their very being?

Instead can we just embrace the person we see, accept each other where and how each one is and sit with and walk with that person without an agenda? Without a label? Without a goal?

Only when we allow ourselves to "just be" where we are and accept ourselves as we are and know we do not have to judge, label and/or put expectations on ourselves.....only then will be do the same for each other....and only then will those who grieve be able to just grieve as long and in whatever way works for them...and grieving people will not have to hide their tears at 6 weeks or 6 years or pretend they are "fine" if someone by some miracle did ask.

They will, instead, gain the support, acceptance and compassion of others and ultimately feel less of the loneliness of grief because others will reach out to them at 6 weeks or 6 years or whenever.....reach out with love.

How grateful are those who grieve, whose grief journey is blessed with people who believe this.

<![CDATA[A Profound Five Years]]>Mon, 16 Mar 2015 01:26:08 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/03/a-profound-five-years.htmlPrincess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, who delivered his sister's eulogy was interviewed on the CBS News Sunday Morning show today (March 15, 2015). In the course of the interview he said (in response to interviewer Tracy Smith's statement "It has been close to 20 years." "Yeah, I met someone the other day who was so interesting, she had actually lost her sister in a car crash, in fact the same time. And I said, 'How is it for you?' And she said, 'Well, the pain's the same, it's just the tears are less.' And that's very profound."
Those words are indeed, profound, I thought to myself; simple and profound. We who grieve the loss of a significant person keep being told that over time  and even with work "it" gets better. "It" refers to the pain, I assume, or the whole journey. But as I approach the 5th anniversary, I do not feel the loss of my husband Bill being any less painful today than it was during the first two years. (Yes, I said two years...something most people do not understand unless they have been down this path.). I cry off and on, on occasions like his birthday or our anniversary and sometimes just out of the blue. The wailing has all but ceased. The waves of grief roll in but do not knock me off my feet any more. Maybe that is what everyone means by "gets easier or better". The desire to have him back is just as strong and yes, that woman who talked to Charles Spencer, is right; the pain is not less...it is indeed, the same.
Those around me do not really know how much I hurt unless they happen to be one of those in my inner most circle of friends, the ones I can still cry with and when asked how I am, I can be honest and say on a given day, "today is a tough day" and then talk a bit about that. That inner circle is small and one I cherish and need.

It may appear to others that I am  "better", "it" is better, or I am now "over it" or "moving on". I suspect many know I am not "over it" but say nothing. Like me, I would imagine that if you spoke to the vast majority of those who have lost a spouse or a child, or someone else we cherished and with whom we shared each and every day and all our dreams, ups and downs as well as joys and sacred moments; you would learn that the pain is still deep and real. If you have been down this path, you know.

So what have I have learned these years since Bill died (in spite of being told otherwise by many) and thankfully being heard and not judged by so many others.
I have learned that I am alone. I have a supportive circle of trusted friends, but in reality no one on this earth knows what I lost. I  am indeed alone and all of what I lost is beyond my ability to explain or share.

I hurt today as much as I did five years ago. It does not show like I did even four years ago but the pain is sitting there and with the smallest provocation can easily and quickly be evidenced by my tears. I have just learned to carry it differently. It is now a part of who I am.
I do not know what "moving on," "letting go," "being better" and a host of other phrases the bereaved hear too often from hopefully well intentioned people, even means. I guess if there are no tears flowing down my  face, that means I am "over it". I guess if I laugh and smile, that means I do not feel pain. Actually I can be laughing and feeling pain at the same moment. I guess if I get involved in community activities I am  "past my loss". And all of those phrases mean no one has to ask anymore how I am doing or be afraid I will burst into tears. 
I have learned that my grief is complicated because all grief is complicated. We humans are complicated and every loss is totally unique to each person and to each loss. My loss of my mom in 2006 was very different than my loss of Bill 4 years later. My neighbor's loss of her beloved husband is totally different than my loss of Bill. And yes, it is all complicated. That does not mean it is something that requires a diagnosis or a prescription. Grief is NOT a medical condition. It is a normal human experience and a sign of the love   we have (notice present tense) for the person who died and what we had together. It is part of life as is joy; a part that we as a society prefer to ignore and deny and then judge way too often when someone walks through their grief in what I see as a healthy manner i.e. with honesty and with a commitment to feel our pain instead of stuffing it or pretending.
I have learned that there are wonderful people around me especially those who are also bereaved. I met many at www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com (which I highly recommend to anyone in grief). I have a small close circle of confidants who are kind, who hear me and who "get it". There is wonderful information out there that has been incredibly helpful to me on this journey. Bill's transfiguration has been not only the deepest and most gut wrenching pain in my life but also has been a change and transformation agent.
So on March 27, it will be five years since I held my sweet and kind husband in my arms; since his once strong heart quit beating beneath my hand; since I felt his last breath on my cheek and since he was freed of his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. It will be five years since I saw his blue eyes smile at me and instead, as John O'Donohue said so well in his poem*, five years since I saw Bill's "eyes freeze behind the grey window."

And yes, the pain is the same.
*John O'Donohue in an interview on On Being (NPR with Krista Tippet)
Beannacht / Blessing

On the day when the weight deadens
on your shoulders and you stumble,
may the clay dance to balance you.
And when your eyes freeze behind
the grey window and the ghost of loss
gets in to you, may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays in the currach* of thought
and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you, may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.”
Beannacht / Blessing:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/6224.John_O_Donohue

* currach is a canoe

<![CDATA[A Response to the Online Flurry About "Complicated Grief"]]>Sat, 21 Feb 2015 15:38:46 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/02/a-response-to-the-online-flurry-about-complicated-grief.htmlI am deeply grateful for the blog post made by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, Founder of the MISS Foundation, in response to the recent flurry about what is being identified in a current NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) blog. as "complicated," "prolonged" and in my opinion, abnormal grief, (a "condition," if you will). See Dr. Cacciatore's post here: http://drjoanne.blogspot.com/2015/02/

I have never lost a child. I have never even had a child for reasons beyond the scope of this post. I missed that joy. I cannot even imagine how it feels or what it is like to walk through life having lost your child, be s/he an hour old or 35 years old. But I do know grief too well. I cannot and will never compare the loss of my beloved husband to a mother and/or father losing a child of any age. But, I also resent it when anyone proposes the following:
"The hallmark of complicated grief is persistent, intense yearning, longing, and sadness; these symptoms are usually accompanied by insistent thoughts or images of the deceased  and a sense of disbelief or an inability to accept the painful reality of the person’s death...the urge to hold onto the deceased person by constantly reminiscing or by viewing, touching,  or smelling the deceased person’s belongings... often feel shocked, stunned, or emotionally numb, and they may become estranged from others because of the belief that happiness is inextricably tied to the person who died. They may have a diminished sense of self or discomfort with a changed social role and are often confused by their seemingly endless grief."                NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) blog.         
Symptoms? A word associated with "disease"?  "Stunned, shocked?" Just how long are we allowed to feel stunned? What are the social norms we "must" honor? How long does society allow we who grieve to have a "diminished sense of self"? How sad that this comes along at a time when so many are working so hard (and making headway) in changing the way society looks at and deals with loss and grief. The losers here are the bereaved themselves.

It has been close to five years since the bottom fell out of my life; since dreams of growing old with my beloved spouse came to a halt because four years of daily losses caused by Alzheimer's (the disease of 10,000 good-byes) destroyed our life together. The upcoming anniversary reminds me that I will spend the rest of my years without my partner/spouse/best friend and colleague. Every day brings with it reminders of this loss and I live in a society slow to change their lack of comprehension and respect for traumatic loss or almost any kind of loss or pain or grief.

There is not a day that passes, five years later, that I do not think about, feel sad about and wish for my husband's presence. I guess that means I have complicated grief. Oh, well! It happens when I hear our favorite Mahler symphony come on public radio as I am driving along thinking about something else. It happens often when I cook dinner alone when we always cooked and ate together. Do I fall on the floor in tears? No, but tears may fall. Anyone who has lost a spouse with whom they felt a deep love, oneness and joyous life knows the list, the long list, of what was lost when that spouse died. A parent certainly knows it about the loss of a child. Dreams shattered. Future shattered. So much shattered.

I resent it when professionals (or anyone) decide that my (or those of my clients or any bereaved person) normal feelings and responses to such a loss are a medical issue, abnormal (prolonged, complicated, whatever), and that I (or other bereaved people) need treatment vs support (even treatment by meds that are sometimes harmful). I resent it when professionals negate the reality that we grieve a significant loss forever or when they deny that traumatic loss is defined by the traumatized person who needs only (in most instances by far) to be accepted, heard, felt and supported not judged to be "sick," "symptomatic" and in need of "treatment".

As a bereaved spouse, I choose not to pretend to "move on" (whatever that means) in order to avoid judgment. Maybe it means I forget the many many years and sacred moments spent with him. I refuse to tell others I am "fine" to avoid judgment when I am feeling sadness at a given moment or on a given day. I am where I am and I encourage those I support to do/be the same.

Support? Of course everyone who has experienced a loss needs support...we all need support as we deal with the losses life brings....

I have worked with people in psychotherapy and grief counseling/support for 40 years. So did my husband. I have sat on the floor of my office holding mothers in my arms as they wailed their pain because their child died. I have sat with widows/widowers as they weep even twenty years following a loss. I know people who love touching their spouse's jacket that still hangs on the back of the bedroom door...five years after they died. I am one of them. Accepting the loss of someone who was one with us, be it a child or beloved spouse or someone else is a process...and what does acceptance really even mean. So unique is it! It takes as long as it takes, whatever it is, and that is normal.

Again, I beg you to know that I believe losing a child is the worst of losses, if we dare compare. How can we, really? I know that if I lost a child, I would grieve forever and it would take a long, long time before I could even begin to regroup and go on with some kind of new normal...whatever that may mean. I don't even have words for that. I also know I will grieve my husband's death forever. And I am just fine with that. It bespeaks our love.

I thank you, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, for being who you are, for knowing what you know and for supporting so many who grieve and who are there for others who grieve. I thank you for being a key person is changing the way society looks at and responds to loss and for training others to do the same.

<![CDATA[Learning Grief]]>Mon, 16 Feb 2015 18:14:02 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/02/learning-grief.html Each year when February arrives, my mind travels back to 1965, the year my brother was ordained a Catholic priest. In an Irish Catholic family, especially back then, having a priest in the family was (and still is) a great honor. My mom and dad were thrilled and proud as their many siblings, families and friends attended the ceremony and his first Mass the next day.
Little did we know as our rather large extended family gathered from all over the country that just two weeks later, I would be sitting with my parents and sister at an ICU waiting for a surgeon to tell us whether my brother Jim would survive surgery and melanoma, a cancer discovered just days before his ordination. He was 28 years old. As I sat in that waiting room, I remember thinking how all of us were so happy and excited just a few days before and now we did not know if Jim would live through the surgery let alone survive cancer. Treatment for cancer in 1965 was pretty limited compared to what it is now.
This year when the 50th anniversary of this February event came around I found myself reliving those days and looking hard at the last 50 years of my life. It is rather shocking. Jim not only survived cancer back then but twice more in later years. He is a priest admired, loved and respected by many and has been there for me, Bill, our family and so others in many ways over the years. Our family, friends, and his parishioners will celebrate on June 14 when it is easier for people to travel.
The invitation list to the June celebration will look quite different than that list created in 1965. My parents and all their siblings and in-laws have died. Most of the close friends who attended that event have died as well as my husband Bill (2010). We have also added people to our family as my sister and I married and as she had children, one with a grandchild due this summer and as new friends have become important.
I get a kick out of this photo of Jim with my mom on her 98th birthday...
  • Like many families we had many large family celebrations of joy and yes...gatherings focused on loss and sorrow over the years. My parents 40th wedding anniversary in 1975 was a big party that we repeated on mom's 95th birthday. There was my sister's wedding and Bill's and my wedding and the births of grandchildren. The years included too many funerals and too much loss-all a part of this life we live.  I, like most of my peers, ask that same question...where did the years go? Wasn't it just yesterday we gathered at Jim's ordination or Bill's funeral?
Sitting in that waiting room in 1965 changed my life forever. I had seldom given death a thought before that day. I was 25 years old and the possibility of losing my brother at age 28 was too real. Previous to that I had lost aunts and uncles, all of whom I loved but who lived out of state and I did not see them often. I did not experience deep grief even as I watched my mother and father grieve their losses. I can't say I knew grief well at all. In time, Jim had survived and death receded to the back of my mind and life again.
It was when my parents and my closest of closest "girlfriends," five of them so far, left this earth, that death really got my attention and I began to know deep grief.

But Bill's death left me all but paralyzed with the deepest, gut-wrenching pain I have ever known. It was/is a life changing and personally transforming loss in ways I could not have anticipated in spite of experiencing so many losses and working with so many bereaved over 40 years of clinical practice.

Just last night (Feb. 15) I was watching Grantchester, a PBS mystery show.
At one point in the show one of the characters says, following a death:

Grief does strange things to you. It is like one of those dreams where you are falling. And you keep falling and falling and you know you will keep falling for the rest of your life.
 Looking back is a great reminder.
We tend to forget in our fast paced society:
...time flies
...cherish our loved ones each day
...be present to the
now for it will be gone before we know it.
...be grateful even in our grief.
<![CDATA[Another Holiday....]]>Sun, 08 Feb 2015 22:21:22 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/02/another-holiday.html
Just about the time many who are grieving put the holidays behind us, another one, a tough one for many, comes along. It is, of course, Valentine's Day. While those around us make plans to celebrate the day, we who have lost a lover, partner, or spouse feels bombarded with ads for romantic dinners, films, trips, greeting cards and more. The world starts to feel dominated by couples deeply in love (true or not) when we are without that one person whose death changed our lives forever.
At five years out from that horrendous day when death stole my beloved husband Bill, I find that I handle these days better than in the first two or three years. I am learning to live around the hole and yes, with the hole created by his absence and when the pain that is always there wells up, I allow it and feel it but am able to "bounce" back more easily. The sadness is always there sitting in the back of my heart most days and on some days it brings me to tears and feelings of emptiness. There is not a day that goes by that I do not experience sadness and longing for his presence but grief has increasingly less control over my life and emotions.  So, like most of you who are reading this and who have experienced the loss of someone you love recently (recent is defined by each person) I will be glad to see the red hearts, balloons, cards, and ads along with conversations about Valentine's Day plans, chocolate, and surprises....just disappear. I am happy for all of those who have wonderful moments on and around February 14 but I don't need to hear all of the details.
So how will I spend this Valentine's Day? That has varied each year since Bill died. This year I have decided to spend some of the day looking at photos and writing a love letter that focuses on my feelings (sad and joyful) and on precious moments in our lives. I do this fairly regularly but this year I imagine the letter will be rather lengthy as I anticipate the 5th anniversary of his death on March 27, something that is leading me to think back over our lives and over these five years. I also plan to write a response to my letter as if I am him.
As a therapist for many years, I have often suggested to clients that they write a letter to the loved one who died. It can be a healing tool. It can help us get in touch with our feelings. Writing a response as if from that person can also be healing and insightful because very often we know what they would say to us. One must know oneself and where you are at on your journey to know if this exercise is for you or not.

This year I will also send "love notes" to some friends; and do something kind for someone who is alone and have lunch with a friend who cares and listens and who does not try to take away my feelings or judge them. We do that for each other.

Most important when days come along that have the potential to be difficult, I create a plan.

What does Valentine's Day mean to you?
How will you spend this day?
What does it bring up for you?
<![CDATA[Late Night Thoughts on My Journey Through Grief]]>Sun, 01 Feb 2015 20:31:02 GMThttp://personalgrowthandgriefsupportcenter.com/1/post/2015/02/late-night-thoughts-on-my-journey-through-grief.html It was 3am on January 3. A light snow was falling as three rabbits ate grass in my back yard. They looked cold. I rarely have sleep problems now but I know not to fight them. I make herbal tea, grab a book or sit in the dark. I don't dare turn on my computer, iPad, Android phone or iPod. None of these will help me get back to sleep.

I had driven to the nearby town of Dodgeville that day for a computer repair passing the cemetery where my husband Bill is buried. To distract myself from the sadness I always feel when I drive that road, I flipped on public radio. On this day I was feeling relieved that the holidays since Bill's death were finally over. One of my favorite programs had just started: On Point with Tom Ashbrook.  I learned this was his first day back following the death of his beloved wife, thereby ending the distraction I sought. Most anything of value on the subject of grief draws my attention. I am a therapist and bereavement counselor and I am also on my own grief journey. Certainly not like I was early on, but grief is forever and as many people who have walked this journey know, five years, though it seems  like forever, also feels like yesterday. One learns to live with grief and search for anything that will ease the pain. I have spent 40 years working with those who hurt, many of them grieving...most I might say since grief is about many kinds of loss. How I wish all that experience had helped just a bit after Bill's death but nothing could ease that gut wrenching pain; pain that sits more quietly now, but still rears its head unexpectedly in spite of all the grief work I have done.
As I listened to Tom and his guest, author/bereavement counselor Rabbi Earl Grollman, (someone I deeply respect) I could feel Tom's pain as he shared openly and as callers and guests attempted to describe and discuss grief. "If only everyone could hear and absorb this program," I thought. They all spoke so honestly about how deep the pain is; how society tends as a whole not to understand or want to deal with grief or death or pain. One caller  said how lonely the path is especially as others quickly go on with their lives. She spoke truth. After only a short time or even five years rarely do people ask someone who has experienced a huge loss how they are doing in regards to that loss. Education is so needed in our death phobic society and it is happening...finally, but all valuable change is slow. I sat in the parking lot while my computer was being worked on. I had to hear this program and listened with tears rolling down my face. An unexpected wave of grief, a trigger, had grabbed me...again.
There are no words that can heal. But listening to a bereaved person helps as do warm hugs. Just sitting and being with that person is comforting. No one can fix it. With a significant loss (loss of a child or spouse being among the most painful/traumatic) the bottom suddenly drops out of life; what was normal disappears; nothing is the same including the bereaved. I have assisted hundreds of people in grief and though grief is unique to each one, similarities abound...gut wrenching pain being a common denominator and feeling alone being another. 

People tend to become timid about reaching out to the bereaved. Do not give in to that. Just reach out, mention the deceased person, and honor the response you get....whatever it is.
It will be appreciated.

Published in Voice of the River Valley (February 2015 issue)