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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How Grief Walking Saved Me

How “Grief Walking” Saved Me

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Walking, or “grief walking” as I call it, saved me when I was grieving. Somehow it opened up the door to my emotions. Every feeling I had tried to push down or avoid came rising to the surface. I found myself crying and walking. I didn’t care who saw me. I walked. Then I walked some more. Unknowingly I was walking myself towards healing. My grief journey had truly begun.

BENEFITS OF WALKING WHEN YOUR ARE GRIEVING

Since grief is an energy-depleting emotion, walking outside can help to replenish your energy. It can refresh and rejuvenate you. It doesn’t even have to be a long walk. Go around the block. Go to the end of your street. Stand in your driveway. Sit on your front porch. Every little bit of time you spend walking will help you to feel better. It can improve sleep, increase energy, and improve the overall quality of your life. The best thing about it is that you can walk anywhere and at anytime.

Promotes Feelings of Calmness – Grief can send your world into a tailspin. Studies have shown that walking helps to promote feelings of calmness by helping you to be more grounded. Being grounded fills you with a sense of stability which leads to feeling emotionally calm.

Decreases Health Risks – Grief can contribute to toxins lodging in your cells, soft tissues, and muscles, overwhelming your entire immune system. The impact of not eliminating these toxins can leave you more susceptible to illness. The American Diabetes Association says walking lowers your blood sugar levels and your overall risk for diabetes. Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and the University of Tennessee found that regular walking lowered blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may reduce the risk of stroke by 20% to 40%.

Improves Your Mood – Grief can overwhelm your mind in many ways. Research shows that regular walking releases natural pain­killing endorphins to the body – one of the emotional benefits of exercise. This actually modifies your nervous system so much that you’ll experience a decrease in anger which can be a side-effect of grief.

Increases Your Metabolism – You may feel like you are in a constant state of fatigue when you are grieving. Daily walking increases your metabolism by burning extra calories and by increasing your energy levels.

Strengthen Bones and Muscles – Walking strengthens your bones and muscles to improve your balance. This can be a real benefit when you are grieving. Having good balance helps you to avoid accidents. If you are like me, you may already have a hard enough time just walking or going up/down stairs when things are normal. Add the effects of grieving, and you can become an accident waiting to happen. Walking a few times a week can help you remain coordinated and avoid a nasty injury.

Improves Sleep – Disrupted sleep can be a huge issue when you are grieving. An easy-paced, late night stroll can relax your body and clear your mind so you can fall asleep.

Boosts Immune Functions – Grievers are more susceptible to illness. Walking can provide protection during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.

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Sending you love, comfort and peace!


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