Tag Archives: Loss

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Empty Nest Grief

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It’s that time of year again when children are heading off to college. It may be the first time a son or daughter is leaving home. For parents facing an “empty nest”, life can become a huge grieving event. It can be devastating but in some ways, also liberating. The deep sense of missing your child can be overwhelming. Maybe this is even surprising. Never thought you’d miss not having to step over the pile of dirty clothes in the hallway did you? Never thought you’d long for the laughter of high school girls gathering in your living room to watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette on Monday nights? Just driving by the track or soccer field where you spent most of your weekends now brings you to tears. It feels like your life has been swept out from under you. Of course it is not surprising you are hurting when you have been fully integrated into your child’s life for the last 18 years. Now what are you supposed to do?  Spend time with your spouse? Take up underwater basket weaving? Take that long awaited trip to Europe?

OPPORTUNITY

As parents, we should look at the empty nest syndrome as an opportunity to complete this chapter in our life, embrace it and move forward. Face your grief. Be sad. Don’t isolate yourself but participate in life. Re-discover what you like to do. Find your identity. Remember you are not broken just sad and that is perfectly normal and healthy.

Our gut reaction may be to try to “suck it up” and pretend like everything is ok. We smile when we are asked how we are doing. “Just fine” comes out of our mouth even when we don’t feel that way. When asked about our college student we try not to tear up.  Everything is “great” we say while gritting our teeth. We may avoid going out so we don’t run into anyone who may ask about them. That would certainly bring on the tears. In reality, these responses are only hurting us. They are masking what we are really feeling.  Sadness. Pain. Loneliness.

Even worse, we pretend everything is “fine” when we talk to our college student. Wouldn’t want to upset them. They probably don’t care anyway. Too much fun in college. We’re sure they don’t even miss us. So we call, but not too much. We text, but only occasionally. We make sure we don’t leave tearful voicemails on their cell phones. When we haven’t heard from them for a few days, we try not to panic. We plan a trip so we can go see them, then count the days until it happens. Deep down we are still sad and hurting.

CHILDREN GRIEVE TOO

As hard as it is for us, we forget it is also hard for our child. They too go through a sense of loss once they leave home. Home – the place they couldn’t wait leave – now becomes a place they begin to miss terribly. No more home cooked meals. No more Mom or Dad bugging them to make their beds. No hugs just because. They try to be strong. They grieve alone. Wouldn’t want to other kids to see they are homesick. Not cool. They don’t let us know because they know how sad we are already.

From a grief recovery perspective it is best for everyone to face their grief. It is ok to be sad whether you are the “empty nest” parent or the child away at college. Sharing your grief as a family brings healing. Talk about it. Know that it is ok. In fact that it is even better if you grieve together. My daughter gave me the biggest HUG when I finally saw her six weeks after she became a college freshman. Schools plan those Parent Weekends at six weeks for a reason. It’s about the time that college freshman really begin to miss their families. That HUG from my daughter told me everything I needed to know.

BE SUPPORTIVE

If you aren’t an empty nester but are a friend of one, listen and be supportive. Hand them a kleenex when you are at lunch and let those few tears roll down their cheek. Don’t try to intellectualize with them, just listen with your heart. They just need to talk about how they are feeling – not be fixed.

The same goes for the college student who may be also be facing a grieving event by moving away from home. As a parent, let them express how they feel. Listen and don’t try to fix them. Allow them to share their sadness. Then when you see them on Parent’s Weekend, just give them the BIGGEST HUG you can muster. That will say it all.

You will all survive this TOGETHER.

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Sending you love, comfort and peace!


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Helping Children With Grief

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How can we better help children with grief? As a society we haven’t done a very good job. We encourage children to express joy when they are happy; but we discourage them from expressing their sadness when they are unhappy. These mixed messages have contributed to most of us growing into adults who try to cover up our heartbreak. We walk around pretending we are okay; or worse yet, we turn to short term energy-relieving behaviors (like alcohol, drugs, shopping, anger, etc.) to “numb the pain.” These behaviors do little to help address our grief in the long run.

MOST COMMON CHILDHOOD LOSSES 

The Grief Recovery Method® lists the following as the most common losses experienced by a child:

Death of a pet

Death of a grandparent

Major move

Divorce of parents

Death of a parent

How can we better help our children grow into adults who can deal with these losses? It may be hard for many of us to change, but our children need us to take the lead when it comes to loss. We have to learn to replace our old behaviors with new ones when it comes to grief. This means we need to look long and hard about how we deal with and react to loss in our own lives. If we can do that, our children have more of chance of being successful in their own lives. The book When Children Grieve states, “Establishing a foundation for effectively dealing with loss can be one of the greatest gifts you give you child.”

WAYS TO HELP A GRIEVING CHILD

Here are six ways you can help a child who is grieving:

Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment, criticism, or analysis.

Avoid the trap of asking a child what is wrong since he or she will automatically say, “Nothing.”

Adults – Go first. Telling the truth about your own grief will make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings.

Remember the reaction a child has is unique to them. If you have more than one child, respect that each of their reactions will probably be different.

Acknowledge your child’s emotions before addressing the facts.  Listen with your heart and not your head. If your child brings up the same issue over and over again, it means they are not being heard.

Make sure your verbal and non-verbal communications match. Children may respond incorrectly to their loss if they feel you are teaching them to “do as I say, not as I do.”

Our children look up to us. They tend to do as we do. It’s important that as adults, we communicate accurately about our emotions so that our children can see, copy and learn. Helping them will ensure they can more effectively deal with grief and loss events throughout their lives.

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Sending you love, comfort and peace!


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Pet Loss

Why Pet Loss Is So Hard

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Words can’t describe how it feels to lose a pet. For many, a furry friend is a beloved member of their family. For others, their pet is the only family they have. These are a few reasons why pet loss can be so hard.

Often when a pet passes away, people resort to incorrect mechanisms to deal with the grief. Sometimes they even attempt to replace the pet immediately. Unfortunately, there is little effective guidance for grieving pet owners. As a result, many pet grievers either isolate themselves or pretend like “everything is fine” for fear of being judged or criticized – especially by non-pet owners.

HOW OTHERS REACT

Another problem is that friends and family don’t know what to say to someone who lost their pet. Oftentimes they resort to statements that are not helpful at all to the griever like:

“It was only a dog (cat, fish, lizard, etc).”

“Don’t feel bad you can always get another dog (cat, fish, lizard, etc).”

“Just give it time and you won’t remember your dog (cat, fish, lizard, etc) anymore.”

In fact these statements are not useful at all. They are almost cruel. They actually break a grieving pet owner’s heart into a million more pieces. This is why many grieving pet owners often choose not to share their pain with anyone. Non-pet owners just wouldn’t understand the special bond they shared with their pet. They wouldn’t understand the feeling of unconditional love they received on a daily basis. It’s just too hard to explain so pet grievers find it easier to just bottle it up inside.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

Here are some things we need to keep in mind when losing a pet:

– In any household in which a pet has died, it is important to remember that each family member will have a different reaction to the loss. Each relationship to the pet was unique, so each person’s grief will be unique to them. This needs to be respected and honored. Never compare your reaction to that of another family member.

– Talk openly and honestly about the loss. Trying to hide your feelings will only make it confusing – especially if you have children.

– Don’t turn to short-term energy relieving behaviors (STERBs) – anger, alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc.- to deal with the loss. These only make you feel better for a little while and don’t help you to “complete” the relationship you had with your pet – i.e. face your grief.

– Remember that although your pet is no longer here physically, we continue to have an emotional and spiritual relationship with them.  These aspects of the relationship need to be “complete” so memories of your pet don’t turn painful.

– Being in pain over the death of your pet is not an expression of love. Completing what was left unfinished (especially if your pet died tragically – hit by a car, etc.), will get you out of the pain. You will still have sad and happy memories, but those memories will no longer turn painful.

– Never use the word “guilt” or say that you “feel guilty.” Guilt implies intent to harm, and most pet owners would never do anything maliciously to harm their pet. A better descriptor would be “unresolved grief” – things you wish you had or hadn’t done with your pet. Unresolved grief is very different from guilt.

– Think of those things you wish you could apologize for (“I am sorry I yelled at you when I got home from a bad day at work”), forgive (“I forgive you for ripping up my favorite pair of shoes”) or wished you had said to your pet (“I loved how you used to greet me when I came home. It was the best feeling in the world”).

If you are having a difficult time, you are not alone. The Grief Recovery Method®, through their Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss, offers a structured action plan to help grieving pet owners discover and complete what was left emotionally unfinished and ultimately, have fond memories of your beloved pet not turn painful.

DEALING WITH PET LOSS WEBINAR

The WEBINAR from The Grief Reiki® Academy will:

– Discover how society treats grieving pet owners.

– Better understand why it is so hard to lose a pet.

– Learn what to say and do (and what not to say and do) for a grieving pet owner.

Bottom line, grieve for your furry friend. Be sad.

Remember the time you spent with them. Hold them in your heart forever.

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Sending you love, comfort and peace!


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