Author: goodnewsgrief

Holidays and Hard Times

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Sometimes life gets hard. Whether it’s school, work, family or money, life can have its ups and downs and when we loose a loved one, all of these things combined certainly take their toll. And, when it hits, it hits hard like a tsunami out of nowhere…

Just when I think my life is back on track, I realize my heart hasn’t shed all of the grief it has just yet. Aloneness. Advice-less. Emptiness. Hopeless. Despair…   All seem to knock on my door when the holidays roll by. Christmases, birthdays, thanksgivings, New Year’s celebrations just aren’t the same anymore. Instead of mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, siblings, aunts and uncles sitting at the dinner table enjoying the holiday, I am left with these horrible feelings. The feelings of regret rear their ugly head for a meal—why didn’t I say this? Why didn’t I saw that? And then guilt drops by for a bit—maybe I didn’t do enough. Maybe feeling bad is the price I pay for living. And just when guilt sets in, fear knocks at the door. What if I can never heal? What if I can never move on? Will my daughter and husband suffer a life with a mother who is dead on the inside?

Suddenly, I remember a quote by a talk show host of a self-help show I used to listen to on Sirius XM radio. She said that the best way to honor the dead is to make your life worth living. In other words, to live in such a way that you are living life to the fullest experiencing and doing the things your deceased loved ones cannot. Ah, for a moment I am comforted. And then the serenity prayer comes to my mind:

God give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,

To change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I am comforted by knowing that grief is a continuous process of learning and re-learning, taking in and letting go. One thing I can control is how I live my life from this day onward. My daughter didn’t come into this world with the knowledge of all that has been lost and all that has happened before she was born. She deserves the best life I can offer her and in order to give that to her I have to be in control of my life and feelings, even when the holidays come around. It’s ok to be sad for a moment but in the end the best way to honor those that have past is to live my life happily. It is the only thing that I can control after all.

How To Help a Grieving Friend/Relative/Co-worker

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To truly understand another’s grief is to allow yourself to bear it all -all vulnerabilities, fears, concerns and worries exposed for everyone to see. Only once you come from a place of commonality can you see the depths of another’s soul from a place of true empathy where healing can begin.

Loosing a loved one is seemly one of the hardest things to go through yet, there are few people who really know what to do to help another during their time of grief. People will do pretty much anything to avoid the topic of death, including the ones closest to you. They may skate over the issue with their comments including anything from, “She’s in a better place” to “Pray for her” to “I’m sorry for your loss,” all of which are very superficial at best. Some will send cards because it’s easier to confront death in that way than to have a conversation with the bereaved; some will forge a little closer to make statements about the deceased including how great of a person he or she was and how she will be missed and some will even dare to share a positive memory of the person too.

As a person who has been on the receiving end of all of this I can say that I do appreciate the thought and sentiment because I know how hard it is for others to deal with death, but I wish that these people would understand just how hard it is for us as the grieving to deal with these comments too. The reason for this is because in the process of receiving these comments I have often had to comfort the person who was making the remarks as opposed to the person giving the remarks comforting me. I say this not to sound angry or judgmental but to give a word of advice to people who are looking to comfort someone who is grieving but just don’t know how. Although there is always a time and place for these types of gestures, I urge people to go a little more beyond the surface. Often going beyond the surface involves actions that may or may not be during the direct time of death of the loved one. It could involve coming over to see the bereaved after the loss with a tray of food and a listening ear or it might mean stopping by a few weeks later to sit with the bereaved to watch tv or to go on a walk. It could also mean sending kind remarks during the times when no one else remembers like on the deceased one’s birthday or anniversary of death to acknowledge your grief and also the person that was lost. These days are often the loneliest and most painful because no one remembers the person who died except the bereaved and even if they do it’s hard enough to acknowledge the bereaved person’s loss one time let alone on other days during the months and years to come.

Losing a parent young as in my case can mean that you go a lifetime of milestones with no one there to cheer for you or give you the support you need and it’s on these days that we as bereaved people crave the most attention I think. One day I plan on going to Physician Assistant school but I dread the day that I graduate because of the moment of realization that there will be no one in the audience clapping or cheering for me.

Call it selfish but I think I share a common need with other people in that we all crave to have encouragement and love around us, especially during these moments of achievement. And sometimes it’s not in moments of achievement; it’s in those important first milestones that we all go through. First mother’s day as a mother after your mother’s death; first Christmas as a parent after the loss of your child; first major job promotion after the loss of your spouse; First concert to your favorite band without your deceased sibling who shared the same taste in music and so on.
So, I guess my point in saying all of this is that the support that we as bereaved crave is no so much in the immediate aftermath of the death of our loved ones but in the large and seemingly small moments in life that we go through without that loved one.

I will never forget that after I found out I was pregnant and my mother had just died it was my first Mother’s Day without my mother. It must have been a little over a month after she passed away from cancer. I spent Mother’s Day alone at my house while my husband went to spend time with his mother. I went to check the mail and there was a card with a rose in the mailbox. The card was from a friend that I was not very close with at all but I had known her since she was a friend of my husbands that he grew up with. The card basically stated that she knew how hard it was for me to go through this first Mother’s Day without my mom but that wished me to have a good day knowing that I would soon to be a mom myself. It was pretty simple yet powerful and I will never forget the gesture because out of all the “close friends” I had and the “close family” and people who were loved my mom, no one acknowledge the pain and difficulty of that day except for her. It was through receiving that card that I felt relief believe it or not, because I knew there was someone out there that wasn’t just going to brush over my pain or forget about my feelings during the difficult times. As lonely as grief can make me feel it was the acknowledgement of what I was going through that made me feel less lonely and therefore more able to bear the day. I encourage others to do the same to help their loved ones through their grief. These small acts of kindness make grief more bearable and make us feel more human during a time when you are feeling a wealth of emotions.

The Power Of The Mind- A Testament To Human Will

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Mentally, death takes it toll on all of us. My mother couldn’t accept that she was dying. She was a born fighter and she wasn’t going to be put down by anything.

I remember one incident crystal clear, two months or so before she passed away. She had been getting progressively weaker and lost a lot of weight. I was home taking care of her but at the time I was in my room upstairs. I heard a loud thump and rushed downstairs. It was my mom on the bathroom floor. She tried to get up and go to the bathroom and fell in the process. I tried moving her a little bit but I could tell she was in excruciating pain. I quickly grabbed two pillows and put them under her backside while she waited on the floor. I grabbed my cell phone and called hospice. Because I wasn’t able to pick her up by myself, I also called my husband to see if he could get her off the floor.   Meanwhile, hospice sent an ambulance to evaluate my mother to evaluate her.

My mother’s wishes were specific and to the point. Under no circumstances did she want to go to the hospital! She was adamant on that. It was a fight just to get her to live with me so that I could take care of her. So, you can imagine what kind of fight she would put up if anyone dared tell her she was going to have to live her last days in some cold stuffy hospital.

First, the hospice nurse arrived. Her name was Elaine. Elaine checked her vitals and asked my mom how she was feeling etc.…

Then, my husband arrived. To give you a physical description of him, he is a little over 6 feet tall, built around 250 lbs. Not one to mess with.

The first thing out of my mother’s mouth when she saw him, “SUPERMAN HAS COME TO SAVE THE DAY!” With his athletic build, he swept down and picked her up in his arms and brought her to the couch where she usually rests. My mother could barely move and she had already fallen a few times that week so we could all tell she was in a huge amount of pain. Her bones were becoming more and more brittle as the days passed.

Shortly thereafter the ambulance crew arrived. Two men, almost as tall and burly as my husband came through the door. They said they needed to assess my mom. After they checked her, they concluded that she would need further testing at the hospital to determine if she had any fractures or broken bones. They were not doctors and they could not tell by a simple physical examination so they told my mother that she would have to get an X-Ray.

My mother was not having that at all. With every fiber in her being she got the strength to get herself in the sit position and then she did something that none of us expected. If you want to know what a woman with balls looks like, take a look at my mom. She stood up on her own, in front of everyone and said bluntly and with conviction: “I am not going anywhere!”

I was not surprised, after all she was my mom and I knew how strong she was—both mentally and physically. Both of the EMT’s mouth’s dropped. And then, they laughed. They couldn’t believe this tiny, frail woman who was probably no more than 90 pounds at the time was strong enough to get up on her own, especially after all the falls she had that week. Ultimately they said if she could muster the strength to do what she just did, they have no choice but to respect her wishes. Even though I was her power of attorney (which means I could make medical decisions for her) there was no way in hell I was about to go against her.

I learned an important lesson that day. Our minds are the most powerful tool that we have. My mother was tough in her spirit and that is what enabled her to endure and thrive in her life. It took her from burying my sister after she passed away from a brain tumor at the mere age of 6 through the death of her own sister with cancer, through taking care of my grandmother with congestive heart failure and my grandfather with dementia—both of their deaths and three bouts with her own breast cancer. She one force to be reckoned with.

She was never the type of person to lie down after a “punch” so to speak. She was not the type to be defeated by anything. Her strength has always shown me the power of the human spirit. She had suffered a lot in her short life of 53 years but she never allowed it to stop her from truly living.

The reason I share this story is to say that despite the traumas and pain of the hardships we face, we can never let the fires in our spirits die out. Life and experiences like these will no doubt ably change us in many ways, but it cannot diminish the essence of who we are deep inside. This is the power that we have as human beings. It allows us to jump through hoops, dodge a bullet, go through the flames and still come out unscathed.

Now as I sit here writing this, I have to constantly remind myself of this lesson. With every painful memory that comes to mind I have to try my best to remember how powerful I am. It is not easy, but I know because of my mom that it’s possible. This is what gives me hope that everything is going to be all right. I know it’s going to take time but I’m going to be able to get through my own grief.

This is what brings me some comfort and I hope it does the same for you too.

About

To be completely honest, I never wanted to do this. I have always been a private person and over the years that I have lost some of my closest loved ones, it never really occurred to me how important grief is. Grief, just like any other emotion serves an important purpose. That purpose, primarily being to cleanse one’s spirit of the sorrow, anger and utter chaos that goes on when someone dies.   Most however, don’t see grief for the positive that it can bring to one’s life. Instead, many choose to hide from it. And instead of allowing grief to work the way it’s supposed to, many tend to stuff those emotions deep down for no one to see. The problem with this is that grief is messy. It’s not just messy, it’s stinky and sticky and, no matter what, it finds it’s way out in one way or another whether we choose to acknowledge this fact or not.

I have experienced a lot of grief over the short 27 years of my life. When I was 12, my sister died from a brain tumor at the age of 6 years old. When I was 17, one of my closest aunts passed away from ovarian cancer that spread to the stomach. When I was 24, the grandmother that helped raise me passed away from congestive heart failure. A few years later at the age of 26, my grandfather who helped raise me, passed away from dementia and heart problems. Last year, at 27 my mother passed away from her third bought with breast cancer.   A week after she passed away, I found out I was pregnant. A month later, I went to the doctor for my first prenatal check up and found out that my baby’s expected arrival date would be two days after my mother’s birthday. How tremendously bittersweet!

So, if you could compare my experience with death to education you could say I have a doctorate in grief. And as a person with so much experience on this topic, I feel that I owe it to others who are struggling and dealing with many of the same issues to bear it all, so to speak. Death and grief can provide many lessons not only about life, but also about the human condition. There is beauty in death and grief, but these things can be easily missed if we are not vigilant and persistant enough to see the process through to the end. The reason for this is because most people simply don’t know how to handle death. Most people get uncomfortable at the mention of illness or death because of fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of their own immortality; fear of being alone; fear of all the sticky stuff that comes with grief.

I decided to start this blog out of this knowledge that grief is tough for anyone affected by it. Whether it is the person who lost the loved one, the person dying or the person who is supporting the one who is grieving. The good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t just for the person who is dying. So this is the place to get sticky—-to get your hands dirty—to delve into the mess head-first and turn grief inside out.

Good News, Grief!

Strength in Grief-A poem

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Strength is…

Courage 

Courage is….

                     Fighting

Fighting is….

                                          Letting go (but not forgetting)

Letting go is….

                                                                                            Healing

Healing is surrendering….

strength in….

                                                                                                                 Surrendering.

 

Tiny Gifts From Heaven

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On Being Pregnant While Grieving A Loss

 

A day after my mother’s funeral, my dad and his wife came to visit my husband and I for a few days. We ordered dinner from this Italian restaurant that we love and not even half way through the dinner I noticed how nauseous I was feeling. My step mom joked in saying; “You must have a bun in the oven!” I laughed and immediately dismissed the absurd notion of me being pregnant. After all, my husband and I weren’t trying and with all the stress that I had been facing over the past few months there was no way shape or form that an embryo could survive!

 

I knew how stress affects a woman’s cycle so I assumed that I was late with my period because of stress naturally. A day after my dad left to go back to Florida, I went to Target to pick up a pregnancy test. I figured that this would kill any suspicion right away and calm my mind.

 

The first test was positive.

 

“What?” “How?” “No….” “It couldn’t be…” I thought to myself

 

The second test was positive.  As if the first positive test wasn’t enough.

 

“There’s no way,” “Unreal,” “No….” “It couldn’t be…”

 

The third test was positive.

 

“Oh my god this is real!”

 

I picked up the phone right away to call my husband to see when he was coming home. I was in so much disbelief I could barely contain myself! I said to him that there’s something I need to tell him and I need him to come home as soon as I can.

Shortly afterwards he walked in the house and took one look at me and said, “You’re pregnant, aren’t you!” I was speechless in that moment and I could do was nod my head, “yes!”

 

The warmth of his embrace was as if this was the news he had been waiting for. It was a huge relief! The news was both frightening and exciting at the same time and considering my mom passed away only a week earlier; it was truly one of the most bittersweet moments in my life.

Just a month earlier my mom said to me one day out of the blue, “What would you name your daughter if you had one?”

 

I laughed a little because it was the last thing I was thinking about at that time. I had just gotten married a few days earlier and becoming someone’s mom seemed like quite the daunting task! She had never asked me about having kids in my life. Matter fact, we had never really even had discussions of family in the future or anything like that.

 

My life at that time was a bit of a mess to be frank. Between the chaos of taking care of my mom while going to work and applying for physician assistant school was enough on my plate—or so I thought. The last thing I was thinking of was becoming a mom. But then again to quote one of the greatest rock and roll legends of all time,

 

“You can’t always get what you want,

 

But if you try sometime,

 

You just might find,

 

You get what you need.”

 

Life/God/The Universe (however you want to call it) doesn’t give us what we want 100% of the time. That is what makes life so interesting. In a world of instant gratification however, this concept can be a bit disheartening. We are used to the constant connection to everyone and everything. At any moment I can reach in my purse, pull out my iPhone and research any piece of information that I need. Likewise, I can text anyone of my friends or family and I can expect them to text me back almost instantly!

 

THIS IS NOT HOW GRIEF WORKS.

 

Grief is definitely a process, one I am still working through. It certainly requires a lot of patience, forgiveness and compassion—-not just for ourselves, but also for all of the people around us.

 

A few weeks after my mother died, one of my old supervisors called me out of the blue asking about how my mom was doing. When I told him that my mother died his response was quite appalling. He said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Well, life goes on.”

 

I     wanted     to   scream. This reminds me. Note to self: Write a blog post on what NOT to say to a grieving person.

 

All kidding aside, he was right. Life does go on. Although it’s certainly not the thing I wanted to hear at that time, he was right. So, there I was pregnant and preparing to usher a new life into this world. It wasn’t the time to fall a part and it wasn’t the time to be engulfed by sorrow.

 

I made it a point to myself that I would allow myself to cry when I need to, but I would try my best to remain as positive as I could about the whole experience. In that moment I realized there are things/people/events that come into our lives and it is our choice how we want to take them.

 

My choice was to plunge forward. It wasn’t just my life at stake anymore. There was an innocent life that deserved to be born into a stable household whose only job was to be loved. I knew the focus had to be on the baby. This is not to say that anyone should just stuff their emotions down and pretend like nothing has happened or to forget the person who has passed. That is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that there are ways to manage and work through grief while still allowing ourselves to enjoy life and all it has to give. What’s the alternative? To be stuck. Stuck in sorrow. Stuck in anger. Stuck in guilt. Stuck in fear. It’s just not a way to live. Sadly, I have seen some of my own loved ones take this route.

 

One thing I have learned is that there is choice in everything we do. While we cannot choose what happens to us, we can choose our response. Life is a balancing act of letting go and holding on. If we can focus on the good while learning to let go of the bad, we can get through this painful and see what is on the other side of grief.

 

What is the other side of grief, you might ask? The other side of grief is gratitude. Gratitude in grief? What, What?!? Gratitude is the bridge between grief and healing. It allows us to remember the loved one in a positive way by being thankful for having them in our lives. It allows us to shift our focus from the sorrow and pain to the positive, which is the memory of what that person meant to us.