When your life revolves around helping people, it takes many turns. You encounter situations of all kinds. Such is the stuff of life. The kind of help people in trouble or grief need can vary from financial to assistance with household jobs. It can be a matter of pride what they allow you to do for them. You have to break down their resistance; but you know it if for their own good. If they are a grieving family, they succumb to compassion eventually. It is what they need the most. In the throes of a loss, a family can fail to attend to normal matters. In other words, they just let things go. I remember a family who had lost a loved one and the house they lived in was badly in need of repair. They failed to attend to the simplest matters such as a broken kitchen cupboard latch, a frayed toaster cord, a leaky bathroom faucet, and broken chimney bricks. It all started to mount up and they expressed frustration to me that their living quarters was showing signs of wear and tear. It all seemed too much, like what more is going to happen around this old house.
I decided to take matters into my hands since theirs were full of responsibility already and they could hardly tackle any renovations. I asked a friend to help. Between the two of us we knocked out most of what was on their repair list in a day. As for the fireplace, I hired a professional from Finest Fires and oversaw the work being done. They didn’t even have to lift a finger since we had a competent professional.
People in need express it in different ways. They can be overt and spell it out or they can show psychological stress in general. Any little thing I can do to ease this anxiety is most welcome from my personal experience. I am often given grateful thank you gifts in return. In the case in question, the grieving family, I received a wonderful array of home baked goods. I could tell that it was given with great love. The lady of the house told me to share it all with my parishioners, which I did posthaste. I hope to continue helping people as word gets around that I am available. I want to encourage others to volunteer to assist me so we can reach each and every one in need. I bring my experience to this task as a grief counselor at a hospital and now as a pastor in Sioux City. It is a wonderful community and I am proud to contribute what I can. I know that there is a real need for people to reach out and connect with others in their grief. They need a safe and helpful place to come and share feelings and find materials on grieving to comfort them. If it also entails some household repair, so be it.
While not a therapist per se, what I do in the way of grief counseling borders on traditional therapy. It is my own spiritual variety. There are always plenty of takers in any given community. People experience hardship, grief, and loss on a regular basis and their souls need tending. They need attention of various kinds. Sometimes it is a pep talk on the highest level and sometimes it just means doing something together for distraction. A case in point is a young girl in my flock who lost her mother. There is nothing more devastating and the young can hardly bear the pain like mature adults can. You have to approach children in unique ways. I had the idea to schedule a baking session with her so she could get her woes off her mind. I thought it would keep her busy and that we could talk a bit as we worked so it wouldn’t be an obvious and intimidating counseling session.
I arranged to meet her at her home and once I entered the premises, I sought that she had immediately set up the kitchen. I saw on the countertop a mixing bowl and spoon, cupcake tins, an assortment of ingredients like baking powder, flour, milk, eggs, and vanilla. I also saw a nice hand mixer that we would use to make our task easier. She certainly was well equipped and well prepared. I knew that once we started and got into the baking process, she would open up and talk about her feelings. Within a half hour, amidst the frenzy of icing the baked goods, she expressed her experience of pain at the loss of her mother. She said that baking was something they did together. Her mother enjoyed cooking and baking in particular and she often let her daughter help.
This was a good memory. When going through the process of grief, it is not best to suppress the past. Fond recollections help ease the pain. One of the fears of those experiencing loss is that they will forget the loved one. The more you reminisce, the more you remember the person and the details of their face and demeanor. I think our cupcake baking session was an occasion for the young girl to do this. She mentioned her mother frequently. “Mom liked to do it this way…. Mom used this flavoring for the icing…Mom let me lick the bowl…Mom was the best…” The baking session, while unique to us, conjured up her love for her mother. She felt closer to her as a result. I was appropriately pleased. If necessary, I would come once again for another cupcake day and continue the counseling. Counseling isn’t just sitting down in an office one on one. It can take place while you perform mundane tasks or are talking about a different subject. This just goes to show you how personal counseling is. You have to tailor it to the person’s degree of grief, age, and emotional level at the time.
Where do you start when you are struggling with your grief and need help? Many people look strictly at online support and while it is a good option to have, there is something to be said for having one on one help from flesh and blood people. Believe it or not, there are places right within your community that will be able to point you in the right direction. All you have to do is ask. Below you will find a list of a few such places.
If you have a service at a funeral parlor, ask the director. They may even bring up counselling options when you come in to make arrangements, but if they don’t, just ask if they provide counseling or after care. They will absolutely be able to help you find something. Remember, this is their job. You are not the first person to ask them for help, and you will not be the last. They are trained for just these types of questions, and they will help.
If you are religious, ask an officiant at your place of worship. Whether it be a pastor, reverend, priest, rabbi, imam, or someone else you trust, we also have helped many people through similar circumstances. It is our job to look after your spiritual well being and we will do so. In some smaller communities, you may not need to ask; they may follow up with you after the services. That isn’t always possible, but that does not mean you cannot reach out to us. I know I have an open door policy and tell my grieving families from the very beginning that they can call me at any hour if they are troubled. I know that sometimes it is easier to be angry at God than it is to accept what has happened. I also know that faith may not feel like much of a comfort. But if it is part of your belief system, this is an excellent time to lean on it, even if you aren’t sure you want to.
If you aren’t religious or are concerned about the way you are feeling, talk to your doctor. Tell him or her how you honestly feel so that they can assess what sort of help will be best for you. They may be able to direct you to mental health services, provide a temporary prescription to help you handle your emotions, or any number of other options. But they will only know what you need if you talk to them about it, and are clear about how you feel.
If your loved one passed on after a long illness and was receiving end-of-life or hospice care, they are also an excellent place to go. Many times, they will inform you of programs prior to death to help you prepare. If they offer information about counseling or support groups, take them up on it. If they haven’t already talked to you about it, please contact them. Again, this is something that they deal with on a regular basis, so it is not a burden to them. Many hospice workers form a bond with their patients and those who care for them, and they want to be sure that you are getting the help you need. Likewise, if your loved one passes on while at the hospital, ask the chaplain on duty or your loved one’s doctor and they will be able to point you in the right direction. Many deaths at a hospital are due to sudden accidents, fatal injuries, or violence. These can especially be difficult to cope with, and hospitals are aware of this. They will be able to provide you with after care assistance.
Support groups are also excellent places to find support. You may find meeting times and locations in the newspaper, the phone book, religious bulletins, or online. Go more than one time, even if you don’t feel like it is helping. It may take a while for you to open up or really listen to what others are saying.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. It is just to show you that there are many places for you to turn if you need guidance on your journey through your grief. Let your community help you. There are many of us trained to do just that. Please utilize us.
I know that many people have been taught not to express their emotions. Children are told from an early age not to be “cry babies” and are humiliated and made fun of when they display feelings of sadness, fear, or distress. When a loved one passes away, many people are told to “be strong.” They are told that their children/parents/friends/work need them to soldier on, to keep their head up, and be brave. Sometimes, however, we don’t feel strong. We don’t feel brave. Actually, we feel the exact opposite. We feel terrible. It is hard to get out of bed. It is hard to imagine loving anyone or anything ever again. Here is a secret: that is how you are supposed to feel. You have suffered the loss of someone you love. There is no getting around it–that is a terrible thing. Whether you feel like you “had time to prepare” because of a long terminal illness or it was sudden, this is a tremendous and life changing event. You will be going on a hard emotional journey, whether you want to or not.
Many people don’t feel anything right away. They just keep moving forward with their lives, thinking that they can leave grief and sadness behind. The truth is that grief is like a skein of yarn. If you do not attend to it, it will get knotted with all the things you are avoiding. You will trail it behind you everywhere you go. As the string drags along behind you, snagging on things and getting hopelessly tangled, your grief will be manifesting itself anyway. It will come as guilt, loneliness, concentration problems, irritability, or other destructive behaviors. One day, you will get to the end of the string and there will be nothing left. Grief will overwhelm you. You may have been ignoring your feelings in the hopes that they will go away, but grief is like a splinter embedded in your skin. When you remove it gently and carefully, you can heal and begin to move on. The more you attempt to ignore it, the more it will hurt when you are finally forced to do something about it.
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to feel your emotions and work your way through them as they come, you can grieve in a healthy way. You can take that skein of yarn and create something out of it. No two people will make the same thing out of their grief or express their feelings in the same way. As long as you are processing your feelings in a safe and healthy manner, you will be fine. I promise that eventually the skein will run out of string. You will have moved through the grieving process and will find constructive ways to cope with your feelings. Unfortunately, the pain may never go away completely. There are people, and even pets, in our lives that are irreplaceable. When they are gone, it may scar your heart forever. But when you confront your feelings, you can find a way to express them, and let your emotional wounds scab over and heal.
Take care of yourself and encourage others to do the same. I will be praying for you.
I like to have a variety of materials available to the people who come to me. Sometimes it is hard to absorb everything said in my office or at an appointment, and it is helpful to have the information in front of you in print. Sometimes people don’t connect with their grief counselor well and would rather do things on their own, or perhaps their counselor is unavailable. Or, for a multitude of other reasons, they choose to grieve privately. Here are some of the materials that I offer to those in need of comfort:
- Grappling with Grief: A Guide for the Bereavedby Penny Rawson. This book, written by a psychotherapist and counselor, walks people through their feelings and stages of grief. Free of technical terms and written in a very accessible manner, it will help the reader understand the whirlwind of emotions going on within him or her as well as provide some comfort. Many who come to me find it of great comfort.
- Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills. This incredibly well thought out book can apply to grief in almost any situation. It does not specifically make clear who Grandy lost, so it is incredibly adaptable. Early in the book, it gives cooking tips for the specific chef—if a child is the chef, if it is a friend, if there are two of you, and several other examples.
- Portraits of Hope DVD. This is a wonderful DVD from griefHaven that interviews parents who have lost a child. It spans 25 years, so it charts the whole grief process and can provide hope and comfort to parents and others who have recently lost a child.
- The Vitas Healthcare website. Vitas is a hospice organization, and they have an incredible variety of resources available on their site. From losing Alzheimer’s patients to suffering from depression, you can find a variety of articles with clear titles so that you can find something applicable to you. I usually print off a variety of topics and have them handy to give to people. Although they are shorter than books, they are still beneficial and are more likely to be read by some people who don’t feel like they have the time for a longer book or who are too overwhelmed and intimidated by something longer.
- Sesame Street. Through their Talk, Listen, Connect program, this iconic and educational television show has a variety of sources available on their website in the form of videos, downloadable guides, printable worksheets, a storybook, and links to resources. Children can create a memory chain, parents can print them a feelings journal, and a host of other things. These are characters that many small children already recognize and trust, so it can make the topic easier to tolerate.
- The Dougy Center has information for children of all ages and their parents, but I recommend their teen section especially. It has excellent information, written directly to teenagers in a way that will help them feel understood.
If you are looking for materials on your own, I hope that you find this list of some comfort to you. I will be keeping you in my thoughts as you go on this difficult journey, and I hope these books, articles, videos, and websites are like torches lighting your path as you travel.
Because grief is such a personal event—no two people experience it in the same way—people tend to feel like they are going through it alone. Siblings, for example. I have seen the death of a parent cause one to completely shut down. She could not get out of bed and cried all the time. Her brother, on the other hand, grew very angry. It was impossible to talk to him about anything without him lashing out. Even though they lost the exact same person, they experienced and expressed their grief in different ways. However, when they talked to each other about their grief, they realized that they had a built-in person who understood exactly what the other had lost. The sister was able to get out of bed, and the brother was able to find a better way to express the emotions he was trying to process.
I highly recommend that family and friends check in with each other daily after a loss. It gives everyone the opportunity to communicate with each other and spot destructive behaviors quickly, before they can escalate. It seems like an arduous task but things like telephone chains can spread the work out across the whole group. Keeping in touch reminds people that they are not isolated in their experience, something that can be easily forgotten after the funeral is over and it feels like everyone else has ‘moved on’.If someone seems like they are particularly struggling, I tell them to report it back to me so that I can suggest extra counseling or other activity that will help the person.
Grief counselling is something I recommend to everyone. Some people feel like a tremendous burden to their loved ones when they don’t grieve ‘fast enough’ or constantly need to talk about their grief and feel like they are ‘bringing everyone else down’. A grief counselor is a neutral party that will listen without judgment and help you move through your grief in a healthy way. Because they are not directly involved in the network of family and friends, you will not feel like a burden to anyone. Instead, they are doing their job, which they chose to do in order to help people just like you. Utilize them. Unburden yourself.
There are also grief support groups. These can be amazingly beneficial. There are specific groups—loss due to cancer, loss of a child, parental loss, and many others. You can look online, ask a counselor, or speak to a clergy member. Try one out. Sit and listen. Talk if you are feeling comfortable. You will find that there are many people in your community suffering from a similar loss and going through the same things you are. You will learn that your feelings are normal and even healthy. You will also meet people in various stages of grief. Some may be able to provide you with a sense of encouragement—you may need to see people who are coming out the other side so that you know one day, too, you will get there. If the first group you try isn’t right for you, keep going. Be safe in the knowledge that you are not alone and that you will find people you are comfortable with, and that there is a community of people waiting to support you. If you don’t have the energy to keep going on your own, ask a family member to go with you. It might just be what they need to help them, too.
First, let me thank you for looking after your friend or loved one. This is a difficult time for them and by coming here, you are clearly trying to do the right thing. It can be hard to know what that is. I will give you some strategies and ideas to help you so that you can help them.
- Don’t simply say, “I’m here for you if you need anything.” Everyone will be saying that, and it doesn’t actually mean anything. Instead, say, “tell me what I can do for you.” If they don’t have an answer, try to anticipate what they will need. Do they need someone to watch their home or pets while they are away at a funeral? Offer to house sit. Do your kids go to the same school? Offer to drop off the children when you take your own. Are they going to be hosting out of town people at their home? Stop by and clean up their home for themor offer to pick people up from the airport. Think about what you would need to do if you were in their shoes, and then offer to do just that. It will show them how much you care.
- Try to alleviate the burden of notifications and funeral arrangements. Take them to make the arrangements so they won’t be alone and help make the arrangements. Offer to call family members. Help them fill out insurance forms and death notices for places like social security and the DMV.
- Help them practice basic self-care. Cook a healthy meal for your family and make extra for them, and bring it by. Write a note on how to reheat it if necessary. Watch their children for an hour so they can take a hot bath or a nap if they need it. Make sure they are taking any medications they may need on a regular basis, and help them reschedule any doctor appointments they might miss due to the circumstances. Go grocery shopping and stock their shelves. Get them outside for a walk, even if it is only around the block.
- This can be hard because we are wired to relate things back to our own experiences. Don’t talk about your own experiences with grieving unless they ask. Instead, offer your presence. Maybe they will want to talk and maybe they will not. But knowing that you are physically there in case they do decide to open up is comforting to them even if they choose not to say anything. Let them know that what they are feeling is normal. Don’t say things like, “I know how you feel” or “You need to move on.” Don’t make it about you or what you think they should do. If they say something that sets off warning bells in your mind, contact someone—preferably their doctor—who can evaluate them and provide help if they need it.
- Lastly, be in it for the long haul. Keep calling or dropping by, even if your attempts are rebuffed at first. After the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the funeral, they will be feeling more alone than ever. Most family and friends will go back to their own lives and the casseroles will stop appearing in the fridge. They need to know you are still there. Stop by with food. Send a card. Give them a call on their first day back at work. Keep reaching out. They will need it, and trust me, they will know that they have a really good friend.
Thank you again, and I will be praying for you so that you may continue to offer assistance to those who need it.