Archive of ‘Grief and Loss’ category

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

Lost But Not Found

People can grieve for many reasons. There can be a loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a house, a loss of a city even. All these incidents can cause a person to be traumatized and then gives way to grief.  Everyone grieves differently and over difference amounts of time. You might have heard of the “5 stages of grief” (or 4 or 7). This theory was created by Kubler-Ross.

1.       Denial

2.       Anger

3.       Bargaining

4.       Depression

5.       Acceptance

Some people see these stages listed and take comfort in the belief that they can identify where someone grieving is on this list and know how much more grieving is coming. I mean if you know what stage you are in right now then you know what you need to move to. Just step it through until you get to acceptance, right? Families of those grieving can also feel a sense of false comfort a loved one’s behavior and think, “Whew! She is at stage 3; only two more to go.”

Of course, in real life none of that happens. Heartache is not linear nor move from one step to the next in a clean process like a staircase.  Grief is a process that looks more like a cat’s cradle than a straight line. Loved ones can go from denial to bargaining to anger and then back again in the whole process of healing from a loss.

For a family member or friend this can be frustrating to watch. Family members try to support the person grief-stricken but end up feeling exhausted, frustrated and irritated. So often family and friends mean well but a person cannot go through the grieving process at our family or friends schedule. It is deeply personal. What can be even harder for family and friends is when person that is trying to heal might not see a way to actually help himself or herself. Family and friends can become upset and aggressive with the person grieving. You can hear statements like, “She is having a pity party” or “He is not trying to get help” or “He/She is purposely not looking to heal”. This is when “victim blaming” comes into play and the person with the loss can feel hurt, misunderstood and threatened.

Death and loss are topics that we, as a society, don’t often address. When someone is in your circle of friends and family and they experience a loss, many people can feel uncomfortable and lost in the process of helping the griever. For myself as I have aged I look back and think to myself, “What was I thinking?” I have been guilty of platitudes or expecting someone to heal at my speed not theirs. The person grieving is doing what is natural for their body, brain and heart. Your body and mind have to find its own way toward learning to live with this change to their lives.

So How Do The Stages Actually Appear In An Individual?

The first stage is denial. Your brain will shut itself down if you are in a traumatizing experience. Being told that someone has died, you have lost your home, or some other loss is a traumatizing experience. You really can’t take all the information in. When you continue with your life hours or days later you are continually reminded of what you have lost.

At some point, you can become angry. “Why would someone say (enter platitude) to me? Why am I all the sudden feeling very alone.” This is often the point where the person that is grieving is starting to recognize that whatever they have lost is not coming back. This stage can revert back to denial if the person continues to be shut down.

The anger and questioning can often move into bargaining. This is the point where a person tries to make a bargain to get their loss back. “I will do X and you will give me back ____.” The bargaining step can easily circle back to anger when their plan or wish does not come true. As an observer you might wonder what happened? It appeared this person was making progress but then we are starting over again.

Throughout this process the person grieving can become sadder than they had been throughout, this is depression. At the point where anger has burned out and bargaining has failed an individual can feel hopeless and more alone. The person can feel that they don’t have energy, they can’t feel pleasure from anything, their sleep and eating can be off. If a person has symptoms of depression it can be hard to get him/her moving. It can be even harder to get this person help or convince them that they need help to fight this. Continued support is very helpful.

The final stage is acceptance. This is a hard stage to get to and some people never get here. It requires the understanding that whatever you have loss, it isn’t coming back. With that understanding there must be a sense of “I will be ok”. It doesn’t mean the person is not troubled or affected when thinking about the loss. The person can continue with their life. They are no longer “stuck”.

This whole grieving process can take a day, a week, years. There are no set expectations for what is needed for the person grieving to pass through the healing process. Those around this person can only be present to offer comfort or just an ear to listen. Family and friends can offer help for whatever the bereaved might need help on. (i.e. picking up the kids now and then, calling or coming by just to listen to what your friend needs).

If you are working with someone grieving you should continue to be aware of how you are doing. Make sure you do selfcare. You have to take care of yourself first before you can offer help. Keep in mind any signs of exhaustion such as :Are you feeling tired? Do you try to avoid calls from the person grieving in your life? Do feel overwhelmed when trying to offer help?

All of these should be warning signs to you that  you need to stop and take some time out to replenish yourself. There is nothing wrong with helping yourself. If you feel like a person you know fits any of these roles and you are concerned about their wellbeing, seek out help. See if anyone you know have ideas that can be presented to the person grieving as options (not requirements). If that person expresses a need to hurt themselves seek professional help.

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S


Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

Since the birth of the psychological field, there have been dozens of therapeutic approaches that have been developed to help individuals work through their struggles. One therapy that is relatively new, at least in relation to how long others have been around, is known as a therapy called EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I’m going to tell you a little bit about what EMDR is and how it can be used in therapy to treat a wide array of difficulties.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a therapy developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989. In 1987 Dr. Shapiro stumbled upon the observation that eye movements can lessen the intensity of disturbing thoughts and used this observation to fuel research that led to her publication in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, establishing EMDR as a therapy used to treat post traumatic stress. Since then researchers have gone on to show how EMDR is not only very effective in treating trauma and PTSD, but can also treat other difficulties such as:

  • performance anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • body dysmorphic disorders
  • painful memories
  • phobias
  • complicated grief
  • dissociative disorders
  • personality disorders
  • pain disorders

How Does EMDR Work?

There is no way to know how any psychotherapy works on the neurological level, but there are some things we do know. When a person is very upset and under duress, the brain cannot process information as it would under normal conditions. (See my previous blog about how trauma affects the brain). So parts of the memory get stored separately and “frozen in time.” When the memory is then activated, it can feel very much like the person is experiencing the memory as if it is currently happening: the same feelings, thoughts and body sensations can resurface with the same intensity as when the event occurred because those things never processed through adequately and thus remain unchanged. These memories interfere with the way a person reacts to and views the world and others.

It appears that EMDR has an effect on how your brain processes information and allows the “frozen” material a chance to process through in a functional manner. Once the memory has been processed adequately, it no longer has the same effect on the person. Many individuals come away feeling neutral about the memory. By using bilateral stimulation (meaning both the left and right hemispheres are alternately stimulated), that’s where the eye movements come in, these “stuck” memories get activated and normal information processing can be resumed. This is similar to what happens naturally in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the cycle of sleep in which information taken in through the previous day is processed and sorted into short-term and long-term memory networks. If you have ever observed someone during the REM sleep cycle, you may have noticed that their eyes are darting back and forth underneath the eyelids. So really this is different from other therapies that work toward the same goals because it works on the physiological level.

Why Choose EMDR Therapy

So, Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

In short, EMDR therapy is optimal because it can usually achieve the same goal as similar therapies with fewer sessions. It can also be useful when talk therapy has not proven to be effective. Since some experiences seem to get “frozen” in the memory networks, talking about them may not be enough. EMDR works on the neurological level to access those memories in a way that talk therapy may not be able to, so then the memory can be worked through. Survivors of trauma have also reported that EMDR therapy was optimal because it is not necessary to talk in detail about the traumatic event in order for EMDR to be effective. That doesn’t mean that it may not still be painful and difficult to bring up, but the whole narrative does not need to be given and once the memory is activated the person can move through the process with less difficulty. The brain moves towards healing just like our bodies do. If you cut your hand, your body works to heal itself. The brain does the same thing, and EMDR helps remove those barriers so it can.

This has been a brief description of what EMDR is and how it works. EMDR has been shown to be effective with children, teens, and adults. I hope it has been helpful and I hope you will consider EMDR therapy for yourself and your loved ones in the future! If you would like more information on EMDR you can visit http://www.EMDRIA.org and http://www.EMDR.com.


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