Archive of ‘Grief and Loss’ category

Self-Care During COVID-19

For curiosity sake, I searched “what to do if I get covid-19”.  In 0.77 seconds (because Google tells you), “about 8,280,000,000 results” populated.  Various questions that were included in these results included:

  • What to do if you are sick? 
  • What should I do if I think I have been exposed to coronavirus? 
  • Can you recover? 
  • Does drinking a lot of water help flush out COVID-19?
  • Can antibiotics treat the coronavirus disease? 
  • What should you do if you live with someone who has coronavirus? 

Without a doubt, these questions are important and should be asked and are included in the top results for a reason.  Someone I know shared on her Instagram feed that she was tested positive for COVID-19 and the conversation was, I’m summarizing, something along the lines of “Hi, you’ve tested positive.  Now you need to quarantine for (however many) days.  If you experience severe symptoms, go to the hospital.”  Of course, that was (and is) important information for her to know.  However, nothing was discussed regarding the emotional impact of COVID-19 (whether it’s the collective/societal impact of the virus or the personal impact of testing positive).  Below are a few things to consider when thinking about the current pandemic. 

First…Let’s Talk About Shame

Several months ago, someone I know was exposed to COVID and was tested as a result.  When she received her test results (they were negative), she shared how excited she was because there is so much judgment around it.  She said, had she gotten positive test results, people would have likely judged and/or blamed her for clearly not following the rules of social distancing.  Similarly, a friend of mine found out she was positive for COVID and shared that when she told people she had come in contact with that she was positive for coronavirus, she felt like she was sharing with the world that she had a sexually transmitted infection (which there is a LOT of shame around those…that’s a blog for another day.  In the meantime, check out this poster from UnHushed, that provides accurate & direct information about STIs). 

Oh, And Fear

There is SO much uncertainty with COVID-19 and how this virus impacts people.  Whether someone is asymptomatic, has minimal symptoms (my friend I mentioned earlier only lost her sense of smell & taste), or has severe symptoms (e.g.: has a high fever and difficulty breathing), there is truly NO telling how you will be affected until you are actually experiencing symptoms…if you, in fact, experience them.  Because the CDC is constantly learning new information, we do not have a clear idea of a lot of things…which, is NO fault of the CDC (I want to be very clear about that!)  This takes an already scary situation and makes it that much scarier…because we don’t have clear information about it and what it entails.  If that’s not scary, then I don’t know what is. 

What About Grief? 

While shelter-in-place/quarantine/social distancing (fill in the blank of what language you’ve been using) has been happening for almost 4 months now (woah), it’s been difficult…to say the very least.  Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, humans, by nature, are social creatures.  Thanks to technology (social media, texting, video calls, Zoom…oh, Zoom), snail mail, social distance outings (if/when they feel right), people have found ways to stay connected to those that are important to them….which is great…AND there is a huge amount of loss that is affiliated with that.  You don’t need me to tell you everything that has happened as a result, but to sum a few major things up…

  • Graduations were, essentially, cancelled
  • Weddings have been cancelled and/or postponed
  • People who are pregnant are going to their appointments solo…and when they give birth, minimal people are allowed to be with them
  • As people died (whether it be COVID-related or not), loved ones had to grieve alone…or at a socially distant place
  • Vacations were cancelled

AND SO MANY OTHER THINGS.  Some of you may look at that list and think “Woah…vacation being cancelled is in the same list as people dying alone?”  And to that, I say “Yes”.  Grief and loss is not something that can or should be quantified.  At this time, the world (truly…everyone in the world) is living a collective trauma related to covid-19.  Whether you’re 17 years old in Texas…or 42 years old in Indonesia…or 5 years old in Australia…or 81 years old in Finland…we are all experiencing grief related to the coronavirus…on top of any and all stressors that life is presenting us at any given moment. 

So…What Now? 

Ready for a buzz-word?  Self-care.  Yup…it’s as “easy” as that…which, surprise, is not easy at all.  There isn’t a right-or-wrong way to practice self-care as long as you’re doing what is right for you.  The suggestions I’m about to provide are 100% just suggestions and is definitely not comprehensive at all. 

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings 

A lot of us, at various times (I’m generalizing here), have experienced anger.  What we often fail to see, though, what’s below anger…whether it’s worry or disappointment or guilt or trauma (or any or none of those things), anger is often just the surface of feelings people are experiencing. 

Similarly, there is a quote, that I love that states “I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.”  When you sit with this…it really reveals how complicated emotions, particularly anger, can be.

In no way am I trying to invalidate anger, however, sitting with your emotions and allowing yourself to feel your feelings is an incredibly valuable way to take care of yourself. 

This Anger Iceberg gives an explanation (and visual) of what I’m talking about. 

Practice Mindfulness

…Buzz-word #2.  Not sure where to start?  That is OKAY.  Check out this blog I wrote on 5 Mindfulness Tips & Tricks.   

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break! 

We are inundated with highly emotional information on a daily basis…whether it’s about coronavirus, politics, murders of innocent black members of our community, or anything else–it’s OKAY to take a break.  Admittedly, this has been harder for me to do (I’m human…what can I say?)  But if you don’t allow yourself to take a break from the emotional weight of this information, you are not going to be the best version of yourself when you need it most.  Whether taking a break involves turning off the news or social media and reading a memoir about your favorite Queer Eye member (ahem, JVN), do what’s best for you and know that it is okay (and extremely valuable) to take breaks. 

Lean On People

Cue “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. 

The words of this song (yes, I listened to it as I wrote this) state:

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

People, again, I’m generalizing, often feel hesitant to ask for help.  Whether it’s fear of looking weak or not wanting to be a burden or not wanting to be disappointed…we tell ourselves SO many lies as to why we shouldn’t or couldn’t ask for help.  Rather than listening to those lies, remind yourself, as I said earlier, humans are social creatures by nature.  Whether it’s your friend, a family member, your therapist, your former teacher, your neighbor…whomever it may be…ask for help.  It might be scary in the moment, but I can assure you it will be worth it. 

By: Julie Burke, LPC
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The Beauty of Hard Feelings

When my grandmother died five years ago, it was the first time in my life I experienced deep, aching grief. The kind of grief that overwhelms you. And all I wanted was for it to go away.

Months after she passed, I was talking with a friend about this nagging and unrelenting pain. I was frustrated. When would it ever end? He looked at me. Calmly. Gently. And said, “Grieving is your way of honoring her. The depth of your emotion shows the depth of your love for her.”

I felt tears well up inside of me. He was right. I adored my grandma. I absolutely loved the relationship we shared. She was genuine. Wise. Kind. The best listener. I learned so much from her. And I knew I would miss her forever.

The aching? It revealed how much she mattered to me.

I let his insight sink in. Maybe I didn’t have to resist the grief. Maybe I could let it be. I heard the voice of a former teacher in my head, “What you resist persists.

And so, rather than shoving the grief away unsuccessfully, I tried to surrender to it. I let the emotions come, and I let them wash over me, like waves, whether I was driving, at the supermarket, listening to music. It didn’t matter.

I cried. I laughed. I let myself remember her. I let myself feel.

And as I stopped resisting, over time, the grief began to feel different. Softer. Gentler. In many ways, like gratitude. It was something I could always turn to to feel closer to her.

Feelings are an interesting thing. 

Some of them tug at our hearts. Some of them make us uncomfortable. Some of them creep into our lives and make it difficult for us to continue on with our days.

But every emotion has something for us, even the most difficult ones. Usually the most difficult ones reveal some kind of gift, over time, if we let them. If we have the courage to be with them.

Is this an easy thing to do? No way.

Feeling stretches us beyond what’s comfortable. Feeling asks us to be with our experience, even if it’s not what we wanted or planned. Feeling the full spectrum of emotions is one of the most challenging things we can do.

But it doesn’t come without reward. Feeling it all fosters a life that is more colorful. More interesting. More honest. More alive.

If it’s one of those seasons for you and you’re feeling it all, I hope you let it be. I hope you let yourself feel. I hope you take good care of yourself and create support around you. I hope you acknowledge your bravery. Feeling takes courage. And I hope, over time, these harder emotions teach you more about yourself and more about life. I hope, in some way, they begin to feel beautiful too.

I wanted to share with you some of my favorite quotes about the beauty of difficult emotions. I hope you enjoy them.

On the beauty of hard feelings…

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” 

– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

Feeling expands us. Where do we go with the upset? What do we do with the emotions roiling inside us? The answer is, we feel them. We do not seek to escape the upset. We stay with what’s happening and let these emotions move through us. We must be in this moment. And as we do, we will change.These feelings and experiences will alchemize something deep inside us.

– Marianne Williamson

The brokenhearted are the bravest among us because they dared to love someone.

Brene Brown 

Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend.

– Julia Cameron 

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies. But I don’t want it to ‘not matter.’ I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life.

-from Reddit user /u/GSnow who identifies himself as an “old man”  

When I get lonely these days, I think: so BE lonely. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.

Elizabeth Gilbert

You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because when you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

The Velveteen Rabbit 

May we have the courage to lean in and find the beauty in each emotion.

By: Jamie Alger

Grief, Family, and the Holidays

Holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons; after all, the holiday season can bring up all kinds of feelings. This can be especially difficult when your family has suffered a loss of any kind. It’s a time when families often get together, thereby making losses more noticeable. Tensions between family members may already be high, and there is often a wealth of memories tied to the holidays, both joyful and difficult. The holidays can be painful reminders as well as an opportunities to reminisce, strengthen relationships, and revive old traditions or create new ones.

Everyone is Different

Just as everyone in your family has their own personality and ways of dealing with stress, people often grieve differently. Grief sometimes comes in waves, and may seem delayed for some people, especially children. It’s not something we get over or move on from, but we do move forward. We incorporate the loss into our life story, and may make meaning of that loss in different ways. We may feel the grief less often or less intensely, but it doesn’t go away completely. Children may grieve differently too, depending on where they are developmentally. They may also experience various aspects of the loss, or grieve again, as they reach new developmental stages. 

Navigating Traditions and Rituals

One thing the holiday season invites is tradition. When someone who was part of a yearly ritual or tradition dies, that inevitably changes our experience of it. Just as individuals and families grieve in different ways, family members may have varying ideas about what to do with those traditions. Questions about changing or skipping traditions may arise. While family members may disagree about how to move forward, it is important to let everyone express their feelings, thoughts, concerns, and hopes. Discuss which activities the family wants to keep, which to skip, and what could be added. Is there a way the family can honor the person who has died, knowing that things won’t ever be the same as they were? When possible, give children choices about whether or not to participate. 

Taking Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Take 5 minutes to yourself to breathe, have a cup of tea, or simply be alone. Get coffee with a friend who gets you. Be gentle with yourself—the holidays are full of reminders, both of what you have and who you have lost—give yourself permission to grieve, to cry, to laugh, to enjoy those around you. Whatever you are feeling is okay! It’s also okay to set the boundaries you need, whether that’s by doing less, choosing who to spend your time with, or skipping an event altogether. Listen to your body—try to get the rest you need, stay hydrated, and move if you can. 

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly–that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott

Resources

If you are struggling and would like additional support, the following organizations offer groups and other grief and loss resources.

The Christi Center

Austin Center for Grief and Loss

Hospice Austin

By: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

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