What Not To Say When Others Are Grieving

I was 19 years old when I was faced for the first time with not knowing what to say when somebody has lost a family member. I had a one room apartment in the city in which I was attending university. At the beginning of the month, I used to go downstairs to the landlord’s apartment to pay the rent. A week prior, my landlord had been admitted to hospital. As I was paying my December rent that year, I casually asked if he was feeling better. His wife replied that he had died. For a moment, I was speechless. It felt like kicking myself for asking her. Then I must have managed to stutter some words of condolence, but feeling extremely ill-equipped for this situation. I know I wasn’t alone with this feeling of not knowing how to speak words of real comfort. Unfortunately, nobody teaches us what to say or do when loss occurs.

When I returned to my apartment, I wondered who to call and to ask for advice. My mom, who had lost her own mother when she was young, broke out in tears each time anybody spoke about death. Today, I know she carried around a lot of unresolved grief. So I decided to call my grandmother instead. She was close to 80 at that time, and had experienced many losses during her life. She told me she always made sure she had a bunch of fresh flowers in a vase next to the picture of my late grandfather. She suggested to do the same for my landlady, to buy her flowers. She also recommended to check if I could help by getting groceries or do other errands for her.

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My landlady and her husband did not seem to have a very loving relationship; in fact, I often wondered if he physically and emotionally abused her. I didn’t want to assume that she would put up a picture of her husband with flowers next to it, yet this seemed better than any words I could think of.

In fact, there are several things which are particularly unhelpful to the grieving person.

  • “Don’t cry”, “don’t be sad”, “don’t feel bad” and so on denies the grieving person to have their own feelings.
  • “Time heals all wounds” or “just give it time”. Time itself does not heal. It is what we do with that time that will help us complete the pain caused by the loss.
  • Comments in regards to the person’s age: “He had a long life” or “Be grateful you had her for so long”. No matter how old our loved one was, we have a right to miss them.

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  • “You can have more children” or “be thankful you have another son” or “you are still young, you can get married again”. How can we possibly compare one loved one to another, or substitute one child or partner with another? The loss is always experienced at a 100%.
  • Comments of a religious nature, like “she is in heaven / in a better place” or “God will never give you more than you can handle”. No matter what my beliefs of an afterlife are, whether my loved one is in a better place or not has nothing to do with the loss I am experiencing. “God gave me this challenge because I can handle it” translates to “I have to be strong”. offer-to-do-laundry

  • “You have to be strong for…” or “the living must go on”. Instead of allowing ourselves to feel and to grieve, we are asked to suppress our feelings.
  • “I know how you feel”. All relationships are unique. Even if you and the grieving person for example have both lost your mother, your relationship with your mother was unique and completely different than his or hers. This also applies when you are experiencing the loss of the same person. You both had an individual and very different relationship to the dead person.
  • “You have to keep busy now” or “you must stay active”. Keeping busy buries the painful feelings while you distract yourself with activities, but at the end of the day the pain is exactly the same.

You might now wonder what is left that is actually helpful to say to a grieving person. The unhelpful comments originate from feeling uncomfortable with another person’s emotions. Remind yourself that it is okay to feel unpleasant feelings. You do not need to “fix” anything, you just need to be present. It can also be very healing to cry. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you know the person well enough you might want to offer them a hug. But be very sensitive whether this physical approach is welcome or not. Not everybody likes hugs.
  • Understand that people express grief differently. Don’t expect to see particular stages of grief. Some people might feel more emotional including angry. Others might withdraw because they have learned to grieve alone. Others might act as if they are just fine. Listen without judgment to their feelings.
  • A better alternative to “I know how you feel” is “I can’t imagine how you must feel” and then allow the griever to share how they actually feel.

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  • Listen. Listen. And don’t rush to hand over the Kleenex to stop the crying when the tears are flowing. Allow the grieving person to feel what they are feeling and to talk about the person they have lost and about their relationship. Hold a loving space. Refrain from making comments about yourself and your losses, or rushing the person to feel better. Be like a heart with big ears. There is nothing to do but to actively listen. Active listening means responding with facial expressions and sounds while you allow the other person to fully express their loss experience, including crying.
  • Every day tasks can be overwhelming when the grief is fresh. Lend a helping hand. Get groceries, cook food, do the laundry, do the gardening, walk the dog or take care of the little children.

Holiday celebrations are coming up and with them come unresolved grief. This time of the year can trigger great sadness for people. We might not be able to be with a wonderful loving family, because some of our beloved family members have passed on. So this can be a time of feeling loneliness and the pain of a loss.

That applies whether our family members have died or whether we have been estranged with them. You might also be of service to friends or family members when they are grieving an estrangement with somebody. Listen, non-judgmentally, to how they are feeling. You don’t need to fix it. It is also not at all helpful to commiserate with them and tell them what an awful person the family member they are missing was and that they are better off without him or her.

Some family members have brought so much toxicity into our lives that we had to opt for no contact with them, for example in the case of a narcissistic personality disorder or addictions. However, even though we might have made that choice for our own peace and well-being, we can still grieve that the relationship wasn’t “better, more or different”.

John W. James and Russell Friedman offer a way to achieve completion of all loss relationships with their grief recovery program. It’s an excellent program for death, divorce and over 40 other losses.

 

For individual sessions contact Angelika

Certified Grief Specialist, Belief Change Coach and Workshop Facilitator

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Recovering From Our Losses

Meet Tracy. She is an attractive woman with a warm smile. Her life is busy; she works; she has two children and an elderly father. She has learned to be strong for others, to keep busy and that time will heal all wounds. At night when the kids are in bed, she has a glass of wine or two and a bag of chips while watching Netflix. The alcohol, food and TV help her to relax and to not have to feel. Lately, she finds it harder and harder to get up in the morning and to keep going. Whenever she is not busy, a deep sadness is taking hold of her. This sadness is quite familiar.

She doesn’t know when she first started to have the lack of energy and these depressive thoughts and feelings. Perhaps, it was fourteen months ago, when her mother passed after a long fight with cancer. Or perhaps when she had two miscarriages and life just went on as if nothing happened. Or perhaps it was when her first marriage ended due to her husband’s infidelity. Or perhaps it was when her own parents divorced when she was fifteen. Or perhaps it all began when her beloved dog died when she was eight. Or perhaps this grief is as old as when she moved to Canada at the age of five not speaking a word of English, and having to leave her grandparents behind.

Grief is accumulative and it is accumulative negative. Our bodies become the storage tanks for all our losses and painful emotions because we were never given the tools to appropriately process our loss experiences. Our body speaks our mind through pains or other physical issues to let us know that the storage tank is over-flowing.

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Instead of listening to those physical symptoms, we have all learned to use some Short-Term Energy Relieving Behaviours (STERBS) like drinking alcohol, smoking, eating, watching TV, playing computer games, sleeping, taking meds, shopping, cleaning, exercising, working and so on to distract ourselves from the painful feelings associated with our losses. It is time to become aware of our STERBS and to address our buried emotions to gain greater happiness and health.

The grief recovery work is for losses we have experienced through death, divorce and 40+ other life changing events. Some examples are the loss of a love relationship or friendship, infidelity and the loss of trust, the death of a pet, a job loss, a move, an accident or illness, resulting perhaps in the loss of health or mobility, a miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and other life altering occurrences. Even positive life changes like graduation, marriage, or the birth of a child can be an experience of loss.

We are all faced with incomplete relationships and situations. We are all grievers in some form or other at different points in our life. In fact, grief spares nobody. The training to become a grief specialist involved deep personal healing work. After all, we can only take our clients to where we ourselves have been willing to go. As my workshop partner and I were sharing our loss history graphs, we were amazed how many similar patterns we found, despite the fact that he was 12 years younger, at a different stage in his life, of a somewhat different cultural background and of a different gender. The conclusion can only be that as humans, we all experience the same patterns of grief due to death, divorce and other losses.

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Grief is our normal and natural reaction to such a life changing event or loss. Grief occurs due to the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change of something familiar. It can masquerade as a powerful emotional state like deep sadness, depression or anger. Unresolved grief is almost always about us wishing things had been different, better, or more. We might have undelivered emotional communications with others. We also carry unrealized hopes, dreams or expectations. In case of the end of a good relationship, we might have had plans that never happened. In negative relationships, the end of the relationship robs us of the possibility to repair and make amends.

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The grief recovery work helps to complete our relationship to the pain caused by a significant emotional loss. It helps us to take responsibility for our actions, forgive others for theirs, and to deliver significant emotional statements. It is the opportunity to say goodbye to any pain or unmet hopes and dreams. We can then feel complete, live fully in the present and focus on any existing fond memories. The grief recovery work gives us freedom and newfound joy. It opens the door to health and happiness.

Angelika

Certified Grief Specialist, Belief Change Coach and Workshop Facilitator

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Steam Kettle

Have you ever engaged in any of the following behaviours, short-term or long-term? Most people are familiar with at least one of these responses.

– addictive eating, drinking or smoking

– taking drugs or medications

– engaging in workaholic behaviour

– addictive exercising

– gambling

– shopping to feel better

– addictive consummation of media

What is going on with these behaviours? These are all short term coping mechanisms to distract ourselves from unpleasant emotions. We have been conditioned to respond to pain, sadness, grief, and stress by eating, drinking, smoking, or distracting ourselves with any of the other above mentioned activities.

Short-term, these activities might feel like they give us some relief, but we have not addressed the real problem by engaging in these behaviours. We have taken our emotions and stuffed them down with food, alcohol, drugs or we have distracted ourselves from acknowledging and feeling them. We are doing what we have learned as children when we were comforted with food. Our caregivers didn’t know that the cookie to sweeten the disappointment, or the tub of ice cream for the heart ache, or the cake to stuff the anger down would become our automatic go-to and our basis for any addictive behaviour.

Do you still remember those old fashioned steam kettles which sat on the stove with a flame burning below? John W. James and Russell Friedman use the example of such a steam kettle to explain what is going on. These kettles were fitted with a whistle to notify us when the water has reached the boiling point. Instead of responding appropriately to the whistle and dealing with the hot water, we have been trained to jam a cork in the spout. The cork represents our beliefs that sad and other uncomfortable emotions are too painful to feel and should be kept under wraps. A steam kettle without a cork can release built up energy right away. A steam kettle with the cork builds up to an unbearable amount of pressure. As a result, we engage in one of the addictive or unhealthy activities above to relieve the pressure short-term. They help us to temporarily forget or bury our emotions.

Unfortunately, emotions are energy in motion. Energy has to go somewhere. It ends up stored in our bodies and manifests as energy blockages, pain and illnesses. Suppressed emotions consume tremendous amounts of energy. We need all our strength to keep the cork in the spout and all our concentration to ensure the steam kettle will not explode. The more emotions we push down, the more energy is required. Unresolved emotional issues have a negatively cumulative effect. We lose our health, wellbeing and joy.

Stem Kettle - When you welcome your emotions

To change the addictive behaviours and to regain our full energy potential, health and happiness, we need to learn to deal with emotions differently. Instead of pushing them down, we need to look them straight into their face; instead of judging them, we need to let them be what they are; instead of blaming others for our emotions, we need to take responsibility for them and forgive others for triggering them.

Nobody makes us feel angry, sad, “not good enough” or any of the other many emotions. Other people and circumstances are not responsible for how we feel inside. If somebody brings low energy, addiction, victimhood or other states of mind into your life which you do not want to partake in, set clear boundaries. Then take responsibility for your own emotions and do the “happiness work”. Decide to work thought and release what you do not want and bring joy and happiness into every day. Gratitude, joy and laughter are a choice; they are your choice!

We also need to teach our children that they are strong enough to feel any emotions. All emotions are good because they give us feedback. Anger is the brightest warning light. It gives us the feedback that something is not right. Underneath the anger, there are usually other more vulnerable feelings. We can teach our children to listen to what is really going on, that their needs matter and that they can share their feelings and needs.

Steam Kettle - Your emotions are your best friend

Emotions inform us. Sadness, for example, gives us the feedback that we are missing a person or object. Grief is long-term sadness due to a loss or change we’ve experienced: something is still incomplete in regards to this change and needs to be completed. Depression could be hidden grief. Frustration lets us know that something is not working, that our needs are not met. Fear and stress are a sign that we need to change our stories and beliefs, which cause anxiety and overwhelm.

However, before we can address the needs these emotions inform us about, we need to remember that all emotions are good. To shift out of our unhealthy responses to emotions, we need to accept them, love ourselves with them and take responsibility for them.

In my one-on-one sessions as well as in the Shadow Energetics workshop, I teach an emotional release process. By applying this process, we change how we handle emotions and we have a tool to effectively release stuck emotions from our body and field. Once we have released the emotional charge, we can understand the message and address our needs appropriately.

Angelika, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca, 905-286-9466

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“You are mad-sad”

 movie Home 1

Have you ever been mad-sad? Then you are a typical human being as the alien character “Oh” discovers when he makes friends with the human girl, Tip, in the animated movie “Home”.

What is mad-sad? Mad-sad is when you get angry but deep underneath you are sad. Tip is sad that her mother was relocated and separated from her by the aliens when they invaded the planet earth. She is ready to fight the world. Her angry part has stepped forward to protect her vulnerability. When Oh discovers what is underneath her anger, he says with surprise, “You are mad-sad”. What appears to be anger is really sadness and grief for her loss.

 movie Home 2

Sometimes we are mad-sad, other times we are mad-scared. A parent might be mad-scared because their child is failing in school and they are worried about their future, or because their teenager has made a decision which has put them in danger. We might get mad scared when we are in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle and the driver has a different driving style which makes us feel unsafe. How much more successful would our communication be if we could express our fear rather than our anger? Yet, anger is an automatic response triggered by fear. It takes practice to communicate differently.

When we feel overwhelmed, we also sometimes snap faster and respond with anger. Have you ever felt really bogged down by everything you had to do and as you were busy focussing on getting some work done, another person needed something and you replied with impatience or even anger? That could be called mad-stressed.

In all these cases of mad-sad, mad-scared or mad-stressed, the anger serves the purpose to protect the vulnerable part of us deep inside. Anger is a driving force. In Tip’s case, it drives her to search for her mom. Anger also feels better than helplessness and is an intuitive response when we feel unsafe or afraid for somebody else.

 Movie Home Gorg

The evil character of the movie from another alien race, called the Gorg, turns out to be mad-sad, mad-scared and most likely also mad-stressed. Without being aware, Oh’s alien race has stolen his babies, the entire next generation, which means extinction for the Gorg. When Oh is brave enough to face the Gorg, he realizes that this intimidating monster is really deeply vulnerable and just trying to save and protect himself and his family.

Have you heard of people who get “hangry”? When they are hungry they become grouchy or angry. To stay with our pattern, that would be called mad-hungry. There also is mad-tired. Have you ever been so tired and found that your protective defences were coming up when others are interacting with you in this state. My daughter, who works mainly overnight shifts, is not a happy camper when approached in a tired state. She gets mad-tired. Everybody in our family knows she has just reached her limit and her irritation is a feedback for us.

Next time you or somebody else shows up as angry, remember that there is usually some other emotion underneath the anger. That deeper emotion or need has to be addressed. Just as we know we need to feed ourselves when we are hangry, we also need to feed the other emotions or needs.

When we feel angry the question usually is, what exactly is underneath the anger? It might be Sadness? Loneliness? Fear or insecurity? Frustration? Overwhelm?

  • Sadness gives us the feedback that we perceive the loss of a person, an experience or a feeling. What needs to be done to make up for that loss, to replace the experience we have lost?
  • Loneliness gives us the message that we have a healthy longing for companionship and love. How can we enjoy our own company more, love ourselves more and also draw in other people as companions?
  • Fear or insecurity means that our subconscious is convinced something is not safe, and/or that we are not good enough in some way. What beliefs can be changed to alter how we see ourselves and the world?
  • Frustration gives us the feedback that something that we have been doing is not working. What do we need to do differently, so that the frustration does not tip over into depression?
  • Overwhelm is a signal to do a reality check, to limit, to organize, to prioritize, to say “no” and to delegate.

Anger also sometimes gives us the feedback that we perceive something as unfair. The first question is: Is or was it really unfair? If not, change your perspective. If the answer is yes, find a way to make fair if the event is in the present, or let go and forgive if you are angry at something which lies in the past.

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All feelings are good! Our emotions are our guidance system. All feelings and emotions give us feedback on what is going on. They are a call to action. Anger is good. It is like an indicator light that something needs to be looked at, but it also serves as a driving force to make changes.

Angelika

Belief Change Coaching, Forgiveness Work, Shadow Work

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 Wearing Angela's T-shirt

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