Why I Wrote “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope & Promise”

Why did I write the popular, faith-based grief survival guide Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope & Promise?  Here are the reasons that I felt this important book needed to be written:

  • I am convinced that the burden of grief can be changed and lightened by altering how mourners, caregivers and culture think about grief. I want mourners as much as realistically possible to have opportunities in their grief journey to be encouraged rather than discouraged.
  • I understand that grief is never easy. I also understand that with knowledge about the true nature and purpose of grief and with support, comfort, and encouragement from others, grief can become easier.
  • I have observed that long-held misunderstandings of grief by mourners, their caregivers and supporters, and the culture often create unnecessary complications for mourners in their grief and in their lives.
  • I wanted to share with others insights, knowledge and perspectives of grief which have proven to be helpful, encouraging and healing to a majority of those in grief. Most of all I wanted to share what I wished I had known about grief as I started my grief journey over nineteen years ago.
  • I take seriously the charge given to those who have experienced the comfort of God in the message of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
    All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside of us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort–we get a full measure of that, too.”
  • I want mourners to discover hope that they and their grief can change over time and the promise that they have available to them the resources to get through grief in healthy and 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”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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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Mother’s Day for Grievers Can Be Painful

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 . 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.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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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Over Twenty Years…And Still Grieving?

Over twenty years ago!  I can’t believe that this month May 2015 marks the 22nd anniversary of the deaths of my 37-year-old wife Cindy and my two-year-old adopted daughter Katie.  Twenty two years!  That’s nine years longer than the 13 years Cindy and I were married before her death.  They have both been gone from my life much longer than they were in my life.

I cannot believe that 22 years have passed.  And I cannot believe still that they actually died.  Along the way the time often has seemed like an eternity.  At other times during the grief journey it has felt to me like the losses had just taken place.  That is the strange, warped time perception that exists in grief.

Have I progressed?  Have I healed?  Am I where I’m supposed to be in my grief journey?  I don’t know.  Grief has been a part of my life for so long it is almost hard to imagine what it was like before that day – May 15, 1993 – when a multi-car  accident in Arlington Texas changed my life and my family so drastically.  Sometimes I wonder if grief hasn’t become too familiar to me.

Things continue to change drastically in my life and for my family but at a much slower pace now.  My children, Christian and Sarah, are mature adults living lives successfully on their own.  That’s as it should be.  I am proud of them and what they have become.  I am now a grief counselor and minister, two professions that I probably never would’ve chosen had the accident and the deaths not occurred.  Well-wishers and encouragers have told me that I am so blessed that God has made it possible for me to have a ministry to those struggling in grief.  I am blessed, and I thank God for my blessings every day.  But deep in my heart I know that I would gladly trade this ministry to have my wife Cindy and my daughter Katie back with me physically.

Just like every other mourner I have to learn to accept the reality of the deaths and my losses that my soul and my heart continually cry out in denial and protest over…even after 22 years.  I have accepted my new reality, but I still don’t have to like it.  Does that make me pathological in my grief?  Does that mean I am abnormal and suffering with complications that need professional help?  I don’t think so, but sometimes when I’m very tired and had enough of the grief, I wonder.

Grief is the overwhelming love for a person no longer physically present.  Mourning in healthy ways after the deaths of loved ones honors their valuable lives.  I never want to stop remembering, honoring and loving my wife Cindy and my daughter Katie.  Therefore the overwhelming love in my heart for them even in their absence must be expressed.  That overwhelming love comes out in my continuing grief.

22 years this May 15th. This anniversary is a milestone I would much rather forget.  But it is a milestone that helps to remind me of how far my family and I have come.  This twentieth anniversary is also a milestone that helps me to remember, to honor and to mourn the loss of two valuable people.  Please believe me that as much as I hate my grief journey, I know that my grief and my life well lived are the best monuments I can build to my wife and daughter.

I pray that God will continue to bless me and my family as long as the grief journey continues.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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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Tips for Who Should Be In Your Grief Support System

Grief is never easy, but your grief can become easier if you find the right support, encouragement, comfort and knowledge.  You need a good support system to help supply you with the help you need. You should not isolate or try to do grief all by yourself.

How do you find the right people for your support system?  The answer is in identifying and securing for yourself supporters and grief mentors – people with whom you can share your grief experiences, thoughts and feelings.  Supporters are people who can give you time, care and support. Grief mentors are those who have experienced death and grief in their lives and can be a source of encouragement, support, care and knowledge for you in your grief journey.

What should you look for candidates for your support system?

    • People who make you feel safe, comfortable and cared for.  You want to make sure these people can keep your personal information confidential.  Avoid anyone who you know likes to gossip. Find people you can trust.
    • People who are good listeners. You will not want to be with people who are judgmental or prone to give unsolicited advice. Spend as little time as possible with those people who tell you what to do. It’s okay to take advice, but don’t let people try to direct you or tell you that you are grieving in the wrong way. You want to find people who will care about what you say, think and feel. You want people who will hear you and let you know you have been heard and understood.
    • People who don’t immediately resort to trite clichés, inspirational quotes and scripture. Let your friends, family members and grief mentors know what you need and what things are comforting or not comforting to you.
    • People who are stable and living life in healthy ways.  No person will have the perfect family, relationships, career and life.   Look for someone who seems to be successful in living and enjoying their life.
    • People who have been a help to you or others.  Pick people who always seem to think about others first and don’t need the spotlight to be on them all the time.  Avoid the person who turns your discussions into his or her own grief processing session.  You also want to avoid the person who seems to always be saying they have had it worse in their grief or in their life.  If they are always comparing their grief to yours and not really listening, avoid them.
    • People who you admire and respect.
    • People who have not only knowledge but common sense.  People who you see make wise decisions.
    • People who are patient and understanding.
    • People who are warm, caring and would be willing to take a phone call from you anytime of the day or night.
    • People who can make you feel better just by being present.
    • Other mourners who are farther along in their grief journey than you are.  Ideally you want people who have at least one or more years of mourning under their belt. You can learn from their experience, example and mistakes.
    • Mourners who you feel may have a similar grief experience to yours.  (It is not necessary that they have the same exact type of loss or grief circumstances that you have experienced, but if they do, that would be helpful.)
  • What to Remember When Developing Your Support System:
  • Potential supporter or grief mentor who meets all of these qualifications is going to be a rare, special person indeed.  If you do find a person who meets all these qualifications, you will be very fortunate.
  • Don’t wear out anyone you pick as a supporter or grief mentor by monopolizing their time.  Don’t become clingy and overly dependent upon the person.  But at the same time, you do want people who have time to help you and that you can call on whenever you are in need.
  • The quality of your support system is more important than the quantity of people in your support system.
  • Keep contact names and information close by.

Who Can Be in Your Support System?

  • Family members
  • Church family members
  • Co-workers/Colleagues
  • Friends
  • Support group members
  • Helping professionals

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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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How Am I Doing in My Grief?

You know you are getting better in grief when:

  • You move from survival mode to beginning to return to your life and hope for the future.
  • You quit letting grief just happen to you and decide to take a more proactive stance in how you mourn.
  • You move from anger, frustration and irritability toward adapting to your new reality.
  • Thoughts about your loved one bring you more comfort than sadness.
  • You not only accept help from others but you begin reaching out to others in grief or crisis.
  • You begin to see your grief and mourning as a way to honor your loved one’s life and to express your continuing love for them.
  • You move from constant emotional turmoil and being negative to enjoying life once again and being positive.
  • You understand you hurt yourself by dwelling on the past and all of your regrets and guilt about your relationship with your loved one. You work toward forgiving yourself.
  • You quit obsessing on what lies ahead for you and your children. You quit living in worries, fears and anxieties about things that may never happen.
  • You quit focusing on the death and how your loved one died and begin focusing on how they lived, the love you have for them and what they gave you that can never be taken away.
  • You let yourself have fun and enjoy life.
  • You begin to realize that you can and will survive the experience of grief.
  • You accept your loss story and use it to help you heal and to help other mourners.
  • You gain strength and encouragement knowing how you have moved through the changes of grief. This strength and encouragement gives you confidence for the changes that still lie ahead in your grief journey.
  • You accept that sadness and depression are a part of grief that will change over time.
  • You decide to quit taking yourself and life so seriously. You know your loved one would not want your life to be totally ruined because they died.
  • Your dread of holidays and special days becomes less and less.
  • You start focusing on the things in your life to be thankful for.
  • You decide to always remember your loved one in meaningful ways that will honor their valuable life.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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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A Prayer for 2015

With the understanding that a Happy New Year begins with the changes we determine to make in ourselves, Dear God, in 2015 help us all:

  • To be open to new experiences with You,Your Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • To be open to learning something new from Scripture each time we read or hear it.
  • To have intimate “visits” and prayers with You throughout the day remembering that You are always present.
  • To live each minute in 2015 as if it is our last minute here.
  • To be intentional about our faith walk and have a plan on where we each want to be spiritually.
  • To be intentional about our relationships and have a plan for each for the future.
  • To always keep in mind where we are going and whom we are following.
  • To make a concerted effort to say only positive, encouraging statements to others.
  • To really want to treat others as we want others to treat us under the same circumstances.
  • To be mindful that each interaction with others creates memories and influence that can last forever. Help us to ask ourselves: How do we want to be remembered? How do we want to shape eternity for others and ourselves?
  • To be ready and willing to share our blessings with persons needing a blessing themselves.
  • To push pride aside and be ready and willing to accept blessings from others who want to share their blessings with us.
  • To be ready and willing to share our hope and faith with persons needing hope, support and encouragement.

In Christ’s name we ask this.

Amen

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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.

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 1 Comment

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 the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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.

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 1 Comment

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”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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.

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 1 Comment

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 the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

    The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

    Both English and Spanish versions are 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.

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | Leave a comment

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”  available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” 

Both English and Spanish versions are 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.

Posted in Grief Support, Spiritual Health | 2 Comments