Reclaiming Our Grief from the “Experts”

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This post is a result of something that has been going through my head for a while. In fact, this morning I had insomnia that was driving me crazy until I decided to get up and write. Here goes. Keep in mind this won’t be lengthy. I just want to have you think about something. We can then explore it together later.

I’ve been involved in direct service, work, ministry, etc. with people for forty years. It doesn’t make me an expert. Much of my work has been in the context of grief related situations. Primarily this has been death related grief.

Grief has become a huge marketable part of our culture. There are loads of books written on grief. I have quite a number of them myself. There are all sorts of theories or explanations of “the process of grief” all trying to help people make some sense of grief. You might say they give you an idea of “how to” grieve. Perhaps the one who led the way in this was Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross back in the 1960’s with her “stages of grief.” Others have used such terms as “tasks of mourning,” or “dimensions of grief,” etc.

There are all sorts of people involved in the profession of “therapists” or couselors. Many religious type leaders or professionals may also make efforts at helping people in their grief. Some of them may be effective but many miss the mark.

I think it’s time for the average person to reclaim their grief from the so-called “experts.” This may sound simlistic or perhaps even outrageous. Yeah, I get it! The “experts” have spent years studying grief and how it impacts the lives of people they are trying to help. I get that too.

Listen, you are the expert in your grief. You are the “coach.” You help guide your own process of grief. We may benefit in some way in visits to “therapists” or “counselors” and the like but realize you are the expert of your grief. Everyone else who may want to help you will do well to really listen to you. They can’t say anything worthwhile until they listen to you. Your journey of finding your way through your grief will become more clear as someone walks with you, so to speak on this journey.

I say all this to hopefully stimulate discussion. Try not to hide your grief. Please honour your grief by finding people to walk with you on the journey. You talk about your grief and your companion listens. Don’t leave your grief up to the “experts.”

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Listen!

I originally posted the following on Facebook in something I call Coffee Shop Ponderings. Comments are appreciated.

Listen! Listen again! Listen some more! If I sum up what I have learned through the years in being with people it all comes down to one essential skill. Listening. If we neglect to listen we neglect true care of people. To listen means to do more than hear what people are saying. In listening I lay aside preconceived notions I may have. In listening I am being present with another person’s soul. Does this sound too lofty an idea? Well, it is not lofty, it is a need. I say to listen is a skill.

Most people can use skill development when it comes to listening. To listen certainly does not come easy. Just because we may say, “I’m listening” does not mean we are.

When I am with people in a professional role this is how I listen. To listen means the words someone may be sharing with me penetrates my heart and mind. I receive the words in such a way I discern not only the thought but the accompanying feelings of the person. I hear their words and see perhaps a quiver of the lips or a smile. I hear in the tone of the person’s voice the feelings that come from within. Their smile causes me to smile. Their cries cause me to feel with the person but I do not become overwhelmed. I listen and feel with. I may respond by saying something like, “You sound so happy” or “This is hard for you.” Often people will say, ” I haven’t talked about that for years. I’ve kept it inside. Thank you for listening!” That thank you is a gift from one listened to.

In a personal context when with family and friends. Even with family members or dear friends it is important to really listen. Many times family members may not listen to each other. It is oftem more about getting one’s point across than it is coming to an understanding between each other. It is not about always having to be right as much as it is knowing you love each other. To listen is to care and love. To not listen results in the opposite.

Do you want people to know you really love and care for them? Learn to listen.

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Not Always Pleasant, Yet Real

I have come alongside many people who were dying in my work over the past forty years. I want to mention a few things about caring for people who are actively dying in a hospital or long term care setting. Sitting at the bedside of a dying person may not always be pleasant. The things I am going to mentions are real.

Some people I converse with, especially after they know the kind of work I do, have a romanticized view of the reality of dying. Family members may sit at the bedside and hope relief will come for their loved one by death. They can be fighting their own tiredness due to the long hours of sitting and waiting. Waiting for the “end.” When death finally comes some family members immediately burst into tears. Some just sit as if in shock. Others talk to the loved one as if trying to rouse him or her from sleep.The finality of death brings many emotions to the front that people express. Dying and death are no joke!

I have sat with dying people during times where not so pleasant things happen physically. I remember sitting with someone who lingered.The person was not comfortable much of the time. She consistently issued a form of sputum from her mouth. The room had the smell of coming death. It was not pleasant sitting close to her. Her hands were curled up as if like a claw.She remained in a fetal position.

The situation this lady experienced was at the end stage of her life. Now and again she spoke but she was difficult to hear. When death finally came she passed quietly.

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Good Grief People

Hello readers! It has been a while since I posted here. This past year has been a full one with family, work, writing and life. My writing has developed to the point where I am now collaborating with some other writers on a book. The book is entitled Good Grief People. We plan on having it ready for a late Feb. 2017 launch. Good Grief People is a collection of real life stories of experiences with grief and hope. I will give more details in another post soon. I trust you will be interested in having a copy and that you will find some healing and comfort through Good Grief People.

Life goes on and so does death

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Hello Readers!

It has been a while since I last posted anything. I have been involved in a lot of things lately and ScarredJoy has been neglected. One thing I know for sure since my last post is life goes on and so does death.

In my work as a Spiritual Care Practitioner for a health authority I am constantly reminded of the regularity of death. I also encounter face to face messengers of the preciousness of life. These messengers are my “teachers,” the people who are residents of the care facilities I work in. For most of them serious illness, injury or disability are a permanent part of their lives.

It is a genuine love and concern for my “teachers” that causes me to keep an eye on the current debates people are having on the procedure known as “doctor assisted suicide” or the more politically correct term, “Medical assistance In Dying (MAID).” I wonder if it will indeed be passed into law at the beginning of June 2016. I wonder how soon we will here of the first person to die from MAID?

Medical Assistance In Dying is here! How will our population respond. What is my view you may ask? I have been giving it some serious consideration. It is not clear cut for me. More to come on this in my next post! 🙂

 

Men’s Grief Part 2 by ScarredJoy

My apologies for being absent for a while. I hope at least some of you are still with me! I mentioned I would write something one men’s grief for your consideration. well, here is part two!

I have been involved in caring for people both formally and informally for over thirty years now. I was a pastor for fifteen of those years and the others have been devoted to learning through my schooling but also through being directly involved in coming alongside people in all sorts of situations of life. I am still working professionally in a context where suffering is part of the culture. 
Now, let me include a bit of a disclaimer here. I did not state the above paragraph to try and establish I am an expert on people or suffering. The truth be known that with all my education and experience in working with people it did not prepare me for how I would respond to personal experiences with grief. When my dad died 12 years ago it took the wind out of my sails. We were together s a family in the hospital awaiting his death. We were aware that he was indeed dying. I actually saw him take his last breath. It was surreal to say the least. My immediate response was to want to walk away and be on my own. I could not think of what to do.

Here is an interesting note on men’s grief. Literature on grief will mention that one of the things men have in common regarding grief is the need to “do” something. My mom, being a real life wise woman, knew this about me and her other sons. She knew me and my brothers well. I didn’t know what to “do” in seeing my dad die. I was standing in the hallway outside the room where my dad died and wondering what was I to do now. “How can I help?” “There’s nothing I can do” “What is going to happen next?” “What will happen to mom?” All sorts of things may go through a guy’s head that point to a helplessness, a sense of not knowing what to “do”. Here I think is a difference that women may bring to the table of grief and is a choice we men have if a caring person points it out to us. My mom simply said to me as I wanted to walk away. “Alan, come on now, don’t walk away. Come on back inside (dad’s room) and be with the rest of us.” It amazes me that I still remember her words. By saying this she wasn’t giving me an alternative to what I could do. She was giving me the choice of “being”. Come and “be” with us. It would only be for a short time that we would stay in the room but mom ws saying I didn’t have to “do” anything. How freeing this simple choice was. Mom allowed me to just “be,” to just sit by my dad’s bed and be.

Our grief, for either men or women, may imbalance us in numerous ways. If given the chance, if we believe we have no choice but to do something, we may be robbed of the beauty, the freeing and gentle acts of “being with” those we love. In “being” we embrace perhaps the child in us that just wants to express that right now “I am sad and I am crying because my world has changed and there is nothing I can do.” Someone please help me “be”.

I don’t know if this makes sense to you readers. Perhaps I am betraying my own teaching and this is but another way of me “doing” grief. I hope it helps each of us in some way.

The waves of grief at times seem overwhelming and at times I long for them to cease or at least be tempered. They do however, remind me of my humanness, my fragility, my vulnerability and hope for a community of caring souls who allow my heart to freely express the pain that strangely unites us. Grief also hopefully gives a great appreciation for the loveliness of life and the precious gift it truly is.

One’s ability just to “be” in our times of grief may also give us a unique opportunity to share with others at least part of the journey we are on. Just think of how lonely it might be if we didn’t have people around us who love us. Especially with close family or friends who love us we may enjoy a strong sense of belonging, the reality that we are not really alone.  We may also sense with these intimate connections with others that deep inside there is a spot, there is a space that makes us also aware of the pain of each other as well. Perhaps knowing this helps us to be more tender and less judgemental toward each other.

Women and men, girls and boys, all grieve! Perhaps we indeed grieve in some different ways. “Doing” even in expressing grief, has its place. Learning how to “be” and also knowing that we as men don’t always have to “do” may be freeing to our souls as we go on in life without people we have deeply loved!

A Dad’s (Men’s) Grief Part One

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Hi folks!  ScarredJoy mentioned in a previous post how often a dad’s grief may be overlooked. The context of the post was a reflection on a young couple who were looking forward to the birth of their baby. The mother suffered a “miscarriage” and their dreams of a life with the baby ended.

I would like to offer you some thoughts on grief from a man’s perspective. Certainly what I post here may not be so with all men as there are exceptions. I am saying that men are indeed in some respects different from women in the expression of grief and perhaps how they experience grief. Here goes.

Men’s Grief. This is how it seems to me: Grief is like a cover over the heart. It wants to cover one’s heart from the light that would show the way into one’s changed life. Due to the cause of the grief life has changed for ever. It is a search for meaning and questions of seeking. At times it is a painful reflection of one’s perceived role as a man, as a dad, as a son, as a husband, as a son in law, etc. To cry may mean I am not being strong for my family. I am letting them down. The grief has covered the guy’s heart and this being the case, it is a time of darkness, the light has been blocked out and he may think, “I don’t know where to go” “I don’t know what to do” “I don’t know how I’m supposed to be”.

I will probably say a few more things as time goes on but let me just say something else at this time. 
Here’s where it might get a bit messy and confusing for men when it comes to grief. Caring women in their lives may have to approach the man similar to how they would approach a young fella or a boy. This is not to belittle a man or minimize his pain. I see it as a process of caring rather than a one or two step act.

Please recognize ladies that many men were informed as boys that they are not supposed to show emotions that make you seem weak. To some crying is an ultimate sign of weakness, of not being in control if one follows this direction. The guy, perhaps your son, husband, brother etc. needs to be shown that you actually care about his emotions including those covered by grief. Grief can be lonely. It wants to isolate the man from true feelings that allow him to express his grief. It will “leak out” in some way, however. Someone who is safe, who may come alongside him, who doesn’t lecture, or give advice, is a gift. Providing a safe place, including trust, may help uncover what grief has smothered. Perhaps the tears may flow (his, your own, both of you). Perhaps then a story will unfold. The guy is trying to be present in his grief, to just be. 
Men are often ‘doers” when it comes to grief but I can say something about that another time. we men may actually have to be given permission, so to speak, to be authentic with how much this grief hurts so deeply.

Next time: grieving the death of a child.