Some thoughts on Grieving
Experiencing deaths of loved ones (see list below) has taught me a lot - we each grieve and mourn differently. No one can truly understand one's personal relationship with the deceased and the void left in one's life. I have written in my journal many pages of remembrances, thoughts, and plans for future living. I met with a therapist and my doctor prescribed antidepressants. Its important to pamper oneself - to allow the emotions to surface and release. Because I choose to be single (my students are my 'kids'), the loss of a loved parent/friend was very significant. The deep sadness and emptiness required time and effort to overcome. Most of the time, I was fine; looking eagerly towards a good future. But the waves of grief sometimes overtook emotions and I felt the heavy loss.
Excerpts from How to Survive the Loss of a Love
When an emotional injury takes place, the body begins a process as natural as the healing of a physical wound. Let the process happen. Trust the process. Surrender to it. Trust that nature will do the healing. Know that the pain will pass, and, when it passes, you will be stronger, happier, and more sensitive and aware.
Stages of recovery
Recovering from a loss takes place in 3 distinct - yet overlapping - stages:
3. Understanding/acceptance/moving on
Each stage of recovery is necessary, natural, and a part of the healing process.
Books I recommend
The Grief Recovery Handbook
A Journey Through Grief
Healing Your Grieving Heart, 100 Practical Ideas
Some of what I experienced
The physical breakdown of human beings (and dogs).
The fragility of the human body.
The rollercoaster of emotions: pain, laughter (when tears were overwhelmed), sadness, and the joy of being alive and healthy.
Enhanced creative output, maybe compensation for grief. Maybe I experienced the value of 'there really is nothing to fear' that frees the mind for creative thoughts.
My capabilities and limits (or lack of) of compassion and care.
Some of what I learned
How to mentally prepare for my own later poor health and care needs.
Its okay and healthy to sometimes pamper myself - give myself permission to indulge. Grieving is not a great time to diet or change routine - we need familiarity, comfort, and to be centered and confident.
I enjoy being a caregiver (I might even volunteer at a nursing home).
Old people need care, compassion, and a listening ear. Some don't have that.
Old people have fascinating stories to tell.
I am more patient and understanding when old people are driving.
Empathy for those who are unhealthy.
Greater respect for my health and mental well being.
The value of writing my inner thoughts and feelings in a journal.
Nurses/health care people don't get paid enough (its frustrating that America favors military and killing over education and health care).
We each experience grieving differently. All of our personal relationships are unique. No one truly understands what I am feeling.
I should hug my friends more. Tell people I love that I do.
What is really important at deathbed. Career achievements and material acquisitions really don't matter. Only the love and care of friends and family.
When others grieve
I've also learned how to better deal with people who are grieving.
I will avoid saying, "Its for the best, he/she's out of pain, no more suffering." "He/she is in a better place." "It was just his/her time to go." The grievant is the one that is hurting and those comments don't help the grievant - the person is still gone,no matter to what wonderful place they may have gone.
I won't tell stories of a relative who died, how sad it was for me, or my experiences with grieving. These don't ease the pain of the grievant. More sad stories don't help. I won't wrest the focus away from the grievant with my own tales of woe.
Text to a friend
She had to put her dog to sleep because he was too aggressive.
I've learned to do three things
1. Ask if the grievant would like a hug (even though our culture says men shouldn't).
2. Ask if they would like to talk.
3. Offer to listen whenever they'd like and offer to hug whenever they'd like.
Nothing more need be done.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
Deaths I have grieved
Delta flight, August 1985
Plane crash while landing at DFW. From downdraft.
Laird McDonald, March 1994
My best friend since high school. From colon cancer.
Murrah bombing, April 1995
Downtown Oklahoma City. From Tim McVeigh.
Austin, August 2002
Greyhound pal for over 8 years. From surgery to remove a cancerous leg.
Conor Henderson, November 2002
Student in Graphic Design I. From a car accident.
Lorraine Remmel Watson, December 2002
Mother and friend. From complications from a stroke.
6631 Orchid Lane, Dallas, September 2003
House. Moved there in 1958 - many wonderful memories.
James Webster Watson, September 2003
Father and friend. From complications from a stroke.
Dallas, March 2006
Dog pal for over 14 years. From spinal arfritis and tumor.
William Remmel Watson, September 2009
Brother. From liver cancer.
Vegas, July 2010
Greyhound pal for over 7 years. From kidney disease.
Six Things You Should Never Say to a Friend (or Relative or Colleague) Who's Sick
By Bruce Feiler, The New York Times, June 10, 2011.
1. What can I do to help?
Most patients I know grow to hate this ubiquitous, if heartfelt question because it puts the burden back on them. As Doug Ulman, the chief executive of Livestrong and a three-time cancer survivor, explained: "The patient is never going to tell you. They don't want to feel vulnerable." Instead, just do something for the patient. And the more mundane the better, because those are the tasks that add up. Want to be really helpful? Clean out my fridge, replace my light bulbs, unpot my dead plants, change my oil.
2. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
In my experience, some people think about you, which is nice. But the majority of people who say they're sending "thoughts and prayers" are just falling back on a mindless cliché. It's time to retire this hackneyed expression to the final resting place of platitudes, alongside "I'm stepping down to spend more time with my family," or "It's not you, it's me."
3. Did you try that mango colonic I recommended?
I was stunned by the number of friends and strangers alike who inundated me with tips for miracle tonics, Chinese herbs or Swedish visualization exercises. At times, my in-box was like a Grand Ole Opry lineup of 1940s Appalachian black-magic potions. "If you put tumeric under your fingernails, and pepper on your neck, and take a grapefruit shower, you'll feel better. It cured my Uncle Louie."
4. Everything will be OK.
Unsure what to say, many well-wishers fall back on chirpy feel-goodisms. But these banalities are more often designed to allay the fears of the caregiver than those of the patient. As one who recently had brain surgery complained: "I got a lot of 'chin ups,' 'you're going to get better.' I kept thinking: You haven't seen the scans. That's not what the doctor is saying." The simple truth is, unless you're a medical professional, resist playing Nostradamus.
5. How are we today?
Every adult patient I know complains about being infantilized. When the adult patient has living parents, as I did, many mothers in particular fall back on old patterns, from overstepping their boundaries to making bologna sandwiches when the patient hasn't eaten them since childhood. "Just because someone is dealing with a physical illness," Mr. Ulman said, "doesn't diminish their mental capacity."
6. You look great!
Nice try, but patients can see right through this chestnut. We know we're gaunt, our hair is falling out in clumps, our colostomy bag needs emptying. The only thing this hollow expression conveys is that you're focusing on how we appear. "When people comment on my appearance," Ms. Linn said, "it reminds me that I don't look good."
So what do patients like to hear? Here are Four Things You Can Always Say.
1. Don't write me back.
All patients get overwhelmed with the burden of keeping everyone informed, coddled and feeling appreciated. Social networking, while offering some relief, often increases the expectation of round-the-clock updates.
To get around this problem, I appointed a "minister of information," whose job it was to disseminate news, deflect queries and generally be polite when I didn't have the energy or inclination to be. But you can do your part, too: If you do drop off a fruitcake or take the dog for a walk, insist the patient not write you a thank-you note. Chicken soup is not a wedding gift; it shouldn't come with added stress.
2. I should be going now.
You'll never go wrong by uttering these five words while visiting someone who's sick. As Ms. Pogrebin observes of such visits, don't overstay your welcome. She recommends 20 minutes, even less if the patient is tired or in pain. And while you're there, wash a few dishes or tidy up the room. And take out the trash when you leave.
3. Would you like some gossip?
One surefire tip: a slight change of topic goes a long way. Patients are often sick of talking about their illness. We have to do that with our doctors, nurses and insurance henchmen. By all means, follow the lead of the individual, but sometimes ignoring the elephant in the room is just the right medicine. Even someone recovering from surgery has an opinion about the starlet's affair, the underdog in the playoffs or the big election around the corner.
4. I love you.
When all else fails, simple, direct emotion is the most powerful gift you can give a loved one going through pain. It doesn't need to be ornamented. It just needs to be real. "I'm sorry you have to go through this." "I hate to see you suffer." "You mean a lot to me." The fact that so few of us do this makes it even more meaningful.
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