Category Archives: Grief

Thoughts on Memories, Grief and Loss

By 

Thoughts on Memories, Grief and LossFor the first few months after my dad’s passing, it was really hard to talk about him and even harder to recall memories, vivid, detailed descriptions of my father and poignant times past. Because with the memories came the obvious grasp that my dad is gone. It was the very definition of bittersweet. Sure, there might be laughter and the subtle shape of a smile, but inevitably there’d also be tears and the realization that this is where the memories ended.

But as the months passed, remembering and recounting tidbits from my childhood, my dad’s sayings and jokes and other memories started doing the opposite: they started bringing me a sense of peace. Not an overwhelming wave of calm, but a small token of serenity. I also knew very well that talking about my dad meant honoring his memory and his presence in the world.

In her beautiful memoir Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading(stay tuned for my review!), Nina Sankovitch writes about the importance of words, stories and memories…

I was in my forties, reading in my purple chair. My father was in his eighties, and my sister was in the ocean, her ashes scattered there by all of us in swimsuits under a blue sky. And only now am I grasping the importance of looking backward. Of remembrance. My father finally wrote out his memories for a reason. I took on a year of reading books for a reason. Because words are witness to life: they record what has happened, and they make it all real. Words create the stories that become history and become unforgettable. Even fiction portrays truth: good fiction is truth. Stories about lives remembered bring us backward while allowing us to move forward.

The only balm to sorrow is memory; the only salve for the pain of losing someone to death is acknowledging the life that existed before.

At first it seems unlikely how acknowledging a lost loved one’s life by looking backwards inches you forward. But Sankovitch writes:

The truth of living is proved not by the inevitability of death but by the wonder that we lived at all. Remembering lives from the past ratifies that truth, more and more so the older we get. When I was growing up, my father told me once, “Do not look for happiness; life itself is happiness.” It took me years to understand what he meant. The value of a life lived; the sheer value of living. As I struggled with the sadness of my sister’s death, I came to see that I was facing the wrong way and looking at the end of my sister’s life and not at the duration of it. I was not giving remembrance its due. It was time to turn myself around, to look backward. By looking backward, I would be able to move forward…

Are you familiar with Dickens’s The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain? The protagonist is haunted by various painful memories. A ghost, who is essentially his double, appears and offers to remove all his memories, “leaving a blank slate,” Sankovitch explains. But it isn’t the glorious, pain-free existence the man imagined. After he agrees to be rid of the memories, “all the man’s capacity for tenderness, empathy, understanding and caring” also vanishes.

“Our haunted man realizes too late that by giving up memories, he has become a hollow and miserable man, and a spreader of misery to all whom he touches.”

The story does conclude with an epiphany and a happy ending: The man realizes that this isn’t a life, and he’s allowed to break the contract and get his memories back. (And since it’s Christmas, he also spreads holiday cheer to others.)

This story reminds me of something researcher Brené Brown writes about in her powerful book The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are: Just like the man in Dickens’s story is relegated to an emotionless existence after his memories are purged, the same happens when we try to choose which feelings we’d rather feel.

Brown’s research, which is the basis for her book, showed that “there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing.” Instead, you get the same blank slate as Dickens imagined. As Brown writes, “There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light.” She observed this first-hand: “When I was ‘taking the edge off’ of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of the good feelings, like joy…When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.”

Not only do we lose joy and other positive emotions, but we gain indifference. Which is a very scary thing. As Elie Wiesel has eloquently said:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.

To me, what’s worse than the bittersweet reality of the memories and the realization that the memories have ended with my father’s passing is the blank, unfeeling, unempathetic, uncaring slate. It’s the equivalent of ignoring my father’s life and the richness he brought to everyone else’s. To disregard the memories is to not only shelve the sadness of his passing but the happiness, vibrancy and joy of his precious life. It’s to snub my father of the sacrifices he’s made and the impact he’s had. And that’s not a life worth living.

Why Breakups are Hard for Codependents.

By Darlene Lancer

rejectionRejection and breaking-up are especially hard for codependents. They can trigger hidden grief and cause irrational guilt, anger, shame, and fear. Working through the following issues can help you let go and move on.

– Codependents often blame themselves or their partner.

– They have low self-esteem, so rejection triggers shame.

– Relationships are of primary importance to them.

– They fear this relationship may be their last.

– They haven’t grieved their childhood.

– Loss and trauma from their childhood are triggered.

Blame

One of the main symptoms of codependency is poor boundaries. Codependents have difficulty seeing others as separate individuals, with feelings, needs, and motivations independent of themselves. They feel responsible and guilty for others’ feelings and actions. Sometimes they project blame when they feel guilty or ashamed, also. This accounts for high reactivity and conflict in codependent relationships. One person’s need for space or even to break-up may not be a consequence of his or her partner’s behavior, and blaming the partner doesn’t make it so. There may be instances where a person’s addiction, abuse, or infidelity precipitate a break-up. Those behaviors reflect individual motivations and are part of a bigger picture of why the relationship didn’t work. No one is responsible for someone else’s actions. People always have a choice to do what they do. If you’re feeling guilty, take the suggested steps in my recent blog, “Self-Forgiveness and Overcoming Guilt.”

Anger and resentment can also keep you stuck in the past. Codependents blame others because they have trouble taking responsibility for their own behavior, including a failure to ask for their needs to be met and to set boundaries. They may have been blamed or criticized as a child, and blame is a learned defense to shame that feels natural and protects them from their overdeveloped sense of guilt.

Low Self-Esteem and Shame

Shame is an underlying cause of codependency stemming from early, dysfunctional parenting. Codependents develop the belief that they’re basically flawed in some respect and that they’re unlovable. Children can interpret parental behavior as rejecting and shaming when it’s not meant to be. Even parents who profess their love may alternately behave in ways that communicate you’re not loved as the unique individual who you are. Shame is often unconscious, but may drive a person to love others who can’t love or don’t love them. In this way, a belief in ones unlovability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy operating beneath conscious awareness. Some codependents have a shaming, “I’m defective” or “I’m a failure” script, blaming themselves for anything that goes wrong. Low-self-esteem, which is a cognitive self-evaluation, leads to self-attribution of fault and personal defects to explain why someone else wants to end a relationship. For example, if a man cheats, the woman often assumes it’s because she’s not desirable enough, rather than that his motivation comes from his fear of intimacy. Learning to love yourself can heal shame and improve self-esteem. See my book, Conquering Shame and Codependency.

Relationships are the Answer

In the dysfunctional and insecure family environment in which codependents grow up, they develop strategies and defenses in order to feel safe and loved. Some seek power, some withdraw, and others try to win the love of their parents by adapting to their parents’ needs. Stereotypical codependents keep trying to make relationships work – usually harder than their partner – in order to feel secure and okay with themselves. A close relationship becomes the solution to their inner emptiness and insecurity. It’s not unusual for codependents to drop their friends, interests and hobbies – if they had any – once they’re in a relationship. They focus all of their energy on the relationship and their loved one, which helps neither them, nor the relationship. Some couples spend their time talking about it their relationship, instead of enjoying time together. Once it ends, they feel the emptiness of their life without a partner. The adage, “Happiness begins within,” is apt. Recovery from codependency helps people assume responsibility for their own happiness, and although a relationship can add to your life, it won’t make you happy in the long run, if you can’t do that for yourself. It’s important to have a support network of friends and/or 12-Step meetings as well as activities that bring you pleasure whether or not you’re in a relationship.

The Last Hope

Losing someone can be devastating, because codependents put such importance on a relationship to make them happy. Fear is the natural outgrowth of shame. When you’re ashamed, you fear that you won’t be accepted and loved. You fear criticism and rejection. Codependents fear being alone and abandoned, because they believe they’re unworthy of love. They might cling to an abusive relationship in which they’re being emotionally abandoned all the time. These aren’t rational fears. Building a life that you enjoy prepares you to both live single and be in a healthier relationship where you’re less dependent upon the other person to make you happy.

Grieving the Past

Codependents find it hard to let go because they haven’t let go of the childhood hope of having that perfect love from their parents. They expect to be cared for and loved and accepted unconditionally from a partner in the way they wished their parents could have. No partner can make up for those losses and disappointments. Parents aren’t perfect and even those with the best intentions disappoint their children. Part of becoming an independent adult is realizing and accepting this fact, not only intellectually, but emotionally, and that usually involves sadness and sometimes anger.

Past Trauma

It’s a psychological axiom that each loss recapitulates prior losses. You may have had other losses as an adult that compound grief about the current one. Yet often, it’s abandonment losses from childhood that are being triggered. Closeness with a parent was either blissful or you may never had it, or didn’t have it consistently. The intimacy of a close relationship reminds you of intimacy you once had or longed for with your mother or father. Either way, it’s a loss. Codependents may have been neglected, blamed, abused, betrayed, or rejected in childhood, and these traumas get reactivated by current events. Sometimes, they unconsciously provoke situations reminiscent of their past in order that it can be healed. They also may incorrectly perceive rejection, because they expect to be treated the way they were previously.

Grief is part of letting go, but it’s important to maintain friendships and life-affirming activities in the process. Blame, shame, and guilt aren’t helpful, but working through trauma from the past can help you sort out your feelings and know what you feel about the ending of the present relationship. Do you miss the person, what he or she represent, or just being in a relationship? Check out my blog on “Letting Go.”

Letting go and healing involve acceptance of yourself and your partner as separate individuals. Usually, relationships end because partners have individual issues with self-esteem and sham, are ill-matched, or have needs that they’re unable to communicate or fill. Shame often causes people to withdraw or push the other person away. Healing trauma and losses and building self-esteem help individuals move forward in their life and take more responsibility for themselves. Sign up for a free copy of “14 Tips to Letting Go,” on my website, and get my ebook, 10 Steps to Self-Esteem.

©Darlene Lancer 2013

 

Learning How to Grieve

(…in a spiritual context)

Author: Beth Broom

There’s an elephant in the room, and its name is grief. We don’t know how to grieve, and we don’t want to learn. We’d rather distract ourselves with a myriad of gadgets, movies, drugs, food and social media. But grief doesn’t go away if we ignore it. We will have to keep plugging the holes of grief over and over again, using whatever distractions are at hand.

Unless there’s a better way.

I recently talked with a friend who is experiencing incredible loss. She is a healthy Christian. She believes the gospel and trusts the sovereignty of God. And she’s also angry. She’s confused. She’s discouraged. Does this mean she’s losing her faith and failing to trust God?

I think Christians have an added obstacle to grieving in a healthy way because we get scared when our thoughts are despairing and our emotions are unstable. We punt those thoughts and feelings as fast as we can because we think they mean we don’t have faith. Instead of allowing ourselves to ask the hard questions before a heavenly Father who loves us, we explain away our anger and pain by slapping on some Bible verses and forcing ourselves to smile through the pain.

But this is never what God intended. So many of us are bleeding. And not the type of bleeding that comes from a scraped knee. We’re talking gunshot wounds and jagged cuts. We don’t need a Band-Aid. We need a surgeon.

If you aren’t currently grieving, you likely know someone who is. Grief takes lots of different forms and happens for many reasons. It’s not just about losing a loved one to death. It might be the loss of a job, a dream, a relationship, status or innocence, especially the things in which we put our hope, confidence and value. And no one teaches you how to do it.

However, we do have good examples of healthy grief in the Bible. David grieved over the oppression of the weak and wounded (Ps. 10). Isaiah grieved over the sin of Israel (Isa. 6:1-7). Jesus grieved over the loss of His friend, Lazarus (John 11:28-37). What can we learn from God’s Word about how to grieve?

Create Space for Grieving

Instead of hurrying past the pain and hard questions, set aside time and energy for grieving. You will experience strong emotions that may be foreign to you. The most common emotions are anger, fear and despair. When these feelings come, allow yourself to feel them in the presence of God. People usually suppress their emotions, distract themselves or wallow in the pain. None of these actions are healthy expressions of grief. Instead, set aside a specific amount of time in which you enter God’s presence and express to Him your emotions. Ask Him to guide you and remind you of His goodness in the midst of sorrow.

You’ll also experience thoughts that contradict the biblical truth you have learned. Many Christians instantly stifle those thoughts and try to forget them. But, again, this is not a healthy way to grieve. Before God, and often in the presence of trusted friends, express your thoughts. The most common thoughts include questions about God’s goodness and sovereignty. We must remember that grief is an opening of the eyes. We are face to face with the reality of pain and death, and it’s heartbreaking. Refusing to acknowledge the pain or hurrying past it keeps us from experiencing the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes through suffering.

Grieve With Others

There’s a reason people invented things like funerals and wakes. We need each other in times of grief. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced wounds in times of grief at the hands of well-meaning people who said unhelpful things. Surround yourself with compassionate Christians whose goal is not to fix you but to support you. Because we’re all uncomfortable with pain, we want to “help” others move past it. However, grief is not something to get over. It’s something to experience in the presence of God and others.

How do you know whether a person will support you in your grief? Well, you don’t. Be prepared that others won’t know what you need. You’ll have to be explicit in asking for help and support. And then you’ll have to draw from the power of the Spirit to be gracious to those who aren’t very helpful.

If you’re someone who is seeking to support grieving friends, often the best things you can do are to listen and pray. They don’t need advice. They need the surgeon, and you’re not Him. There’s no pressure to make anything better, so you can be free to encourage and pray and provide practical help without the need to get rid of the pain.

Remember the Savior

Jesus Christ experienced the ultimate grief when He was separated from His Father on the cross. He understands. He is the only one who knows how you feel, not just because He’s been there but because He lives in you. And He sits at the Father’s right hand, pleading for your joy and freedom and peace (Heb. 7:25). Run to Him. Plead with Him. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

Psychotherapy