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What I learned From My Dad’s Death

On September 1, 2012, I woke up feeling empowered and excited, as it was the last weekend before my first year of University. I had been looking forward to University for a few years now, and I couldn’t believe the time had come. It was a beautiful morning, crisp fresh air, birds chirping, while I enjoyed a morning coffee on the deck with my dad. We enjoyed a conversation about my goals for the upcoming year before I left that morning for a weekend getaway.

Who knew, in a few hours, what started as a beautiful day was going to be one of the cloudiest and worst days of my life. When I arrived in Calgary, my mom called me and told me my dad had a massive heart attack after his soccer game earlier that afternoon. I could hear the fear and udder sadness in my mom’s voice and I desperately wished I was home to be there with her and my sister.

My dad was in the hospital for a few days before he suddenly died on September 5th. I will never forget hugging my dad and saying goodbye for the last time. I was confused, devastated, and terrified to imagine what my life was going to be like without him. I just wanted time to stop because I was not ready to face the next day.

During this devastating time in my life, I had learned some valuable life lessons about grief and loss. Some information I discovered on my own, and some I acquired from people who specialized in loss.

Death and loss is inevitable: I always thought that you could avoid loss, or that it would never happen to me, especially at a young age. Sounds silly right? I quickly learned that loss is an inevitable life transition we will all experience at some point. After understanding that loss was inevitable I also became aware of several other losses that had impacted my life. After reflecting upon how I healed from those losses, I realized how important it was to move through the pain of the death of my dad, rather than avoid it.

You don’t have to be strong: One of the first comments I heard after my dad died was, “It is time for you to be strong for your family.” At 18 years old, I had never experienced a loss of this magnitude. I mean, it was my dad! I didn’t know how to absorb that comment. But because I trusted the advice given to me, I began to act strong. Days, weeks, and months went by and I was being as strong as I could, but I was not feeling any better, and neither was anybody else. I realized that being strong was a distraction from how I was really feeling. It was a way for me to avoid my feelings and bury them deep down inside. When I stopped acting strong and listened to my heart and emotions, I understood why I was so devastated and what was hurting me the most about my dad’s death.

Time does not heal: I had heard several times, “It will get better soon” and “Just give it time”. These comments sound promising and hopeful, especially during a time of great sadness, but the simple fact of time passing was not enough to heal my heart. I could have spent the last six years waiting for the day that it was going to “get better”, but instead I took action, within time, to heal and move beyond the pain of my dad’s death. I acknowledged what was keeping me stuck in my pain and I bravely took the actions of the Grief Recovery Method®. It was an emotional investment that changed my life forever.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad. That is completely healthy and natural. I can’t help but see him in myself every single day. I can still hear his voice in the back of my head cheering me on and offering me advise in the big decisions I am making in my life. If I would not have acknowledged my feelings and took the brave steps to move forward from my pain, I would be struggling to keep him in my everyday life without feeling complete pain and isolation. The biggest lesson I have learned from his death, is that it is okay to move forward. It is okay to move beyond the pain and the suffering and live a full and wonderful life. Today, I remember my dad for who he was in life, not just in death, and I cherish all of the fond memories I shared with him.

If you are curious about the actions I took that changed my life, please contact me at gina@healmyheart.ca and visit our website for more information at www.healmyheart.ca.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: http://www.christianparenting.org/articles/eight-great-daddy-daughter-dates-for-the-purposeful-parent/

Why Exciting Transitions Can Also Cause Sadness

The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. Conflicting feelings may include feeling sadness, anger, and relief at the same time, or any variation of emotion.

When I first read this definition of grief, it resonated with several changes I have experienced throughout in my life.  I will never forget the day I graduated with my degree; I walked onto the stage and embraced what was one of the proudest moments if my life. Although I felt proud and happy, I could not ignore my feelings of sadness and grief.  I thought to myself, “What is wrong with me, that I am feeling sad on one of the best days in my life!?” I realized in that moment that I was saying goodbye to the “student life” that I had lived for five years and the lifestyle that came with it.

There are many milestones and special moments we may experience throughout our lives that may bring about several emotions at one time. Please know that this I completely normal and natural and that there is nothing wrong with you.

Some common experiences that often create conflicting feelings within us, include:

Having a baby: Having a baby is one of the most beautiful experiences in life and it also brings about a massive lifestyle change. Many women and men express feeling a loss of freedom, loss of independence, loss of identity, loss of connection in their marriage, and a general loss of lifestyle. Some parents also choose to stay home with their child, experiencing a loss of job or career. It is important to acknowledge that this significant life transition naturally creates a number of emotions within us, and that it is important that we process and share these emotions with trusted others.

Retirement: At 21 my bank called me and wanted to set up an appointment to open up an RRSP. I remember thinking, “That is crazy, I am only 21, and I am not thinking about retirement yet!” During our early and middle adulthood we spend our years working and saving for retirement. Many of us fantasize about what it will be like one day when we can spend all of our free time travelling and pursuing our passions and hobbies. What we aren’t generally prepared for with retirement, is the loss of purpose, loss of meaning, loss of identity, and loss of finances that many often experience. Again, this is completely normal and natural. Any time we experience a change in a familiar pattern of behavior (ie. Having a routine; going to work every day), we grieve. So it’s no question why several people who retire end up going back to their job, get a bridge job, or begin volunteering to restore their sense of purpose and meaning again.

Dietary changes: In today’s society we hear more and more about specialty diets such as Vegan, Paleo, Gluten- Free, Dairy Free etc. For some, making dietary changes can be a rewarding and exciting time because you are taking the steps to live a healthier life for your body. I know when I decided to be vegetarian I was so happy with how my body felt and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Unfortunately, these changes can also make us feel isolated, alone, and afraid of being judged by others. It is normal to feel alone and frustrated when you do not have as many options for eating out, or you go to someone’s house for family dinner and they haven’t considered your dietary needs. Any major change we experience can bring about new challenges in our lives, so it is important to address these with a trusted friend or family member and to know that your feelings are valid and normal.

Starting a business: Starting a new business can bring about several emotions within us; some of which we may not even anticipate, including excitement, fear, and overwhelm. You may be pursuing your greatest dream, but don’t realize the significant amount of time, commitment, and money it takes to start and grow a successful business. The loss of time, loss of comfort, and loss of security leaving a corporate or 9-5 job can be very stressful and overwhelming. This leap into business and entrepreneurship although very rewarding is also very challenging. These feelings are normal and natural given the circumstances and should be shared with a trusted individual or mentor.

These are just a few examples of some of the happiest and most exciting times in our lives that can also create feelings of grief.

If you are struggling to work through your conflicting feelings caused by any major change or transition in your life, we are equipped with the emotional and intellectual tools to support you in moving forward successfully.

Contact our office at 780-288-8011 for your free telephone consultation and to book an appointment. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for more information about our services and specialties.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: Nevada Corporate Filing Solutions (http://registerednevadaagents.com/Start_Ups.php) 

Supporting Teens Through Loss

One of life’s inevitable experiences is loss. What happens when a teen experiences the death of a parent, grand-parent, sibling, or friend? Or their parents divorce? Or their dog dies? Or they fail a class or get cut from the volleyball team?

It is incredibly important for teens to know where to reach out for help and what the correct information on grief is.

Whether you are a teen yourself, a parent, a teacher, or anybody works with teens, here are some valuable questions for teens to consider when they are grieving a loss.

1. Who is your support system? When we grieve it is natural to reach out to others who are supportive and caring. We want to feel heard and to know that we are not alone. Consider one or two people in your life, whom you trust and would feel comfortable sharing your feelings with.

2. What does “being strong” really mean? In today’s society, social media, movies, and advertising communicates to us that we need to “toughen up” through difficult times and that sad feelings are not acceptable. When we act “strong”, we avoid and push the pain away. Being strong really means feeling our feelings and telling the truth about how we feel. It is normal to feel sadness and conflicting feelings after a loss and we shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about that.

3. What are some ways you can practice self-compassion? It is so important to be gentle with yourself and let go of any expectations about how you think you should be feeling. Self-compassion extends to self-care behaviours like going for a massage, attending a yoga class, exercising, going for a walk, and watching your favourite show. Find something that nourishes your spirit.

4. Are there really “stages of grief”? You can read about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 Stages of Death and Dying online and in current textbooks. These stages were intended for people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness, not for the grieving. Sadly, over the years, these stages were applied to the emotions experienced after loss. Every relationship is unique; thus, every grieving person is unique. There are no clear guidelines or set of stages that a grieving person will go through. Whatever you feel after a loss is completely normal and natural.

5. Is there a right way to grieve? How we feel at the time of a loss is normal and natural. There is no right way or wrong to grieve. Every person grieves in their unique way. If anybody tells you how you should be feeling, simply ignore them. Trust the process and feel any feelings you have at any given time.

6. Are some losses worse than others? Absolutely not! There are no typical losses or typical reactions to loss. Since every relationship is unique, every grieving person is unique. Whether you experienced the death of your dog and your friend experienced the death of their grand-parent, no loss is greater or worse than the other. You may actually have similar emotions, even though the loss was very different. Just as you could experience parallel losses but have very different emotions. We simply cannot compare losses or our reactions to loss.

7. Is avoidance healthy for healing? STERBS is an abbreviation for short-term energy relieving behaviours. These are avoidance behaviours that we use in an attempt to heal our pain. STERBS only give us a temporary sense of relief and don’t offer long-term relief from the pain caused by our loss. These include, food, alcohol, social media, shopping, isolation, and many more. If misused (or abused), we can develop some very unhealthy habits in our lives. It is so important to be aware of the behaviours you are using as an escape from your feelings. Consider more self-care behaviours and sharing your feelings with someone you trust.

There are several forms of loss that teens may experience. It is important to understand the correct information and tools surrounding grief in order to take healthy action, move forward, and find healing in life. Healing from grief is much like baking a cake. If you bake a cake with the wrong ingredients, the end result will be messy, unfinished, and may leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged. The same may result if we don’t address our grief with the correct tools. With the right “ingredients” for healing, you can recover from the pain and regain your sense of well-being and happiness.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: shutterstock

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