Understanding the Five Principles of Grief

PRINCIPLE # 1: Grief is the natural response to loss.

What you experience after a loss is absolutely normal to human beings. Grief is the love or emotional investment expressed for the person who died.  So in your struggle with the pain of the moment you can be comforted that you are not alone in the struggle.  You can find comfort also in knowing you are not suffering an abnormal emotional, mental, spiritual or physical state that needs to be cured or corrected. Often mourners feel that no one else can understand what they are going through.  There are some common emotions and experiences to which the majority of mourners can relate.  These shared emotions and experiences can give you the individual mourner an encouraging message that you have the power to endure the pain of grief if fellow mourners have endured their pain. You can find strength to endure the emotional pain of the moment if you understand what you feel is a normal human response and a continued expression of the love and emotions you have for the one who died. The relationship with your loved one has not died; it has just changed and can be maintained.  The pain of the moment is well worth bearing to be able to carry your loved one into the future with you.

PRINCIPLE # 2: Emotions experienced during grief are neither good nor bad. They just are.

One reason that many mourners avoid the painful emotions of grief is because they fear the loss of control and rationality that seem to happen when they allow themselves to experience uncomfortable, demanding emotions.  Let’s state the obvious.  Control is an illusion.  We think we have control in our lives until something we would not choose happens – such as the death of a loved one. No one controls their grief emotions.  Who would choose the unpleasant, uncomfortable and often painful feelings of sadness, depression, anger, guilt or regret?  Yet these are part of a healthy grief experience. If grief has a purpose as an emotional transition toward healing, then maybe the emotions of grief have purpose also. Grief emotions could be helping us to become reflective, to process grief and to take a detailed inventory of how the loss has impacted us.  With that inventory we are equipped with valuable information that will help us to choose our path toward joy and healing.
PRINCIPLE # 3: Grief emotions will be dealt with…now or later.

No matter what the mourner does he or she cannot escape painful emotions after the death of a loved one.  Remember the last time you were on your cell phone and a child tried to get your attention?  That child was relentless.  No matter how much you passionately gestured and mouthed that you were on the phone, that child needing your attention did not give up.  They got your attention. Grief emotions will not be denied.  They are relentless and will be dealt with now or later.  Again no one controls or chooses their emotions, especially during grief.  Think of a huge cauldron with a fire going under it.  If the logs in the fire suddenly break, the flames surge around the cauldron.  Then everything on the bottom of the pot boils up to the top.  Grief emotions are the same way.  When a loved one dies, the uncomfortable, unpleasant and painful emotions of grief boil to the top.  Mourners can’t always control or choose what they feel. Although mourners cannot select their emotions, they can determine how they respond to grief and its pain.  Mourners are not powerless victims of grief. They are empowered with the choice of responding in ways that are healthy, appropriate, and constructive.  These choices can position them to endure the pain of grief and to progress toward health and healing.

PRINCIPLE # 4: Grief is an individualized experience. Everyone does not grieve in the same predictable way.

The individual mourner’s grief is shaped primarily by the one-of-a-kind, unique in all the universe relationship that they had with their loved one.  Therefore, every mourner’s grief is different and unique although there are commonalities or shared experiences among mourners.   No one formula, recipe, set of rules, therapy or solution for surviving grief fits all. With the support of other mourners, the individual has to navigate his or her way through his or her own unique grief.  First though the individual mourner has to acknowledge, experience and express their very personal grief emotions.  The only way to survive is not to avoid grief and its pain, but to go through it.

PRINCIPLE # 5: Grief will not always be like it is in the beginning. As time passes, the grief experience changes.

This basic principle of grief can give the mourner a reason to hope.  In the beginning of grief there is a very intense emotional pain.  Initially grief emotions and pain can be overwhelming and all-consuming.  For the person new to grief, everything in their life can be a memory of the devastating loss.  Desperate mourners often ask, “Will I ever feel joy again?” The good news for mourners is that over time grief and pain change. Time does not heal all wounds, but time gives opportunities for the mourner and his or her grief to change and become different.  Does it get better?  Better is not the right word.  Different describes the nature of grief as it changes.

An excerpt from the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT 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. He can be followed on Twitter at griefminister01.

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What Mary Tyler Moore Taught Me About Grief

“Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?”
— Lyrics from “Love Is All Around”  from the Mary Tyler Moore TV series

Legendary television icon and talented entertainer Mary Tyler Moore touched countless lives and taught all of us some very important things during her lifetime. Through her body of work and her dedication to causes such as the fight for those suffering with diabetes she passed along lessons that will stick with us through our lives whether we are consciously aware of those lessons or not.

On the Mary Tyler Moore show, her TV persona Mary Richards taught women that they could find the courage and strength to keep following their dreams of success in a career and in life. Mary also taught her loyal viewers and fans the importance and transformative power of positivity, optimism and “spunk” (even though her TV boss Lou Grant played by Ed Asner hated “spunk.”)  She taught us that being vulnerable and compassionate could be combined with an inner strength to make a real difference in the lives around her.  For one half hour each week Mary Richards made us believe that no matter how dark our lives might seem that we could smile and that “love is all around.”

Mary Tyler Moore the person gave us all an example of true courage in her personal health struggles with diabetes which eventually brought about her death from pneumonia. She also showed us her strengths and vulnerability in coping with losses including the deaths of her son Richie in 1965, her younger sister Elizabeth in 1961 and her second husband Grant Tinker in 2016.  Through her loves and losses she lived a life that expressed the lyrics “you’re gonna make it after all.”

But I want to personally thank Mary Tyler Moore for teaching me at an early age important lessons about grief. On October 25, 1975 in the memorable and hilarious episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” Mary Richards and the WJM-TV staff do their best to cope with the accidental, bizarre death of their co-worker Chuckles the Clown who hosted the station’s children’s show.

Chuckles dies in a freak accident while being the grand marshal of a parade. Dressed as Peter Peanut, one of his TV show characters, Chuckles is killed when a rogue elephant in the parade decides to shell him.  In dealing with the loss Mary Richards’ co-workers move from shock to jokes pointing out the ridiculousness of the events that took poor Chuckles the Clown’s life.

Mary is offended by the jokes at Chuckles’ expense and demands that her co-workers give the deceased co-worker the respect he should receive after death. But the tables are turned at the funeral for Chuckles, when Mary’s co-workers show somber respect and Mary struggles to stifle laughing bubbling up in her during the eulogy.  Mary’s outbursts of laughter interrupt the eulogy and upsets mourners as the minister talks about the many characters portrayed by Chuckles the clown on his kiddie show.  To see the funeral scene from “Chuckles Bites the Dust go to https://www.google.com/search?q=chuckles%20the%20clown%20funeral%20scene

What lessons can you learn from watching fictional television characters Mary Richards, Ted Baxter, Lou Grant, Sue Ann Nivens, Murray Slaughter and Georgette Baxter in dealing with the accidental death of a kiddies’ TV show clown? What do we learn about ourselves and grief as we watch Mary Richards move from disgust that the deceased is not being respected to uncontrollable laughter at a funeral as she hears honors paid to a man who portrayed such characters as Mr. Fee Fi Foh, Aunt Yoo-hoo, and Peter Peanut?  Here’s what I learned and I share with other mourners:

  • Grief emotions are unpredictable, uncontrollable and unique to the mourner. In grief, emotions just happen and they are neither good nor bad. They just are. Often others may tell us and we may tell ourselves that these emotions are unwarranted and inappropriate. The truth is we do not pick or control our grief emotions. They may be unpleasant, uncomfortable or painful. But they are not bad in of themselves. They are part of the human experience in loss. We can’t choose how we feel, but we can choose how we respond to our grief emotions. The emotions we feel, whatever they be, are part of our human experience of loss. They help us process our grief, start healing and progress in life. Don’t ever tell a mourner “You shouldn’t feel that way!” The mourner’s resulting grief emotions are unique to him/her and their unique relationship with the loved one who died. 
  • Grief emotions expressed honestly are an honor for the person who has died. When I officiate funerals or memorials, I give those attending permission to feel and express whatever emotions they experience. I tell them if they feel like tearing up and crying out loud as I talk of the person honored that that is okay. Expressing sadness when remembering the loved one honors their memory and life. I also give them permission to smile or laugh when I talk about their loved one. Expressing joy or humor when remembering the loved one also honors their memory and life. Let mourners have their emotions and express them no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel or if you consider them inappropriate. Mourners need to accept their honest emotions and express them to heal.
  • Grief emotions expressed honestly and openly are healing and move us through grief. Expressing grief emotions is self-care for the huge emotional wound of loss. Without it grief is unhealthy and prolongs healing for the mourner. Avoiding grief and its emotions is actually delaying the healing that mourners hope for.

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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Watch Out for Grief’s Ambushes

It would seem that at some point in your grief journey that grief could no longer hold out any surprises for you. But that isn’t the case.

After a weekend of clearing out closets of my accumulated stuff, I was ambushed by grief and by an ugly old suitcase. After over twenty-three years of grief journey, I decided to take out to the dumpster an old floral designed suitcase along with the rest of my no longer needed stuff in my closet.  At one point I am sure that I thought all of this stuff was important.  But now the suitcase along with all my other junk was just taking up space in my life and had no purpose or meaning for me now.

Then on the way to dumpster with the suitcase in hand, grief ambushed me. Remembering my wife Cindy without my help picking out a family suitcase for our trips.  A girly-looking, rose red and gray suitcase that made me cringe every time we travelled with it. Remembering  the embarrassment as I had to grab the feminine-looking suitcase from the baggage claim area in front of all those people.  Remembering how me and the kids joked about how our family suitcase had to be the ugliest piece of baggage ever.

But that’s not all that grief ambushed me with. There were the memories of trips with Cindy and my family on holidays and vacations.  Remembering seeing Cindy and that suitcase whenever I picked her up at the airport from trips and being so glad to see her again.  My sweetest memory connected to that ugly suitcase was seeing a smiling Cindy carrying our newly adopted Katie.  At that time our family felt truly complete with the addition of that sweet baby.

Then in an instant I was feeling regret that I had ever hated anything that Cindy had thought was beautiful. Regrets that all I had now physically in my touch that was part of Cindy and our life together was an ugly old, but memory-rich piece of baggage.

That’s when grief’s ambush was complete. There was an overwhelming sadness as I remembered all the things connected to Cindy and my daughter Katie that I had said “goodbye” to in the last twenty-three years. I tossed the unneeded baggage into the dumpster and began to sob. How many more times will I have to say “goodbye”?

What I have learned in twenty three years of goodbye’s is that you are never far enough into the grief journey to avoid a grief ambush or to say farewell again to another very important part of your relationship with the loved one.

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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Things You Never Want to Hear in Your Grief

After over twenty years of facilitating grief support groups and counseling mourners, I have learned that nothing sparks a grieving person’s conversation more than asking “What are some of the dumb or thoughtless statements people have made to you in trying to help you with your grief?”

Suddenly the griever wakes up from his or her solemn, quiet demeanor into an animated dissertation of clichés, “inspirational” statements and glib responses from often well-meaning friends and family members that have caused them to experience shock, disbelief and sometimes emotional pain.

Here is a list of just a few of the things you might want to avoid saying to a mourner:

  • You know they are in a better place. True. But that doesn’t make me miss them less or feel any less sad.
  • You know that you will see them again someday. Again true. I know that but I still miss them.
  • Everything happens for a reason. Does it? Or is that what we tell ourselves and others to make us feel better? It seems like in grief that life is pretty much random and without a perceivable purpose.
  • Something good will come from this. How do you know that? I know God uses all the events of our lives, good or bad, to work out His purpose. But this death will never be good. So don’t try to whitewash it or make it better.
  • This too shall pass. Okay, but how is that supposed to bring me comfort right now? I am mourning the loss of a person who is valuable and will be missed. No cliché takes that away. Let me grieve and heal.
  • I know exactly how you feel. I’m sorry, but no you don’t. My relationship with my loved one is unique and unlike any other relationship that has or will exist. We may have grief emotions and responses in common, but you’re grief is not exactly like mine. I am different from you. Don’t compare losses because one of our two different griefs will be discounted.
  • Just think about the good times and memories. In time maybe I will be able to do that. But right now I need to mourn the loss of a valuable person and all the future experiences that we could have had together.
  • He (or She) wouldn’t want you to be sad (or cry, or grieve) How can you know that? And how can you say that? Most likely you are the one right now that does not want me to cry because I make you feel uncomfortable or helpless to do anything.
  • They’ll always be in your heart. Yes, but I would so want them to be here with me physically now.
  • God never gives you more than you can stand. First, if that’s true then I wish to high heaven that He didn’t think so highly of me. Second, that’s a misquote of scripture that says God will not allow me to be tempted more than I can endure. (I Corinthians 10:13 …”But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear…”)
  • God needed (or loved) them more than you. Again, that might be true, but my heart right now is telling how much I love and miss them. Your attempt at comfort or consolation is not working.
  • Just remember: There’s always someone who has it worse than you. Yes, and I wonder if one of their friends is telling them the same thing in an effort to comfort them or short circuit their grief. This is not a contest to see who is worse off and has a greater right to suffer.
  • I thought you would be doing better by now. Well, honestly, so did I. But I am learning that grief takes time. It is a process and not an event to be completed and marked off my TO DO List. I am learning to be patient with me and my grief. Please be patient as I walk this path that I did not ask to travel.
  • You need to be strong for the rest of your family (or for others grieving). No, I need to mourn in a healthy way for myself and for them. I need to heal and to be a model of healthy grief for others who are also grieving.
  • You just need to get busy and forget about it. How can I just forget about them? They have been, still are and will always be an important part of who I am and how I live. And no amount of being busy can wipe out how much I love and miss them.
  • At least you had them for _____ (amount of time). That’s true, but their time with me wasn’t nearly long enough. If they had been with me one hundred years, I would still be wanting just one more day with them.
  • How old was he (or she)? What does their age have to do with anything? Are you saying they had lived long enough and therefore, I shouldn’t miss them? Yes, they may have lived a full life in the number of years they were with me. But their physical presence was a priceless treasure that I never wanted to end.
  • It was God’s Will. You don’t know that. So what gives you the right to say that?
  • It was her (or his) time to go. Maybe. Maybe not. Even if it was, that doesn’t change how I feel.
  • If you just trust more, you’ll be doing better. People who trust or have faith still grieve. No one of us is exempt from loss and grief.
  • Don’t ask “Why?” Just because I may never get any answers to my questions doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask. I am trying to make sense out of something that is senseless to me.

If you are wanting to help a mourner, think before you speak and choose your words of comfort carefully. Ask yourself:

  • Am I just saying something to be saying something?
  • Am I saying this because it brings me comfort or makes me look good?
  • Would this be something that I would appreciate hearing if I were in the emotional turmoil of grief?
  • Is the mourner in so much pain that they cannot hear the comfort or encouragement in this statement?
  • Should I simply keep quiet and listen?

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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Children: The Overlooked Grievers

Children are often the overlooked mourners. These young grievers unfortunately may never get their greatest emotional and spiritual needs met in dealing with their devastating loss. Why does this happen?


In the family, adults are dealing with their own grief. They don’t know what to do for themselves, much less what to do for hurting, grieving children.  To complicate the situation further, grieving children in a family or community are often pushed aside, chastised, punished and suddenly marked as “problem children” because they act out in protest to their loss.  The adults around them don’t understand that the child in grief is angry, upset, and scared….and the only coping skill they know to employ is protest, acting out and seeking attention in any way possible.  These are not problem children, but children with a problem.  They need the adults around them to provide comfort, encouragement and most importantly security.  Grieving children who are acting out and having trouble in school are often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD.  These troubled children will often display the symptoms of these two diagnoses.

In many communities, there are no grief support groups, agencies or professionals who reach out to grieving children. Our culture fosters two myths about children in grief. One myth is that children are too young to understand loss and therefore, they don’t grieve.  Another myth is that children grieve like little adults and can have their needs met exactly the way mourning adults do.  The truth is that children who are old enough to love are old enough to grieve (from Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition http://centerforloss.com). Children do grieve.  They grieve at the level of understanding they have at their developmental stage in life.  And children need support, encouragement, and instruction in order to develop healthy coping skills to deal with their loss.  Often when they fail to receive the needed support during grief, children will develop unhealthy coping skills which they will carry into their adult lives.  The result is unhealthy, unhappy adults dealing with emotional and spiritual life problems.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

You can reach out to grieving children at the time that they need you most. If you live in the Dallas-North Texas area, you can refer children and their families to GriefWorks (http://grief-works.org), a free children’s grief support ministry helping ages 5-18 and their adult family members who are struggling after the death of a loved one.  For more information about the GriefWorks program, call 972-960-9981 and ask for Larry Barber.

If you live outside of the Dallas-North Texas area you can start a program or services in your community especially for grieving children and teens.  One resource for helping you to do this is the BreakWay Grief Curriculum (copyright, ChristianWorks for Children).  For more information about the BreakWay Grief Curriculum, go to http://breakway.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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What Grieving Children Want Adults to Know

 As parents in a grieving family, we worry that we won’t do or say the right thing to help our children to grieve in healthy ways and to heal.  Here are just a few things that mourning children would like for the adults around them to know:

  • I want you to be there for me, but I don’t want you to hover or tell me how to grieve.
  • If you think I might want to talk, encourage me but don’t be pushy. I want to be able to ask questions and talk about the loss, but only when I want to.
  • Just because I’m not grieving in front of you doesn’t mean I’m not grieving or something is wrong with me. Sometimes I’m just not comfortable sharing with you. Sometimes it’s easier to talk with someone outside the family. And many times I feel more comfortable expressing my feelings to people my age.
  • Don’t take for granted that you know what I’m feeling. Let me explain my feelings and my grief experience to you.
  • It’s not your fault that you can’t make me feel better or protect me from the pain of grief. I need to go through my grief.   Just be there for me.
  • Do things for me because you care not because you feel guilty or sorry for me.
  • Don’t lie or hide the truth from me. If ever I needed to trust in you, it’s now.
  • Don’t be surprised that I don’t like changes or the unexpected. I’ve gone through too many changes already.
  • If I’m having a bad day, give me some slack. And when I react negatively to you, it’s not against you personally. It’s the grief.
  • I don’t expect that you will have all the answers to all my questions. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Don’t be surprised when I grieve differently from you and others in the family. My grief in my own unique experience.
  • Give me real answers and don’t say things that you think will make me feel better like “It’ll be all right,” “You’ll get over it,” or “I know what you’re going through.”
  • Don’t get worried if I don’t seem to feel anything. Sometimes I don’t and other times I am trying to determine exactly all the feelings I do have.
  • Understand when I just need to be by myself.
  • Understand when I’m angry that I may just be angry at the situation, not you.
  • Understand that when I complain of physical problems that it may not be all “in my head” or “just to get attention.”
  • Understand when I’m fearful that I worry what will happen next or who I might lost next.
  • Don’t tell me that I shouldn’t feel a certain way even if it doesn’t make any sense at all to you. I have a right to my feelings.
  • Listen to me when I talk and understand when I don’t want to.
  • Don’t try to put on a brave front just for me. I can usually tell when you’re faking. I know you are scared and grieving too.
  • Allow me to comfort you when you grieve. Understand I worry about you too.
  • Encouraging words and hugs are appreciated although I might not show it.

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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Love Never Dies: The Backstory of a Grief Journey

People ask how did the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief With Hope & Promise” come about?  The book comes from my personal grief story of losing my wife & daughter in May 1993 plus the grief experiences of many mourners in my grief support groups and grief counseling sessions.

Shortly after the publication of the book in 2011 the Huffington Post  and the Cleburne Times-Review published an article on the Love Never Dies backstory. Here is a link to that article: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/1068035.html  

Posted 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 2016 marks the 23rd anniversary of the deaths of my 37-year-old wife Cindy and my two-year-old adopted daughter Katie.  Twenty three years!  That’s 10 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 23 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.

23 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 twenty-third 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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Grief: It Doesn’t Have to Always Be This Way

For the last 23 years  I and my children, Christian and Sarah, have dreaded the month of May.  Every May 15 marked another anniversary and another reminder of the deaths of my 37 year old wife Cindy and my two year old daughter Katie in a horrific multi-car accident in Arlington.  Every May 1 we remembered the birthday of Katie, every May 9 we remembered the birthday of Cindy and every Mother’s Day Sunday while others celebrated their mothers and wives, we missed our dear Cindy and Katie.

I was beginning to think that dreading all of May would be my fate for the rest of my life…until now.  On May 28 my daughter Sarah married the love of her life Josh.  Now there is a new beginning for them and a new beginning for my family.  Now there are new and renewed hopes for the future for them and new hopes for the future for all of us.

I have told other countless mourners over my years as a grief counselor, author, educator and fellow mourner that:

  • Your grief will change.  Grief will not always be as it is now
  • God can take the bad that happens to you and bring about blessings
  • You and your life are bigger than your grief

But I never really believed any of that for me. Until now.  From this point on every May takes on a completely new meaning.  No dread.  No overwhelming sadness. Every May 28 there be love and joy to celebrate.

I will still miss Cindy and Kate.  I will still long to see them and be in their presence again.  I will wish that Cindy and Katie could have been present physically to see the joy we all shared May 28 and every May 28 yet to come.

But now I will look at May a little differently.  May is the month that God intervened in 2016 to bring joy, peace and hope back to me and my family.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.

Pictured below my daughter Sarah and her new husband and my new son Josh.

 

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The Pain of Mother’s Day for Grievers

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 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, grandmothers and great grandmothers 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 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 college 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. I looked over as my children’s heads were bowed in prayer.

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.”

That was the best Mother’s Day I had experienced in a long time.

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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