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Welcome to Barb's Corner: A Blog About Caring

Wednesday
Nov102010

Coping With Grief Through The Holidays

Today's blog is a bit longer - my prayer is that it will help those of you reading it and those in your lives who need help facing these next few days and weeks!

Two Helpful Resources:

"The Art of Dying:  Living Fully Into the Life to Come" by Rob Moll

"Helping Those Who Hurt: A Handbook For Caring And Crisis" by Barb Roberts

The holidays are coming and this may be your first or second without your loved one.  What do you do to get through this huge wave – this tsunami, looming before you?  How do you cope when every time you turn on the radio in your car, turn on the television, go to the market, you see those around you with an ‘in tact’ family, with a holiday smile, and you are literally crumbling inside?

There is no right or wrong way to respond when grieving – particularly grieving through the Holiday Season!  We and sometimes those in our lives have the erroneous notion that we are all going to grieve just like someone else. Each family member, each widow or widower, each child, each parent, each grandchild, each grandparent, each friend grieves as an individual.  Though we are not alone on our journey, it is definitely an individual journey.  And I want to remind you – GRIEF TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES!

Not ALL of the following suggestions will be right for YOU.  In the same way that grief is an individual journey, grief help is also individual.  There are very few ‘should’s’ here… Some of you agonized through a slow, painful death with your loved one; for others it was sudden and traumatic. 

I would guess that some of you wish you could go to sleep and wake up on January 2nd, when the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) are a memory and the New Year has begun.  Then there may be others who are afraid for what the New Year will bring, and in fact, may struggle with the New Year – when all is supposed to be new.

Here are some hints (in no particular order) about getting through the holidays when grief may be all you see:

  1. Do what brings genuine comfort, even if it seems odd to others.
  2. Keep the traditions that have the most meaning for you but feel free to start new traditions.
  3. Brace yourself for the wave effect.  You’ll be cooking a turkey, doing fine, congratulating yourself about how well you are getting through the day, when stirring the gravy reminds you – or a favorite carol, or a color, or an ornament.  Another way to describe it is a ‘dip in’ to your grief.  It comes unexpectedly and can throw you!  Allow yourself to ‘feel the feeling’ of grief – even if it only lasts for a brief time.  At those times, give yourself permission to grieve, to cry, to stare off into space, to remember.  In fact, sometimes it is helpful during a given day to just allow the ‘flooding’ to come – find a quiet, safe place and give in to the tears.  Having taken the time you need to do that, you may better be able to interact with your family and friends during other parts of the day.
  4. Lean on your faith in our loving God.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  In Psalm 23….Our Shepherd has said that HE walks beside us through the valley of the shadow of death, tenderly caring for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
  5. Speak of your loved one whenever he or she comes to mind – no holding back for fear of depressing yourself or others, including no holding back the tears or expressions of sorrow that naturally flow.  Do one special thing to commemorate how much you miss your loved one. 
  6. You might feel ‘guilty’ for experiencing pleasure and joy during the holidays – that somehow you are being disloyal to your loved one.  A grieving family had written that they intentionally gave more thought to each holiday task – from wrapping presents to mailing cards…appreciating them as time-honored rituals instead of dreary chores to be gotten out of the way.   Again, REMEMBER what I said earlier – not all of these ideas will be the right thing for everyone!

Tips for helping children grieve through the holidays:

Children need to have something to help provide them with a memory of that special person they lost.  Whether it is the loss of a sibling, parent, grandparent or friend, allow the children to help pick out something so the whole family will remember that loved one.  Buying or making a special ornament for the tree is a memory builder for upcoming Christmases.    Pick two or three traditions that will not overwork you.  If a friend or relative can help put up the tree and decorate, this is helpful.  Because adults find it difficult to face the upcoming holiday, sometimes they will try to keep busy and thus schedule too much.  This is the time when parents and children get very tired.  Lots of rest is important at these times.  Remember – sometimes SIMPLE IS BETTER!  If you have small children, allow them to do something nice for others; this can give special meaning to them and to you, and certainly to the recipients.

I cannot emphasize enough - There is no single way or answer to the question – “How do I get through the holidays.  There is not a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way!’  It is an individual and an individual-family process.

Plan for the approaching holidays.  Be aware that this will most likely be a difficult time for you.  The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically; this is a normal reaction. Stress is an incredible drainer!  (No wonder you get tired more quickly and easily!)  It is important to be prepared for and recognize these feelings.  Recognize that holidays won’t be the same.  Be careful not to isolate yourself, though it is understandable to need some private time. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar.  Others may wish to avoid old sights and sounds, perhaps even taking a trip.  Identify your fears.  This will help you deal with them.  Perhaps even discuss them with someone you trust.

Be realistic – know your limits…what can you do…what can you NOT do?  Don’t expect others to ‘mind-read’ you and know YOUR limits!  Be watchful of ‘energizers’ and ‘drainers!’  We all have people in our lives who energize and drain us – and particularly during this time of grief, it’s very important to have a balance – weighing heavy on the side of the energizers.  Your energy will be quickly drained anyway – be careful not to spend an unhealthy amount of time with things and people who drain you.

Put within your life and schedule healthy habits – eating, sleeping, exercise – go for a walk.

Children/teens do not grieve in the same way or have the same needs that you do.  Include them in decision-making for holiday events, gatherings, traditions, decorating, etc. – foods, gifts.

Listen to an 8-year old as he describes the Jesus of Christmas, the Babe in the manger, the one who has promised to never, ever leave us nor forsake us…“His Father appreciated everything He had done and all His hard work on earth, so He told Him He didn’t have to go out on the road any more.  He could stay in heaven.  So He did.  And now He helps His Father out by listening to prayers and seeing which things are important for God to take care of and which ones He can take care of Himself without having to bother God.  Like a secretary, only more important, of course.  You can pray anytime you want and They are sure to hear you because They’ve got it worked out so One of them is on duty all the time.”

While this story is sweet and may cause us to chuckle a little, our Father is definitely on duty ALL the time.  He loves you, He understands your pain – the Book of Hebrews tells us that we have a High Priest (Jesus) who understands ALL of our weaknesses and ALL of our pain and ALL of our sadness and ALL of our suffering and ALL of our loneliness.

He speaks to us with words of understanding and comfort and hope -

 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34

While grieving is individual, your pain is your pain, your journey is your journey – the commonness of your suffering is that He IS close to the broken-hearted and has promised to NEVER, EVER leave you nor forsake you!

God Bless you and walk beside you on your journey of suffering!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Oct262010

Do I See Death or Life All Around Me?

Last Wednesday morning a friend of ours called my husband and left a message that he needed help with his computer.  My husband left a message back – typical “voice mail tag.”  We all play this kind of tag numerous times during a given day.

The difference is our friend was in a serious accident a few hours after he left the voicemail – an accident from which he did not recover, at least in this world.

Another friend’s father also entered his eternal home this week-end, following a lengthy illness.

Yet another friend is in the hospital as I write, battling  the dreaded disease of cancer and has decided to opt out of any kind of treatment – she is ready to be with Jesus.

In the midst of all of this pain and suffering -- a baby was born this week-end AND I walked by a young woman who is pregnant – just beginning to ‘show’ – and she is glowing!

I was in my car this morning, taking some time away from the office.  The sky was dark, leaves were blowing off the trees, and the rain came!  My heart was heavy – so much pain, so many people suffering.  I was driving a bit aimlessly, realizing that my chosen destination would not work, for it was outside – and IT WAS RAINING AND COLD AND WINDY!  No way could I sit on a bench in a beautiful garden-setting to do my journaling. 

In my aimless wandering, I found myself heading west - thinking and pondering and praying – so much pain and suffering and sadness.  And right in the middle of it all I just happened to look up -- and I SAW IT!  A beautiful rainbow – God’s promise.  It was amazing!  God is definitely a God of hope, a God who keeps His promises.  A simple reminder that the rainbow of promise comes out of the darkness in our lives.

Had I been sitting in a sun-drenched garden this morning I would still have been feeling heavy and sad and weighted down with the suffering all around me.  BUT because God had something different, something better for me, I was in my car, headed west with my lights and windshield wipers on, and I experienced the touch of God – that touch a loving Father brings to His children – His rainbow of promise!

God is a God of life and death.  If I only see one, I miss His faithful promises.  If I only see the other, I miss His new beginnings.

SO – I say with the Psalmist, in Psalm 51…Lord, in the midst of the balance of life, “Help me to hear and see joy and gladness all around me!”

Wednesday
Oct062010

Running Out Of Hope

Yet again, a young man takes his life – the news reports tell us.  We cry out, “Oh, God, what is going on in our world?”  There are so many who are hurting and hopeless and full of despair – they see no way forward.  So…their best way is the way out…out of despair, out of pain, out of trouble, out of hopelessness.  But, is that the only alternative?  The only answer?  The only path?  God is a God of hope….hope in the midst of pain; hope in the center of the storm; hope in the hurt.

We read in Psalm 34:18 - "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted...."

Robert Veninga writes in his A Gift Of Hope "There is much that is not known about suicide.  But this much we do know:  There is a limit to the load any person can bear.  And at that moment of self-destruction your loved one could no longer bear the burden.  She was not weak.  He was not a coward.  The load was simply too much to bear."ngof Hope,

The choice of suicide as a way out is a permanent solution to what may be a temporary problem – simple but true!  It is helpful to remind someone that they DID get through that other very, very difficult situation that at the time seemed equally hopeless.  It is also helpful to listen to their pain, to their story, and to encourage them to express feelings and thoughts, to empathize with their suffering.

God has promised to NEVER, ever leave us nor forsake us…not now, not ever.  How does the fact that God will not leave our side help?   A friend and I sat with a woman today who has just been put in hospice care.  She said to me that ‘she is scared.’  When I asked her to tell me more about that, she said she is afraid to be alone.  I then said – ‘what if I could tell you that you do not EVER have to be alone again because God has promised never to leave your side.  THAT IS HOPE! 

Suicide is an intensely painful and deeply personal tragedy! What is the difference between the young man who suffers humiliation and exposure and despair – and chooses the only way he sees ahead – to end his life…and the one who struggles and stays in the pain and turmoil and tension of his struggles?  Might the difference be hope – hope in the midst of pain and suffering and despair….hope that no matter how bad it gets there IS a future; there IS a way through this hard time?  There is a personal God who cares and offers help!

We must take all suicide threats seriously (even if we suspect that it is a ‘plea for attention’).  Inquire about their threats, about a possible suicide plan and the means to carry out that plan.  Be a good listener.  Make an open-ended statement, such as “I am so sorry that you hurt so much.”  Allow expression of feelings and accept those feelings.

The person who is hopeless cannot see his or her way clear to come up with a plan of hope.  We can help them with that plan, help them discover their options, put them in touch with resources and even offer to go with them to a counselor or agency that can help.

Listen to this from Romans 15:13…”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  God who made us, understands how to fill us with hope in the midst of any situation.

 

Wednesday
Sep222010

Lying IN the Bed

In past posts I have talked about how to stand ‘beside the bed’ or ‘sit on the bed’ of the one who is suffering.  But that is only part of the picture.  There is yet another piece of caring for the hurting.  What if you are the one struggling and in pain (physical or emotional) and need to be cared for – the one lying IN the bed?’  How do you respond and allow others to care for you?

Perhaps you have just been diagnosed with an illness that has no known cure.  Maybe you are in the process of declaring bankruptcy.  Your boss has just told you your job is being eliminated.  You thought your marriage was okay – not great, but okay, status quo, and now your spouse just said that he/she is unhappy and wants out of the relationship.  This morning your daughter admitted to an eating disorder.  Your son has been expelled from college.  Your best friend is acting strange and doesn’t have time for you.

Your world has been rocked!  You are usually the ‘strong one’ – you are the listener, the pray-er, the helper, the caregiver.  It is difficult to be on the receiving end of care, isn’t it?  In fact, a wise woman once said to me – “you know that phrase – ‘it’s more blessed to give than to receive?’ – it’s also a whole lot easier!”  Many of us know how to ‘give’ care but we have a difficult time receiving it.

What do you do?  A good place to start might be….Give yourself permission to struggle – face it and admit it – not just to yourself, but to someone else as well.  Give yourself time to sort through what is really bothering you.  What is the root of your struggle?  In fact, ask God to help you sort out the ‘root from the branches.’  If you only deal with branch issues, you may not understand what is REALLY at the core.   Find a listener, because as I’ve mentioned before, you need to tell your story.  Oh, and remember, telling your story is not a ‘one time deal’ but rather an ongoing need that may change in intensity or content or complexity, but an ongoing need nonetheless! 

God is faithful – you know that!  He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you – you believe that promise!  He is a God of hope – you are convinced of that fact!  He loves you with an incredible love – no doubt about it!  You will spend eternity with Him – the assurance of that is unwavering!  He gives peace – you look for that in the midst of turmoil and storms!  BUT – sometimes you struggle!  The struggles do not evaporate because you cling to all of these assurances.  HEAR THIS above the doubts and sadness and broken-heart and frustration - God understands those struggles.  In fact, He says in Matthew, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Run to Him and allow Him to give you the rest that only He can give!  This is not a quick fix or an instant solution to your pain.  Rather, it is a reminder how much He really loves you, how available He is to you, and how He, the God of the universe knows your needs and your hurt before you come running

Tuesday
Sep072010

Encouraging the Hurting

Be a Listener - Be an Encourager - Be a Grace-extender -

A couple of reminders for all of us …

Though we want to help and we project what we would prefer in a similar life circumstance, it is important to remember that some are very private people and choose to grieve privately.  Your care for the ‘private person’ will look different; however, God will give you wisdom how to give care through a phone message, an email, a card, a silent hug or some other God-inspired idea!

Another important reminder is that even in the best of relationships, disagreements arise.  But in actuality, when people are hurting, there may be more points with which to “take issue.”  It is at those ‘sticky’ times we need to be dispensers of God’s grace.  What might be a good way to handle some of those disagreeable moments?  How may we extend God’s grace to the one who is grieving?

I love the following, taken from the context of “A Chaplain’s Daily Prayer:”

“Grant that I may listen and hear the true heart-felt needs of those around me.  May I not be so wrapped up in myself, and my own issues, that I fail to meet people where they are emotionally and spiritually.  Give me the courage to come from my heart and not just my head.  May my words be few, and may they be words of truth, empathy, and hope spoken in love.  I pray that each person to whom I minister will be brought at least one step closer to you because of my being with them. “

“Lord, may it be so with me!”