What Grievers Need to Remember this Holiday Season

  • You should not be alone during the holidays.
  • Love does not end with death. Your relationship with your loved one continues.
  • You need to talk about your grief. Don’t be afraid to share what you think, feel & need during the holidays.
  • You need to know & honor your limitations during special days. Set your expectations low…not too high.
  • You should eliminate unnecessary stress. Build in time for yourself & your needs.
  • You need to be with supportive, comforting people. Limit your time with people who are difficult to deal with or who cause you stress.
  • You have an emotional need to mention the name of the person who has died.
  • You need to tell others what is right for you during the holidays…what is comforting & what is painful.
  • You should plan ahead for gatherings.
  • You ought to embrace your treasure of memories.
  • You should reflect on why you & others celebrate these special days. Make them filled with meaning & purpose.
  • You should depend upon the resources available to you through your faith.
  • Mourning in a healthy way during the holidays will help you heal & move toward reconciliation.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT, author of Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise which is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  The book is also available for purchase for Kindle and Nook.  Direct purchase can be made of the book from http://grief-works.org/book.php.

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When Insomnia Strikes

Insomnia during grief is not uncommon.  Grief, anxiety, stress and depression can keep you up at night.  Many mourners complain that nighttime, especially bedtime, can be one of their more difficult times.  Not getting enough sleep is a big red flag because you can’t function well without rest.  Here are some tips for getting better and more restful sleep:

Keep a regular sleep schedule

Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle—your circadian rhythm—is one of the most important strategies for achieving good sleep. If you keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you will feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. This holds true even if you alter your sleep schedule by only an hour or two. Consistency is vitally important.

  • Set a regular bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
  • Wake up at the same time every day. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. As with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular wake-time even on weekends.
  • Nap to make up for lost sleep. If you need to make up for a few lost hours, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping late. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm, which often backfires in insomnia and throws you off for days.
  • Be smart about napping. While taking a nap can be a great way to recharge, especially for older adults, it can make insomnia worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes.
  • Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.

Discovering your optimal sleep schedule

Find a period of time (a week or two should do) when you are free to experiment with different sleep and wake times. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks! If you’re sleep deprived, it may take a few weeks to fully recover. But as you go to bed and get up at the same time, you’ll eventually land on the natural sleep schedule that works best for you.

Naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is controlled by light exposure. Your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and you want to stay awake and alert. However, many aspects of modern life can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin and with it your sleep-wake cycle.

Spending long days in an office away from natural light, for example, can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain sleepy. Then bright lights at night—especially from hours spent in front of the TV or computer screen—can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep. However, there are ways for you to naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle, boost your body’s production of melatonin, and keep your brain on a healthy schedule.

Increase light exposure during the day

  • Remove your sunglasses in the morning and let light onto your face.
  • Spend more time outside during daylight. Try to take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
  • Let as much light into your home/workspace as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
  • If necessary, use a light therapy box. A light therapy box can simulate sunshine and can be especially useful during short winter days when there’s limited daylight.

Boost melatonin production at night

  • Turn off your television and computer. Many people use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day, and this is a mistake. Not only does the light suppress melatonin production, but television can actually stimulate the mind, rather than relaxing it. Try listening to music or audio books instead, or practicing relaxation exercises. If your favorite TV show is on late at night, record it for viewing earlier in the day.
  • Don’t read from a backlit device at night (such as an iPad). If you use a portable electronic device to read, use an e-Reader that is not backlit, i.e. one that requires an additional light source such as a bedside lamp.
  • Change your bright light bulbs. Avoid bright lights before bed, use low-wattage bulbs instead.
  • When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark. The darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. Cover electrical displays, use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask to cover your eyes.
  • Use a flashlight to go to the bathroom at night. If you wake up during the night to use the bathroom—as long as it’s safe to do so—keep the light to a minimum so it will be easier to go back to sleep.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses.

Make your bedroom more sleep friendly

  • Keep noise down. If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from barking dogs, loud neighbors, city traffic, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan, recordings of soothing sounds, or white noise. You can buy a special sound machine or generate your own white noise by setting your radio between stations. Earplugs may also help.
  • Keep your room cool. The temperature of your bedroom also affects sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable. You should have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. If you often wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, you may need to invest in a new mattress or a try a different pillow. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide more or less support.

Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex

If you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. That way, when you go to bed, your body gets a powerful cue: it’s time to either nod off or be romantic.

Relaxing bedtime rituals to try

  • Read a book or magazine by a soft light
  • Take a warm bath
  • Listen to soft music
  • Do some easy stretches
  • Wind down with a favorite hobby
  • Listen to books on tape
  • Make simple preparations for the next day

Eat right and get regular exercise

Your daytime eating and exercise habits play a role in how well you sleep. It’s particularly important to watch what you put in your body in the hours leading up to your bedtime.

  • Stay away from big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Also be cautious when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. Many people think that a nightcap before bed will help them sleep, but it’s counterintuitive. While it may make you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night. To avoid this effect, stay away from alcohol in the hours before bed.
  • Cut down on caffeine. You might be surprised to know that caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it! Consider eliminating caffeine after lunch or cutting back your overall intake.
  • Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, only make things worse.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking causes sleep troubles in numerous ways. Nicotine is a stimulant, which disrupts sleep, plus smokers experience nicotine withdrawal as the night progresses, making it hard to sleep.

If you’re hungry at bedtime

For some people, a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates, it may help calm the brain and allow you to sleep better. For others, eating before bed can lead to indigestion and make sleeping more difficult. Experiment with your food habits to determine your optimum evening meals and snacks.

If you need a bedtime snack, try:

  • Half a turkey sandwich
  • A small bowl of whole-grain, low-sugar cereal
  • Granola with low-fat milk or yogurt
  • A banana

You’ll also sleep more deeply if you exercise regularly. You don’t have to be a star athlete to reap the benefits—as little as 20 to 30 minutes of daily activity helps. And you don’t need to do all 30 minutes in one session. You can break it up into five minutes here, 10 minutes there, and still get the benefits. Try a brisk walk, a bicycle ride, or even gardening or housework.

Some people prefer to schedule exercise in the morning or early afternoon as exercising too late in the day can stimulate the body, raising its temperature. Even if you prefer not to exercise vigorously at night, don’t feel glued to the couch, though. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.

Get anxiety and stress in check

Do you find yourself unable to sleep or waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. When you wake up or can’t get to sleep, take note of what seems to be the recurring theme. That will help you figure out what you need to do to get your stress and anger under control during the day.

If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, especially about things outside your control, you need to learn how to manage your thoughts. For example, you can learn to evaluate your worries to see if they’re truly realistic and replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts. Even counting sheep is more productive than worrying at bedtime.

If the stress of managing work, family, or school is keeping you awake, you may need help with stress management. By learning how to manage your time effectively, handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm, positive outlook, you’ll be able to sleep better at night.

Relaxation techniques for better sleep

Relaxation is beneficial for everyone, but especially for those struggling with sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. Some simple relaxation techniques include:

  • Deep breathing. Close your eyes, and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.
  • Visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.

Ways to get back to sleep

It’s normal to wake briefly during the night. In fact, a good sleeper won’t even remember it. But if you’re waking up during the night and having trouble falling back asleep, the following tips may help.

  • Stay out of your head. The key to getting back to sleep is continuing to cue your body for sleep, so remain in bed in a relaxed position. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over the fact that you’re awake or your inability to fall asleep again, because that very stress and anxiety encourages your body to stay awake. A good way to stay out of your head is to focus on the feelings and sensations in your body.
  • Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you find it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, deep breathing, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Remind yourself that although they’re not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still help rejuvenate your body.
  • Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up. Also avoid screens of any kind—computers, TV, cell phones, iPads—as the type of light they emit is stimulating to the brain. A light snack or herbal tea might help relax you, but be careful not to eat so much that your body begins to expect a meal at that time of the day.
  • Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when you are fresh and it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a brainstorm or great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive and creative after a good night’s rest.

Make sleep a priority at the weekends or on your nonworking days so you can pay off your sleep debt.

Posted by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT, author of Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise which is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  The book is also available for purchase for Kindle and Nook.  Direct purchase can be made of the book from http://grief-works.org/book.php.

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Two Lies About Holiday Grief That Hurt Mourners

The holiday season can be extremely stressful for those grieving the loss of a loved one.  In our culture there is unnecessary pressure upon all of us all to make the holidays perfect.  Of course, that perfect, idealized holiday season seen in Norman Rockwell paintings, holiday movies and in Hallmark greeting cards isn’t likely to happen.  Whenever people are involved, things aren’t going to absolutely perfect.  No matter how hard people try to be perfect, they just aren’t.

Mourners are already stressed in their grief journey.  They don’t need to give into the pressure to “do the holidays” perfectly…especially if some of the traditional ways of honoring the holidays has become terribly painful for them to do while in their grief.

Here are two major cultural lies about holiday grief that mourners need to avoid:

  • Don’t grieve openly during the holidays. You’ll ruin the holidays for yourself and others. Grief does not take a holiday. No matter how much you try to suppress your grief during the holidays the grief emotions will still be there and need to be expressed. Spend most of your time in places and with people who make you feel safe, supported and concerned for. If you have grief outbursts during holiday or family events, weather the embarrassment you may feel and know that people who really care about you will understand you and your need to grieve.Grief outbursts and unexpected crying may happen to you as a griever during the holidays. Both will also pass. Your grief will not ruin the holidays. If anyone is upset that you show your honest feelings during the holidays, it is not your fault. It’s their fault for choosing to be upset, to not respect your feelings and to be selfish.
     
  • You must do the holidays as usual. Everybody expects it.  Everyone and every family has holiday traditions. Some of your friends and family members may put pressure on you as a griever to return this holiday season to those long-held traditions as a way of “getting on with your life” after your loss.   Some may even become offended when you will not hold to long-held traditions saying that you are being selfish. They may even say, “If we don’t do the holidays as usual, it just won’t feel like the holidays.”As a mourner facing the holidays, you have the right to do and say what you feel comfortable doing or saying. This holiday season mark off your list of traditional duties anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or doesn’t seem meaningful to you now. Instead of hosting the holidays at your house, suggest that someone else act as host. Instead of cooking the entire holiday feast yourself, suggest that the family and friends have a holiday potluck and buffet. If you don’t feel like putting up the tree, decorating the house or mailing out Christmas cards, then don’t.

    Know your limitations during this stressful holiday season. Don’t fill your schedule with back to back activities. Don’t overdo. Let family and friends know ahead of time what your plans are. Maybe you won’t be spending the whole day with them. Instead let them know ahead of time that you will be there for a meal and then go home to rest. Don’t give into their pressure on you to do more than you can emotionally and physically.

    Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT, author of Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise which is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  The book is also available for purchase for Kindle and Nook.  Direct purchase can be made of the book from http://grief-works.org/book.php.

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4 Tips for Helping Mourners During the Holidays

While you and I prepare for the holiday season just a few days away, many of our friends and loved ones live in dread of the special days ahead when families gather and they will be reminded of their grief and their loss.  In their homes there will be an empty chair at the dinner table and a vacant spot around the Christmas tree when gifts are opened.  During a time that used to be overflowing with joy and celebration, those in grief will be reminded of the huge hole in their heart left by the death of someone significant in their lives.

You can help mourning friends and loved ones this year with your presence, support and encouragement.

  • Reach out to them to let them know you are thinking about them. Let them know that you are always available to listen and be there for them.
  • Invite them to share a meal or part of the holidays with you and your family. Mourners should never be alone.
  • Listen to them as they cry, share their stories, experiences, emotions and fears during the holidays without judging what they say or feel. And please, don’t give any unsolicited advice.
  • Help them with their holiday chores – shopping, decorating, or preparing their home for holiday visitors. Offer to babysit children while they take a break to pamper themselves.

Many are giving their mourning friends the gift of comfort this holiday season by helping them to understand grief–that mourning is natural, normal and healthy.  Grief is simply the overflowing love in their hearts for that person who no longer is physically present.  Mourners need to know that grieving in healthy ways honors a valuable life and helps to heal their emotional wounds caused by the death of a loved one.

Don’t let your fears of doing or saying the wrong thing keep you from doing anything at all for your mourning friend or family member during these difficult holidays ahead.

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 http://grief-works.org/book.php . 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 http://grief-works.org.

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Death Is A Very, Very Long Time, But Not Forever

The following is a children’s story written by my daughter Sarah, who lost her mother and two year old sister twenty-one years ago.  This story appears in my copyrighted book, Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief With Hope and Promise (Xulon Press, 2011) available at http://grief-works.org/book.php and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Today my daughter Sarah is 30 years old, volunteers as a grief group facilitator with children at GriefWorks in Dallas Texas, and is working on her Masters in Counseling.   This story written from her perspective as a child of nine who lost her mother and sister  explains her personal grief journey for other children and their parents to hear and understand.

DEATH IS A VERY, VERY LONG TIME, BUT NOT FOREVER

My name is Sarah and this is my family.

Something really bad happened to my family.

My family was in a car crash, and my mommy and my baby sister died.

Everyone says that they are up in heaven now with God.

Daddy says that death is a very, very long time, but not forever.

My family is very sad and we miss them very much.

Lots of people come and do things for our family, like bring us food.

My aunt even comes to stay with us for a while.

Lots of grown-ups say that they are sorry, but I don’t know what for.

Lots of times I cry, because I miss them; and that’s okay.

Sometimes I don’t cry, and that’s okay too.

Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault.

Sometimes I’m mad at other people, like it’s their fault.

Sometimes I wish my mommy and my sister were still with me, and sometimes I wish I was up in heaven with them.

I ask God why, because I don’t understand why they’re gone.

Daddy says nobody, but God knows why.

I go to a group with a lot of kids like me who are sad, because they miss someone who died.

The grown-ups there ask a lot of questions.

Sometimes I can talk about what happened, and that’s okay

Sometimes my heart hurts too much to talk, and that’s okay too.

Sometimes my friends ask me questions…sometimes people ask about my mommy, because they don’t know…sometimes people ask if I have a sister…sometimes I don’t know what to say to them.

Sometimes seeing other people’s mommies and sisters makes me sad.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes I forget that they are gone, and it hurts when I remember.

Sometimes when I’m dreaming, I see my mommy and my sister, and I am so happy, but then my heart hurts when I wake up.

I will never stop missing my mommy and my sister, but I am starting to be less sad.

Death is a very, very long time, but not forever.

 

Love you lots,

Sarah

 

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When Is Grief Unhealthy?

There are cases where the coping skills a mourner is using to deal with his or her grief become destructive and unhealthy to the mourner and others around them. An unhealthy mourning style can be indicated when the observed mourning negatively affects for a duration of time such factors as:

  • The mourner’s ability to function in everyday, necessary tasks at home, at work or in social settings
  • The quality of the mourner’s lifestyle
  • The mental and emotional wellbeing of the mourner
  • The physical wellbeing of the mourner
  • The stability and strength of important relationships in the mourner’s life
  • The ability of the mourner to make continued progress in moving toward reconciliation of his or her grief.

    Every grief is complicated in its own way. There are certain aspects of every grief that cause the individual mourner to struggle. Complicated grief generally refers to when mourners make no progress or become stuck in their grief.
    There are two types of complicated grief generally speaking. The first type is when there are no observable signs of grief or progress being made.
    Often observers watching a mourner with this complicated grief would not even know this person had suffered a loss.  Again, another factor in determining complicated grief is when the mourner appears to be making no progress in his or her grief.   Sustained arrested grief progress indicates a mourner may need professional help and support.  Do not rely upon assumptions reached by what you subjectively deem as unhealthy or abnormal mourning behavior from personal experience. Many times well-meaning comforters and caregivers around mourners can cause additional emotional trauma by mislabeling a mourner as abnormal, unhealthy or inappropriate.

    Here is a good thought to keep in mind for friends and caregivers viewing mourning behavior that they find troubling. The determination or diagnosis of unhealthy or complicated grief should be left to professional caregivers and mental health professionals.

    The second type of complicated grief involves the hyper-exaggeration of a natural grief response. This might be uncontrollable crying, wailing, and physical reactions displayed usually only during the initial period after a loved one’s death. The difference is in complicated grief this uncontrollable reaction often happens each time the mourner re-visits the loss.

    Please remember there is no one way to mourn and heal. Each individual mourner will vary in what natural reactions in grief they personally experience. There is no one set of rules for how to navigate through grief in a healthy way. There are only suggestions based on the commonly held experiences and feelings of a majority of mourners.

    Sustained difficulties in one or a combination of these areas can indicate that the mourner is in need of additional support or help. Professional help may be indicated depending upon the severity of the difficulties.

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 http://grief-works.org/book.php . 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 http://grief-works.org.

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The Real Struggle in Grief

We simply don’t want it to be.  We can’t accept it.  AND most of all we don’t want to accept it.  When we first received the news of our loved one’s death, we rejected the news with such comments as:

  • No, it can’t be.
  • Are you sure? Somebody must have made a mistake!
  • How can that be?  I just talked with him/her yesterday!
  • Maybe there’s been a mix-up in the medical charts.  Hospitals can make a mistake!
  • No! No!! No!!! No!!!! NO!!!!!

With every fiber of our being we fight a reality that we can’t wrap our minds around.  How can someone be present one moment…and gone the next? We are like the two year old who has been told NO.  He/she throws a temper tantrum with his/her whole body because he/she is rejecting a reality that he/she will not tolerate.  When the news of our loved one is delivered we fight totally a reality that we will not tolerate or accept at that moment…mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  How can it be?  It was never meant to be this way!

That’s where the true struggle in grief comes.  We are forced to accept what to us is the unacceptable.  Even 21 years after the deaths of my wife and daughter in a car accident, I still have moments where I think to myself, “I just can’t believe that they really died!”  In my mind I know the hard, cold, cruel reality that Cindy and Katie did die, but there is a part of me that cannot accept an unacceptable truth.

Over time those thoughts and feelings of rejecting the truth about the deaths happen less and less, even though the reality will always be terrible, horrible, and unacceptable. I am learning to accept my reality, adjusting to the reality, and hoping for the future.  But that feeling of No, No, No will never fully go away until I see my loved ones again.

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 http://grief-works.org/book.php . 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 http://grief-works.org.

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What If I’m Angry at God Because of a Death?

I can never forget a statement made by the facilitator of the second grief support group I attended early in my grief. He started off by saying, “I want you to feel free to express whatever you feel. If you’re angry, tell us. And if you’re angry at God, tell us and Him. He already knows anyway.”

That was a light bulb moment for me. I suppose that I had thought there was this secret compartment in my brain where my thoughts were shielded from God’s sight. I immediately thought to God and to myself, “Yeah, I am angry with you, God.”   I quickly added, “Now I don’t want to be, but I am.”  From that moment on, I felt freed and safe to express in a healthy way any emotion that I felt.

Years later in prayer to God I was brought to my knees with a second confession of anger toward my Heavenly Father. I realized at that moment that I was not only upset with God for taking Cindy and Katie physically out of my life, but I was also angered at Him for leaving me here to live and grieve. In my mind, it would have been much better for God to take my entire family to Heaven to be together with Him.

I tell you about my anger toward God for one reason. I told God I was angry at Him not just once but twice. I wasn’t struck with lightning, and He continues to bless me and my family.

God knows how you and I feel as mourners and why. I believe God gave us grief and all its emotions to help us transition through the losses He knows we will experience.   He is a loving, understanding, merciful and forgiving Father who wants you to heal. Mourners, speak to God from an honest and sincere heart. Let Him know how you feel and let Him help you heal.

Copyrighted 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 http://grief-works.org/book.php . 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 http://grief-works.org.

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An Open Letter to You From a Griever

First of all, I want you to know that I understand that you want to help me with my grief. Second, I know that you mean well in what you say and do for me. Third, I get that you really care, but I have some things I need to tell you so that you can help me in better ways. And remember, I am telling you this because I care about you as my friend.

    • Simply be there for me. Your presence and your availability when I need help most is what I really need.   Don’t hover or try to direct me. Just be there for me. I need to know that I am not alone during the darkest, most painful times of my grief
    • Just listen to me. You don’t have to say anything…just listen. I have this overwhelming need to remember my loved one, to recall my favorite memories and to share my grief experience honestly. When you just listen to me without judging or giving advice, it makes me feel like what I think, feel and talk about is important to someone besides just me. Your listening validates my feelings, my grief and me as a worthy, normal person
    • Don’t try to fix me or solve my struggles. You can’t. Nothing you say or do will solve things or my life at this moment. The only thing that would fix me or my grief now would be if someone brought my loved one back from the dead. And that won’t happen. I’m not looking for solutions or quick fixes…just listening ears and a caring heart.
    • Let me know that you have heard me. Reflect back to me what you hear. I simply want to be heard and understood.
    • Let me know I am safe to share whatever I need to share with you.   Keep what I share between us. Remember that when I show my true self and grief emotions openly and freely, I am saying that you make me feel safe to do so.
    • And when you do speak, let me know how much you care. Sprinkle your words with encouragement and support rather than empty platitudes and clichés.

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 http://grief-works.org/book.php . 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 http://grief-works.org.

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Helping Grieving Children Returning to School

This month thousands of children and teens will be returning to the classroom in North Texas and around the U.S. after the death of a close family member.  According to statistics 4% of single parents in the U.S. are widowed, and 13.9% of those widowed parent households have children 12 and under.  Additional children headed back to school have lost a sibling, grand parent or significant loved one.

These mourning children and teens will not only be facing the stresses of a new school year; they will have the additional stress of dealing with all the changes in their lives caused by the death of their loved ones.  Unfortunately many of these children will not receive adequate support and comfort to meet their special needs.

What do mourning children returning to school need? First of all they need to feel safe, secure and cared for.  After a death, the world becomes a scary, unpredictable place for any age mourner, but especially for a child.  They need a good support system of adults and authority figures.

Second, children in grief need to feel a sense of normalcy.  When a death occurs, the mourning child often feels that they are no longer like all the other children in their school.  In addition children in grief need to have a predictable schedule and to be involved in normal activities for children of their age.

In order to get these two primary needs met, grieving children must not only have a good support system in their home and community, but they need a good support system in their school as well.  Here are some practical suggestions for parents or caregivers for grieving children to help create that good support system at the school.

  • Educate yourself on the grief process and the special needs of mourning children before talking with your child or anyone at the school. This will help you to formulate an effective plan to meet the special needs of your child as they return to school.
  • Inform the school staff of the child’s loss. Include at least the principal, teacher, school counselor and school nurse on the list of people you inform.
  • Schedule a private session with your child’s teacher to discuss any concerns that you have about his or her return to school and the classroom.
  • Discuss with the teacher and other staff what information can be shared with the child’s friends and fellow classmates concerning the loss. Prior to this discussion assure your child that you will share only information that is necessary for others to know. Ask the staff to prepare the other students by explaining that your child has had a loss and needs understanding and support from them.
  • Encourage your child to talk with his or her teacher (and the school counselor if possible) to share the loss and their experience in their own words.
  • Assure your child that they don’t have to answer every question if they feel uncomfortable doing so. Tell her or him that they have a right to privacy when questioned by anyone at the school.
  • Assure your child that the teacher, counselor and other staff will be available to approach when he or she feels that need to talk.
  • Set up a plan for when your child may be overwhelmed by his or her grief at school. One suggestion is to arrange between the child and school staff for special permission for the child to leave the classroom and go to a designated safe place to receive support and comfort. The child should understand that this permission is not an excuse to get out of everyday school work or responsibilities.
  • Make sure the school has your phone numbers and contact information in case of emergencies.

For additional information on helping children or teens in grief, go to the Resources section of the website http://grief-works.org  call ChristianWorks for Children at 972-960-9981.

 

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