The few trees still upright were stripped of their branches, lonely flagpoles without a nation to claim them. Mike Mullin, author
Three weeks ago, Hurricane Ian ravaged parts of Florida and other states. Many people are in mourning for their possessions, their way of life, and the idea of life being the way they wanted it to be. Every day we are thankful that our southwest Florida house was spared as we empathize those who lost so much.
In Asian philosophy, this mourning of the loss of how we thought life would be is called Ego Death. Those who have lost their homes, possessions, livelihood, and/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’s 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.
Blogger’s note: I posted this blog three years ago but, since I still have such strong feelings about the topic, I’m reposing. Blessings!
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 thirty, have suffered at least one significant loss. If all of us never recovered from loss, we would all be walking around like the Zombies we were the 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?
There is always some source of light in the darkness, shining on different opportunities, pointing toward new possibilities. Bahram Akradi, Founder and CEO of Life Time
When we experience loss, we often feel immersed in darkness. For some, it’s part of the grieving process. But know that there is always a source of light if one seeks it out. This light could come through our faith in God, an empathetic friend, or our own will to move forward.
As Akradi says, the light points toward new possibilities and shines on different opportunities. A single candle can light up a room. Moving forward in the smallest way can yield a brighter future.
Affirmation: I will seek the source of light in the darkness.
Coaching questions: How do you deal with dark times? What helps you find the source of light?
Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness. Steve Maraboli, author
“Crying activates the body in a healthy way,” says Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UCLA and director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. “Letting down one’s guard and one’s defenses and [crying] is a very positive, healthy thing. The same thing happens when you watch a movie and it touches you and you cry… That process of opening into yourself… it’s like a lock and key.”
This must be good news for those of you who are prone to tears. Growing up in a “stoic” family environment, for me tears have always felt like a show of weakness and I avoid them if possible. However, there’s nothing as satisfying as a good cry when watching a sad or heartfelt movie alone. Or, an Olympic athletic realizing her lifelong dream.
Affirmation: Crying is a healthy thing.
Coaching questions: How do tears (your own and other’s) affect you? When do you give yourself permission to cry?
There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something better tomorrow. Grison Swett Marden, MD
We have spent time this past week empathizing with families of the victims of the high rise building collapse in Florida. We watch as they hold out hope that their loved ones will be found alive.
As Dr. Marden says, hope is a powerful medicine. But as the days turn into weeks, then what? How do we handle life when hope is gone? How do we learn how to live with our loss?
We grieve, we take care of ourselves, we preform small daily tasks, we share stories with others who have similar losses, we seek help when we need it, we find creative outlets for our memories and our sadness.
In these next days, when hope in Surfside wanes, I pray that loved ones will find comfort as they celebrate the lives of those who were lost. I hope they know that people the world over are sharing in their sadness as we recall our own losses.
Affirmation: I share the grief of others.
Coaching questions: How do you handle life when hope is gone? In the past, what helped you in your grief?
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?