When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Mister Rogers
Mister Rogers’s mother knew that if her son acknowledged the helpers he would feel calmer about the tragedy, knowing that someone was there to take control and put order to the chaos. It’s no wonder it is comforting for people to acknowledge health care workers and other helpers in this time of crisis.
As I talk with daughters who lost their mother to death, abandonment or Alzheimer’s, the trajectory of their grief is often changed by the helpers who show up. The support and love of an older brother or sister, a grandmother, neighbor, friends in support groups, hospice worker, or a loving dad, can calm the chaos of the moment and become helpers in their lives.
Affirmation: I’m thankful for the helpers in my life.
Coaching questions: Who are the helpers in your life? How do they a difference? How do you show up as a helper for others? What difference do you make?
My experience of grieving showed me that grief is more than sorrow and sadness. Writing for medium.com, psychologist, Nick Wignall, concurs. “By limiting our grief exclusively to sadness, we end up invalidating the emotionally complex nature of grief. While sadness is often a large or even dominant part of our emotional reaction to loss, it’s almost never the only one.”
As I interviewed daughters who were grieving the loss of their mothers, I recognized emotions as wide-ranging as anger, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and, yes, even joy and thankfulness for what their mothers meant in their lives.
Affirmation: I can grieve in many ways.
Coaching questions: What emotions show up for you when you’re in the process of grieving? How do you acknowledge and validate your wide range of emotions?
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest form of appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. President John F. Kennedy
Tomorrow is the fifty-sixth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If you were an adult at that time, you undoubtedly remember the day very well. As a nation we felt not only sadness but hopelessness that this could happen in our country.Today, in the midst of impeachment hearings, we may be feeling hopeless once again.
When our world looks bleak and we feel like we’re drowning in grief, pain, regret, or anger, sometimes we must rely on hope to get us through. Tightly hugging hope to our chest is a way to stay on top of what has/is happening in our world.
Affirmation: I’m hopeful.
Coaching questions: What do you need to be more hopeful about? Where do you find hope? To whom do you turn?
It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. Confucius
As I talk with people who are grieving or feel emotionally stuck, I often ask them to do one small thing they aren’t doing now. Dr. Fogg, founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, calls these “tiny steps.” Increasing a person’s chance for success, however small, increases their motivation to do other things. Make your bed, floss your teeth, walk a block, read a chapter—take a tiny step in a new direction.
There’s scientific evidence that levels of dopamine tend to be higher in people who get things done. Accomplishing things feels good, increasing levels of dopamine which helps motivate us to want to do more. Ask yourself, “Why does it matter that I ____?” When we connect what we want to do to our values, the chance of moving forward increases. For instance, “I want to be present for my granddaughter” or “I want to honor my mother by a life well-lived.”
Affirmation: I can motivate myself to move forward.
Coaching questions: What’s keeping you from moving forward? What’s a tiny step you can take? When will you take it? Why does it matter that you regain your motivation?
Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them. Mitch Albom, American author
It is important for us all, no matter the loss we have experienced, to share the stories of the deceased. Telling the tales, reminiscing about the past, remember the details of a lost loved one is critically important to the welfare of the grieving. When photos are put away and silence about the past is the rule, ultimately everyone suffers. Recalling a loved one may initially bring tears of grief but ultimately those memories will bring tears of joy and help in recovery.
I would know next to nothing about my mother if my father hadn’t shared with me who she was and how important she was in our life. Her picture was prominently hung above his bed, a photo album of our brief eight years together was readily accessible to me. I’m thankful for my dad’s openness and willingness to help me know my mother and keep her present in my life.
Affirmation: I remember.
Coaching questions: What tales do you tell to keep your past loved ones present? If your family doesn’t speak about a loved one who has died, to whom might you turn to give you information and share your memories?
The gradual losses experienced by caregivers can lead to sadness, depression, anger, guilt, sleeplessness and other physical and emotional problems. Family Caregiver Alliance Site
Caregivers are frequently referred to as heroes, even super-heroes. But, they aren’t. Caregivers are not super-human or intended to be heroes. They are simply human beings doing their best to take care of someone they love whose brain is not working properly. Perhaps they may wish they had super powers or mystical abilities but to stay sane they must acknowledge that they can’t fix all the challenges that accompany a dementia diagnosis.
The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends that a caregiver identify her losses, her feelings about the losses, and her corresponding grief. The Alliance also recommends keeping a journal, attending a support group, and doing relaxation exercises. If you’re a caregiver, my heart goes out to you as you deal with the challenges you face.
Affirmation: I take care of myself as I take care of another.
Coaching questions: Whether you are a caregiver or not, in what ways do you try to be a super-hero? How’s that working for you? If you are a caregiver, what do you do to take care of yourself? What else do you need to do to remain healthy?
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trail and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller
It breaks my heart to read the posts of women in motherless daughters’ groups telling a woman who is in despair over having just lost her mother that “it doesn’t get any better.” I shout out at my computer screen, “For Heaven’s sake, give the poor grieving woman some hope!” Most of us, if we’re over forty, have suffered at least one significant loss. If all of us never recovered, we would all be walking around like the Zombies we were that first week.
Even Helen Keller, with no sight, hearing or voice, offered a message of hope for those who are suffering and in distress. I believe it’s important to acknowledge a person’s grief, be with her in the reality of the moment, offer no platitudes like “she’s better off now” or “you’ll be fine.” Saying nothing is always good. Your presence is what matters. Reminisce with her about her loved one. But please, please, don’t take away hope for her future. Hope may be the only thread attaching her to this Earth—sometimes, literally.
Affirmation: I will be a healer and do no harm.
Coaching questions: What helped you most in times of despair? What words or presence brought you the most comfort? How do you show up for your friends and family in times of distress?
The few trees still upright were stripped of their branches, lonely flagpoles without a nation to claim them. Mike Mullin, author
More than three hundred twisters have wrecked havoc across the midwestern US states over the last two weeks alone. This is in addition to the unprecedented flooding across several states. People are in mourning for their possessions, their way of life, and the idea of life being the way they wanted it to be.
In Asian philosophy, this mourning of the loss of how we thought life would be is called Ego Death. I profoundly experienced this when I was divorced over twenty-five years ago. I mourned the loss of a nuclear family and how I thought my life would be. Those who have lost their homes, possessions, livelihood, or their way of life must be willing to have a funeral in their heart. Grieving the loss of our expectations, as well as possessions or even loved ones, is an important step towards recovery. There is no way around grief. To move forward, the path is straight ahead.
Affirmation: I accept the importance of grieving no matter what the loss.
Coaching question and request: What have you lost that you have yet to grieve? This could be something less profound than a parent, child, or spouse. Perhaps it is your innocence about the world. The loss of a friend, your most prized possession, or your way of life. Take a moment to think about your unfinished business around grief. Then do the work of having a funeral in your heart.
You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate. It belongs to YOU. Josh Shipp, youth motivational speaker
Of course, the natural and appropriate response to loss is sadness and grief. However, it’s been my experience that when the focus remains on the one you lost, there is less despair and depression than when the focus remains on yourself. When we get stuck in saying or thinking, “Why me? It’s not fair. How can I possibly cope?” we stymie our ability to move forward. So much depends on how we respond to our experience.
The motherless daughters I interviewed who moved forward with their lives, frequently talked about all their mothers gave them, even if their time with them was short, rather than all they lost because of her death. Both conversations are appropriate but focusing on the former seemed to lead to more joy.
Affirmation: I choose to get better.
Coaching questions: What is your response to loss? Is it working for you? What will help you focus more on the lost loved one and less on yourself?
Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything. C.S. Lewis, author
Death and dying are difficult topics to discuss but honest discussion is critical for our well being. As I interviewed women who had lost their mothers, one of the most important recovery factors was honesty from the father and other caregivers. Secret-keeping was one of the most destructive.
Darcy Krause, Executive Director at Uplift Center for Grieving Children, writes, “Clinicians consistently emphasize the importance of relaying accurate, honest information to a child about a parent or loved one’s illness in terms the child can understand developmentally. This lays the groundwork for the child’s healthy grief processing.”
Perhaps you experienced the damaging affects of secret-keeping. Now, it’s your turn. You can change this destructive family dynamic and have open dialogue with your loved ones on this important topic.
Affirmation: I speak opening about death and dying.
Coaching questions: What’s your experience around death and dying discussions? How were/are you affected? What do you want to change (if anything)? How might open dialogue make a difference in your family?