Friday, January 17, 2020

The Grieving Person's Bill of Rights

Griever's Bill of Rights Poster-created by Brittany Bilyeu of
It is important to remember that each and everyone grieves the loss of a loved one in their own way and time. Grief is not something that has a time schedule or a time frame. 

And that's okay.  

Today, we wanted to share with all of you Dr. Alan Wolfelt's Grieving Person's Bill of Rights, as a way to help those who grieve to know what their rights are. But also, so that other family members and friends of someone who is grieving, can understand as well. 

1 You have the right to experience your own unique grief. 
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, do not allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling. 

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgemental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without conditions. 

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. 
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do. 

5. You have the right to experience grief "attacks." 
Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out. 

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you that rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen. 

7. You have the right to search for meaning.
You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for cliched responses. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

8. You have the right to treasure your memories. 
Memories are one of the best legacies you can have after the death of someone loved. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

9. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.  

Friday, January 10, 2020

Anger as a Part of Grief

In memory of Pierre Gareau
~By Fran├žois Milhomme
When we normally think of grief, we readily associate it with feelings of sadness, loneliness, even feelings of guilt.

Yet grief involved many reactions: thoughts, behaviors, physical reactions as well as feelings. And anger is one of those feelings. We may be angry with everyone who comes close. Anita was like that. When her husband died, she found she was angry with everyone-her children for calling too much or not enough, her friends for perceived slights, almost anyone who, as she said it, moved into her sight. 

Others may focus that anger, directing it to one person, or a small group of people. 

Fred, for example, was angry at his sisters-in-law. When his wife lay dying, they would still sneak her cigarettes. Lori was furious at her son's doctors, convinced that earlier diagnosis or more effective treatments might have saved her son's life. 

And, though it may be hard to admit it, we may even be angry with the person who died. Fred realized that. Though he called his wife a saint, he hated the fact that she continued to smoke, long after earlier scares and dire warnings. He knew deep down that he held some anger towards her.

Sometimes the anger is cosmic. We are angry with God for what has happened. 

"...The problem with anger is not that it is not natural but that it may interfere with support just when we need it most..."
Often times anger turns inward. We become angry with ourselves-blaming ourselves for our actions, for the loss. That anger becomes expressed as guilt. 

In fact, anger can come out in many ways. We may be sullen and withdrawn or snap at others around us. We may focus the anger at one person, a few individuals, or sometimes with just about everyone we meet. Karen, for example, would become furious with anyone who simply wished her a good day - complaining of the insensitivity and failure to acknowledge her loss and her pain. 

The problem with anger, even though it is a natural reaction, is that it may interfere with support just when we need it most. Our anger may drive others away. Unwilling to face our fury, they avoid us. And this fuels the anger, creating a dangerous destructive cycle where we become increasingly isolated. 

The first step is dealing with anger is that we need to analyze it. What are we really angry at? Is our anger appropriate to what actually occurred? How did we handle that anger? How is it affecting our health and relationships? Are there more appropriate ways to express that anger?

One key to dealing with anger is understanding that it is a normal reaction, exploring the sources of anger, and then finding appropriate ways to channel that anger so that it does not negatively affect our own health or relationships. In some cases, anger can be channelled into worthwhile legal or social action. For example, persons who have had loved ones die due to drunk driving may channel their anger into groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Others use their spirituality or other activities as ways to deal with anger. Each of us needs to find our own way.

One client shared with me that after her child died, she would have "moments of sheer fury." She learned over time to go outside and shout at the sky. "I guess people passing and neighbors thought I was crazy. But the sky seemed to take my fury a lot better than my husband and kids." 

Anger as a Part of Grief was penned by Kenneth J. Doka for the June 2002 issue of Journeys: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement for the Hospice Foundation of America.  

Friday, January 3, 2020

A Year is a Relative Thing

A year is the period of a planet's revolution around the sun; three hundred and sixty-five days for the earth, longer for some planets, shorter for others. In the life of a bereaved individual, the time period of a year is a relative thing.

On the one hand, survivors often are amazed that so much time has passed since the death. Four seasons weathered; the holiday periods endured. It seems impossible that they have borne the pain for a full twelve months. On the other hand, it may seem that time has not moved at all. Emotions and memories seem fresh.

The news of the death and the ensuing days of confusion and painful decision making seem like only yesterday. And with this perspective, comes a fear that little recovery has taken place at all.

Are you caught in a similar time wrap? Has the passage of time been too quick and too slow? And what is to be done with this first anniversary of the death?  If you are approaching this marker in your bereavement, it is time to take stock of where you have been and where you are heading.

The first death anniversary is a special day for recognizing the loss. I have no doubt that you have been thinking daily about the loss and the change in your life. But this day looms larger than most. It brings back the sadness of the death itself with renewed force sustained by a year of experiencing the full import of the loss.

But the day can also be used as a special day for celebrating the life of the deceased. Grieving stems not from the death itself but from the loss of the person. It is the loss of the laughter, the love and connections past, present and future which we mourn. How can you celebrate the life of your loved one? This is the challenge of the death anniversary. One family I know takes gold balloons to the high school track where their son had competed and let's float the personal message that each had written to him on the balloons. One widow picnics by the lake where she sprinkled her husband's ashes. Another family "celebrates" annually by having dinner together in the new restaurant that the daughter would have enjoyed. Creating a positive ritual that can be either fulfilled alone or shared adds powerful and supportive meaning to the death anniversary.

The death anniversary is also a day for acknowledging the living. This certainly includes you! The last twelve months have been demanding. You have handled your loss in the way you have needed to survive. You deserve to recognize yourself as one who has endured great hardship and to take care of yourself in a way that will ensure your ability to make a new life for yourself.

~A Year is a Relative Thing by Ellen Zinner, PsyD, was taken from HFA's bereavement newsletter Journeys, the "Anniversary" issue.