Changing the Facebook page…

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I’m so encouraged by the response I received from my most recent post.  Sooooo many emails and a couple of public responses.  I thank all of you for your kind words.  It meant a lot to me to hear, not only your feedback, but your words of support for me personally.  I really am okay…improving every day and feeling so much better.

The one constant was that everyone agreed that making the Facebook page a closed group would be beneficial so that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m inviting all of you who follow Translating Grief on WordPress only or via email to head over to my Facebook page and give it a like.  In about a week, I’ll change the status to a closed group.  It’s my understanding that those who have already liked the page will stay in the group.  Anyone after that will need to be approved by the administrators (who is only me at this time!).

I’m really hoping that the closed group will provide a place for those who are hurting to be open and honest, to give support, to seek support, to have lively, respectful discussions about topics related to grief and to be a go-to resource for supports on the web and in the community.

 

Posted in Bereavement counseling, Coping with Grief, Counseling, Grief, Support Systems, Supporting a Griever, Telephone Counseling, Translating Grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A personally tough winter…

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This past winter has been one of the toughest for me personally for a couple of reasons. One is health related and one is house related.  I’ll start with the latter…

In December of last year, we had a flood in the downstairs of our house.  It started in the bathroom (the toilet backed up and spewed dirty water into the air!!) and destroyed both adjacent bedrooms.  One of those bedrooms is my home office.  When ServiceMaster came to clean things up, they tore out sheetrock, all the carpeting, cleaned everything completely and threw away anything that touched the sewage water.  When they left, it looked like the disaster area it was.  It took until just last week to complete the renovation of the bathroom and both bedrooms.

Meanwhile, I had no office and had to work in the regular part of my house…either in the family room,  or at the dining room or kitchen table.  Except for my clients, everything else was just harder to get done.  I would find my mind drifting to the floor that needed sweeping or the furniture that needed dusting or the dishwasher that needed emptying and I never seemed to get anything work-related done.  Or maybe I used it as an excuse to do nothing work-related because of the second issue…

For the last 25 years, I’ve been coping with a chronic illness.  After countless doctors and appointments and tests and even a couple of surgeries, I was still sick.  This past year has been the hardest and things just seemed to get worse and worse…to the point that I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything and I was beginning to feel depressed and hopeless and isolated.  Once I recognized that I was spiraling into a very dark place, I called my regular doctor and made an appointment.  She recommended a new specialist who has turned out to be a godsend.  He listened, ran more tests, continued to listen and finally provided the correct diagnosis and, more importantly, what to do about it.  I’m now following the instructions to a tee and am beginning to feel so much better physically. More substantial to me is that I am feeling so much better emotionally and I feel hopeful that I can at least have some control over it going forward.  It is still a chronic issue and I can never let up, but I’m no longer feeling depressed and I once again have energy and hope and motivation.

That said, while I was at my lowest, I found a few closed support groups on Facebook that became absolutely invaluable.  While I do have an excellent support system, they simply don’t understand what it’s really like day in and day out.  The people in those groups do. We are comrades in the trenches together.  It was such a relief to be able to ask questions and comment knowing that even my family and friends couldn’t see what I was posting. There is a real freedom in that and it got me thinking…

Over the years of posting on this blog, there have been very few public comments and many many private email comments.  Now I know why.  I get it and I’ve decided that I’m going to make my Facebook page a closed group in the hopes of allowing others to comment and post freely without having to worry about what their family and friends will think or say.  It just makes sense to me.  I hope that it will become a safe place for discussions of all kinds related to grief and loss (of people, pets and things) and caregiving and living with illness and anything else we can think to talk about.

I’d like to know what your thoughts are about a closed Facebook group.  Would you be interested in participating in open, honest discussions in a forum no one else but members can see?  Do you belong to other closed groups that have been helpful?

As always, if you’re not comfortable posting in the comment section, you can email me at translatinggrief@gmail.com or call me at 1.315.765.6530.

Godspeed…

Lisa

 

Posted in Bereavement counseling, Bereavement Support Group, Coping with Grief, Counseling, Grief, Moods, Support Systems, Supporting a Griever, Telephone Counseling, Translating Grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Christmas 2015

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Merry? Not so much…

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We are firmly in the midst of the holiday season.  Decorations are up for Thanksgiving and Christmas already (!).  Most retail commercials are featuring Santa and Christmas music.  Everywhere you look, everything you do is a reminder.  I thought I would jump on board with an article to help you through the holiday season full of practical suggestions and guidance…

What makes the holiday season so challenging for a griever?

1. Shared history:  chances are we spent many many holidays with our person who died.  So many memories, traditions, and emotions are directly connected to that person.  Memories are stronger if there is an emotional connection to the event and there is nothing more emotional than a holiday season or gathering filled with the people we love the most.  When someone is missing, the emotions of this season cannot match the positive emotions of any other season.  This makes the grief all the more evident.  Positive emotional memory of the past paired with the current intense emotion of the grief equal a very challenging emotional roller coaster of a holiday season.

2. Childhood memories:  If you come from a family that went all out for the holidays, chances are you’ll have positive, happy, joyful memories of those days and have wanted to recreate those for your own family.  If, on the other hand, you do not have positive childhood memories, chance are you have wanted to create those for your family.  Either way,  the nostalgia we feel around the holidays can be profound under the best of circumstances.  So many of us get overwhelmed as adults by all the things we have to do during the holiday season and we miss those carefree times as a child when all we had to do was anticipate the coming of the holiday.  Those memories in and of themselves can be triggers for grief.  We miss times gone by, the people who used to be at those gatherings and are no longer, the simpler times, the excitement and anticipation.    We wish our children and grandchildren could experience the holidays the way we did, but everything is different now.  With our person gone for this season, all of this can be overwhelming.  Too many changes over too many years.  We just want things to be what they were.

3.  Constant reminders:  Stores are putting up their Christmas decorations and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!  Displays of Christmas decorations have been in stores since September.  Retailers are running their Christmas commercials.  Homes have begun to put up their lights and door wreaths.  We can’t escape it.  Since so many strong memories are directly connected to our person who died, there are countless triggers just waiting amid all of these reminders.  It could be music, or a certain food, or a smell, or a location, or a movie or just about anything else that was meaningful for you.  It’s virtually impossible to avoid being ambushed by a trigger this time of year.  Expect them.  Prepare for them.  Carry tissues at all times.

4.  Happy happy joy joy commercials:  I’ve mentioned commercials already, but want to say a special word about them.  Some of them are intentionally emotionally charged.  Advertising executives know that a strong emotional connection will make you want to buy their product.  Some holiday commercials are downright gut-wrenching in their emotionality.  Folgers and Hallmark come to mind.  Even if you’re not grieving, some of those commercials can move a person to tears!  Again, expect the triggers for a good cry.  You’re more emotionally fragile these days and that’s okay.  Have a good cry.

Coping through the Holidays 

There is a whole lot of advice out there about coping with the holiday season and I am only one more voice added to the chorus.  I’ve broken it down into three categories to make it easy to navigate through my suggestions.  This outline for coping with the holidays can be translated to other holidays and events, such as anniversaries, birthdays, etc.

1.  Self-Care:  Duh.  I know.  Everyone says to take good care of yourself.  When you are grieving and feeling overwhelmed it is improbable that you will adhere to a strict self-care schedule.

A. Physically – using whatever energy you do have, try to get some good rest, decent nutrition (an apple every now and then to supplement the cereal and toast over the sink), exercise and definitely some fresh air every day.

B. Emotionally – Expect that this will be an emotional roller coaster and be prepared with tissues.  Identify and lean on your support system.  Let them know that this season will be challenging, that they can expect tears, that you may not make up your mind about attending anything until the last minute and that you hope they will understand.  (And if they don’t, that’s their problem, not yours!)  Be direct about what you need – a listening ear, help wrapping presents, some space to be alone…

C. Cognitively – Read about grief during the holidays to help you know what is natural and when to ask for some assistance.  Take breaks from the grief by allowing your mind to be engaged in something that takes your mind off of who and what you are missing.  Maybe learn a new craft, attend a lecture, go out to a movie, etc.

D. Spiritually – Engage daily in whatever brings you peace.  Music, meditation, prayer, nature, creativity, worship.  Anything that allows you time to settle your mind and be in this moment right now.

Have a Plan

As a counselor, I’m forever suggesting my clients have a plan for THE day.  Know what you are going to be doing every hour of the day.  What you will be eating.  Who you will be seeing and when – if anyone.  Within this category are three choices:  All, Nothing or Different.

1. All:  Literally all things will be the same.  You will do everything exactly as you’ve always done.  Using Christmas as an example, you will put up all of the usual decorations.  Have dinner in the same place at the same time with the same people and the same menu and the same dishes.  Know that this will be an emotional roller coaster.  The triggers will be numerous and you may need to take breaks from any activity.  Inform your support system so they know what to expect.

2.  Nothing:  You choose to completely disengage with the holiday/season.  You choose to spend the day alone at home.  Inform your support system and expect resistance.  They will not want you to choose this option.  If you do, and you believe it is right for you, stick to your decision.  One client repeated this phrase to her family until they accepted her decision:  “I am choosing to spend the day in quiet contemplation.”  Short, to the point, firm.  They eventually did honor her request.  Let them know that it is for this year only.  Next year you may or may not make a different choice.  Still have an agenda for the day.  And leave your options open.  One client was home alone all day for Thanksgiving last year, decided maybe she was up for some company, and called her family to ask if she could come over for pie.

3.  Different:  Within this category there are two choices – Stay or Go

A.  Stay – Tweak the day.  Change the time, location, or menu.  Instead of dinner at 2, maybe you have an evening meal by candlelight.  Skip or add traditions.  It may be too overwhelming to send out cards this year, so don’t.  Maybe you have everyone go around the table or sit around the tree after dinner and share memories and stories.   Alter the decorations.  Maybe instead of putting up the big Christmas tree, you opt to only put up the small table-top one.  Decide what is really really really important to you and dismiss the rest.  Inform your support system that due to how emotionally challenging this holiday/season is for you that you’ve decided to do things a little differently.  Most folks will understand.

2. Go – Run away.  That’s right.  You heard me.  Run away.  Take a trip.  Leave town.  Go visit some far-flung relatives or friends.  Take a cruise.  Fly to a remote island.  Whatever appeals to you.  Inform your support system and expect resistance.  Again, stick to your decision if this is what you choose.

** There is no right or wrong option to choose.  As each person is unique and each person’s grief is unique, so will your response to an important day.  Whichever option you choose – All, Nothing, or Different – it does not have to be a permanent decision.  It is just for this time.  Next time you may choose a different option.  Just do what makes the most sense to you.

Memorialize Your Person

This is so very important for any special day.  The worst thing would be to completely ignore that this person is no longer present.  Do something – anything – to honor/memorialize/remember your person.  And do this whether you are with others or alone.  Some examples:  light a candle, display a photo, cook their favorite food/dessert, share memories, release balloons, craft something out of their belongings, give a keepsake, make a donation….The ideas are endless.

And there you have it.  My game plan for this holiday season and, really, any significant date on the calendar.  It will be emotional.  The triggers will be plentiful and endless.  Sometimes it will feel like you are completely disconnected.  With all of that, it can still be a time to both take care of yourself and honor your loved one.  Who knows?  Maybe there will be a merry moment or two mixed up in the chaos.

Whatever you choose, may you have some semblance of peace and comfort on those challenging days.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions or concerns, or to schedule an appointment.

Lisa

Copyright 2014 Lisa B. Wolfe, Translating Grief, LLC

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Hanukkah Greetings…

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When an old man dies…

library burns

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From the archives: Top 10 Ways to Memorialize Someone on a Holiday

Top 10 Ways to Memorialize Someone on a Holiday...

On ‘ordinary’ days it’s easy to wear the public mask on the outside and pretend all is well on the inside. But there’s something different about gatherings, especially on a holiday. The loss seems larger, more present, more painful. It can feel like a performance in a play as we wrestle with the increased intensity of our emotion. Usually, the others present at these holiday gatherings are also missing your person. Why not acknowledge the loss together? It’s often up to the griever to tell others how to help them and shared grief is helpful.

Here are the top 10 ways my clients have memorialized their person during a holiday.

1. Leave an empty chair and place setting
2. Place a photo somewhere prominent.
3. Light a candle…maybe in front of that photo.
4. Toast the person at the start of the meal.
5. Go around the table and share a memory specific to this holiday.
6. Ask for a written memory specific to this holiday to put in a memory book. (Repeat this practice for any subsequent holiday and add it to the book.)
7. Plant a tree or flowers together.
8. Release balloons with messages written on them. (please remove the long strings first!)
9. Prepare your person’s favorite dessert…and tell the others that’s what you’ve done.
10. Ask for donations of non-perishable food and bring to a local food bank.

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This Thanksgiving…

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Learning to swim….and surf….

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Or surf…

Grief does come in waves.  Often they are powerful and overwhelming and you can see them coming.  Sometimes they come out of nowhere and surprise you or knock you to your knees where you stand.  There is no running away or ignoring or wishing them away.  They come.  Over and over and over again until you feel like you don’t have the energy to take another breath.  It feels a lot like drowning on your tears and your emotion.

You become an expert at riding these waves.  Just as real ocean surfing requires incredible balance and muscle strength, riding the waves of grief requires incredible balance and emotional muscle strength.  It is important to try to find some balance between the constant assault of grief and built in breaks from the grief.  Some people find this break in work or movies or games or activities or exercise.  It’s important to find what works for you even for just a few minutes a day.  It is equally important to build those emotional muscles.  You do that by allowing the waves to reach you…by leaning into them and experiencing them fully.  Allow whatever emotions you are experiencing at any given moment to fully wash over you.  This is not easy.  Our natural tendency is to avoid pain of any kind.  The more you lean into the pain though, the stronger your emotional muscles become.  The benefit is that you learn that you can cope with them.  You learn they are not permanent.  You learn that they pass.  Just as muscle memory assists any athlete with automatic motion and reaction, emotional muscles will do the same thing.  You recognize the signs of impending intensity.  You learn what works for you to cope with them.  You learn to take the time to feel the feelings knowing it will pass and you can return to some level of equilibrium and balance…until the next wave…

As always, if you’d like to chat about your grief journey, call or email me.

Lisa

Copyright 2015  Lisa B. Wolfe, LMSW, Translating Grief, LLC

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Iceland Gulfoss

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