Archive of ‘Memory’ category

Growing Through Grief: You Will Never Feel the Same Again… But You May Become Better

Losing a loved one may shatter your life. You may feel numb. You may feel that you can’t think straight. Every heartbreak that you have suffered previously may hit you full force, simultaneously. At times, the pain can almost paralyze you. 

Be patient with yourself. Healing from grief is a slow process. It moves, not at the tempo of technology, but at the tempo of agriculture, as slowly as plants grow. But as you heal, you may discover in yourself new strengths that were not there previously. 

In my case, my mother’s death forced me to re-examine my identity and my purpose in life. This exploration eventually led me to seek a master’s in social work. I discovered that my interests include caring for older adults, persons who are nearing death, and persons who are grieving. 

Each experience of grief is unique, as unique as you are, and as unique as your relationship with the person you lost. But there are some patterns that humans share. It helps to learn these patterns, as they will help you understand yourself and other persons.  

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief

This was the first research model of grief, and it is still used. People do not go through the stages in a neat, sequential way. But they usually experience all 5 emotions, and move in a gradual, bumpy way from shock toward healing. 

  1. Denial (shock)—This is the emotional equivalent of an airbag in a car. It protects you from feeling the impact all at once, which could be overwhelming. 
  2. Anger—You may protest and feel, “This is terrible! This shouldn’t have happened!”
  3. Bargaining—You may think, “I’m trying to regain some control of my life, when I feel so out of control. If I change my life in such-and-such a way, then I should feel less bad.” A religious person may make deals with God, such as, “Dear Lord, if I start teaching Sunday school, You should make me feel less awful.” 
  4. Depression—This stage is not well-named. It’s not depression, but it can look that way. There is a general withdrawing from activities and social life, a conserving of energy. The person may feel powerless, but not hopeless. They are starting to come to terms with the loss.
  5. Acceptance—At this point, you may feel, “This situation stinks. I don’t want it this way. But it’s reality, and I am going to acknowledge it and deal with it as best as I can.”

William Worden’s 4 Tasks of Grief

Again, people don’t go through these tasks in a neat, sequential way. There may be setbacks and cycling. But there is a gradual movement toward healing.

  1. Acknowledge the reality of the loss. State that the person is dead. Describe how it happened, how you learned, and what you saw.
  2. Experience the pain. Face it. Don’t try to pretend that it doesn’t hurt much. It does. Don’t try to dull it out with alcohol.
  3. Adjust to an environment without the person there. The longer that people are in relationship, and the more closely their lives are intertwined, the more adjusting needs to be done.
  4. Withdraw some emotional energy from that relationship and invest it in another relationship. Be careful! You can’t replace one person with another. (We all know a grieving widow or widower who remarried out of loneliness, but chose altogether the wrong person.) Some marriages and other relationships aren’t happy. In this case there may not be much emotional pain after the death. Or there may be intense pain, as the person grieves for a relationship they craved, but never had. Sometimes a loss leads to a new project. A mother whose child was killed by a drunk driver started MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), to try to prevent this tragedy from happening to others. 

Corr & Doka’s 5 dimensions of grief

  1. Emotional
  2. Physical—You may feel cold. (When we feel threatened, blood flow goes to our inner organs, and we feel cold.) You may get sick, since grief weakens the immune system.
  3. Spiritual—Grief may impact your belief system.
  4. Social—It may be hard to socialize, as some people may misunderstand you, or say clumsy things.
  5. Cognitive—You may have poor attention, poor concentration, or difficulty learning new material. Some children who are grieving are diagnosed incorrectly as having ADHD. When these children heal from grief, they do not show ADHD behavior. (This research study was my professor Dr. Helen Harris’s doctoral dissertation.) Some older adults who are grieving fear that they have dementia; but when they heal from grief, they can think just as well as they did before the loss. 

Alan Keith-Lucas’s study of children’s resilience after a loss

Shock and denial: After a significant loss, every child experiences shock and denial. Then there are 2 different paths:

  1. Protest: If the child is allowed to have and express the feelings, “No! This is unfair! This can’t be!” then the child can achieve “mastery,” becoming stronger than before the loss. The key is for the child to learn to express their feeling of anger in a way that doesn’t hurt themself or anyone else. 
  2. Despair and Detachment: If the child is not allowed to protest, the child falls into despair and detachment. These children are not troublesome. However, as adults, they may not function very well. They struggle to keep a job or stay in a relationship.  

Books—Some of my favorite books about grief are:

  • Doka, Grief is a Journey 
  • Neeld, Seven Choices: Finding daylight after loss shatters your world 
  • O’Brien, The New Day Journal 
  • Wings of Change Publications, The Nature of Grief: Honoring and Healing the Seasons of Loss. 

Are you currently grieving? 

We experience grief not only when a loved one dies, but also when we lose anything that is important to us, such as our health, a job, or a treasured relationship. If you are grieving, it would be my honor to share your journey with you. Grief is too hard a journey to travel alone.

[I wish to thank Dr. Helen Harris and Dr. Richard D. Grant, Jr., for teaching me the above material.] 

Written by: Catherine C. Stansbury, LMSW, supervised by Melissa L. Gould, LCSW-S. Catherine is a therapist here at Austin Family Counseling. She is an EMDR Trained Therapist specializing in trauma therapy for adults. She has a Master of Social Work from Baylor University, where one of her internships was in a hospice agency. She is a PAC Certified Independent Consultant, trained by the Positive Approach to Care organization; a Certified Practitioner of the MBTI, trained by The Myers & Briggs Foundation; and an associate member of the Aging Life Care Association.




An Open Letter to 2020-2021 College Students

Dear College Students,   

What a year it has been for you all. I want to speak to you directly because I feel that the unique ways you have had to adjust to the myriad changes that have occurred this year are often overlooked. I work with college students in my clinical practice, and I want to reassure you that your grief and disappointment are real and justified. 

I remember watching the news in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and hearing that elderly individuals and college students were most at risk. I was grateful to hear someone acknowledge how difficult this time has been for you all. Not only have you had to pivot to virtual learning and face an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, but you have been isolated from your friends and social gatherings. With limited access to these social supports, it is expected that you would feel depleted.    

In college, your friends are more like family. You live with them, you go to class and study with them, and you share your life with them in ways that were not always possible with your childhood friends. These friendships engender a level of relational intimacy that is seldom replicated during other times in your life. Moreover, you are in a stage of human development wherein you are forming your identity in the context of your relationships with others. This is precisely why it has felt like such an insurmountable task to quarantine apart from your peers and refrain from connecting with them regularly. 

You have probably heard many people tell you that college will be “the best four years of your life.” College is certainly a fun and exciting time, but it is not devoid of hardship and adversity. When you feel sad, scared, or lonely, you start to think you are doing something wrong because you are not having the time of your life. The pandemic has added another emotional reaction to this lofty expectation for your college years: anger. 

I have heard so many of my clients express how frustrated and devastated they are that they are not having the college experience they always imagined. Please understand that it is normal to feel this way. We are all grieving the loss of our pre-COVID realities, and your “new normal” has been anything but normal. Your old assumptions no longer fit your current circumstances, and accepting this is no small task. 

I know how easy it can be to compare your struggles to those of others. People in our community and around the world are suffering. This pandemic has taken loved ones, jobs, and our sense of safety and security. However, you are not immune to the damage it has caused, and your distress is worthy of care and attention. 

To quote Brené Brown, “empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There is more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”

I want to remind you of how resilient you are. You forged your own path by going to college and building a life apart from your family. This requires courage, and doing so amidst a global pandemic has tested you in ways you never thought possible. I challenge you to practice self-compassion by treating yourself how you would treat someone you love. You are weathering this pandemic the best you can, and your best is always enough.  

For Reference: 

“Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

“Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself” by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Written By: Claire Taylor, LPC- Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S 


Losing A Pet

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

I’ve always been an animal lover from an early age. There was always something about animals that has continually drawn me in. I love looking into the eyes of an animal and knowing they see me too as my raw authentic self. Animals see us for who we are – truly human. They not only see us as our authentic selves, but they also harness a great capacity to love us just as purely as they see us. It’s a beautiful relationship that is unexplainable, intangible, and yet more real than many of our human relationships.

I was 23 when I got my first dog on my own. As soon as I saw her big brown eyes, I knew she was meant to be mine. Heidi was full of spunk and energy. She had a rough start to her life, and she was unsure of how to trust other humans and animals. I knew, under all that fear,  she had a big open heart and was yearning for the opportunity to be taught basic needs like love, safety, and companionship. We set out on our own adventure together, just her and I. Over the years we conquered many fears and had many laughs. She gained a few furry siblings and learned how to be a great big doggy sister. Her intelligence was unmatched as she learned commands, tricks, and even found her own way home after a Beyonce concert (That’s a story for a different post!)

Similarly to human relationships, our relationships with our furry companions also come to an end. The death of a pet is a very real, painful, and surreal experience, much like grieving a person, marriage, or job loss. The transition of losing a pet is incredibly challenging and often misunderstood. Unfortunately, I’ve had to walk this journey recently as Heidi has made her transition across the Rainbow Bridge. In my grief, I’ve noticed several things that were really crucial for me in my healing process. 

Self Care Is A Must

I can’t stress this enough – please take care of yourself in the same way you would if you were experiencing a loss of any other kind. Your body and soul will require comfort and nourishment during the time after the loss of your animal. You may find yourself feeling tired, tearful, sad, angry, confused…. All of which are normal and valid experiences of grief. Allow yourself time and space to operate at a lesser capacity than normal. Try to get an extra few hours of sleep, or have a satisfying comforting meal. Some other examples of self care for people include meditations, exercise, tending to a garden, reading a book, seeing a therapist, or journaling. Whatever your form of self care is, utilize it and allow extra time in your day for more than normal. Be kind to yourself in this tough time. 

Reach Out For Support

Grief is an incredibly isolating experience. Each person’s grief is solely their own, both in the way it is experienced and the way it is processed. However, there are people around to lean on during that time. Take advantage of your loved ones who are ready to support you in your own process. When Heidi passed, I knew there was nothing anyone could do or say to fix the pain I was feeling, but the outpouring of love and support was so helpful in those first few weeks. I had people reach out via text and snail mail to send their condolences and favorite memories of Heidi. Friends showed up with dinner at my home and sent cookie care packages to show they care. I definitely needed that love and support in that time, and I am so grateful I had people in my support system show up for me. I made sure to connect with friends and family who had also experienced the loss of a pet to feel understood and validated in my feelings, and I created boundaries around those who I felt may not have understood as well. It’s perfectly okay to limit time and energy with those who aren’t as supportive to protect your own well being and health. Set kind and firm boundaries with yourself and others around the support you need in your grief. 

Find Ways To Honor Their Memory

Just as we hope to have meaning with our own lives, it’s important to honor the meaning our pets’ lives have for us as well. Finding creative ways to honor your animal’s journey and the love you shared can be incredibly healing. Some great ideas include planting a memorial tree or garden, donating some money in their name to a local animal shelter, painting a rainbow and portrait on a canvas, or creating a digital scrapbook with pictures and videos of your life together. Create a tangible way to revisit all of your special memories with your beloved furry family member so you’ll always have a piece of them with you. 

Losing an animal is never easy. My heart goes out to those who are struggling with the loss of a pet. You deserve to be held in tenderness and compassion during your grief. Be sure to seek out counseling if you believe you could benefit from extra support and coping skills regarding the loss of your pet. There are some great resources available for those who are grieving over the death of an animal that I have found incredibly helpful during this time. 

Books: 

Always By My Side: Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I’ve Loved – Edward Grinnan

Dog Heaven – Cynthia Rylant

The Loss Of A Pet – Wallace Sife

Podcasts:

The Pet Loss Podcast

Healing Pet Loss Podcast

Written by: Sara Balkanli, LPC-Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


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