Archive | July 2012

A Video on Remembrance

This is a beautiful video on remembrance shared with me by Jen Montgomery of “Born Under a Blonde Sign” in remembrance of her father.


Understanding Different Mourning Patterns in Your Family

Understanding Different Mourning Patterns in Your Family


Grief is a family affair. When one member of a family dies, the entire family is affected. It’s as if an important link in the family chain is suddenly broken and lost, and everyone is locked in a struggle to find the missing link, to repair the broken chain. Everyone is mourning their own personal loss in their own unique way. Roles and responsibilities shift; relationships change; communication and mutual support among members may suffer. Over time, the family must identify what the roles and functions of the lost member were, decide whose job it will be to execute those duties now, and learn how to compensate for their absence.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that men, women and children are very different from each other, not just in personality patterns that affect how they think, feel and behave, but also in how they mourn. When someone dies, they will not experience or express their reactions in the same way. Failure to understand and accept these different ways of mourning can result in hurt feelings and conflict between partners and among family members during a very difficult time. Although there is grief work to be done, behaviors can be misinterpreted, needs may be misunderstood, and expectations may not be met. Children and adults are all very different, one from another, with their own unique needs for expression and support.

Differing personality patterns among family members will affect how each one individually expresses, experiences and deals with grief. While we all have the capacity to react to loss in a variety of ways, personality research shows that there are three basic styles or patterns of mourning: instrumental, intuitive and dissonant. Typically a person trusts and prefers one pattern of response over the other two, and will behave accordingly. 

Instrumental mourners experience and speak of their grief intellectually and physically. They are most comfortable with seeking accurate information, analyzing facts, making informed decisions and taking action to solve problems. Remaining strong, dispassionate and detached in the face of powerful emotions, they may speak of their grief in an intellectual way, thus appearing to others as cold, uncaring and without feeling.
Intuitive mourners experience a full, rich range of emotions in response to grief. Comfortable with strong emotions and tears, they are sensitive to their own feelings and to the feelings of others as well. Since they feel strong emotions so deeply, they’re less able to rationalize and intellectualize the pain of grief, and more likely to appear overwhelmed and devastated by it. 

Dissonant mourners encounter a conflict between the way they experience their grief internally and the way they express it outwardly, which produces a persistent discomfort and lack of harmony. The “dissonance” or conflict may be due to family, cultural or social traditions. Although their grief may be profound and strongly felt, they struggle to hide their true feelings in order to preserve the image they wish to project to the public. Others may condemn themselves and feel very guilty for not feeling whatever they think is expected of them to feel.

Like everyone else in our Western culture, men are saddled with certain stereotypes. Real men are supposed to be tough, confident, rational and in control, not only of themselves but of situations as well. Real men don’t cry, aren’t afraid of anything and would never be caught asking for directions, let alone for help. Real men know exactly what to do in a crisis, and they’re strong enough to support the rest of the family, too. If they cry or otherwise express their emotions, such behaviors are considered to be signs of weakness. Add to these sex role stereotypes the assumption that, if a man’s grief doesn’t show or he doesn’t express thoughts and feelings of grief the same way a woman ordinarily does (by crying or by openly sharing with others, for example), then he must not be grieving at all.
In general, men are more often instrumental mourners. When men suffer the loss of a loved one they tend to put their feelings into action, experiencing their grief physically rather than emotionally. They deal with their loss by focusing on goal-oriented activities which activate thinking, doing and acting. Rather than endlessly talking about or crying over the person who died, for example, a man may throw himself into time-limited tasks such as planting a memorial garden or writing a poem or a eulogy. Such activities give a man not only a sense of potency and accomplishment as he enters his grief, but also a means of escaping it when the task is done. If a man relates the details of his loss to his closest male friends, it’s likely to be around activities like hunting, fishing, sporting events and card games. Although a man may let himself cry in his grief, he’ll usually do it alone, in secret or in the dark.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be intuitive mourners. They have been socialized to be more open with their feelings. They may feel a greater need to talk with others who are comfortable with strong emotions and willing to listen without judgment. Unfortunately, while it may be more acceptable for women in our culture to be expressive and emotional, all too often in grief they’re criticized for being too sentimental or overly sensitive.

Children and adolescents grieve just as deeply as adults, but depending on their cognitive and emotional development, they will experience and express their grief differently from the grownups around them. Moving in and out of grief is natural for youngsters, and the symptoms of grief may come and go, varying in intensity. Their responses will depend on the knowledge and skills available to them at the time of the loss. Having had less prior experience with crisis and its consequences, their repertoire of coping skills is simpler, their capacity to confront the reality of loss more limited, and their ability to find meaning in life’s crises less mature. If surprised or embarrassed by the intensity of their grief, they may try to hide it or disguise it. Parents, relatives, teachers and friends are wise to watch and to tune in to their children and adolescents, to listen to them, to be there for them, and if unsure what’s going on, to ask! More than anything else, children need their parents and the other adults in their world to be honest with them. They need accurate, factual information; freedom to ask questions and express their feelings; inclusion in decisions, discussions and family commemorative rituals; stable, consistent attention from their caretakers; and time to explore and come to terms with the meaning of their loss. 

The way we mourn is as individual as we are, and our own gender biases may influence how we “read” another gender’s mourning. Some females may be instrumental in pattern and style, and will mourn in traditionally “masculine” ways, and some males may be more intuitive by nature, and therefore will express their grief in traditionally “feminine” ways. Regardless of differences in personality, gender and age, the pressures of grief are still present for all family members, and the tasks of mourning are the same: to confront, endure and work through the many effects of the death so the loss can be dealt with successfully. Grief must be expressed and released in order to be resolved, and all family members need encouragement to identify and release emotions, to talk about and share their thoughts, and to accept help and support from others.

Suggestions for Coping with Different Mourning Patterns

If the Mourner is an Adult: 

 Understand that our own personality and gender biases may influence how we “read” another person’s mourning.

 What looks like inappropriate behavior may be an instrumental mourner’s way of avoiding feelings or displaying emotions publicly. People should not be judged for how they are mourning.

 Instrumental mourners often appear to be further along in the grieving process than they actually are. Even if a person appears to be all right, it is unwise to make assumptions about what he or she is experiencing. When in doubt, ask!

 Those who turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to numb their pain or break down their inhibitions need to know that, because alcohol is a depressant, it can add to the sadness they’re already feeling. Distracting from the pain only delays the mourning process.

 Although men, women, adolescents and children mourn differently from one another, none of those ways is inappropriate.

 It is not helpful to take sides, supporting one way of mourning over another.

 The way we mourn is as individual as we are: some males mourn in intuitive, feeling, or more traditionally “feminine” ways and some females mourn in instrumental, thinking, or more traditionally “masculine” ways.

 If someone seems more angry than sad at the death of a loved one, the individual may be angry at the situation — and anger may be the only way the person knows to express grief. It’s useful in such cases not to take such anger personally, or to react defensively against it.

 Men are less likely to seek the support of others (either individually or in a group) in order to express (think, talk, cry, or write about) their feelings, especially if they don’t feel respected, or if they find certain aspects of grief to be embarrassing. A man needs encouragement to share his reactions and emotions, to explore what his loved one’s death means to him, and to acknowledge how the loss affects his life.

If the Mourner is a Child:

 Recognize that death and loss are natural parts of living; shielding children from grief is futile and gives them no role models to learn healthy, normal coping behaviors.

 Be open and meticulously honest. Children know when adults are shading the truth. If children discover that you’ve distorted the truth or lied to them, they’ll have a great deal of trouble trusting you again. 

 First find out what the children already know or think they know about dying and death.

 Validate feelings and encourage children to share their thoughts, fears and observations about what has happened.

 Offer explanations that are age appropriate and at the child’s level of understanding. A child under age five needs comfort and support rather than detailed explanations, whereas a child over age five needs information that is simple, accurate, plain and direct.

 Explain that in the circle of life all living things will die someday, and that death causes changes in a living thing.

 Help children understand what “dead” means (that the body stops working and won’t work anymore) and that death is not the same as sleeping (that the sleeping body is still working, but just resting). 

 Don’t use confusing or misleading euphemisms such as “passed away,” “lost,” or “gone on.” Such phrases imply the one who died is on a trip and will return, leave children feeling rejected or abandoned, or encourage them to go 
searching for the individual or hold out hope for his or her return. 

 Explain how we might feel when someone dies: sad, mad, or confused – and we may cry sometimes. Let your children know that laughing and playing are still okay, too, and that you respect their need to be children at this sad and difficult time.

 Relieve the child of any feelings of responsibility for the death; magical thinking may lead a child to conclude that something s/he did, wished or imagined somehow caused the death.

 Avoid telling children that the dead person was so good or so special that God wants him or her to be with Him in heaven. Children may become angry with God or fear that they (or you) will be chosen next.

 Respect and encourage your children’s needs to express and share feelings of sadness. When you bring up the subject, you’re showing your own willingness to talk about it. When in doubt about your children’s thoughts and feelings, ask.

 Don’t feel as if you must have all the answers; sometimes just listening is enough. Expect that young children will ask and need answers to the same questions over and over again.

 Find and read some of the many wonderful stories and books written especially for children to help them better understand death and grief.

 Don’t cut off their feelings by noting how well your children are handling their grief or how brave or strong they are. Let them see you upset and crying, which implies that it’s all right to cry for those we love and lose.

 Children and adolescents may be reluctant to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. Encourage them to express their grief and preserve their memories in a variety of ways, including art, music, journal writing, story-telling and picture collecting.

 Let children and adolescents plan and participate in commemorative family rituals.

If the Mourner is an Adolescent:

 Recognize that teens are already struggling with the enormous physical and psychological changes and pressures of adolescence. No longer children, but not yet mature adults, they still need adult supervision, guidance, and consistent, compassionate support.

 Don’t deprive teens of their own need to mourn by pressuring them to “be strong” in support of a surviving parent, younger siblings or other family members.

 Understand that teens don’t like to stand out and feel different from their friends; they want to belong, and normally turn to one another for support. But if a teen’s friends have never experienced the death of a loved one, it’s unlikely that they can fully understand what the bereaved adolescent is feeling or experiencing. Grieving teens do best when they’re helped to connect with other teens who’ve also experienced a death. 

 Assure adolescents that conflict in relationships between teens and adults is a normal part of growing up, and offer them every opportunity to vent their feelings about their relationship with the person who died. Teens striving to separate from authority figures and find their own identity normally feel somewhat alienated from parents, siblings, and other family members, and if a loved one dies during this turbulent time, they can be left with feelings of guilt and unfinished business. 

 Give teenagers permission not to be grieving all the time. If they’ve expressed their feelings and talked about the loss with others (family, friends, teachers and other helpers) it may not be useful for them to focus further on their loss. It’s not disloyal of them to want to put their grief aside and enjoy life again.

 Be on the alert for signs that a teen may need extra help (depression; drastic changes in sleeping or eating habits; falling grades; substance abuse; sexual acting out; deteriorating relationships with family and friends. 

 Children and adolescents will cope only as well as the adults around them; helping yourself will help your children.

 Alert significant adults in your child or adolescent’s life (family doctor, teachers, school counselor, caregivers, neighbors, relatives, friends) about the death in your family. Ask their help in keeping a watchful eye on your youngster, and ask for their additional support and understanding during this difficult time.

Consider enrolling your child or adolescent in one of the children/family bereavement support groups offered by your local hospice or by other agencies in the community. 


Copyright © 1999-2012 by Martha M. Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

Spiritual Reactions to Loss

Spiritual Reactions to Loss


Regardless of one’s identification or affiliation with an organized religion, spiritual doubts and questions may arise when a loved one dies. Suffering a major loss usually causes us to confront and re-think our basic beliefs about God, religion, death and the afterlife.  Some may turn to God as a source of strength and consolation at the time of a loved one’s death and find their faith has deepened. Others may question the religious teachings they’ve practiced all their lives and find the very foundations of their beliefs shaken to the core. Even those who had no religious upbringing at all may still feel abandoned by God or angry with God for letting their loved one get sick and die. Not all people respond to loss in the same way, and not everyone shares the same cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs about death and the afterlife.

Death forces us to confront the spiritual questions we may have been avoiding or haven’t taken time to address, the questions that get at the very heart and meaning of life: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Whether a strong religious faith will be a help or a hindrance in your recovery from grief depends on what you believe and how your beliefs are practiced. Like any other tool, religion can be used in healthy, appropriate ways, or it can be abused in unhealthy, inappropriate ways.

Religion can influence your fundamental view of life: you can see life as temporary and death as permanent, or you can see it the other way around — death is temporary and life is permanent. Death may interrupt a life that was very special, but it cannot cancel it. Religion can provide the motivation required for grief recovery: it says you’re not alone — somebody has done it before. Grief’s path isn’t a dead-end street; it’s a well-marked trail. Religion can be a great antidote for the loneliness that accompanies every major loss, and it can be a source of strength and group support.

What religion cannot do is give us immunity from loss or give us back our lost loved ones — nor can it provide us with a shortcut through grief. In his wonderful book Life After Loss, pastoral counselor Bob Deits identifies some religious beliefs that can be harmful:

·                Death is God’s will and should not be questioned.

·                The person was so special that God called him or her to be with Him.

·                There must be a grand plan or purpose (a why) for every death.

These religious beliefs are helpful:

·             This is a mortal, frail, imperfect world, and tragedies occur.

·             There is no satisfactory explanation when loss occurs.

·             The question is not why me, but rather if me, what can I learn from this?

Deits encourages moving from why questions to how questions:

·                How can you work through this loss and achieve as full a life as possible?

·                How can you use this experience to help someone else?

·                How do you find meaning in life without this person?

·                How do you start anew?

Suggestions for Coping with Spiritual Reactions  

Recognize that a new faith can grow from grief, into a deeper, more mature understanding of the divine dimension of life. Sometimes meaning must be lost before it can be found.               
  1. Consider talking to a minister, priest or rabbi. Pastoral counseling can comfort you and help you find a pathway to renewed faith.
  2. Make space in your schedule for daily meditation or prayer, which can be a source of great strength and consolation.
  3. Explore and question the values and beliefs you’ve accepted in the past, and formulate new ones when you need to.
  4. Consider grief as an encounter with life’s greatest mysteries: the meaning of life; the promise of rebirth; the depth of love we share with one another. 


Copyright © 1999-2012 by Martha M. Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

Social Reactions to Loss

Social Reactions to Loss



With an overwhelming sense of missing the person you’ve loved comes the crushing awareness of all that you’ve lost. You’d give anything to be together again, if only long enough to be relieved of your loneliness and to be reassured that your loved one is still a part of your life.

At other times you may feel a need for solitude. You’ll want to be by yourself, to get away from other people and withdraw temporarily from the pressures and decisions of daily life. This need to turn inward, to reflect on your loss, to get in touch with your innermost feelings is common and not to be feared. In fact it can be a helpful time for you to find your tears and figure out where you are going from here.

Our culture isn’t comfortable with the subject of death, and few of us know how to cope with the pain of loss and grief. We don’t permit or encourage the free expression of sorrow.  Instead we learn to control our feelings and hide our pain so we won’t disturb other people. As a child you may have learned that grief is a taboo subject, that feelings should be buried, and that grieving should be done alone. As an adult you may equate grieving with self indulgence or self-pity. You may be too embarrassed or ashamed to let your emotions show in front of others. You may feel isolated, different and apart from everyone else, convinced that no one understands and you must grieve alone. You may feel stunned at the normalcy of life around you as people go about their business, totally unaware that your world has stopped and your entire life has been turned upside down.

You may be reluctant to turn to others, either because you haven’t learned to accept or ask for help, or because you’re afraid others won’t know what to do with your feelings. If they’re unfamiliar with the intensity and duration of grief or uncomfortable with the expression of strong emotions, they may offer only meaningless platitudes or clichés, change the subject or avoid you altogether. And there may be times when you will feel hurt by such thoughtless, trivializing comments as It was God’s will; I know how you feel; Life must go on; Count your blessings; You must be strong for your children; It could be worse; or At least s/he had a good life.

Some people you know may be done with your grieving long before you are, expecting you to be “over it by now” or worrying that you’re somehow “hanging on” to your grief. Uncomfortable with your strong feelings, they may change the subject or avoid any mention of your loved one’s name.

Suggestions for Coping with Loneliness and Isolation  

  • Think about who is supportive to you in your environment and what gives your life purpose and direction (family members, companion animals, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, colleagues, clubs, athletic activities, groups, church groups, support groups, bereavement counselor). With whom are you most comfortable, and who is the most comfortable ( accepting and caring) with your grief? Look for those who will listen without judging you, or for those who have suffered a similar loss.
  • Find time with others to talk, to touch, to receive support. Be honest with others about what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to express your sadness rather than masking it.  
  • Don’t expect others to guess what you need. When you want to be touched, held, hugged, listened to or pampered, say so.  
  • If all you want from others is help with simple errands, tasks, and repairs, say so.  
  • Let others (especially children) know if and when you need to be alone, so they won’t feel rejected.  
  •  Go somewhere and have a good, long cry— and do it as often as you wish. You have every right to miss the person who has died. Accept your feelings as normal.  
  • Find time alone to process what’s happened: to remember, to dream, and to think.  
  • Identify your loneliest times, and think of how you can alter your routines and environment (for example, rearrange the furniture in a room; plan your weekends ahead of time; use your microwave for quick, easy meals).  
  • While some folks really are thoughtless and don’t think before they speak, bear in mind that many well meaning individuals have yet to experience a significant loss, so they really don’t know what grief feels like, or how to respond, or what to say. They aren’t deliberately trying to hurt you. You can choose to bear with such people, you can enlighten them about what you know of grief, or you can look to others who are more understanding to find the support you need.  
  • Realize that no one can totally understand the relationship you had with your loved one.  
  • Ask people to remember, talk about and share stories about your loved one with you.  
  • Become more aware of how your own usage of words affects other people. Rather than saying something hurtful, admit that you don’t know what to say.  
  • Consider getting a companion animal (which can be a wonderful source of unconditional love), but only after you’ve investigated what kind of pet would suit you and your lifestyle.  

Copyright © 1999-2012 by Martha M. Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

Emotional Reactions to Loss

Emotional Reactions to Loss

ImageFor weeks, months, or even years after the death of a loved one occurs, the shock of loss continues in a wave of disbelieving aftershocks. The process is a gradual one of weaning and disconnection. “Forgetting” that your loved one is gone, you may find yourself setting an extra place at the dinner table, expecting your loved one to walk in the door at the usual hour or to be on the other end of the line when the telephone rings. And each time it happens, you’re confronted once again with the brutal reality that your loved one is forever gone. Denial is a defense against that brutal reality. It blunts the impact of the loss, offers you a temporary respite and allows you to process those overwhelming feelings more gradually. On one level you recognize that your loved one has died; on another level you’re unable to grasp all the ramifications of that reality.

As the fog of shock and denial begins to lift, you will find yourself headed into the very heart of grief, and you’ll become painfully aware of how very much you have lost. An entire gamut of feelings washes over you in overwhelming waves of sorrow. You are flooded with intense, raw feelings of anguish, sadness and fear as you realize that life will never, ever be the same. You may be flooded with questions: Why did this happen to me? How will I be able to go on? How will I be able to face the future without this person? When will I get myself together?

The sorrow of grief saps your energy, making even simple tasks like getting out of bed in the morning, tending to personal grooming, fixing a meal or going somewhere with friends seem overwhelming and exhausting. You may feel negative and critical toward everything and everyone, including yourself. Even in the company of others you may still feel lonely, and may prefer to avoid gatherings of any size.

You may be flooded with bittersweet memories: all the things you would have, could have, or should have said and done, and now will never be able to say or do. You may have difficulty concentrating and remembering, and feel incapable of making the simplest decision. You may experience nightmares, dreams, and phobias, and you may fear that you’re going crazy.

You may find yourself crying at the slightest provocation or at unexpected moments. On the other hand, you may fear that if you show your sadness, there will be no end to it— that if you permit yourself to cry the tears will never stop. As a child you may have been taught that crying is a sign of weakness, and strong people (especially men) don’t cry. If it is the style of some in your family to be strong and silent in front of others, you may have to accept it and allow for it. Nevertheless, it is far better to let the tears come, and welcome them as a natural and helpful form of release. When you permit yourself to let go for a time and release what you feel, you’ll be better able to function afterward. And get rid of the notion that you’re crying too much; there is no such thing. It is physically impossible for anyone to cry 24 hours a day. Let others (especially children) see you cry. It shows them that you care deeply about the person who died, and reassures them that it’s all right to express sad feelings in front of others.  

You may have the pessimistic belief that things will never get any better, as if life and living are useless, and you may even want to die. Be aware that thoughts of suicide are not unusual when you’re grieving. It is difficult for you to imagine life without your loved one, and you may feel a compelling need to join or to be with the person who has died. Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between thinking about suicide and acting upon such thoughts. In grief, thoughts of suicide are usually fleeting and reflect how desperately you want the pain of loss to end.

Suggestions for Coping with Emotional Reactions  

  • Understand that denial serves a normal function, especially in the beginning. It is your mind’s way of protecting you from more pain. Besides, your brain doesn’t “get it” because it is loaded with memories of your loved one. Although the person has died, the one you love continues to exist in your memory and in the memory of others.  

  • Know that it’s normal to ask questions for which you cannot have all the answers.  Asking such questions can be the beginning of dealing with loss.  
  •  Put yourself on a regular, daily routine, and set goals that are manageable and achievable. Schedule activities you enjoy, knowing you will feel moments of sadness as well as pleasure, and accept both sets of feelings without guilt.  
  • Resist the urge to be all by yourself. Find someone you can trust who will listen to you.  
  • Try setting aside a certain crying time each day when you can deliberately immerse yourself in grief. Use triggers and props to help bring on your tears (music, photographs, writings, sad movies).  
  • Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol, which may add to your feelings of depression.  
  •  Seek professional help if after a reasonable period of time, despite everything you’ve tried to do, you still feel no relief from these feelings. If you feel you are “coming apart”, no longer in control, isolated with no one to turn to; if you are turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with stress; if you feel hopelessly depressed;if you feel suicidal, call someone immediately: a friend, clergy person, therapist or counselor, or dial “O” or 911.  

Copyright © 1999-2012 by Martha M. Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

Physical Reactions to Grief


Shared from:


When the stress of an emotional injury is felt, there will be warning signs in the body. Expressing emotional pain indirectly through physical symptoms may be more acceptable in some families, and more worthy of attention. But it is very hard on the body and it can be dangerous. When you don’t express your emotional pain directly, your body may do it for you.

Grief can cause any of these physical symptoms:

  • Low energy: needing more rest; tiring more quickly; feeling generally fatigued.
  • Hyperactivity: an intense state of arousal or panicky feeling; bursts of physical energy; difficulty sitting still; needing to move around.
  • Crisis response: elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, muscle tension, dizziness, weakness, headaches, not feeling well, tightness in the throat and chest, shortness of breath, dry mouth, feeling overwhelmed.
  • Susceptibility to illness: suppression of the body’s immune system.
  • Aggravation of pre-existing chronic medical conditions or precipitation of new ones: ulcers, colitis, hiatal hernia, arthritis, asthma, migraines, back pain.
  • Sighing or yawning: shallow breathing; inhaling frequently; trying to catch your breath.
  • Feeling off balance, uncoordinated.
  • Nausea.
  • Temporary hair loss.
  • Internalizing, or taking on symptoms of the illness your loved one had.
  • Erratic eating and sleeping patterns: insomnia, weight loss or gain.
  • Susceptibility to the abuse of drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and food.
  • Heaviness; feeling as if you’re made of lead.
  • Feeling “out of sync” with your body.
  • Distorted perception of time and distance.

Caring for yourself won’t erase your grief, but it will offer a welcome respite from it. Pampering yourself with “food for the soul” (such as a massage, manicure, pedicure, facial or bath) releases body tension and makes you feel nurtured. Even though your energy is low and you don’t feel like establishing a healthy routine, force yourself to do it anyway. Pay careful attention to your need for nutrition, rest and relaxation, exercise and human contact.

Nutrition can suffer because appetites often shift after loss. In an effort to comfort and nurture yourself, you may eat more than usual, or you may have trouble eating anything at all. Stress can interfere with the absorption of important nutrients, while fats and sugars deplete energy.

Rest and relaxation are essential. Because rest relieves, restores and refreshes you, it is important that you make time in your day for “mindless” activity, or get away for a relaxing weekend. Your usual sleep pattern may be disrupted in the first few weeks of grief. You may not sleep well at all, or you may sleep more than usual as a way to avoid or shut out the pain.

Exercise is good for you, since regular physical activity stimulates the release of biochemicals in your body that relieve pain, alleviate stress and enhance your sense of well being. Exercise increases your circulation, stimulates your heart, cleanses your body, discharges negative energy, and gets you out and about.

Human contact is a basic human need. Touching, hugging, holding, and having contact with another is comforting and healing.

Suggestions for Coping with Physical Symptoms

  • Ask someone to stay with you to help you focus and prioritize what needs to get done.
  • Inform your physician what’s happening in your life, so your blood pressure, weight changes and other health indicators can be monitored.
  • Know you will make it through these episodes even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
  • Recognize that your thinking processes, coordination and reaction time aren’t up to par right now.
  • Breathe. Frequently throughout the day, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, hold it, then exhale very slowly.
  • If your diet is not well balanced, try supplementing it with vitamins and minerals. Add fruits, vegetables and grains. Eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than three big ones. Eat foods you like that are easy to fix and digest, and include a special treat now and then.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Find an exercise you can do (stretching, walking, swimming, dancing, swinging or swaying to music) and set aside time to do it regularly.
  • Reach out and touch someone. Cuddle children and pets; hold hands with your friends; get a massage.
  • Attend to personal grooming (hair, skin, nails, wardrobe) that will enhance your body image. There is truth in the saying that when you look good, you feel good too.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try using the methods recommended by accredited sleep centers:

  • Cut back on your caffeine and nicotine intake several hours before going to sleep.
  • Exercise regularly (for 20 minutes at least, three times a week).
  • Avoid self medicating with drugs or alcohol which can offer only temporary escape; have serious side effects; affect motor coordination and mental acuity; lead to dependency; magnify feelings of depression; and disrupt patterns of sleep.
  • Use sleeping aids only as prescribed by your doctor, and only as a temporary way to break the cycle of sleeplessness.
  • Condition yourself to fall asleep to guided imagery, using pre-recorded audio programs with soothing music and voice tones.
  • Avoid going to bed hungry, or after a heavy meal late in the evening.
  • Drink a cup of warm milk or water at bedtime (plain milk is a natural sedative).
  • Separate yourself from the stresses, worries and distractions of the day (yesterday, today or tomorrow). Wind down by reading, or taking a relaxing bath or warm shower before bed.
  • If your spouse is the one who died, sleep on your spouse’s side of the bed; it’s easier if your own side is empty.
  • Put on a night light, but keep your bedroom as cool, quiet, and as dark as possible.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Stick to a regular routine; retire and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
  • Avoid naps lasting longer than 30 minutes, especially after 3 p.m.
  • Establish a bedtime ritual. Cue your body to slow down and relax by preparing for bed the same way each night, and go to bed when you are sleepy.
  • Follow a deep relaxation routine; perform deep breathing exercises in bed.
  • Listen to music that soothes your soul and decreases tension.
  • Visualize being in your most favorite and pleasant place.
  • Associate your bed only with relaxing, sleeping and sexual pleasure – don’t use it for other activities that can initiate or stimulate worries and concerns.

Copyright © 1999-2012 by Martha M. Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

Understanding the Grief Process


Grief is a normal yet highly personal response to loss. Neither an illness nor a pathological condition, it is a natural process that, depending on how it is managed and understood, can lead to healing and personal growth.

Grief is extremely powerful. It can catch you totally unprepared, knock you off balance and shake you to the core. It can be painful beyond words —  physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually —  and it can change your life completely. Grief serves to remind you how fragile life is and how vulnerable you are to loss. It can make your present life seem meaningless, and take away your hope for the future. 

Understanding the process and knowing what to expect can help you cope. Your pattern of  progressing through your grief will be uneven, unpredictable and unique, with no specific time frame. But the more you learn about grief, the better you can cope with it. In the beginning it will seem as if your grief is running you, but in the end, you can learn to run your grief.  When you understand what is happening to you and have some idea of what to expect, you will feel more in control of your grief and will be in a better position to take care of yourself, to find your own way through this loss and to begin rebuilding your life.

The worst kind of grief is the grief you’re experiencing now. Don’t compare your grief with anyone else’s, and know that, at this moment, your loss is the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Acknowledge that your loss is worthy of grief, and accept that you must endure the very real feelings of sorrow.

Grief work is very hard and takes enormous energy.  Much as you may want to do so, there is no way to avoid this grief of yours. You cannot wait it out; you won’t get over it quickly, and nobody can do it for you. It’s called grief work because finding your way through grief  is hard work, and if you put it off, like a messy chore it will sit there waiting to be done. And the longer it waits, the harder it becomes. 

Effective mourning is not done alone.  Unfortunately, friends and family members may be finished with your grief long before you are finished with your need to talk about it, and unexpressed feelings can become distorted. It is important that you find an understanding, nonjudgmental listener with whom you can openly acknowledge your feelings and experiences, express and work through your pain, and come to terms with your loss. If friends and family aren’t as available as you need them to be, or if your need exceeds their capacity to help, consider attending a support group or seeking help from a bereavement counselor.  

How grief is expressed varies among individuals. Everyone grieves differently, according to their age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss, and available support. Grieving differs among members of the same family, as each person’s relationship with and attachment to the deceased family member varies. How you will react to this death depends on how you’ve responded to other crises in your life; on what was lost when this death happened (not only the life of the person who died, but certain aspects of your own life as well: your way of life; who you were in your relationship with that person and who you planned to be; your hopes and dreams for the future); on who died (spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, relative, friend or other; how you lived together and what that person meant to you); on the person’s role in your family; on when the death occurred (at what point in the life cycle: yours as well as that of the person who died); and on how (the circumstances surrounding the death, and how the death occurred).

Certain manifestations of grief are typical, common and normal. Although grief is as individual as you are, some feelings and reactions are universal. Their intensity will vary, and they’ll happen in no particular order. You may experience all, some or none of them; they may happen only once or many times, sometimes several years after your loved one’s death. Respect your own feelings and reactions. Take time to look, listen, experience and understand them. They are nature’s way of getting your attention.

Grief is a lifelong process.  While the agonizing pain of loss diminishes in intensity over time, it’s never gone completely. It is absolutely normal to feel the aftershock of loss for the rest of your life. Grieving is not a reaction to a single event, like an illness that can be cured and from which you will recover. It’s more like a deep wound that eventually heals and closes, but whose terrible scar remains and still can hurt at times.

Death may have ended your loved one’s life, but it did not end your relationship. The bond you have will continue and endure throughout your lifetime, depending on how you take your memories and your past with you into the future. Many grievers report maintaining an active connection with their deceased loved ones by talking to them, dreaming about them, sensing their presence or feeling watched over and protected by them. It is normal and healthy to foster these continuing bonds, as you decide how your loved one will be remembered, memorialized and included in your family and community life.

Time does not heal grief. Time is neutral. It is not the passage of time alone that heals.  It is what you do with time that matters. Now that this death has happened to you, you must decide what you can do with your grief. Grieving is an active process, not a passive one, and recovery is a choice. Coping with grief involves many courses of action, and as you find your way through this first year of grief, you will learn how to use this grieving time to help you heal yourself.

There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grieving. There is only your way, and you must discover it for yourself. There is no magic formula, no short cut, and no easy way out. Grief is like a long, winding tunnel whose entrance is closed behind you, and the only way out is through.

Copyright © 1999-2012 by Martha M. Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

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