Two Steps to Making Grief Easier

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating.  Grief is never easy, but it can be made easier.  There are many ways our grief load can become lighter with the changing of certain factors in our mourning, but the best way is to increase somehow the amount of support, encouragement and care you receive from those around us.  How can we mourners make our grief easier?

Many mourners experience a lack of supportive people around them.  The majority of those folks who are poor comforters for us just don’t have a clue about grief, what we are going through and what we might need.  And I would guess that the majority of the people around us mourners are compassionate, empathetic and want to help, they just don’t know how.  How can we mourners change that situation?

    • Teach our friends, family and co-workers about grief, specifically our grief experience. People around us mourners get it that something horrible has happened and that we hurt. They don’t always “get” grief and its impact on us. Because they don’t understand grief and how it affects the mourner, they feel helpless and uncomfortable around us. And when people feel uncomfortable they can say and do things that end up not being very helpful and sometimes harmful.  Mourners can help their potential supporters by explaining and expressing the grief that they are experiencing. That means telling our story as many times as it takes to find a person who can become an important part of our support system. That means we mourners have to get over our fears that what we will share with others will make them sad or drive them away from us. At the same time, we mourners need to walk a fine line between sharing enough and sharing too much or too often with the person who is supportive.
    • Tell the folks around us, what we as mourners need.
      Remind them that grief is a natural human response to the loss of a loved one and that it is not an illness, mental or emotional disorder, a bad perspective or attitude, or a sin. So there is nothing wrong with you. You will just need time to process and progress in your grief. Also let them know that there is no set timetable on grief and that you may need help, support, encouragement and care for some time.

If they ask how they can help and you don’t know exactly what you need from them, thank them for listening and say that you will have to think over their offer of help and let them know later.

If they offer to help in ways that you had not expected, be gracious and accept their gift of love and compassion as long as it is not overly intrusive. Remember: it is more blessed to give than to receive. So what happens when you reject a gift is that you steal their potential blessing that they can experience. If they give unsolicited advice, accept it with a smile and tell them politely what you really need is for them to be present, to be available and to listen without judging or trying to fix you or your situation.

If you don’t ask for what you need in your grief, most likely you may not get it. So don’t’ be afraid to ask for what you need from potential supporters who are compassionate and sympathetic toward your story and experience. That way you raise your chances of getting help, support, encouragement and care that will lighten your grief burden.

By doing these steps you will potentially increase your support system and the amount of help you receive in your grief journey.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX

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Eight Reasons We Don’t Help Grievers

Mourners need other people to support, comfort and encourage them as they go through grief.  As a mourner myself, I remember the times I felt really alone.  Unfortunately,  I found that some of the  people I thought would be there for me were not…for one reason or another.

There can be many reasons why those around a mourner don’t reach out to help.  The reasons can include:

  • Feeling uncomfortable around mourners.   One of my most painful memories is of a close friend avoiding me during my early grief. I had just returned to church services a few days after the double funeral for my wife and two-year-old daughter in May 1993. As I walked down the church hallway, I saw a friend not far away. As I approached him, he saw me, then his eyes darted side to side nervously and he took off in another direction. His avoidance of me at that moment heaped more pain into my already breaking heart. I felt shunned, devastated and alone. I knew what C.S. Lewis meant in his book A Grief Observed when he wrote, “Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.”Everybody can feel uncomfortable when confronted with the harsh realities of dying, death and grief. Mourners need others to step out of their comfort zone into the world created by their loss. Remember, when you feel uncomfortable it’s not about you; it’s about the mourner and his or her needs at that time. When you enter into and are present in the painful world of the mourner, your presence, availability and support can lighten the mourner’s grief load at that moment and bring significant results.
  • The fear of doing or saying the wrong thing for the mourner. The worst thing that can be done or said to a mourner is NOTHING. So don’t let your fear of causing more pain in the mourner’s life keep you from doing anything at all. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not obligated to say or do much of anything at all to provide the mourner with the support, comfort and encouragement she or he needs. In fact, the best thing you can do for the mourner is to simply be present, available and listen without judging or giving any unsolicited advice. The ministry of presence in someone else’s grief lets the mourner know that there is someone who cares and is there for him or her. Listening ears, an occasional nod, and a simple “I love you” or “I am so sad to see you hurting so much” can go a long way to make the darkest times in life seem a little more bearable.
  • Not wanting to be intrusive in the mourners’ personal time. Respecting the mourner’s privacy is important, but many friends and family members use this excuse to not do anything at all…or to just cover up their fear of dealing with a potentially emotional situation. The truth is that mourners need occasional solitude but they also need others around them to form a support system to help them through the grief journey.So fight your fears and your discomfort and reach out to the mourner. Don’t be surprised, scared away or take it personally if your efforts are met with rejection or hostility. If the mourner lashes out in anger, remember she or he is not angry at you. The mourner is angry at the situation and life at that moment. Respect their space, apologize and return at a better moment to be there for the mourner.
  • A lack of understanding of the grief process or experience.   Often those around the mourner have no idea of what a person in grief is going through. Maybe they have never had a major loss in their lives. Maybe they are simply not very good at dealing with emotional stuff.Show the mourner that you want to help and honor their story by listening to them and what they are experiencing. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. or counseling license to help a grieving person. Mourners can teach you important life lessons about grief…especially about their grief experience. Make sure they understand that you need them to tell you what they want or need. Be present, listen and do things that will show you care for them.
  • An inability to deal with the expression of emotions. Many of us find it difficult to express our emotions and to hear others express their feelings and thoughts. Again, an uncomfortable situation with a mourner is not about us, it is about them and their needs. Sometimes in life it is our turn to receive from others: sometimes it is our turn to give. Now is your turn to give back to mourners the comfort that others have given to you when you struggled in a life crisis (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
  • The friend or family member is grieving too. On occasion the people around a mourner may be grieving the same loss or another loss in their life. If that happens to you, be honest with the mourner as you spend at least some time for them. Explain to them you want to be there for them and that you will be, but sometimes it may become too painful for them to deal with. Most mourners will understand and appreciate your honesty. If you simply avoid them to avoid further pain without telling them why, you run the risk of inflicting additional pain on the mourner.
  • What culture and our family has taught or not taught us about dying, death and grief. Many of us have learned from culture and our family that grief is a short process that must be gotten over quickly and should be talked about as little as possible. Therefore, we can have little tolerance when a mourner’s grief process is “too long” and all that the mourner wants to do is talk about their loss and its effects on his or her life.We can often think that if grief goes longer than “normal” there must be something seriously wrong with the mourner.The truth is that grief takes as long as it takes and has no timetable other than its own. Every grief is unique to the mourner and his or her relationship with the loved one who died. Also healing in grief involves dealing with painful emotions and thoughts needing to be expressed to others in some way. Be present, patient and understanding with the mourner, allowing them the time and space they need process, express and heal in their grief.
  • A lack of empathy and/or compassion. I think that I can safely say that if you have read this far into this article, you don’t deal with a lack of empathy or an inability to be compassionate with those who are going through grief. A bit of wise advice is that if you know someone like this, be kind, courteous, empathetic, and compassionate toward them because of their situation or nature. Mourners would be wise to spend more time in places and with people that make them feel safe, supported and cared for.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX

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Tips for Helping Grievers

Grief is a misunderstood and neglected process in life. Because responding to losses and death is often awkward and uncomfortable for both grievers and helpers, those concerned may avoid dealing with grief.

Society promotes many misconceptions about grief that may actually hinder the recovery and growth that follow loss. For example, friends and family may make statements such as, “You must be strong,” “You have to get on with your life,” or “It’s good that he didn’t have to suffer.” Such clichés may help the one saying them, but are rarely helpful to the griever. Other misconceptions may be that it is not appropriate to show emotions except at the funeral, or that “Recovery should be completed within a prescribed amount of time.” Still other misconceptions would imply that the grieving person is being inappropriate by laughing, playing, or being productive at work, etc.

Friends need to avoid these misconceptions and other ways of predetermining what another’s grief process should be life. An individual may have both personal and cultural differences in the ways that he or she deals with grief. Friends need to support the bereaved in recovering and restoring balance in his or her own way.

Guidelines for Helping Someone Who is Grieving

Friends often ask themselves questions, such as: What should I do? What should I say? Am I doing the right thing? What can I do better? Here are some suggestions for helping the person in grief:
1. Take some kind of action. Make a phone call, send a card, give a hug, attend the funeral, help with practical matters (e.g., meals, care of children).
2. Be available. Allow the person time so that there is no sense of “urgency” when you visit or talk.
3. Be a good listener. Accept the words and feelings expressed, avoid being judgmental or taking their feelings personally, avoid telling them what they should feel or what they should do.
4. Don’t minimize the loss and avoid giving clichés and easy answers. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss (i.e., the deceased, the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, the disability, etc.).
5. Allow the bereaved person to grieve for as long or short time as needed. Be patient. There are no shortcuts.
6. Encourage the bereaved to care for themselves. They need to attend to physical needs, postpones major decisions, and allow themselves to grieve and recover.
7. Acknowledge and accept your own limitations. Many situations can be hard to handle, but can be made easier with the help of outside resources – books, workshops, support groups, other friends, or professionals.

Support for the Helper

Supporting a grieving person can also be stressful for the helpers. They need to take care of themselves, while also attending to the need of the families grieving. Since helpers themselves are often grieving, they may need to address heir won healing process. This may include having the opportunity to express their own emotions and turning to other friends for support.

Just as there is no single pattern to grief, there is no single way to help a grieving person. Both the grieving person and any friend who is trying to help may feel unsure and uncomfortable. Either way, remember that it is important to be yourself. Furthermore, remember that as a friend, you probably are helping just by listening and being with the grieving person.

Compiled by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX

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Love Never Dies Support Group — What Is It?

Love Never Dies Grief Support Groups are centered on the faith-based grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” by grief educator, public speaker and therapist Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT.  Published in 2011 by Xulon Press, the book has been purchased by thousands of mourners, caregivers, and bereavement specialists in the United States and abroad.

Larry Barber knows grief all too well.  In May 1993 his wife Cindy and two year old daughter Katie died from injuries suffered in a traffic accident in Arlington, Texas.  As a widowed single parent he raised two surviving children, nine year old Sarah and 12 year old Christian.  Early in his grief walk Barber cried out to God to send people and knowledge into his life that would help him and his children through his grief journey.  In return he has promised that he would gladly share what God equipped him with to help other mourners.   Since that promise, Barber has accepted a grief support ministry that has reached out to thousands who struggle after the death of a loved one.

Barber is a minister, a licensed professional counselor, and certified in Thanatology (the specialized study of death, dying and bereavement) through the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).

He served six years as a hospice bereavement coordinator; fifteen years as a grief support group facilitator in Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington TX; and seven years as the director GriefWorks ( , a free grief support program for children ages 5-18 and their family members, in Dallas TX.   Barber conducts grief seminars, in-services and church presentations.  Committed to sharing grief insights shared with him by fellow mourners, he is tireless in efforts to comfort and equip those in grief.

Through his book and Love Never Dies Grief Support Groups, Barber shows mourners how to lighten their grief burden by changing how they view grief.

Love Never Dies groups and seminars help mourners, caregivers and helping professionals understand that:

  • Grief is the expression of love for the person who has died.  Mourners do not need to be fixed, cured, diagnosed, pitied or corrected.
  • Healthy grief embraces the loss experience.  Grief serves a purpose.  Avoiding grief delays healing.
  • Maintaining a relationship with the person who has died is healthy and healing.  Mourners do not have to “let go” of their loved one in order to progress successively in their grief.

Participants in the Love Never Dies support groups and seminar learn that in grief there can be:

  • HOPE  for today and the future
  • PROMISE that the resources needed to get through grief are available

For information about scheduling Larry Barber for a speaking engagement or event, please call 972-960-9981, ext 108 or send requests to  More information about Barber can be viewed on his profile on LinkedIn or by following him on Twitter @griefminister01.


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Every Day Can Be A Memorial Day

“…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes 3:4

Our country recognizes the need for mourners in a community traumatized by devastating events, man-caused and acts of Nature, that result in the deaths of loved ones to remember those events and honor the people who died.  Memorial Day and the anniversaries of events such as the 9/11 attacks,  shooting sprees that have been witnessed by the nation in news reports, the tsunamis in the Pacific and the attack on Pearl Harbor are honored year after year.  And for however long these memorial events happens the nation sits in silent reverence and honors the need to remember those who died.

But many times the needs of mourners coping with personal losses caused by the deaths of their friends or family members are not met with the same approval, silent reverence or honor.  Over the years mourners in grief counseling and in grief support groups have told me their friends give subtle hints and sometimes very blunt statements that they should be:

    • Doing better by now.  This isn’t true because grief has its own timetable and every grief is different.
    • Stop feeling sorry for themselves and getting back to life and their other relationships and responsibilities.  This is not true because grief is not selfish or self-pity.  Grief is when we realize the impact of the loss on us and work to process our grief in a healthy manner.
    • Putting their loved one in the past and moving on.  This is not true because you will never be able to forget what your loved one meant to you and did for you.  They are a part of who you are.
    • Happy and satisfied with the closure that they received during the funeral or memorial held.  That’s not true because funerals and memorials are not the end of grief.  Funerals and memorials can be the start of healthy grief and healing.
    • Seeking psychiatric or other professional help if their grief, crying, and depression last more than a certain accepted period of time.  This isn’t true because grief is the natural human response to loss.  It is not a disease, disorder, bad attitude or a perspective that needs to be corrected.  Mourners need time, support and encouragement to start moving toward feeling better.


The truth is that each mourner whether he or she suffers a personal, private loss due to a single death or shares with a community in a devastating loss caused by multiple deaths has the need to remember and honor their loved one(s) on an on-going basis.  Think of it this way–every mourner endures in loss his or her own personal 9/11.  Therefore every mourner should be able to:

  • Honor their loved ones in meaningful, respectful and healthy ways throughout their grief—through rituals and simple observances if necessary.  Mourning the death of a loved one in a healthy way honors a valuable life and person who should never be forgotten or just left in the past.
  • Remember a day and event in history that has changed their lives and their world forever.
  • Continue to maintain emotional and spiritual ties to the person no longer physically present.  When a loved one dies, the relationship doesn’t end, it just changes.  After a death the relationship transforms from one based on the physical presence of the loved one to a relationship that is based on memories of the loved one.

For the mourner, every day can be a Memorial Day.  Be patient with the mourner, honor his or her story by just listening, and honor their rights to keep the memories of their loved one alive in healthy, healing ways.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX


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Mother’s Day Can Be Painful for Mourners

It would soon be Mother’s Day again, and I was dreading it.  I wasn’t dreading the day for myself, but for my children who had lost their mother Cindy and two-year-old sister Katie six years ago after a traffic accident.  Every Mother’s Day after my wife’s death had been shear torture for my family as in church services the congregation took out time from worship to honor the mothers attending the service.

I didn’t begrudge the families that special time honoring their mothers, but each Mother’s Day ceremony was just another reminder of the tremendous losses my family endured.  I knew it was a painful flashback to my wife’s sudden and tragic death.  But I still had my mother at the time, and I could only imagine how painful it was for my son and daughter as they watched a carefully crafted, loving collage of photos of other mothers and their children.  To make it worse, the barrage of pictures had a soundtrack of “sappy” music meant to evoke an emotional response.  My gut response was to grab my children and exit the church sanctuary, flee into the parking lot, load up the car and head for the shelter of our home, but I didn’t.   I just endured the experience.

Some Mother’s Days my family had just stayed at home to avoid the experience.  I was tempted to play hooky from church again, but one Sunday before Mother’s Day something in me told me that I needed to let the church leadership know how I and my children felt on Mother’s Day without our family’s mother.  Surely there were others who had lost their mother and felt the same way.  Maybe we could honor mothers in a different way that was less distressing for those mourning the loss of a mother.

I saw the minister walking to his office after the service, and I knew what I had to do.  I stopped him and asked if I could request a favor.  “This Sunday could we do something special for those who don’t have their mothers with them anymore?” I asked.

The minister’s face softened as he said, “Well, I don’t know, Larry.  Let me talk with the staff and see what we can do.”  The minister knew our story because he had spoken at Cindy and Katie’s double funeral

I walked away feeling relieved that I had let someone know how I felt.  Maybe things would change, and maybe they wouldn’t.  At least I had made my needs known.

On Mother’s Day much to my dismay the traditional collage of pictures of mothers and children and the “sappy” music began.  I have to admit that I was disappointed.  The usual painful feelings and the hurt for my children returned.  Maybe I had not given the minister and the church staff enough lead time to make a change in how we observed Mother’s Day.  The pictures and the music seemed to go on forever.

Then the pictures and music stopped.  Before my family could get seated, the minister stepped up to the pulpit and said, “Now I would like to ask all those of you who no longer have your mother with you in this life to please stand as we say a prayer over you.”

“Dear Father God,” the minister said as we and others around the sanctuary remained standing. “We thank you for the blessings of mothers in our lives.  At this time though we pray a special blessing and care for those standing now who no longer have their mothers in their lives…..”

As I began to cry, my knees buckled, but I made an extra special effort to remain standing in honor of my children’s mother and my wife.

The minister continued, “Be with them today and watch over them.  Let them remember the wonderful gifts that their loving, sacrificing mothers have given them.  Fill their hearts with gratitude for their mother as they review the special memories of their mother’s life.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.”

I looked through tears at my children with their heads bowed in prayer, and I thought how proud their mother must be of them.  That was the best Mother’s Day ever.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX









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Easter Through the Eyes of a Mourning Child

The large meeting room at GriefWorks, the free children’s grief support program in Dallas, Texas –March 2014

As the circle of eager children and their family members prepared to go into their grief support groups and enjoy the company of fellow mourners their age in fun activities, I asked the group to share any exciting news that was happening in their lives. Seven-year-old Brandon, who always has something exciting to share, stuck his hand up in the air. I said, “What do you have to share with the group, Brandon?”

“Easter is coming soon!” he shouted with a big smile on his face.

“And why do we celebrate Easter?” I said.

“Because we get candy…and stuffed animals!” Brandon proclaimed.

“That’s right. Sometimes we do get candy and gifts,” I said. “But what else do we celebrate!”

“Fake tattoos!” he shot back. “Sometimes I get fake tattoos!”

“Okay,” I replied. “But what else do we celebrate at Easter?”

Five-year-old Mandy spoke up. “Jesus died on the cross.”

“That’s right,” I said. “And then what happened!”

“God brought Jesus back from the dead!” exclaimed Mandy.

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!” Brandon shouted as he threw back both his arms and hands and his little body bent backward in rigid, questioning protest. “That’s not fair!!! How come Jesus gets to come back from the dead and my Nana doesn’t?” said Brandon as he stared angrily at me. “That’s not fair!!!”

That was certainly not the response I had expected to get from the group as we talked about the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ along with the hope we share in knowing that our Heavenly Father raised Jesus from the dead. But honestly, Brandon is not the first person grieving over the death of a loved one who has asked that question. Brandon is not the first person in history who has asked how an all-powerful, loving God could allow their loved one to die leaving them to be without that valuable person for the rest of their lives. To the mourner missing a loved one, that doesn’t seem fair.

Easter is a joyous time, yes—a time filled with candy, Easter egg hunts, baskets with stuffed animals and gifts and sunrise Easter services speaking of hope and Heaven. But for the mourner it can be an emotional and sometimes painful time. For the person still missing that important loved one in their lives:

  • Easter activities with an emphasis on family, friends and loved ones can be a reminder of their loss because they will never get to spend another Easter with their loved one.
  • Easter with its focus on Death can be a reminder of the hole in their hearts and in their lives that Death has created by taking their loved one from them.
  • Easter with its focus on resurrection from the dead and an empty tomb can be a reminder that the casket, urn or vault containing their loved one is stilled filled with the remains of their loved one.
  • Easter with its focus on rejoicing and joy can be a reminder of how sad their lives seem without their loved one.
  • Easter with its focus on hope for the future and talk of seeing Jesus return can be a reminder that they can’t see their loved one who has died when they want to—now. They may be thinking, “Hope for the future is nice, but I want my loved one back now. I don’t want to wait.”

As children and adults went to their GriefWorks support groups, I leaned down to talk with Brandon. I looked into his sad eyes and said, “You know, Brandon, that the same power God used to bring back Jesus from the dead He is going to use to bring us back from the dead….and our loved ones too.”

“Then I’ll get to see Nana?” Brandon said with a relieved smile.

“Yes, you’ll get to see Nana. And the rest of us will get to see all the people that we love that God has been taking care of in Heaven for us,” I said smiling back.

Remember this Easter to have fun, spend time with the ones you love most, thank God for your blessings, thank Jesus for His sacrifice and celebrate The Empty Tomb—the symbol of all believers’ hope for today and tomorrow.

But remember too those who are hurting because of Death and the loved ones who have been ripped from their lives. Sometimes in the deafening pain of grief it is hard to feel comfort, joy and hope. All they can feel or hear is pain and sadness after the loss.  Be with the mourner this Easter, support them, be patient and encourage them.  Without preaching or trying to change their grief, share some of your hope from The Empty Tomb.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… (John 11:25)

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX


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10 Common Emotional Experiences in Grief

Although every grief is unique and unpredictable, there are many common emotional experiences that can happen in any grief due to the death of a loved one or significant person in your life.  Some of them are:

  • A state of shock:
    When sorrow and the pain of loss come flooding in initially, we instinctually shut down our emotions in order to anesthetize ourselves from the grim reality we face in grief.  This initial phase of grief protects us from going into emotional overload – experiencing the full impact of the loss before we can completely accept what has happened to our loved one and to us.
  • Overwhelming pain & emotions:
    When the shock phase begins to fade, the reality of the loss hits us.  The result is overwhelming pain and emotional turmoil.  As we realize how dreadful the loss is, emotional release begins to be expressed, often without warning.  The grief emotions inside turn into observable mourning.  (Remember mourning is simply grief gone public).
    Immense sadness and loss usually is expressed in uncontrollable and unexpected crying.  Our first instinct may be to stifle tears because we feel out of control or embarrassed.  The truth is though that crying opens the way for us to acknowledge and express all grief emotions helping us to progress through grief and toward healing.
  • Depression & loneliness:
    Feelings of utter depression and isolation are common.  Grief causes us to question our deepest held beliefs – especially our beliefs about God and how He works in the world.  It might seem as if God is no longer in control in His heaven – almost as if God does not care and is not present in their lives.  Such depression and feelings of being all alone are normal, healthy grief responses.  These feelings and thoughts will pass as we refuse to be overwhelmed by our feelings or thoughts and progress through grief.
  • Physical symptoms of emotional distress:
    The continued emotional stress of grief can manifest itself in all sorts of physical maladies—real and/or imagined.
  • Experiencing panic/fear:
    The emotional turmoil of grief can be overwhelming to us.  Because the emotional experience is often greater than anything else we have ever endured, a sense of fear and panic is common.  We begin to question our sanity and if we are doing grief “right.”   An overwhelming sense of deep despair causes us to also question if we will be able to endure what lies ahead and if we will ever experience joy and happiness again.
  • Experiencing guilt about the loss:
    We can feel real or imagined guilt for what we did or did not do for the person when he/she was alive.  Guilt can develop into neurotic guilt which is all out of proportion to the reality of the involvement and control we had in the happenings surrounding the loss.  Acknowledging and expressing this guilt, voicing regrets and “asking” forgiveness for perceived wrongdoings can move us toward healing from these grief wounds.  We must also work toward forgiving ourselves for what we did or did not do.
  • Feeling anger & resentment:
    These “negative” emotions are normal.  However, we must admit to ourselves to acknowledge anger without giving into destructive behaviors.
  • Resisting a return to life:
    Something inside keeps us from going back to usual activities.  Perhaps it is the desire to keep the memory of the tragedy alive as a way to honor the life of the loved one lost.  We fear that smiling, laughing, and experiencing joy or pleasure somehow signifies that the life of the deceased is not being honored or remembered.  Since the pain of grief is a reminder of the emotional tie we have to the deceased, we become comfortable in grieving and fearful that everyone has forgotten our pain.  This causes us to become stuck in our grief—failing to move on toward healing.
  • Realizing hope
    One day “the clouds part and the sun shines in” for us.  It becomes possible for us to experience joy and pleasure once again.  There is a realization that there are moments when grief does not dominate our thinking.  There are still bad moments, bad days and bad weeks, but they happen less and less often.  There is an overwhelming feeling of “I can make it after all.”
  • Struggling to affirm reality
    As we move through grief, we realize that we have been changed by the experience.  The deceased’s influence in our life changed us, making us better people.  The loss of the person has also changed us—making us either healthier and stronger in spirit or sicker.

Compiled by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 2 Comments

The 5 Major Ways Grief Changes the Whole Person

One of the biggest myths about grief is that grief is an emotional reaction or state of being.  When people label grief as just “emotional,” they are minimizing grief, how much the mourner is affected by grief and the extent of the struggles the mourner has to endure.  Grief affects much more than just the emotional state of the person after a death.

Mourners are more than one-dimensional victims.  Grief affects the whole person just as the relationship with the loved one who died affected every aspect of the mourner’s life.  We miss the person in the following ways:

  • Emotionally
    Mourners love or have emotional ties to the person who died.  Therefore, the love we still have in our heart for the person needs to be expressed–even after their passing.  Death doesn’t end our relationship with the person; death changes the relationship from one dependent upon the physical presence of the person to a relationship dependent upon our continuing emotional and spiritual ties to the person.  For many mourners there is a feeling that grief and its emotions are the only tie they have with the loved one who is no longer physically present.We mourners can experience and have the need to express shock, disbelief, denial, emotional numbness, sadness, depression, anger, abandonment, regret, guilt, fear, anxiety, and panic within ourselves.  Also sometimes mourners can experience relief, joy or peace for the loved one who is not suffering any more in this life.  Everyone’s grief is different depending upon the relationship they had with the loved one, the mourner’s personality type, how they got the news, how the death took place, the age of the loved one who died, how others around them reacted to the death, and many other factors around the death.

    Mourners have the need to express these emotions honestly (to release the emotional tension the death causes within them) and to know that others get and understand what they are experiencing.  Emotive mourners get in touch with their grief emotions and openly express them to others in sharing their story or maybe even through obvious mourning behavior.  Stoic mourners get in touch with their grief emotions and dispel their inner emotional tension by thinking through their experience and/or physical activity (working on a car, exercising, taking up a hobby or involvement in church or charitable activities).  The activity allows the stoic mourner to be busy, to think through their grief and to expend emotional tension building up inside.   Most people feel a need to expend emotional tension after a catastrophic event.  We feel the need to respond to the occasion….to do something.

    Those who are with the mourner need to listen and observe what is said or done without judging the mourner.  Just be present.  Don’t give unsolicited advice.  Also you may need to feed back to the person what you hear if they are emotive mourners.  Being present and being supportive with stoic mourners will go a long way to help them feel your support and care.  Encouraging words help let them know that you are there for them .

  • Mentally
    Mourners are impaired in their thinking and ability to remember, concentrate or focus on anything but the loss…especially during the first few weeks, months and even up to a year following the death.   One member of a grief support group shared than in a two week period she locked herself out of her car three times.  She quickly learned to make extra copies of her car keys and to keep them stored in secret places to avoid having to pay $50 or more to have a locksmith open her car!  Mourners often need to rely upon detailed calendars, to do lists, messages/notes to themselves and reminder alerts on their computers, phones and other electronic devices to help them with appointments, dates, times to pay bills, and other important activities.Mourners are usually advised to not make any major life-changing decisions during the first year after the death.  In cases when decisions have to be made quickly, mourners are well advised to seek the opinions of others they trust and who have their best interest at heart.

    Those who are with the mourner need to have a lot of patience and to be able to remind the mourner of important dates and activities without embarrassing or shaming the mourner.  Again, your being present without being judgmental or dictatorial is most important for the mourner.   Understanding that grief impairs the mourner’s thinking and being patient will be extremely helpful.  Offer to help organize small things in their life, help with shopping or other chores and show them care and support without invading into their private stuff.

  • Physically
    There is a strong tie between the emotional, mental and physical aspects of all people.  When you don’t feel good emotionally or mentally, it can affect how you feel physically.  When you don’t feel good physically, it can affect how you feel mentally or emotionally.Mourners are the same—only they aren’t just dealing with the usual up’s and down’s of life. They’re also dealing with grief with all of its sharp emotional and mental up’s and down’s.  The roller coaster ride of grief can be expressed in physical ways because of the stressful, painful, uncomfortable and often unexpressed emotions experienced by mourners.Headaches, backaches, stomach aches and other physical complaints are common among mourners.  During the first year of grief, mourners are at the greatest risks for physical problems, illnesses and accidents.   The stressor of grief and its overwhelming emotions and thoughts can compromise the immune system, impair the thought processes (including judgment) and slow down response times (including during  conversation, working and driving).

    Sometimes the results of all this impairment brought on by grief can be minor inconveniences, sometimes the results can be life-threatening.  Mourners need to keep this in mind in their daily activities.  Allow yourself more time and space for physical activities.  Advise others that you may not always be 100% present and capable of performing physical activities as usual. Exercise precaution in everything you do without using it as an excuse for getting special attention.  When you feel a pain persistently, go to a physician to check it out.  It is a good idea for all mourners to get a full physical within six months to a year of the loss.

    Grief takes a lot of energy.  Whether you are consciously thinking about the loss or not, it can “be on your mind” twenty four hours a day, seven days a week….especially in the overwhelming first part of grief.  You are going to tire easily.  Don’t think you have to stay at the same schedule you did before the loss.  Give yourself at least short breaks, and don’t overextend yourself or your calendar.  Explain to others who care about you that you may need their help, support, encouragement, indulgence and patience during your grief journey.  You will need their help and support.For those with the mourner, the rule is still be there physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually for the person grieving.  Don’t just offer to help.  Put yourself in their shoes and ask what you would need from others.  Mow their lawn, clean their house, go shopping with them or for them, babysit their children, help them reorganize their garage or storage shed, etc. etc. etc.  The worst thing that you could do for a mourner person is nothing at all. Be present and be active in their lives without intruding or crossing personal boundaries in their lives.

  • Socially
    When we are in grief or any life crisis, we can have a tendency to isolate when we need people and support the most.  When grief takes over the mourner’s life, he or she may not feel very sociable.  In fact, the mourner can feel not only tired, but irritable and frustrated with the “normal niceties” expected of them socially.  When a loved one dies, the mourner’s priorities have changed and being involved with others socially can seem less important, an unwanted additional task or maybe even anxiety-producing.  Mourners can feel they are “under the microscope” being observed and judged by others as to how well or how badly they are handing their grief.Mourners, time spent in solitude and thought can be productive in your grief journey.  It is perfectly healthy to go off alone to take care of your emotional wounds.  BUT mourners were never meant to deal with the struggles and the work of grief alone.  God has put others in your life for you to share good times and bad.  Scripture says for a good reason that we are to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:5) and to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  We need people in our lives, but we need people especially during bad times of our lives including grief.  Don’t worry what others think or say about your grief.  To be safe though, mourn only with people and in places that make you feel safe, cared for and supported.

    Those with mourners shouldn’t forget how important their physical presence in the mourner’s life is.  Be there at the funeral and the few weeks after. And continue to be there in the weeks and months and years to come…again without being intrusive.  Don’t judge or give unsolicited advice.  Invite the person to take part in activities with you and with groups, especially church activities.  Be patient, understanding and lovingly persistent if the person is reluctant.  Don’t take their reactions personally if they lash out in their grief emotions.  Understand that they aren’t angry with you.  They are angry about the loss and their new reality. They need your and others’  support, encouragement and comfort.

  • Spiritually
    When major life events take place (including grief) we human beings can remember, review and sometimes revise our deepest-held beliefs.  The death of a loved one brings into focus how we view life, death and what comes after.  Sometimes we find out our beliefs, even core beliefs of our faith and religion, don’t seem to work with the new life realities we face after the loss of someone significant in our lives.Reviewing and revising our beliefs doesn’t necessarily mean we are losing our faith.  It means that we have the opportunity to confirm our beliefs and make our faith stronger or change our beliefs and make our faith stronger.  Faith tested and questioned can become stronger.

    Many times in Scripture men and women of faith expressed displeasure with God and how He appeared to be working or not working according to their plans for their lives or the lives of others.  When most mourners express anger or displeasure with God and what He appears to be doing or not doing, they are not necessarily losing their beliefs in the Almighty.  You can’t struggle or be displeased with a Heavenly Father you don’t believe in.  Being angry is simply not liking how things are.  And when you have lost a loved one to death, you are going to be displeased and possibly express that displeasure in the protest of anger.

    Mourners angry at God need to speak their minds and their hearts honestly to God within respectful and non-blasphemous boundaries.  Keep in mind that if you’re angry with God, He already knows…and He understands why.  He made you with all the emotions you experience.   He has given you the choice to express those emotions in ways that are healthy or unhealthy, appropriate or inappropriate or constructive or destructive.

    Those with mourners are wise not to go immediately to Scripture quotations and other inspirational sayings when trying to comfort them.  Many times mourners cannot hear the comfort in what others say simply because it is drowned out by the deafening pain they are experiencing.  Their lack of response to inspirational quotes doesn’t mean that they no longer believe the truth in them—they just can’t hear it.  Remember to simply be there, listen, and reflect back to the person what you hear, support them and show you care.  Often what we immediately say to a grieving person is just meant to fill the uneasy silence between us or to make ourselves feel better.  Listen and speak little without  giving judgment or unsolicited advice.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 1 Comment

Important Stuff I Wish I Had Been Told About Grief

1.  You don’t have to worry what others think about your grief.

Don’t let the fear of what others think about how you mourn keep you from mourning in ways that help you heal or become reconciled to your loss (accepting the new reality).  Others don’t know exactly what you are going through and may give advice that will not work for you.  Grief is the natural way humans react to the death of someone they love or are emotionally connected to.  It is what happens inside of us emotionally, mentally and spiritually after a loss.  You may feel like you are crazy, abnormal or out of control when you express your grief but that is because you are in new emotional territory.  You have never experienced anything like this loss so you will think, feel and do things you have never done before in response to a loss.  You are not crazy or abnormal or out of control.  You are simply going through the unexplored and never before experienced state of an overwhelming loss.  What keeps you healthy and healing in grief is normal and natural for you.

2.  Your grief isn’t a bad thing.

Death is always a bad thing, but the grief that results can serve a good purpose.  Emotions in grief are not bad, they just exist.  We mourners can’t control what we feel in grief.  The emotions just seem to happen.  Although the emotions (sadness, depression, anger, fear, guilt, regret, etc.) are unpleasant and often painful, they all serve a purpose.  Grief is a transition time when we move from life with the person physically present to life without the person physically present.  We still love the person and are tied to them in a relationship that is emotional and spiritual now.  We move from a relationship based on their physical present to a relationship that is based on memories.

Grief is the overflowing love you still have in your heart for the person no longer physically present.  Death doesn’t kill the relationship; it just changes it.  You still have love in your heart that needs to be expressed.  Since you can’t express it the way you did when they were physically present, the love is expressed in grief and mourning.  How you choose to express this love in grief helps you to heal and is a way of remembering and honoring your loved one.

3.  Your grief will last as long as you miss the loved one.

Grief has its own timetable.  It takes as long as it takes.  As long as you miss the loved one, you will mourn in some way.  As time passes you, your grief, and how you mourn changes.  For most mourners there will still be times when the grief seems fresh again…but those times grow shorter, decrease and become farther apart as time goes by.

4.  Your grief is unique.

No two people grieve exactly alike.  There are no stages or levels that happen in a predictable order.  There are similar experiences and emotions in all griefs, but every grief is different.  Your grief will be shaped by the unique, one of kind relationship you have with your valuable loved one.

5.  Your grief doesn’t end your life.

Although it feels like it, your life is not over after the death of your loved one.  You have entered a new stage and new reality in your life that you did not ask for or want.  There can and will be days ahead for you filled with activities, family, friends and opportunities to experience joy, peace, and fulfillment.  But it may take time and effort on your part in your work of grief to get there.

6.  Your grief connects you to your loved one.

Again, your grief is the love you express in missing your loved one.  You need to remember a valuable life and honor it with your life well lived.  Grief gives you that opportunity to heal and remember your loved one in meaningful ways.  You are not a survivor of the loved one, you can be a living memorial to the loved one.

7.  Your grief prepares you in a unique way to help others.

Along your grief journey, God will place people in your path that you can help in their grief.  Your grief experience prepares you in truly unique ways to reach out to others maybe as you wish others had reached out to you.  Remember, you are there to be a grief companion (a term title created by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado , not an instructor.  Meet the mourner where they are, learn of their grief and then give them whatever aid and support others may have passed on (or you wished had been passed on) to you.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 8 Comments