Archive of ‘Grief and Loss’ category

Things I Learned After Getting Married During a Pandemic

As 2020 comes to a close, I cannot help but think how COVID-19 has not only altered so many aspects of our lives, but also the way in which we cope with those changes as individuals, families, and communities. One thing I have been reflecting on the most in relation to the pandemic are the weeks leading up to my wedding and how the pandemic helped me find gratitude and strength in all the uncertainty.

Planning a Wedding During a Pandemic

Planning a wedding during an unprecedented time where everyone is constantly trying to process and adapt to new information about this virus was v e r y stressful. And truth be told, I did not expect COVID would still be here by the time my wedding happened in August, but as you know it was more present than ever. As humans I believe that we have this amazing ability to adapt in all types of situations, which is what we ended up doing. Because most of my family and friends were unable to attend, we lived streamed all three days of the festivities and ceremonies. Everyone in attendance wore face coverings. There were hand sanitizing stations and temperature checks at every corner of the venue. Instead of giving away custom Koozies or other trinkets, we sent our guests home with mini monogrammed hand sanitizers. In short, my wedding was nothing like I imagined it would be and by accepting that I allowed myself to be fully present and happy on my special day. 


After reflecting on my own experience, there are a couple of final thoughts that come up for me that I believe may help others cope with the changes that COVID-19 has brought us all. 

Social connection

Social connections are important and while we may not be able to create them as easily during this pandemic, we can still continue to strive for it. Connecting with others may have changed from grabbing an impromptu coffee to having a scheduled Zoom date, but nonetheless when we make time to meet with others it makes us feel better. According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Dana Avey, “having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits” such as lowering anxiety and depression, regulating emotions, and increasing overall sense of wellbeing. 

Support System

Creating a support system that we can rely on can help us get through this challenging time by having a few people we can turn to for everyday advice, managing stress, or help in a crisis. Support systems will look differently to everyone and that is okay, just as long as the people who make up this system are genuine sources of comfort and guidance.  Research continually shows that people who have a network of supportive relationships live longer, have better health, and are more resilient in times of stress. And when you have people in your corner, they can also help you identify when you’re experiencing stress or even notice it before you do. 

Find Your New Normal

This pandemic is changing how we live, work, and go about our daily lives. After we wrap our mind around how we are all living in an unprecedented time, then only can we work towards trying to find our new normal. It won’t be easy and we may fail, but we can continue trying to live each day with grace and forgiveness for ourselves and others.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

When we try to avoid or ignore important thoughts and feelings, they always have a way of manifesting  either through our behaviors, words, emotions etc. If you realize that certain things keep coming up for you, take a breath and acknowledge them. Being attuned to your own state of being without labeling it as good or bad is a concept that is largely rooted in mindfulness. Being mindful or aware of your body, mind, or feelings does not only have health benefits such as stress reduction, reduced blood pressure, and self regulation, but it can also increase your own awareness and understanding of yourself. Here are some ways you can build your self-awareness. If you’re interested in mindfulness check out this website, which breaks down mindfulness and how to practice it using step by step instructions.

Written by: Geetha Pokala, LPC-Associate Supervised by Kirby Schroeder LPC-S, LMFT-S


Holiday Survival Guide – 2020 Edition

It is no surprise that our holiday season is going to look a little… different this year. As we wrap up the last two months of 2020, some may be feeling excitement as their favorite time of the year approaches, while others may be feeling anxious, dread, and sadness as they anticipate the upcoming months. Here are three realistic mental health tips to keep in mind as we enter the 2020 holiday season:

Make decisions that feel best for you.

Everyone has an opinion. Literally everyone. At the end of the day, the most important opinion to listen to when it comes to your decisions is your opinion. How are you feeling about family gatherings this year? When you think of a family gathering, do you feel a pit in your stomach or excitement? Whatever is coming up for you as you ponder upon this thought, honor it. Humans are intuitive by nature and we have an internal compass that helps us navigate through life and the difficult decisions that come with the journey. Different family members may feel differently about family gatherings this year, and that is okay! Avoid letting others dictate what you should (or shouldn’t) do; that is for you to decide. Try to advocate for yourself this holiday season by doing some self-reflection, honoring your feelings, and making (safe) decisions accordingly.

Give yourself time to grieve.

When we think of grief, we often associate it with the passing of someone we love dearly (including our beloved animals friends). Grief is also applicable to other changes in life that are less commonly recognized, such as the ending of a relationship or friendship, moving to a new city, transitioning from high school to college, transitioning from college into the working world, and even the ending of a habit, routine, or aspect of one’s life that was previously enjoyed. The connection between all these events is that they are major life transitions, both expected and unexpected. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly falls under the umbrella of unexpected changes! Once these transitions occur, we then experience an internal understanding that life is not going to be the same moving forward. Grief is a natural response to loss; it is not a comfortable experience, but it is an important part of the life journey for human beings. So, what do we do to help process these heavy, uncomfortable, and confusing feelings? We acknowledge them, feel them, and honor them. For healing to begin, the pain and uncomfortable feelings must be faced and not denied. If denied, the grieving process is prolonged. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve and each individual person has a grieving process that is unique to them. For this reason, do not let anyone tell you how to feel, and do not tell yourself how you should feel either.

Make time for yourself.

Self-care is something that is often talked about yet rarely understood. At its core, it is all about carving out time for yourself to do something that brings you joy. It helps refuel us rather than take energy from us. What do you need to feel your best? Is it exercise, quiet reading time, or just a moment to sit in quiet? Self-care doesn’t have to consume hours of time, simply being aware of what you need to feel your best and being intentional about carving out time to make it happen over the course of a week, may be the act that you need to remind yourself that no matter what happens, you have your own back.

With this in mind, know that there is no “right” way to do the holidays this year other than what feels right for you and those you love. We must remember to respect the decisions of others without judgement and apply this same understanding and respect to ourselves. If you are feeling on the fence about making a decision or don’t quite know what your comfort level is just yet, check out this helpful article by the CDC regarding how to safely gather this holiday season. Well wishes and safety to everyone this holiday season.

Written by: Taylor Vest, LPC-Intern Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S

Being a Caregiver Changed My Life For the Better

Being a caregiver was the hardest job I ever did. For 16 years, I served as a caregiver to older adult family members during their last illnesses. The work was exhausting and emotionally draining. I slowly lost my loved ones to Alzheimer’s disease and/or cancer. I struggled to maintain my full-time job while caring for my loved ones. As their health worsened, I gradually eliminated other activities until there was essentially no free time, and not nearly enough sleep. I attended to my loved ones’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs at end of life. I grieved each loved one who died.

Being a caregiver was the most fulfilling job I ever did. I wouldn’t trade those precious years as a caregiver, or the intense months of end-of-life caregiving, for anything in the world. I learned to carry on, even when I felt empty, depleted, and inadequate. I learned to draw strength from my faith, family, and friends. I learned to show my loved ones that I loved them for who they were, not for what they did. I learned to speak by my actions, when I could no longer reach my loved ones by my words. I learned that the most profound communication is without words. I realized that caregiving was the work that I truly loved—although it was not the work for which I had been educated.

Being a caregiver led to my new career. After my loved ones died, and I was alone, I felt lost. I went to a therapist. He said that I was experiencing normal grief, plus a need for a midlife career change. After he guided me through a long, careful exploration, I realized that I wanted to care for older adults, including those who are nearing end of life; and that I wanted to be a counselor. My therapist suggested that I get a master’s in social work. In the summer between my grad school years, I chose to take a certification course in caring for persons with dementia. I learned that my path from a personal dedication to a professional one was not unusual. Each participant in the class—whether instructor or student—had been a caregiver to family member(s) with dementia, who had since died. Each participant said that caregiving was incredibly hard. And each participant said that they wanted to keep learning skills that would enable them to help persons who are currently suffering from dementia, and to help their caregivers.

May I walk with you? If you have been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, or if you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, it would be my honor to share your journey with you. It is too hard a journey to travel alone. 

Written by: Catherine C. Stansbury, LMSW, supervised by Melissa L. Gould, LCSW-S. Catherine is a therapist here at Austin Family Counseling. She has a Master of Social Work with clinical specialization, gerontology concentration from Baylor University (specialized training in caring for older adults and their caregivers). She is PAC Certified Independent Consultant, certified by the Positive Approach to Care organization (specialized training in caring for persons with dementia and their caregivers). Catherine is also an Associate member of Aging Life Care Association (a national association of professionals who are dedicated to caring for older adults and their caregivers).


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