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By Donna Loza, LCPC, CADC, CODP I 

Experiencing a loss of any kind, can be tough and depending on the depth of the relationship, can be harder yet to return from.  Our emotions tell us what we love.  Our emotions point us to what we value, desire, and place our attention on.  When we grieve, we are experiencing a multitude of emotions, unexpectedly placed at our footsteps that none of us were particularly ready for or even wanted when someone that we loved, died.

At moments, shock, or disbelief, stops us in our tracks, the unknown of how we are to move on, especially when we were quite content, with how our lives were being lived. We think to ourselves, that person, he was just sitting there next to me at Christmas and now he’s gone. Or how we continue to expect them to walk down the hall or share some silly joke that would send us all in a belly laugh.  We are left with a quietness, that causes us to pause and take a breath as we search for them.

We are crushed, a heaviness weights us down, as the tears keep coming and we are at times, curious as to if those tears will ever stop?  We are triggered, by songs on the radio, dates on the calendar, or we have phantom appearances where our minds want to see them, and we mistakenly see them in others.

Sorrow and pain stalk us as our hearts ache.  We want that familiar drive to their house and smell the flowers in the backyard again only for the house to sit quiet now while the weeds grow, the stone bench in the yard has no one sitting on it, and the yard is untended.  We want to pick up the phone and hear their voice, find out where they are at or feel that surge of dopamine flood our brains when we see their name come up on a text.  All too well, we logically know, that won’t be happening.

Our emotions tell us another story.  We search for them, by looking at photos of them, we run our hands over familiar objects such watches, or their coffee mug. We review text messages, listen to voicemails, or go through their clothes hoping for a familiar scent or memory of that shirt or outfit that brings them back to our world.

Anger at times can be a fierce ally.  Anger breeds energy.  Loss can cause one to feel anger, at the thought of not doing enough, or not being fully present to that individual while they were alive.  Several questions that can be haunting to anyone who grieves, “Why didn’t I go to him sooner,” or “Why didn’t I reach out more?” or quite frankly, “What stopped me from reaching out?”   As a griever, it is extremely difficult to be in this space, to allow oneself to feel when it can be easier to close oneself off from the emotions and get distracted by the business of life.  It is just as difficult, to support, when a client, loved one or friend, is also in that head space and know just how to support them.   How, do we support one another as we grieve?

As a therapist, books and articles, have been written on this subject with various ways of supporting one another. What I have learned all these years, is that there isn’t one way of helping someone.  We all need different things, and we all receive love in many different ways.   In the beginning of my counseling career, I learned that it might be best to reach out to folks during the holidays. I would be encouraging someone to go through the four seasons, a full year, before making any big decisions such as moving, or cleaning out the house.  It can also be helpful, to remember the anniversary of that loved one’s death, and therefore, reach out to the griever.   All intentions here are appreciated however, in holding that space for folks to grieve, in hearing their stories and observing the ups and downs of not having that person with them, it has given me a deeper understanding that I haven’t absorbed till recently.  As a therapist as well as a griever, I have heard many stories, shared memories, even cried with folks over their loss – I am encouraged to remember the anniversaries of their death and I believed that at that time, I was truly helping.  I was then, gently reminded from a griever, “I miss them every day, it’s not just the holidays or anniversaries, it’s every day.”  A friend, who experienced a great loss, thanked me for reaching out at the anniversary of his brother’s death but what he said after he thanked me, was even more nakedly truthful, “my brother is in my thoughts year-round.”

It’s in the everyday – that our loved ones cross our minds.

How do we bring honor to the ones who have passed and/or continue to support ourselves or others who are grieving?

  1. Offer and show up to help go through belongings, clean out closets or bring meals.
  2. We can lead or volunteer for a cause, that the loved one was passionate about or was somehow impacted, through an illness or death.
  3. We can listen, truly listen to the griever about their own personal stories with their loved ones, or share in memories, allow grievers to talk.   Anytime of the year.
  4. We might be encouraged to write their story, journal, or write what that person meant to us – if that is you, write.
  5. Send cards, notes or, “thinking of you,” text messages throughout the year.
  6. Spend quality time with a griever over lunch or dinner – you treat. Then schedule another.
  7. Cultivate relationships that might not have been encouraged if that loved one hadn’t died.
  8. Most importantly, be patient with the griever, the loss is something that is carried throughout their lifetime.

Our emotions when harnessed properly can be carried out as a great motivator.  Sorrow, anger, loneliness, guilt can also be a great motivator to do something good or positive, not to make up for the loss one feels for not doing enough but as an opportunity, in moving forward for us to live more intentionally, moving towards what we love and to live out a life of engagement, with others, who are available to us today.

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