Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dealing with Grief and Sorrow Part 6

          One stage of grief not listed, except as a sub-effect on the seven stages list, is loneliness. Since that is one of the most engulfing and long lasting effects of the loss of spouse, I’m adding loneliness as one of the major stages of grief and sorrow. Loneliness becomes a major portion of each and every stage of grief. The empty feeling of needing someone to share our thoughts, our lives, our needs, and our victories describes loneliness caused by the death of our loved one.

         Loneliness and solitude are not synonymous. One chooses solitude, but loneliness invades us through an overwhelming sense of our loss. No, unless we become so lost in our loneliness that we need professional help, the isolation doesn’t surround us all the time, but we never know when it will hit or where.

        Most people do not know how to deal with the grief someone else feels. Our society tends to be uncomfortable around people who grieve. We are expected to grieve alone, behind closed doors as others go back to their lives. People may have good intentions, but they forget to call or visit. Many, because they don’t know what to say or do, hope someone else will help. 

        Understanding friends and family members can make a big difference with just a bit of effort. I have one friend who calls or texts me two three times a week. She comes by once or twice a week for short visits. No, one person can’t fill all the empty spots, but she helps so much. Another, newer friend, is alone, too, and she and I have developed a closeness that helps both of us. The phone call and texts from one of my great-granddaughters to check on me gladdened my heart and brightened my days. 

         One of my former students has been so kind about helping. When I wanted to purchase eggs from one of his children, he said that they would give me eggs, that his children needed to learn compassion, and that the Bible says we are to care for orphans and widows. He lost his mother, one of my closest friends, years ago, and he understands. I wonder if parents are failing to teach their children compassion. Are we so uncomfortable about death and grief that we “protect” our children from understanding?

       I have a strong faith, which gives me a strength that allows me to survive most of the overwhelming, crushing loneliness. However, sometimes I don’t know if I can endure being alone. An example, I won two awards in the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. (OWFI) writing contest. Some friends and family told me how glad they were I won, but I couldn’t really share what winning meant to me. Robert would have been proud of me, as he so often was. I could have shared with him, more than once, how I felt. Of course, he would have bragged at dialysis. I miss having someone who cares so much about me

       In our “fast” society, the prevailing attitude is, “get over it,” “get on with your life,” “haven’t you taken long enough?” Only those who have lost their spouse or another loved one understand that no time limit exists for grief, especially for the loneliness caused by grief. We must overcome our lives being torn to pieces, put the pieces together for a “new normal,” knowing that a major portion of our lives is gone. 

      Allow me to share some suggestions for coping with loneliness found on
·  Think about who is supportive to you in your environment and what gives your life purpose and direction (family members, pets, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, colleagues, clubs, athletic activities, groups, church groups, support groups, bereavement counselor). With whom are you most comfortable, and who is the most comfortable (accepting and caring) with your grief? Look for those who will listen without judging you, or for those who have suffered a similar loss.

·  Find time with others to talk, to touch, to receive support. Be honest with others about what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to express your sadness rather than masking it.

·  Don’t expect others to guess what you need. When you want to be touched, held, hugged, listened to or pampered, say so. (A suggestion from me to those who want to help: call, don’t wait to be called.)

·  If all you want from others is help with simple errands, tasks, and repairs, say so.

·  Let others (especially children) know if and when you need to be alone, so they won’t feel rejected.

·  Go somewhere and have a good, long cry— and do it as often as you wish. You have every right to miss the person who has died. Accept your feelings as normal.

·  Find time alone to process what’s happened: to remember, to dream, and to think.

·  Identify your loneliest times, and think of how you can alter your routines and environment (for example, rearrange the furniture in a room; plan your weekends ahead of time; use your microwave for quick, easy meals).

·  While some folks really are thoughtless and don’t think before they speak, bear in mind that many well meaning individuals have yet to experience a significant loss, so they really don’t know what grief feels like, or how to respond, or what to say. They aren’t deliberately trying to hurt you. You can choose to bear with such people, you can enlighten them about what you know of grief, or you can look to others who are more understanding to find the support you need.

·  Realize that no one can totally understand the relationship you had with your loved one.

·  Ask people to remember, talk about and share stories about your loved one with you.

·  Become more aware of how your own usage of words affects other people. Rather than saying something hurtful, admit that you don’t know what to say.

·  Consider getting a companion animal (which can be a wonderful source of unconditional love), but only after you’ve investigated what kind of pet would suit you and your lifestyle. (Note from me: I already have one, a seven-month-old cat named Panther, who still searches the garage trying to find Robert.)

    Loneliness is a normal part of grief and sorrow. However, if that feeling of isolation completely overtakes our lives, we need to seek professional help. Even if we believe we are coping, sometimes joining a group can help. I plan on joining a grief recovery program this week, where attendees don’t sit around sharing sorrow and becoming even sadder, but where we can learn ways to help us rebuild our lives. I know a part of me is missing, and I know I will always have some loneliness. However, with God’s help and the help of people who care, I will put the pieces back together and have a new normal.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dealing with Grief and Sorrow Part 5

According to the K├╝bler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, one of the stages is bargaining. I have a problem accepting this as a phase of grief or sorrow when someone loses a loved one in death. We can’t “bargain” to change the results after death. Any chance of change is gone. Therefore, I’m skipping this step as a step a person experiences as a loved one is ill, injured, or slipping toward death, rather than one experienced after death.
       Next on all lists is depression. Depression occurs in everyone who suffers a loss of any type, and the loss of a loved one definitely causes depression, sometimes a mild case, sometimes a major case, but always an emotion that comes with grief. Also, bouts of depression may come and go over a long period of time.
       So, what is “normal” depression after a loss, and what becomes a major problem? Everyone grieving has spells of crying, deep sadness, a feeling of loss and confusion. However, most of us find a way to climb out of the dark hole and function at least much of the time. Yes, we feel helpless and hopeless at times, becoming less often as time passes, but we must find our way out of the dejection back to our “new normal.”
A few ways to overcome the natural depression cause include: 1.  find new interests or return to previous interests
2.  enjoy memories of our loved ones  
3.  spend time with friends and family.

Indications depression might be a major problem:
1.  Constant thoughts of being worthless or hopeless
2.  Ongoing thoughts of death or suicide (other than thoughts that they would be better off dead or should have died with their loved one)
3.  Being unable to perform day-to-day activities
4.  Intense guilt over things done or not done at the time of the loved one’s death
5.  Delusions (beliefs that are not true)
6.  Hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there), except for “visions” in which the person briefly hears or sees the deceased
7.  Slower body responses and reactions
8.  Extreme weight loss

The article on the web site suggests that if previous symptoms last more than two months without any improvement, professional help may be needed.
Depression isn’t a condition to be hidden or of which to be ashamed, but if we can’t work our way out of our temporary times of depression due to loss, we need to seek help.
I have periods of depression, personal pity parties, I call them. I allow myself a certain length of time to feel “down” and in some darkness, time to feel sorry for myself: a day, a certain number of hours. I then make myself find something constructive to do, even if it’s mopping floors. I may not be able to control the timing of the bouts of depression, but I can control the amount of time they last. No, not everyone can do what I do – part of the time, and I can’t always set the length to any specific number of hours. However, I have learned what to do to break that cycle.
Now, why can’t we choose which effect of depression we want and time it to last just the right number of pounds to lose? Laughter is a good way to break the depression cycle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dealing with Grief and Sorrow Part 4

            Second or third on many lists of the stages of grief is anger. Probably the last thing anyone would expect when grieving to become angry. However, anger and grief go hand in hand. Being angry at the person who died because he/she left us, being angry at God for allowing the loss, being angry at people who don’t help or who don’t help the way we need – all the previous reasons and more result in an unexpected fury. If we don’t examine our anger, its cause, and find a way to deal with it, that anger can fester inside, remain, and destroy any peaceful life we could have.

            First, we must face the anger, which may strike without warning. The intensity may shock us. How could we blame our loved one for dying, blame him or her? How easy to blame God for not intervening? Why didn’t the doctor or the hospital do more? However, sometimes the very “reason” for the anger may be surprising.

            I thought I had no reason for anger, that the anger phrase would skip me, until the day I dealt with bills. Suddenly, I shook with resentment and rage. Robert could have cared enough to arrange for my future. He had chances but refused. He had an opportunity to go to work at Tinker AFB when we had been married two years. He would have begun at $15 an hour, which in 1964 amounted to a large wage. He would have had regular raises in salary, an excellent pension, all health care paid, and an easier life for himself. His excuse not to take the position infuriated me then and returned in force, “I can’t stand having all those people around me.” No matter how many times anyone told him he would only work with a small group, he refused to believe or accept anything except “he” would have to be around huge numbers of people. I went with him back to the Oklahoma Panhandle and to a lower level of living. Years later, when working for an oil field company, he had the opportunity to pay into a large life insurance policy for a year, with his employer paying even more, which would be effect for the rest of his life, giving his beneficiaries financial stability. He refused, saying I would be able to care for myself. 

            The irritation and resentment frightened me. I forgave him so long ago and thought I had put the incidents behind me. Knowing how frightened and insecure he was when we were first married, I could understand his fear of taking the job. Realizing that he couldn’t see the results of taking money we needed monthly to pay for something that might never be needed, I forgave his refusal to accept the insurance. Yet, I trembled with fury so many years later, and I had to accept the anger before I could defuse it. Loving Robert for over 53 years, made forgiving again possible. But, I must live with the fact I had become so alarmingly angry.

            We stay most angry when overwhelmed and involved in our own pain and loss. Therefore, finding an outlet for our thoughts and actions helps us deal with the anger. Keeping a grief journal, writing poetry, writing our feelings, painting our inner emotions: All are creative ways to deal with the grief and anger. Becoming active in our churches, volunteering with the elderly or with children could help.

            Finally, seeking help from a therapist, counselor, or pastor if we can’t handle our anger is a step that may be needed. 

            We might consider ourselves immune to feeling anger when we lose someone, but, as I did, the anger can and does attack when we are at our most vulnerable, during grief.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dealing with Grief and Sorrow Part 3

            According to different articles about dealing with grief and the stages of grief, pain is either not listed as one of the steps or is listed second. However, for me pain was first and always. The intense pain of loss has doubled me over, left me sobbing as I hug a pillow, caused me to doubt my sanity. 

            Yes, I smile, I laugh. I joke sometimes, but inside a background of heartache remains. I know why bards, authors, and poets over the centuries wrote and sang of heartache: The pain one feels when deeply hurt centers in the chest, and that location remains the spot the pain resides. 

            Even though we can’t erase the pain, although some people take refuge in medication and/or alcohol, we can work through it, around it, and despite it. Of course, pain may not leave us, in time it can lessen until we learn to live with it and the unexpected waves that can hit from time to time forever. How can one deal with this crippling pain?   

            One way is to face the anguish. Easy, no, but sooner or later, the pain must be confronted, even if we want to do anything to dull it. Over medicating, depending on alcohol, oversleeping, or jumping into other activities that sedate us with distractions does not solve the problem. We can’t run hard enough or fast enough to avoid the pain. Sooner or later it will catch us. However, we shouldn’t wallow in the deep pain for an extended period of time. Doing so results in self-pity and paralyzes us.

            Next, we need to “let the pain out.”  Even if we don’t normally cry much, we need to allow the tears flow. If we want to throw something, we should, making sure we don’t hurt ourselves or anyone else. Cleaning out closets, drawers, or cabinets gives physical and emotional release. Taking long drives or walks, screaming at the top of our lungs (somewhere we don’t startle others), making a book of memories – anything that allows us to release the pain without hurting ourselves or others is appropriate. We need to learn how to drawn on our inner emotional strength and faith and to learn how to cope with the pain. I often offer a short inner pray for strength throughout the day.

            One idea given in most writings about dealing with pain is to share our pain with others. The experts say it’s healthy to find people who will take care of us when we suffer: friends, counselors, pastors. What those experts don’t say is what to do when our suffering continues and no one wants to be bothered any longer. That’s when I turn to writing. No, writing does not take the place of a listening ear, but it’s better than brooding.

            Also, people who aren’t compassionate do not help us work through our pain. Some people do not understand what we’re experiencing, even if they have lost a loved one. Different people go through the stages of grief in a different order than others do. Some take longer to work their way through a phrase. Most of us go through some steps more than once. Therefore, if someone tells us, “I don’t know why you’re not pass this stage by now,” or “I didn’t take this long,” dismiss that person from your life until you don’t need a comforting shoulder. 

            Don’t do anything while in pain that we may regret later. For example, keep mementos that may be comforting later. We think we will always remember, but our memories do fade. I have many photos of Robert, many keepsakes, but I do not have a recording of his voice. I can’t remember the sound of his voice.

            We do need to keep mementos out in the open if they are constant reminders of our pain. Have a special box or other pace to store them.

            Finally, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to seek professional help if needed. If the pain continues without abatement and seems to worsen, then asking for help is required. Even in the midst of pain, we should have brief times of relief.

            The pain of loss will never completely leave. My baby died over 46 years ago, and I still have periods of pain from her loss. The pain has become muted and more bearable over the years, but it never disappeared. Each loss we experience changes our lives, and we have to find a way to live with the changes, including the pain.