The Grieving Process

I have been thinking recently about the grief process and how to support others in their grief. Despite the inevitability of our mortality, grieving and being with others in their grief is not something we generally talk about or are taught. Instead, we might try to avoid grief, to try to cheer someone up who is grieving, to ignore our own feelings, or be unintentionally dismissive of grief.

Grief is important because it embodies the entire emotional process of coping with loss, and it can last a long time. Grieving allows us to mourn the loss and continue living in a healthy way. Miriam Greenspan says, “We grieve because we are not alone, because we are interconnected, and what connects us to one another also breaks our hearts.”

Healthy grieving often involves both grief work, complete with a host of different emotions (denial, anger, sadness, etc.), as well as distracting from grief by doing new things, attending to life changes, and participating in relationships. It is important to remember that grief looks different for each person.

Grief may overtake our whole system, impacting us physically, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally. Grief is a very individual journey. It is important to allow ourselves and others to heal in our own way.

To be intentional about your own healing, it is recommended that you exercise, nurture yourself, eat well, be loving toward yourself, and reach out to others for support. It is also important to listen to your own needs and communicate them to others. Self-care is very important when we are grieving as it can give us strength for the grief journey.

When those we care about are grieving, we can be most helpful by being compassionate, being present with them in their pain (certainly a very hard thing to do), accepting and acknowledging all of their feelings (even the difficult ones), expressing concern when necessary, and offering ongoing support.

It is important to avoid minimizing or comparing loss (all grief is different and valid), to avoid making assumptions about how the other person is feeling, to stay out of judgment with how they are responding to the loss, and to avoid the following well-meaning but often hurtful statements:

“I understand.”

“I know how you feel.”

“It is part of God’s plan.”

“Look at what you have to be thankful for.”

“They are in a better place now.”

“This is behind you now; it’s time to move forward.”

“You should/shouldn’t…”

 

Instead, you might say things like:

“I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I want to be here for you.”

“Let me know how I can support you.”

“Can I bring you anything or do anything for you?”

Of course, if you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal ideations, difficulty functioning, excessive bitterness, alcohol or drug abuse, hallucinations, or constant feelings of hopelessness over a prolonged period, it is important to seek help.

Ultimately, grief is about trusting the process. And, while we don’t want to experience sadness or grief, suffering can be an opportunity for transformation. Oftentimes, people who have come out on the other side of grief describe feeling more appreciative of life, more compassionate, empathic, peaceful, and grateful.

I love this quote by Miriam Greenspan’s Healing Through the Dark Emotions: “The first phase is not about moving on, but about being broken…healing through grief does not begin when we give up feeling bad; it begins with the agony of loss. The merciful numbing of shock must wear off and the reality of death take hold. Grief must sink in. In the alchemy of grief, going down always precedes coming up. Understandable but misguided attempts to speed up the process tend to derail it. Generally, a grief deferred is a grief prolonged. There are no short-cuts in the alchemy of the dark emotions.” She also says, though, “In the seed of grief, there is the promise of a blossoming.”


Keeping Your Relationship Alive

After having our first child this past summer and experiencing a series of life transitions and stressors, I became keenly aware of the impact these events had on my relationship with my husband. While we used to spend much of our free time playing and enjoying each other’s company, connecting through conversation and shared interests, our relationship quickly shifted into almost one of a business- complete with to do lists, caring for our daughter, and navigating the challenges at hand.

Certainly, we still loved and cared deeply for one another, and we both are very committed to our relationship. However, the stress was taking its toll on the fun side of our partnership, and it was easy (especially with little sleep and lots to do) to be short with one another and to put our relational happiness off until things calmed down.

We soon realized, however, that things would likely not slow down anytime soon. And, we both enjoy being connected and having warmth in our relationship. We also recognized that we were neglecting our individual and family self care plans, which include exercising, connecting with friends, and making time for spirituality. In addition to   incorporating more of these activities, we also began practicing a principal that my husband deems one of the most important lessons of having a successful partnership: being gentle with one another.

The truth is, life can often be full of stressors and challenges. And having children certainly is a major transition. But a relationship can still thrive if both partners are committed to nurturing their relationship and intentional about practicing their love for one another.

couple embrace in keeping their relationship alive

In thinking about thriving relationships, I was reminded of Gottman’s Five Magic Hours. Marriage researcher John Gottman found that couples in positive relationships invest an extra five hours each week in their marriage in fairly specific ways (even though it may look different for each couple). Following are his tips for incorporating the magic 5 hours into your relationship:

Using the MAGIC 5 Hours to Help Keep Your Relationship Alive

1) Partings: Before you leave in the morning, be sure you have learned at least one thing that is happening in your partner’s life that day.

Time: 2 minutes/day x 5 working days= 10 minutes

2) Reunions: Engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each work day.

Time: 20 minutes/day x 5 working days= 1 hour 40 minutes

3) Admiration and Appreciation: Each day, communicate genuine affection and appreciation toward your partner.

Time: 5 minutes/day x 7 days= 35 minutes

4) Affection: Hug, kiss, hold, and touch each other during the time you are together. Remember to kiss before you go to sleep. If possible, try to let go of irritations that have built up over the day.

Time: 5 minutes/day x 7 days= 35 minutes

5) Weekly Date: This can be a relaxing, low pressure way to stay connected. Ask one another questions that help you know one another better and turn toward each other.

Time: 2 hours/week= 2 hours

Grand total: 5 hours!

Certainly, relationships will go through ups and downs as issues arise and life happens. However, by intentionally incorporating some of Gottman’s tips, remembering to be flexible with one another, appreciating each other as evolving human beings, supporting one another’s dreams and goals, and being kind to one another can help keep your relationship stay alive even when things get really tough. It can also be helpful to seek out marriage or family counseling for additional support.

 

“Love doesn’t commit suicide. We have to kill it. Though, it often simply dies of our neglect.” ~Diane Sollee


Parenting: An Act of Love

There is no question about it; parenting is both enormously rewarding and also extremely taxing. Being at the beck and call of children and their emotions, whims, and needs is a bit like being on a roller coaster, complete with the highs, lows, and everything in between. Certainly, most parents can identify with experiencing intense love, joy, and gratitude in one moment while being filled with frustration, exhaustion, and helplessness the next. Despite the ups and downs, parenting is certainly one of the most important and significant roles and tasks one can have.

From the time of birth, little humans are hardwired for attachment, love, and belonging. Research indicates that children who feel this sense of connection to their families, schools and communities are less likely to misbehave. As parents, it is our job to help children experience this sense of belonging, to help them know their worth, to teach them social and life skills, and to help them feel capable and an appropriate sense of autonomy and independence.

We are constantly teaching our children through what we do, how we speak to and about others, how we treat our partner, even how we discipline our pets. The ways in which we treat and talk to our children will impact them for a lifetime. If we treat them with dignity and respect, they in turn will learn to respect others and also will expect respect from others as they grow older.

We also know that children are more motivated to be cooperative when they feel encouraged, loved and a sense of belonging. Certainly, positive discipline is important, but it should be done in a loving, fair, and firm way. The focus should be on behavior, not the child, in order to redirect behavior without instilling shame. When the focus is on the child (i.e. bad boy), it instills a sense of shame, breeding disconnection, hurt, and anger. According to author and shame researcher Brené Brown, children who are raised in a shaming environment are more likely to struggle with things like addiction, depression, violence, bullying, eating disorders, and aggression. We also know from her research that shame does not promote positive behavior change.

It is also extremely helpful for parents to teach children their importance by listening to them and validating their feelings. Even when children want something they can’t have, acknowledging their feelings is extremely helpful for the child in order to feel heard and understood. Additionally, by explaining your decisions to your child, you are teaching them about life, your family values and beliefs, and helping them to know what to expect. For example, a child might be crying because they want to go play with their friend at dinner time. Instead of ignoring or getting angry with the child, or instead of giving into them, the parent might say, “I know you are sad and disappointed because you wanted to go play with your friend. It is time for dinner, though, and it is important to our family that we are all here together to eat. You are welcome to play tomorrow after school.” Teaching children about their feelings and healthy ways to cope with them will hugely benefit them as they navigate life’s challenges.

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do is love your child. Positive Discipline The First Three Years says it best: “Perhaps the greatest parenting skill of all is the ability to feel an unbreakable bond of love and warmth for your children and to be able to listen to the voice of love and wisdom even when your patience has been stretched to the breaking point.”


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