Do You…

Do You

The attached photo was taken over the summer on a rainy, chilly day.  It was just so cozy and something compelled me to take the picture.  You may notice the Christmas lights I still have hanging.  When the Christmas season was over last year, I just couldn’t bring myself to take them down so there they stay.

Over the course of June and July, we had the pleasure of hosting two young girls (new family members) aged 10 and 6 (now she’s 7).  My office has a day bed with a trundle and that became their bedroom whenever they slept over – which was quite often.  The first time they walked into the room, the 10 year old exclaimed “COOL!  Christmas lights!  Can we keep them on at night?”  The then-6-year-old made a face and asked in a snarky tone “Why do you STILL have Christmas lights?”  I replied “Because they make me smile”.

I recalled this during a recent conversation with a client.  She was talking about how things have “evened out” for her with the passing of time and she finds herself returning to some of her previous activities – the ones that make her smile, she said.  And with that, she’s gotten some push-back from family and friends.  “Isn’t it a little soon?” someone in her life asked.  She replied “Define ‘too soon’”.  HA!  I like that response! She put it right back on the person judging her.

What I suggested to her was that she continue to “Do you.”  Do what you want, when you want, with whom you want and don’t listen to what anyone else has to say about it.  It’s your life.  It’s your grief.  It’s your journey. We all have a different time line, a different set of coping skills, a different support system, a different personality.  How we decide to cope with our own, individual, unique grief is completely and absolutely up to us.  No one else.

Get out there and DO YOU.  Whatever that means to you….

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

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We remember….


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Grief is like a shipwreck….

grief like a shipwreck

Brilliant analogy.

Read the whole article here.

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Dragon grieves…

Dragon finds a friend

During the school year, I babysit two days a week for my grandchildren (5, 3 and less than 1).  When the baby goes down for a nap it gives me and the older two an opportunity to spend some good time reading.  They choose a bunch of books and we snuggle up and read.  It’s one of my favorite times of day.  I’m a big fan of chapter books so I was thrilled when one of them asked me to read Dav Pilkey’s book “Dragon Tales”.  It’s got a number of little stories, each broken down into their own chapters.  The one that really struck me, though,  was  “A Friend for Dragon”.

In this story, Dragon is in search of a friend.  All of the animals he asked to be his friend had an excuse to say no.  When an apple fell on his head, a snake tricked him into believing that the apple could speak.  Dragon was so happy to have a friend.  The next chapters tell of their time together talking and eating and sleeping.  Dragon does notice that Apple is very quiet, but it isn’t until he tries to wake Apple up that he thinks something is very wrong.  He takes Apple to the doctor, but a Walrus in the waiting room eats Apple, leaving only the core, when Dragon stepped away.  Now Dragon is frantic trying to figure out why Apple is now brown and mushy and wet rather than red and shiny.  He supposes that Apple may be dead.  Once he comes to the conclusion that Apple is, indeed, dead, he buries him in the backyard and this is the commentary that follows (the page numbers are in parentheses):

(42) “Dragon was very sad.  He cried every day.  He did not want to eat.  He could not get to sleep.  Dragon did not leave his house for a long, long time.  (43) But after a while, Dragon stopped being so sad.  He cried less and less.  He began to eat and sleep better.  (44) Still, he was very lonely.

Now.  If that isn’t an apt description of grief right there in the middle of a children’s book, I don’t know what is!! In the beginning of our grief, we cry every day, don’t want to eat and have trouble sleeping.  Eventually, the intensity of those early days does begin to soften, but the loneliness may prevail.  I really loved that he didn’t sugar coat the grief or suggest that once the days softened for Dragon he was “over it”.

What’s so beautiful about the ending of this story are the illustrations.  Right where Dragon buried Apple, a tree grew and bore loads of beautiful shiny, red apples.

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

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It’s not my job….

7 jobs

As I was reading through a variety of blog articles and comments recently, one woman’s comment jumped off the page at me.  The writer stated that bereavement counseling wasn’t helpful because it didn’t take away her grief, that the counselor didn’t do her “job”.  That really hit me….and not because I always, every time, fail at taking away my clients’ grief, but because that is never ever the goal of bereavement counseling.

In other kinds of counseling there is usually an issue which needs addressing.  The counselor and client identify the issue, explore a bit, work together to determine the most helpful course of action (usually after some trial and error), and, then, when the client has achieved their goal they go on their merry way (or work on another issue).

It’s different with bereavement counseling.  Here’s the thing:  it’s not my “job” to remove the grief.  It’s simply not possible – as most of you already know.  Grief doesn’t end; it changes.

As a bereavement counselor it IS my job:

1.  to listen to your story.  Without interruption.  Without judgement.  As many times as you need to tell it.  Telling the story is, in and of itself, healing.  Often, at the end of the story, my clients will say that it was the first time they told the story from beginning to end.  It is so very important to speak of the loss and to be heard.

2.  to NOT give advice or direction or instruction as to how to “do” your grief.  It is your journey and it will absolutely be different than anyone else’s journey.  There will likely be similarities to the grief of others, especially those with similar losses, but you are the only you in all the universe and no one else will have your exact internal or external resources, personality, history, story to tell or expression of grief.

3.  to pay attention to any red flags you may wave.  I assess for issues related to suicidality, self-care, relationships, activities, complicating factors, multiple losses, etc.  The list is really too long to include them all.  Most people experience “normal” grief, but sometimes something else is present and it is my job to address them with you.  In some cases, a referral will be made to someone more competent to walk you through a different issue.

4.  to educate you about what that “normal” grief looks like.  Usually my clients just want to know that what they are experiencing emotionally, physically, cognitively, socially and spiritually is “normal” and not “crazy”.  (“Normal” is in quotations because I don’t believe there is such a thing.  “Average” or “common” or “natural” are more useful words, I think, but everyone walks their own path.)  Usually we’ll talk about some grief theory ideas, trajectories of grief (I avoid time frames because absolutely everyone has their own time frame), common reactions and more based on your needs.

5.  to explore your strengths and existing coping mechanisms and build on that.  We all have strengths and we all have ways of dealing with life.  We’ll look at what your strengths are and what you already do naturally to cope.  Then I’ll dip into my toolbox of coping mechanisms and try to pull out the tools that are best suited to you as an individual.  There may be some trial and error.  Not all coping mechanisms work for all people, but we will get to those that help you.

6.  to help you recognize or build a positive support system.  Some folks are blessed with remarkably supportive people around them who know just the right things to say or do.  Others, not so much.  And in many cases, the people we expect to be our biggest supports simply are not.  You may have expected your partner/sibling/child/bff, etc., to be your support, but you ended up disappointed.  It’s often someone you hadn’t thought of before like a neighbor, cousin, different friend, or a coworker.  Or even someone you hadn’t known previously.  We’ll take a look at who is there for you in the way you need them to be and we’ll look at building on that network if necessary.

7.  to walk alongside you until you feel confident in your own ability to walk the rest of the way with your unique strengths, support system, and toolbox of coping mechanisms.  And that is really the goal of bereavement counseling.  It is not to eliminate the grief, but to help you get to a place where you know how to cope no matter how intense the grief attack.

I hope this has been helpful.  Whether you utilize me or another counselor, I think it helps to know what to expect…or at least what I hope you will receive.



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

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The “Inside Out” of Grief

Anger is the flip side of Sadness. Anger we know. Anger we can do. Sadness on the other hand hurts too much. We don’t like it so we avoid it. Rumi said “the healing from the pain is in the pain”. …

From the Heart

I am not a movie critic, and this is not even an attempt at a movie review. 

And SPOILER ALERT, I’m not going to try to NOT spoil this for you.

I just want to tell you about a family who went to see a movie together and what happened in our own “inside out”.


The characters that you see above are Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness.

They live inside Riley’s head.

As the film begins, we are welcomed into to a story about a little girl who grows up reaching childhood milestones, loving hockey, developing sweet friendships, and having a wonderful family life. She then finds herself moving across the country with her parents where everything is new and different. The film’s focus is the emotional upheaval that the move has on Riley, however, the setting of the story takes place less on the landscape of Riley’s experiences and more…

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Raw, authentic and beautifully written article….

joan didion quote

Warning:  Adult language.

Here’s a quote from the article.  Please take the time to read the whole thing.  Incredible description of real grief.

“Hitting the ground is a repeated theme of the grieving process.

On the whole, it’s choppy and messy and non-linear. One emotion doesn’t flow neatly into another but hits you suddenly like morning sickness and can’t be pushed down. The only way to make it stop is to vomit up the feeling — to feel it deeply and loudly. Then, you’re suddenly making a joke: “If he wasn’t already dead, I’d fucking kill him.” And everyone laughs.

The pain comes and goes and comes and goes. You don’t pass one stage, scratch it off your list, and graduate onto the next. It’s not compartmentalized as the chart suggests. It comes in waves. It’s circuitous ad never-ending. Joan Didion said this better:

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7 Helpful Hints to Grieving a difficult parent….

7 helpful hints

Since before Mother’s Day I’ve been thinking about this topic because I grew up with a toxic mother.  When I was fifteen, she threw me out of the house and I went to live with my father and his wife.  (Before you feel sorry for me, it was the best gift she ever gave me.  My new home was full of love and responsibilities and discipline.)  Every Mother’s Day I struggle.  The thing is, I don’t struggle because I miss her, I struggle because I don’t have a mother.  There is and has always been a mother sized hole in my heart that can’t be filled.  I grieved it long ago and have come to terms with it, but, still, it’s there and it rears its ugly head every year.

I’m not alone.  Over the years, I’ve counseled scores of clients who also grieve for difficult parents.  Whether their parents were dealing with addictions, mental illness, poor parenting skills or any number of toxic issues, this kind of grief is a form of disenfranchised grief.  In a recent group, a participant openly spoke about the toxic relationship with the parent who just died and the sense of relief now being felt.  I was so proud of the other participants who didn’t judge and gave encouragement and normalcy to those emotions expressed.

How, then, do we navigate through a national “holiday” devoted to loving mothers and fathers?  How do we navigate through this kind of grief over the course of our lives?

1.  Recognize that it is a form of disenfranchised grief, which is defined, in a nutshell, as a grief that is not met comfortably by society.  You may get negative responses if you say that you are glad or relieved that your parent has died after a lifetime of toxicity and pain and disappointment.  “But it’s your mother!!!!”, they’ll shout.  Yep.  It was your mother, but she wasn’t a Hallmark mother and for those people who have Hallmark mothers there is no amount of explanation that will help them understand.  Just nod your head and keep walking….away from them…

2.  Since it is a form of disenfranchised grief then you will need to find someone to talk to who won’t judge you or try to talk you out of your emotional reactions.  Just one person.  That person can be a family member or friend or professional, but please try to talk it through.  It really does help to tell the stories and release the emotions…

3.  You may experience some real rage because they are dead and you have to live with the damage.  There is a danger here of becoming a victim rather than an overcomer.  This is where the talking it out part comes in handy.  Recognize that the anger/rage is normal and natural and find ways to release it in a healthy way.  Hurting yourself or others is not an option.  Maybe channel it into creativity (journaling, art, music, poetry, etc.) or physical exertion (exercise, training for a marathon, home and yard projects).  And direct it where it belongs:  with them.  Not you or your family or your friends or your possessions.  The rage is real and justified.  Feel it, talk about it, release it.

4.  You may find that you have a strong grief reaction.  Maybe you expect that once they are dead, you will be relieved, but instead you find yourself crying all the time and canonizing them (this is when you put them on a pedestal, minimize the negative and maximize the positive).  One former client found herself having a very strong grief reaction after her abusive father died.  This is actually more common than you might imagine.  Why?  You are grieving the fact that there is no longer a chance that the person who died will become the parent you always needed them to be.  They can no longer wake up one day and realize how they’ve hurt you, apologize profusely, take you into their arms and tell you how much they love you.  Whether you realize it or not, we all hope for this from a difficult parent.  Again, having someone to talk this through with is crucial.

5.  “It is what it is, but it becomes what you make it”.  I despise the expression “it is what it is”.  To me it represents a defeatist attitude, a lack of choice, but there are ALWAYS choices.  We can wallow in our pain and disappointment or we can dust ourselves off and grow from the experience.  By a certain age, we have to stop blaming our actions and attitudes on our “bad” parent/s and upbringing.   We are adults and are now responsible for ourselves and must act accordingly.  Will you be bitter or better?  Will you break the cycle of abuse/addiction/etc.?  Or will you continue it?  This takes a certain amount of resilience and insight, but it is absolutely doable by absolutely anybody.  You have the power to change your current circumstances if you’re unhappy/unsatisfied.   If you struggle with this, it helps to talk it over with a professional to help you get started….

6.  Journal a list of positives you learned from this person.  Huh?  What?  Positives?  From her/him???!!!???  Yep.  That’s what I’m saying.  For me it was that I learned how to be a better parent.  My sister and I determined at young ages (19 and 17) that we were going to break the cycle of damaging mothers and we have.  That is my proudest accomplishment.  I learned resilience.  I learned that no matter what comes my way, I can cope.  Those are no small lessons.

7.  This all applies if your person is still alive (as my mother is) and you are grieving the loss of the relationship and not their death.  It is okay to not have a relationship with your parent if they are toxic.  Sometimes you have to separate yourself from those to whom you are related to save your own sanity and emotional well-being.  I’ve never, probably for obvious reasons, been one to insist that because someone is biologically related you have an obligation to be in relationship with them…be it parents or siblings or cousins or, even, your own children (I hear the gasps!).    Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

And there you have it.  Seven helpful hints to grieving a difficult parent.  I hope this has been helpful.  It’s not an easy grief journey, but it can be done in a healthy way.  I believe that knowledge is power and knowing why you do/think/feel what you do/think/feel is crucial to any effort you put forth to navigate through this kind of grief.



If you struggle with any of these issues and would like to speak with a professional, please contact me at

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

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It’s a long, long journey….

gut wrenching journey

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From the archives…one of my most-read posts…

Translating Grief


I’ve often talked about how those spiritual/existential questions are the ones that keep us up at night.  The one question we ask over and over and over again:  Why??  Why him? Why her?  Why me?  And beyond that we want to know where they are.  Can they hear us? Do they know what’s happening here?  Is there really life after death?  Is everything I’ve always believed true?  Do I still believe the same things?  How can I *KNOW*?

Someone – somewhere – once said that grief is learning to live without the answers.  That is WAY easier said than done, but I think it’s appropriate.  We simply cannot have the answers to any of those questions this side of the grave.  So what to do…

We can – at some point – accept the fact that we will never know.  That’s the hard part.  I don’t know about you, but…

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