Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Will I Get Through the Holidays? Dealing With Grief After the Loss of Someone You Love

This holiday season can be the best of times and can be the most difficult of times. It is often considered one of time with family and those we are in closest relationship with in our lives. For some, those persons have died in recent  months or even years, and this holiday season is as much a time of sadness and a reminder of the loss as it is a time of hope and celebration. One of the most helpful ways to move through these difficult days is to listen to yourself and face it with some intention, honoring both yourself and your loved one. I write this entry for anyone who is grieving a loss and struggles with how you will get through these holidays, and for those who know someone who may be going through grief during this time.

Strategies for Coping Through the Holidays In the Midst of Grief *

  1. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel. Others may have difficulty with the rawness of your emotions. Let that be their problem. It is not your responsibility to protect them from your emotions. Honor your experience. It is a way of honoring your loved one, as well.

  1. Plan ahead! Call a family meeting to discuss plans for the holiday. It’s ok to leave home if you choose, or do something non-traditional.

  1. Take time to do the things you want to. It’s ok to say “no” to others if you need or want to in their plans.

  1. Take care of yourself…eat healthy, plan a budget, drink wisely…

  1. Find a way to remember your loved one that is meaningful to you and your family. Some may want to purchase gifts for their loved one and give them to a charity that needs them. Perhaps a tree decorated representing your loved ones favorite things. Perhaps filling your loved one’s stocking with favorite memories of him or her. What would be meaningful to you to honor your loved one?

  1. Find others that can accept you as you are and allow them to assist you, support you.

  1. Recognize that grief affects everyone differently. Everyone in the family, even extended family, grieves. Each, because of age, personality, relationship to the one who has died, will grieve differently. How can you honor each in their need?

  1. Consider doing something for others. Sometimes getting out and providing a service to someone in the community or elsewhere that is in need is a good distraction and provides hope in the midst of the sadness.

  1. Give voice to your soul…allow yourself to ask the hard questions and search for the meaning you yearn for. This meaning is not for the death, but for the life and legacy of the one you remember and love.

  1. Be gentle with yourself! This is no ordinary time, and grieving is so very difficult, at best. If the death was a sudden and unexpected one, there is a level of trauma that comes with your experience. It is important for you to know you cannot grieve fully unless you acknowledge the trauma you have suffered in the loss.

Recently I had the privilege of being with family members in a workshop that have gone through the loss of a loved one through a vehicular collision. They reminded me of the importance of having folks around that truly understands their traumatic loss and need for acceptance in their pain and journey through the trauma and grief. When death is unexpected, it can take four to seven years to move through the loss (K. J. Doka, 1996). Even then there is that ache inside that never truly leaves, especially if this was your child (of any age) or someone you were especially close to.

Be kind to yourself if you are one of the folks who are in grief during these holidays. If you know of someone who is going through this, let them know that you are thinking of them and their loved one and care about their experience during these days.

*Many of these coping strategies come from:
Miller, J. E., “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?: 12 Ideas for Those Whose Loved One Has Died”, 1996.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Right Answer vs. Right Response

A few months ago I read a devotional that stated that there is a difference between knowing the right answer and having the right response. That has stayed with me since then. Whenever I am talking with God, I want answers. If I hear none that I recognize, I can get impatient. In time as I keep listening, I often experience something that brings new awareness to me that helps me to realize that God has been with me all along. I was thinking about this during the experience of the recent anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy 10 years ago.  There are no “answers” to such a horrific experience. On the other hand, there have been both negative responses of fear and anger and ethnic profiling and many positive responses of compassion and reaching out to those in need that have been witnessed and experienced.

I think about the word responsibility, or response-ability. The right response may be in behavior, or in waiting. It may be in listening, and it may be in speaking. It can be in holding on or in letting go. As Ecclesiastes 3 states, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven…

When I ask God what it means to be faithful as a disciple of Christ, I am struck with the question of what is the right response, not what is the right answer. It helps me take away the need to hear the words and listen to the whole of the experience. It is still difficult to have patience to know the right response, and to know how to respond in the “right” way. But now, I am listening to the experience, not just for an answer.  Plus, this reminds me that it’s about God’s timing, not my own.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What Is Meant By "Empowering Authenticity?"

One reader of the last (and first) blog post asked me what I wanted to accomplish with this blog. That was a great and thought-provoking question. Even before this blogspot was started, I have been giving a lot of thought on what it means to be authentic, to be genuine. “Of course it means being really who we are meant to be!” you say? Do you know who that is for you?

As I have done my counseling and life coaching in the last several years, I realize that even older adults who are well grounded, intelligent and quite competent sometimes struggle to answer the question of “What are your personal values?” Often, the first responses are “family”, which is often (in my social circles) followed by “faith”. They may name other important values. All which are excellent and worthy to follow. So, then I ask, “ When you are stressed out or feeling off center, are these the values that help you to refocus on the life that is important to you and the ones that help you to be grounded again?”

My understanding of authenticity is about not only being genuine, it is also about being the person that God has created you and I to be. Looking for the person within that finds energy in what I am doing, living out of my core values, and utilizing them to help me steer through life experiences. For most life coaching clients, I will ask this question to them about their core values. If they stammer, say “I don’t know”, or what do you mean?, then I realize that they need to know what their own foundation is before they can build on it. If you don’t know what is most important in your life and what personal core values guide you, how can you make your best decisions?

This is what I mean, in part, by “empowering authenticity”. This is about myself in that I am seeking my own authenticity. This is imperative in order for me to step back and free others to find their way on their own journey. “Empowering Authenticity” is also about what I believe I am called to do for others…making a safe and professional space for others to find healing, explore their own needs and wants, and grow into their more beautiful and genuine selves. Corny, perhaps. But, imagine if everyone really took this seriously….seriously! I believe this is what God has called me to, that is to grow closer to Him and live out of that with integrity and compassion and with authenticity, and to accompany others according to their need in finding the path for their authentic and whole selves.

Are you living the life you are intended to live? Do you feel grounded, energized, hopeful in going forward? Are you living out of our own personal core values? Live authentically, and you can empower others to do the same!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Moving Through Transition

I am going through, yet, another transition in my life now. This one I did not choose. It was a downsizing from a healthcare system where I had worked for more than 9 years.  This is the third time this has happened in my life. The last one 11 years ago taught me a lot about how to approach this one. No, it still isn’t easy, and yes, I still have the waves of anger and sadness at times. One thing I have learned in my life is that change, or transitions, are a part of life. Sometimes we choose them, sometimes they happen to us.

Among those many transitions are the many moves I have made in my life. Like many folks, I have moved more times than I care to count anymore. Part of this has been due to the fact that I am what my family calls a “professional student”. I love to learn and grow, especially when it provides meaningful opportunity for me to serve better in my profession, well, professions, actually. Professional Counselor, Life Coach, Minister, Spiritual Director. Yes, they are very different professions, if you know them well. I hold sacred the responsibility of knowing the differences and honoring each.

I am a seeker, a seeker of what is authentic in God’s sight. Obviously there is more mystery than what is known. On the other hand, each transition has called me to seek even more, to learn and explore what I don’t understand and want to know. God has done His greatest work in me when I felt my own powerlessness. It seems that I have grown most and risked most and found more satisfaction in the experience when the times have been least dependable in my own hands. I would like to have a peek into the direction life is taking me right now, but I am reminded that these are the times God calls us to hold the questions. The questions are often more important than the answers. Holding the questions means that we are open to listen and open to grow into something new. Right now it feels very uncomfortable and even scary at times, but I am reminded that comfort is not a part of the deal with God. Presence, grace and an unconditional love is promised; not comfort and an easy way.

Thankfully, I do have my previous experiences where I have been provided for far beyond anything I would have dreamed for myself. The truth is that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the challenges I have had in the past, as well as the blessings. I guess this is where transition has turned into transformation. When I learn to listen, to utilize the resources I have, and am willing to go through the grief, anger, the many unknowns and hold the questions, I begin to heal and be more than I was before. This is where authenticity is truly unleashed. I have come to believe this is not only about who I am, but who God is in me and how God uses me as His instrument for service. Sometimes, it takes these unexpected times of transition and the unknown for that transformation and authentic God to be manifested. I look forward to having a clearer understanding of what that will look like in my present situation, and I still don’t like the discomfort and scariness of not knowing. Yet, I hold on with trust because God has always provided before. This and the life and grace given through His Son is what gives me strength, especially now.