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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/

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

3 Helpful Tips for Supporting Grieving People

We care so deeply about the loved ones in our lives that when we witness them grieving a heart-wrenching loss, we want to help. A research study conducted by Keltner at the University of California, Berkley explains there is growing evidence that humans have a “compassionate instinct”. To further explain, compassion is a natural and automatic response we use for survival. Human beings are compelled to help others who are hurting. It is a false assumption or belief that we cannot help others during a time of loss. Sadly, it is a lack of information and helpful tools that limits us in our aspirations to help others who are grieving.

There are many statements that are vocalized such as, “I just don’t know what to say,” or “I freeze up and do not know what to do to help.” After a death, divorce or any kind of loss, many of us struggle with how to support the grieving person. This is not because we do not want to help or that we cannot help, we just lack the information on how to help.

Here are 3 helpful tips on how to support a grieving person in your life:

Tip #1: Do not tell people what to do or how to feel. When we grieve a loss in our lives we are heart-broken, devastated, and in deep emotional pain. If someone tells us what to do, how to grieve, or what to expect or feel, it does not help us. We each have unique relationships to the loss we are grieving and we all grieve in our own unique way. Everyone has different reactions and emotions after a loss in their lives, so it is most helpful to validate the grieving person’s feelings as both normal and natural, no matter what they are. Do not create guidelines for their grief.

Tip #2: Listen without responding. Grieving people want and need to feel heard. When you listen to grieving people’s stories, feelings, and memories, listen like a “heart with ears”. If we listen with the intention to respond with advice or intellect, we are not truly present. This will limit us from showing compassion and empathizing with the grieving person. When we are concerned about saying “the right thing” and are preoccupied with our own thoughts and ideas, we may miss out on the messages from the grieving person. If you are present with the griever, your ability to support them will be more natural and in the moment. Sometimes all a grieving person needs is to feel heard and offered a hug.

Tip #3: Respond emotionally, not intellectually. We can study, read self-help books, and gain a lot of intellectual knowledge about grief. There is a lot of helpful, correct information available, as well as a lot of misinformation. When a person is in a vulnerable state and sharing their feelings surrounding a loss, support is less effective if we are continuously providing intellectual comments. When we transition from our heads to our hearts, we become a safe and trusting support system for the grieving person. Statements such as, “I can’t imagine how that must feel for you,” or “I hear that this is making you really upset,” or simply, “I don’t know what to say,” are helpful, as we are speaking from the heart and are acknowledging the griever’s experience. When we are grieving we are sad, hurt, and vulnerable. We want our feelings to be acknowledged, not minimized, analyzed, or judged with intellectual comments.

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

Article Reference:  http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-compassionate-mind#.WHVl-FMrKUk May/June 2013 Observer

Photo credit: http://crocehomeimprovement.com/helpful-tips/

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