Christmas and Grief: An Anniversary Reaction Time

 

Christmas and Grief: An Anniversary Reaction Time

© Jane Simington, PHD.

 

Anniversary reactions can be times of intense emotional struggle for the bereaved. Anniversary reactions are experienced usually for a number of years following a death. These often occur at times that held a lot of family time and are often associated with ceremony and celebration. Following the death, the bereaved will often feel an incresed sense of loss during such times. Each annivesary makes them more aware of the finality of the relationship they have had.

christmas-and-grief idcaestiranogbhqqoga

Here are some activities I have used and found to be both personally and professionally helpful. While I titled this Christmas and Grief, most of these strategies can be applied any time there is a need to prepare for an anniversary situation. It is well recognized that “preparing for” can alleviate much anxiety. When we are “prepared” we tend to move through the experience with more emotional ease than when we are “caught off guard.”

1) Acknowledge that Christmas is coming and that this may be a difficult time for you and your family.

I find that acknowledging and planning help us get through difficult times. It is when we allow things to simply happen, for example, if we just “float” into Christmas, we can more easily get caught off-guard and become overwhelmed.

2) Avoid being caught up in what you “should” do, wasting a lot of time and energy on feeling obligated.

Instead, decide what it is you really want to do and then place your energy into planning for that, by making a list. Letting others know and perhaps even asking for help to ensure that what you want to take place does indeed happen. If you do not plan ahead it will likely not happen.

3) Remember there are no right and/or wrong ways to celebrate Christmas.

There are many lovely restaurants that now offer a beautiful meal. Some even have soft music, gentle songs and harp playing on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They are becoming so popular you must make sure to have a reservation. A week at the Ocean, relaxing in the sun at an all-inclusive resort may be better than any amount of grief therapy you could receive this season. What about a ski weekend? One older woman decided to spend her first Christmas alone serving meals at a community kitchen for the homeless. She told me it was one of her most fulfilling experiences. Could someone else do the cooking this year? Is it essential to have a turkey dinner? Would a roast of beef work as well? Can you serve buffet style instead of a sit-down dinner?

4) It is okay to create new traditions

After my son’s death, I found it important to acknowledge that Christmas would never be the same for my family. Once I acknowledged that, I was able to make the decision to do my best to make the season and the day as good as possible. And from then on, even though it was not “great,” it was “okay.” Making that decision freed me up to make the choices that were right for me and my family. Part of making those choices involved creating new traditions.

Remember, all traditions started by someone changing the order of the way things were done. If you don’t like what you do this year than you can change it again next year. You may try hanging a new ornament in memory of your loved one who has died. Donate money to a favorite charity using the amount of money you would have spent on your loved one’s Christmas gift. Create a collage of favorite past Christmas pictures and honor the good times had. Decorate your loved one’s picture frame in a beautiful Christmas motif. Place a plant on the gravesite, or donate a plant to be placed on the altar in your church.

5) Honor your feelings and let others know you will need to do so.

When you accept an invitation, it may be important to tell your host and hostess that this is a difficult time of year for you and that you may only be able to stay a short time. Then allow yourself to leave when you need to.

6) Spend your time only with friends and family who can support you.

You do not have the energy right now to pretend. Be with those who are comfortable with your need to cry and to sometimes be withdrawn and alone. Be with friends who are comfortable when you talk about your loved one. Friendships change during grief, as do family relationships.

7) Spending money on yourself and looking nice does not dishonor the one who has died.

Buying a new outfit, wearing makeup or jewelry, and spending money on a massage, manicure or pedicure or even on travel are all excellent self-care strategies. These in no way indicate you are not grieving, nor do they say you do not treasure the one who has died. They do say you are trying to move through this difficult process in the best way possible.

8) Honor your true feelings

Cry when you feel sad and lonely and also allow moments of joy to creep in. It is okay to smile again. It is even okay to have a laugh or two.

9) Take good care of your physical self

Eat nutritionally; get some physical exercise. Limit alcohol intake. While it can initially make you feel relaxed, it can quickly depress and make your feelings erupt out of control. It is also easy to make it a habit of “drowning” sorrows. Limit caffeine intake; it can interferes with the sleep, so needed during times of grief.

10) Find beauty in the season

Let the sights and sounds and smells of the season enter your empty spaces. While this will not evaporate your grief, it is a step forward – and that is what grief recovery is all about…one small step at a time.

11) Go for a winter stroll.

Spending time in nature is a very healing strategy. Nature helps us remember the cycle of life and death and by doing so brings new hope and promise into our lives. Many find nature to be the greatest healer. It was for me, personally. Beginning a “walking out of doors program,” was the best thing I did for myself. I can now honestly say “I walked my grief away.”

12) Give yourself permission to add some peace-filled moments to this Blue Christmas

This particular Christmas will be a part of your life story. Make a conscious effort to include deeds and celebration aspects that, when shared years from now with others who are grieving, you will be able to say “This really worked for me. In doing so, you will add some light to their darkness.

Simington, J. Christmas and Grief: An Anniversary Reaction Time. Taking Flight Books. Edmonton, Alberta.

Grief Support OnLine Course is Coming Soon

In last month’s newsletter I mentioned that within the month we would release the Grief Support Certification Training as an Online program. October ended up being a very full month of travel and work for me, and so the Online training product is not yet ready for release.

I have been delivering the Grief Certification Training in a class-room-style setting since 2004 and included in the Online training all the components taught in that program. Since I still have more work to do on the Online training program I thought it a good idea to ask all you, especially those of you who have already taken the training, and those of you who would like to take the Grief Support Certification training so as to be certified as a Grief Support Counselor, to tell me the top two items you believe must definitely be included in the Grief Support Certification Online Training program.

Please leave your comments including your top-two must-include items on my blog or email me at jane@takingflightinternational.com

 

Thank you so much for your contributions

Certificate Training Now Accredited by CCPC Global

The TRAUMA RECOVERY CERTIFICATION and the GRIEF SUPPORT CERTIFICATION training programs

ARE NOW ACCREDITED

by the Canadian Council of Professional Certification (CCPC Global).

Graduates certified in Trauma Recovery by Taking Flight International Corporation may now apply to CCPC Global for designation as a Certified Trauma Recovery Counsellor (CTRC).

Graduates certified in Grief Support by Taking Flight International Corporation may apply to CCPC Global for designation as a Certified Grief Support Counsellor (CGSC).ccpcglobal logo

When Suicide Looms: Saving a Child’s Life

Jane A. Simington, PHD ©2015

Ten year old Chantal died by suicide. Two years later, her still-grieving mother brought Chantal’s younger sister Maria for counseling. The alarmed mother revealed that Maria, who had recently celebrated her tenth birthday, was expressing a desire to kill herself.

holding hands

Last month, this same Marie turned 18 years of age. She is about to complete her first year of college. During an interview, Maria described the strategies that made the greatest difference in helping her chose life over death. Based on what was most effective for her during those crisis days, Maria made these recommendations to use when attempting to prevent a childhood suicide.

 

 

  • 1) Until you understand the motives behind suicidal thoughts and expressions, it is best to avoid talking about the grief and sadness suicide would cause the family. Maria pointed out that both she and her sister had been abused by the man who lived with their mother. Her thoughts of suicide were often triggered by feelings of hatred, which led to considerations of ways to make him suffer pain, somewhat similar to that which he had caused her sister and her.

 

  • 2) Do a reality check of the child’s perception of death. Maria emphasized that during times when she felt overwhelmed, ideas of suicide saturated her mind and she needed some straight-forward questions to help her process facts about the finality of death and the lack of possibilities following death. Maria noted that the reality check was especially valuable when she was asked to identify events, such as graduation, marriage, and having a child that her sister Chantal would not experience, and to then ponder the lack of those same events in her own life should she choose death.

 

  • 3)  Ask this vital question. “How will killing yourself help?” Maria related that reflecting on this question allowed her to recognize she was really searching for ways to release intense emotional and spiritual pain. She acknowledged that this confronting question, and the following one, “Are there other ways you could make the same result happen?” provided an openness for her exploration of options to heal childhood abuse and other early traumas.

 

  • 4)  Monitor the connections between triggers, dissociation, and suicide ideation. During her first appointment I recognized that Maria was triggered by her bodily reactions to memories of abuse and would often become dissociative as she spoke of the abuser. During the interview that took place, some eight years post survival, Maria emphasized that teaching her to use rocks for grounding and to use various breathing, meditation and imagery techniques to keep her from dissociating, not only helped her survive critical moments but also led to doorways that opened to spiritual exploration which helped her become the woman she is proud to be. Maria recalled that during one particularly difficult week, when the threads between life and death were thin, she believed she survived, knowing that during her session she would be wrapped and safely contained within a soft, light-weight, eagle-imprinted, blue blanket.

 

  • 5)  Cleanse and seal the aura. Trauma can fracture the human aura leaving the person vulnerable to spiritual intrusions. Seasoned therapists, experienced in helping those who threaten suicide, concur with Catherine Reimer.1 Her research revealed that many youth who are suicidal, report hearing voices. Maria stated she felt immense relief when asked. ”Do voices speak to you about suicide?” Maria reported feeling “a moment of healing” when she recognized that someone was validating her experiences of hearing voices encouraging her to kill herself. Maria emphasized that the cleansing and sealing of her aura 2 was likely the pivotal moment, turning her from terror to inner calm, from despair to hope.

Suicide has become increasingly more common than in years gone by. US statistics indicate that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 and the third leading cause of death for teenagers 15-19. Experts suggest that increasing protective factors have a greater impact on suicide rates than does decreasing risk factors. Supportive factors include: providing support and counseling; teaching creative problem solving; building self-worth through validation and affirmation; offering programs to heal trauma and grief; providing classroom education on the symptoms of depression, and helping the child establish and reestablish spiritual connections

We have all heard that it takes a whole community to raise a child. Whether we are a professional or a lay person, each of us can make a difference. A word of kindness may save a life.

Reference

 

1) Reimer, C. (2013) Circle of Swans: Journey of a Native American Counselor. Iviksik: Seattle, WA.

 

2) Simington, J. (2011). Shielded With Light: A Guide for Cleansing and Sealing Your Aura. (CD).Edmonton, AB: Taking Flight Books.

A Garden Metaphor: Resolving Guilt and Regret

©Jane A. Simington, August 2014

 

For years now, my garden has been a great teacher. I treasure the soulful prompting I receive daily in witnessing the seasonal changes of growth and decline. Today I ruminate on how fruitful some early spring decisions and planting choices have been, and on how underproductive others were. Why did some not turn out as planned? Was the planting time wrong; the location wrong? What can I do now to altar those early choices? What will I do differently next time?

Jane's Garden

Looking back at the choices and decision we have made at an earlier point in life can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt and regret. Guilt and regret are the emotional expressions of the spiritual need for self-forgiveness. Guilt is an expression of things done we wish we had not done. Regret is an expression of things not done we know we should have. These emotions are often articulated in phrases such as “If only…” and “I wish I had…”

 If you are holding guilt or regret over a past event here is a four-part process I find to be both helpful and healing.

1)    Place yourself right back in the event over which you are experiencing guilt or regret. See yourself and your circumstances exactly as they were then. Now ponder; “If I were right back there under those same circumstances and in that same time and place, would I make the same decision?” We often judge yesterday based on the knowledge and experience of where we are at today. When you place yourself right back in the circumstances of the time when you made the choices over which you now hold guilt or regret, you will be more capable of seeing and experiencing that situation as you saw it then.

2)    Following the examination of those past circumstances and the conclusions about the choices you made, take a few more moments and ponder how that event and the action you took, changed the course of your life. To do this, I encourage you to use a circular form of questioning. A circular form of questioning is to simply repeat the same question over and over after each answer. In your case, now that you have examined the details of the event and the actions you took, please ponder…“and then what happened?” When you find the answer, ask again…“and then what happened?” When you find that answer, ask the same question. Repeat this question and answer process until you are able to see how the choices you made at that time changed the course of your life. Then spend some moments pondering this question: “Did my actions at the time of that event result in some positive outcomes?

3)    List at least three things you learned from making those particular choices. Now conclude what is the greatest lesson you learned from taking the action you took. Reflect on these and then journal in detail your responses. There is great value in taking the time to externalize in written form the thoughts and ideas that are free-floating in your mind. Writing them down rather that just thinking about them will make the process more concrete and real, thus adding to the healing benefits of this exercise.

4)    To conclude this therapeutic activity, memorize and use frequently this affirmation. “I have grown and changed since those days. I made the choices then that were right for me. If I am ever again in a similar circumstance, I will make different decisions because I can now make choices that are right for me at this time in my life.”

Has the above therapeutic exercise to release guilt and regret made you more compassionate with yourself? Self-forgiveness is an exercise in compassion. Self-forgiveness is an exercise in freedom. As the past is released, space becomes available for the planting of seeds in groundrich and ready to support new life and growth.

 

Summer Fire Ceremonies Heal and Transform

Jane A. Simington PHD (2014)

      What is it about the camp fire that mesmerizes? What is stirred within? What dormant memories are awakened?
      Fire on most of the great Medicine Wheels of the world is the element associated with the South. Sacred teachings connected with the South are about summer; about growth and productivity. These reflections from nature, the sun-filled days and the long evenings of summer sunlight, are metaphoric reminders that the energies of summer also provide us wih opportunities for growth in productive and fruitful ways.
     TRC fire ceremony 013

 

The Hawaiian Goddess Pele is a summertime Goddess. As the Volcano Goddess, Pele prompts us to recall the power of the fire within us and how it can sometimes take a major eruption before our fire can burst forth in all its fullness. As a Fire Goddess, Pele reminds us that the ashes from fire eruptions create new soil, fertile for new growth.
      Ancient teachings such as those of the Medicine Wheel and of Goddess lore remind us that the fire energy that penetrates all living things, even the burning core deep within the earth, also burns within us . We are a part of the Life Force of the Creator and of all that has been created.
     And yet, as William James noted, “Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.”1
     The long evenings of summertime offer many opportunities for gatherings around a fire. Campfires can, with a few minor adjustments, be used as ceremonial fires for healing and transformational purposes. During Fire ceremonies the Spirit of the Fire is called upon to burn away that which is no longer providing the rich fuel needed to turn our glowing embers into full blown flames.
     When I conduct a Fire Ceremony, I begin by having each participant write a letter to the Fire Spirit naming the things they are requesting to be burned away. As the fire is lit, an offering of tobacco or other medicine considered sacred by the group members is offered. Members of the group are then invited to hang a colored ribbon in a nearby tree in each of the directions. A red ribbon is hung in the South to represent fire. As this ribbon is hung we pray that the fire burns away what is no longer of growth potential. Next, a blue ribbon is hung in the West. As the blue ribbon is hung we pray for healing, since the West on most Medicine Wheels represents the place of healing. A white ribbon is then placed in the North and as it is hung we pray for strength and endurance. A yellow ribbon is used to represents the East. As the yellow ribbon is hung we pray that the element of air, which correlates with the East, blows newness into our lives.
     Following the hanging of the colored ribbons, to the beat of the drum and the rhythm of rattles, one by one we approach the fire, offering our letters. As the papers burn and the smoke ascends, we pray that our Creator take from us what is no longer working and in exchange provide us with what we need to support our new growth in the most successful and abundant ways
     Each time I conclude a fire ceremony I am reminded of the words of De Chardin. “Someday when we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. 2

References
1). James, W. (1958). Varieties of Religious Experiences. NY: New American Library.

2). De Chardin, P. T. (1984) On Love and Happiness. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Fathering Continues Beyond the Grave

©Jane A. Simington, PHD, 2014

My last visit with my Father began three days before his passing. I had known him as a man of few words, so the intensity and depth of the conversation we shared about the life we spent together marked me indelibly. He emphasized that he wished he “had been able to do more [for me],” “to give [me] more.”

My simple response, “Daddy, you gave me life; you gave me my education. I could ask for nothing more,” affirmed the roles that he played in my life. I left my father’s room that evening believing I would never again converse with him, or receive his help or guidance. My first realization that this assumption was not true occurred just days after his death.

Because of the time spent with him during his dying, and the time I spent with my mother following his funeral, I had limited opportunity to fulfill my role as a choir director. I spoke to my Father about this dilemma and asked that somehow he offer assistance. To my relief and delight, the choir’s performance that Easter Sunday morning was outstanding, and during most of it, I could distinctly sense his presence.

Awareness that my Father’s assistance continued beyond his grave became increasingly real during my Mother’s final illness. My instinctive response to the news of my Mother’s passing was to seek solace at the water’s edge. Upon arrival there my attention was immediately drawn to the magnificence unfolding before me. Mesmerized, I gazed as a large white bird elegantly lifted from the water, to be followed by another of its kind. In a splendorous display of graceful ease the pair ascended upward and eastward until they were gently immersed in the golden radiance of the morning sunrise. Stillness followed, and in its glow, awareness. The powerful symbolism revealed in those extraordinary moments imprinted upon my soul a knowing that a sacred union was unfolding in front of me. My Father had come to accompany my Mother and guide her journey homeward.

The night my Mother died I was privileged in a dream to witness my Father walking toward her. Both were dressed for travel. My parents entered a large, gothic-style building and moved forward to the far end of it where together they entered a tunnel-like opening. Although I did not witness any vehicle of travel, I knew they were leaving via some mode of transportation that would take them on to the next phase of their journey together.

In the years since my Mother’s death, my Father has, on numerous occasions, especially during times of distress, shown me that his presence and support continues. Just recently, during a time when I was unconscious and near death, my Father again arrived. This time he carried me across a bridge and placed me back into a bed in the intensive care unit where I was being treated.

As I recall these visitations from my Father since his death, I am reminded of the words inscribed on one of the stones that make up a small stone circle in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church, in Rydal, England – a little stone structure William Wordsworth had been instrumental in building.

What is it to cease to breathing

But to free the breath from its restless tides

That it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered.

 Standing stone

A Mother’s Voice: Indestructible Relationships to Survive a Child’s Death

A Mother’s Voice: Indestructible Relationships to Survive a Child’s Death

© Jane A. Simington, PHD

photo (2)

For more than thirty years, I have been a professional, helping people as they move through difficult life experiences. I am also a bereaved mother whose son was killed when he was 13 years of age. My therapeutic practice and my comments in this article, blend my personal and professional experiences of loss and grief. As a therapist, when I work with an individual or a couple who have lost a child to death I help them prepare for the rocks in the waters they will have to navigate. I explore with them the solutions that they think will work for them and I give them suggestions of what worked for me and for the many other couples I have helped through crises.
Losing a child to is an extremely difficult experience. It can challenge even the strongest among us, ripping us apart at the very core of our being. When we feel torn open, raw and vulnerable, it is easy to strike out at others, to blame, to criticize, to be angry at them if they appear to be grieving too much or too little, or even if they do not grieve in the same ways as we do.
When I work with grieving individuals, who are in an intimate relationship, I spend considerable time discussing the importance of paying attention to how their relationship is being affected by grief I help them find strategies to keep their relationship alive, and as they heal from their grief I encourage the use of techniques that can make their relationship thrive. Here are a few points.
1) At the initial visit I ask every bereaved person what they want their relationship with their partner to look like in five years. I believe this is an important question, for a clearly defined goal increases the chances that the desired outcomes will be achieved.

2) I discuss a model of grief I have developed based on my own research and clinical experience, as well as on the research of others. This model is designed in a Figure of 8. In the top portion of the 8, I place the word Head. In the bottom portion of the Figure of 8, I place the work Gut. I describe the need to recognize that people grieve in their own ways and that these ways of grieving can change over time, especially when we find that the ways we have been using do not work, or are no longer working. Some people begin their grief journey in their head, as depicted by the Head portion on the Figure of 8 Journey through Grief model. They try to logically figure out the grief process. They may read every book that has been written on grief and attend every workshop on the topic. Others however, begin their grief journey in their guts, as depicted by the Gut portion on the Figure of 8 Journey through Grief model. Here they experience intensely all the gut wrenching emotions of grief.

The important point of this model is that regardless of where the grieving parent starts on their journey through grief, it will soon be recognized that they cannot resolve all their pain in that particular way and will move into the opposite portion on the Figure of 8. As they do so, the partner may be frustrated with the ineffectiveness of his or her efforts and also change positions on the Figure of 8.

Explaining this model to grieving parents can help them recognize that at any given time, each partner may be responding to grief in ways that are very different from each other. One partner may be attempting to work through his or her grief by gaining information and using reason, while the other person in this relationship may be exploding with emotion. The model makes it easier to envision how the back and forth movement from the Head to the Gut can wear on a relationship. Drawing the model and explaining the process can be valuable in helping partners understand how their individual movements back and forth around this Figure of 8 can result in confusion and relationship struggles. Recognizing that at any given time each may be experiencing grief in a very different way can help partners refrain from judging and scolding each other for not grieving correctly.

3) Support, love and intimacy are essential when the relationship is threatened by grief. This is a time when both partners need to care for themselves and for each other and care deeply for their relationship. It is important that they recognize that in five years, only the two of them will know how much they have hurt through each step of the process. There is a deep, strange kind of intimacy in knowing that each has been so badly hurt and that together they have survived and their relationship has thrived. I believe, that even in the very beginning, when grief is raw, it is necessary to help partners recognize that in five years it will be only the two of them who will be able to look back and know how much love it took to help each other through the pain and the chaos, and in doing so will love each other all the more for having done so.

Portions of this article were first published on the blog The Indestructible Relationship.

 

A Time of Renewal and Transformation

A Time for Renewal and Transformation

 

This morning at dawn,

prodded by a magical stirring in the air,

I wandered a wooded area

to capture signs of spring I knew would be there.

The Geese are back, the Robins too;

Pussy willows? I saw a few.

Wild things need no temple; they need no bells to ring.

The breezes coming from the South

have told them it is spring.

In this outdoor cathedral, standing on holy ground

I marveled at the lessons of rebirth that I found.

The unborn beauty beneath the earth

again reminded me,

That life renews with joy, and peace, and immortality.

©Jane A. Simington PHD, 2014

 

 

Before I Was Your Mother

Before I was your mother,

I was a girl,

who had no idea of anything

outside of pain and sorrow,

a girl who did not know

how to be a girl.

Before I was your mother,

I was a girl

beaten for not being

what my mother

wanted in a girl.

Before I was your mother,

I was a woman

beaten

for not being what

a man wanted in a wife,

Before I was a mother,

I was lost for so very long,

Before I was your mother

I was a woman

who did not know

how to be a woman.

When I became a mother,

in your eyes

I was not a woman,

I was a role

needed to be played.

Before I was a mother

I did not know

what being a mother was

I tried on many different things.

While being your mother

I was condemned

For not being the woman

my parents wanted me to be

while being your mother

I struggled

to be a girl,

to be a woman.

I struggled to be.

You struggled against

my becoming a woman,

you struggled against

my becoming a girl.

You struggled against my love,

punishing me for not being

what you wanted me to be

as your mother.

I struggled against my love too,

I was never me.

When I became your mother

I was beaten with words, with anger,

With rejection for not being

What a child wanted

in a mother,

together we created

an unhealthy way

of treating each other,

a pattern that did us

more harm than good.

Patterns designed to destroy

all we were working for

I fought to keep us together

This almost destroyed us

In becoming a woman

I stood up

to the girl, the woman

in you

and said no more.

That hurt you,

it was not intended to cause harm,

it was intended to break

the hurtful pattern

we were in.

Before I was your mother,

I was no body,

being your mother

gave me purpose,

a place to start.

We all need a place to start

Taking the time to find

Our place gives us

The opportunity to

Heal.