My Grief is Not Your Grief…

“It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you.”

Grief is something we all experience at one time or another. Grief because someone we love died, grief from unmet expectations in life, grief because of losing a relationship, grief from realizing the dream we had of our life isn’t going to happen, and many other reasons. But, even though we all experience grief, my grief is not your grief. Even if we are experiencing grief for the same reason, my grief is not your grief. Even so, all grieving people need you to be gentle. It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you. It was customary in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to wear a black arm band as a sign of mourning. A sign for the world to be easy with you because you had suffered a loss.

My mom died, very suddenly and unexpectedly on April 19. Just a little over a month ago. She had lived with me and my husband since November of 2019. She was in good health for 87, and was especially happy in the last month of her life. The day she died, she was happy and laughing and we had been outside enjoying the sunshine and the lovely day. We were riding in the golf cart around our property, looking at the flowers and watching the dogs and bunnies and two of our granddaughters playing. In the span of about 30-45 minutes she went from that, to being dead. I still can’t wrap my head around it. Or my heart.

Yesterday, I took my husband to the same ER that my mom died in a month ago. It was overwhelming to me to be in that same place so soon. Because of COVID restrictions when my mom was in the ER last month, I couldn’t go back to the room she was in and she died alone, then they let me see her. Now, I was in the same waiting room. I walked to my husband’s exam room and saw the room that I last saw my mom in after she died. No one knew all the anxiety and sadness I was feeling. I didn’t express it, but I felt it in every cell of my body. I was overcome with so many emotions, but no one could tell.

Today, one day later, I MISS my mom. Gut wrenching grief that feels like I’m being punched in the stomach. Maybe it’s because of all the triggers yesterday. Maybe it’s because I got mail for her today. Maybe it’s because my husband is in the hospital and I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just want her to be here, sitting on the porch with me and laughing. It feels like the first day after she died. Like I’m starting all over again. I’m just letting myself feel it and crying it out. I’m not afraid of this terrible, painful emotion. I’m walking through it, but I hate it.

There are many books written that include the five stages of grief, as identified by Kubler and Ross. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Any good therapist will tell you that these are not linear. You don’t experience them in any particular order, for any particular length of time. You don’t go from one to the next, finish that one never to return to it again, and move on to the next. My experience with grief has taught me that I can experience them all in the same day.

When my dad died three years ago, you can go back in my blog and read about my feelings of being tossed in a sea of waves, then tossed up to the beach, only to find myself on sand that kept washing away leaving me unsteady. I feel that now with my mom’s death, but it’s not the same. I still had a parent left then. I’m angry often that I’m an orphan now. My parents tethered me somehow to this world, and now I feel untethered. Like an astronaut that was hooked to his ship with a line and the line breaks and he’s free floating in space. I’m angry that I didn’t know she was going to die that day, and I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. I’m sad all the time, though you can’t always tell. I’ve tried bargaining with God to have one more day with my mom, just to say goodbye. Sometimes I’m in denial, like the many times over the past two days I’ve picked up my phone to call my mom and update her on how my husband is doing. Or when I tell myself she will be at home, playing with her little dog, when I get there.

I know that my siblings loved my mom fiercely. Just as much as I did. But, I also know that my grief is not their grief. I know that it looks different in all of our lives. It doesn’t matter that we are going through the stages differently. All grief is valid grief. You can’t always tell a person’s pain from talking to them. No one in the ER realized the trauma work I was doing in my head, and the fear and anxiety I was battling.

Please be kinder than necessary to people. You never know the battles they are inwardly fighting. Don’t equate their emotional expression, or lack thereof, with their healing process. So many of my patients are doing trauma work for something that no one else knows even happened to them. Sometimes I wish I could give them a black band to wear so others would be gentle with them. Sometimes I wish I could wear a grief band so others would know how fragile I feel right now. Some kind of outward sign that says, “Please be careful with me. I’m not okay.” Assume others are fighting battles you know nothing about, and move towards them with gentleness and compassion. Those of us that are believers have a commission from God, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Something for all of us to strive for.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

Mama absolutely did not say there’d be days like this.

‘Your normal methods of coping may not be enough right now. You had found effective ways of coping with life as normal, but this is not normal.”

When I wrote my last blog entitled “Change is a comin'” I had no idea of all the changes we would soon be facing. So many changes. Most of them rather abruptly with an unknown duration. I’m now seeing all my clients through telehealth, meaning I no longer go into my office and sit with my clients face to face. We are doing video calls and some of them phone calls. It’s not the same as sitting in the room with my clients, but it’s been okay.

I miss hugging my children and grandchildren. We have been using Zoom to have virtual family time for all of us. The other night I read a book to the littles using Zoom and they got to talk to their cousins. We are planning a talent night soon and they can all share a talent with the rest of us. It should be very entertaining. My 87 year old mom lives with my husband and I. She has enjoyed video calls with our relatives.

I recently asked friends to post positive effects of staying at home.  Here’s some of the comments:

Cooking more.

Dinner and game night at the table every night.
I’ve taken time to get things done instead of “lounging and recouping “ when I’m not at work. I’m more driven

Those quiet moments when the dishwasher is humming because it’s full from another meal we enjoyed together, kids are reading or doing school work, and I’m drinking coffee and moving about the house kissing my husband on the cheek in passing.

I sat on my patio and enjoyed the beautiful day. I felt thankful.

It has forced me to slow down! And I have enjoyed EVERY second of it! No complaints here!!

And I’m so happy for them. I’ve found all these things to be true as well. We’ve done DIY projects that we probably wouldn’t have had time for. We are slowing down, being intentional about connecting with family, spending time outside. But, not every one has it so good.
I’ve talked to a number of my clients in the last couple of weeks about adjusting their coping skills. Your normal methods of coping may not be enough right now. You had found effective ways of coping with life as normal, but this is not normal. This is the opposite of normal. You need to adapt the skills you already have, or maybe you need some new ideas. Here’s some things I’m suggesting to clients:
1. Get outside every day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Preferably several times a day. Breathe the fresh air deeply. Look around you and try to notice 5 things you haven’t noticed before.
2. Connect with someone either by phone or video, but preferably video. As humans we need to see facial expressions. Remember Tom Hanks painting the face on the volleyball in Cast Away?
3. Eat healthy.
4. Have some structure in your day. Get up and go to bed around the same time each day. Get up and get ready for the day. Don’t lounge around in pajamas all day. Wash your face, brush your teeth, brush your hair and put on deodorant at the very least.
5. Limit the time you spend watching the news and social media. Don’t drown yourself in COVID-19 information. Check it maybe twice a day and that’s it.
6. Reach out when you are feeling sad or lonely or overwhelmed. We all are feeling it. Reach out to someone and talk through that.
7. Remind yourself each day that this is a temporary situation. This will not last for the rest of your life. This will come to an end and life will go back to normal at some point.
8. Practice being present and grateful. Without the distraction of future thinking (ie. what time to pick the kids up or drop them off, appointments, ballet lessons, sports practices, church activities, etc.) that we usually have, allow yourself to be fully in the present. Intentionally use all five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing) to experience your world. Each morning and evening find 3 things to be grateful for.
9. Do something that makes you laugh every day. Watch a comedian, a funny video, family videos, play a silly game, have your kids tell you jokes, look up tongue twisters and try some of them, etc.
10. Reach out to someone else to make sure they are alright. Text, phone, video, email, snail mail…so many options. Checking on others gives us a sense of purpose and value.
I know that some of you are in terrible situations. For some, staying at home isn’t a welcome change. You may be home with an alcoholic, an addict,  or an abuser.  You may have lost your job or the provider in the home has, causing you to worry about if you will lose your home, your car, or be able to buy necessities. You may be home with a new baby and no support. You may be a caregiver of someone and have no support. You may be grieving the death of a loved one all alone.  You may be dealing with a difficult diagnosis alone. Please reach out. Please ask for help. Ask for support. Most mental health professionals are doing telehealth like I am. We want so badly to support anyone that we can. Ask friends. Ask people in your church. Ask anyone, please just ask.
Here’s a list of US numbers that may be helpful to someone:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK
Trevor HelpLine / Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ+ Teens — 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741
IMAlive — online crisis chat
National Runaway Safeline — 1-800-RUNAWAY (chat available on website)
Teenline — 310-855-4673 or text TEEN to 839863 (teens helping teens)

Child Abuse Hotline — 800-4-A-CHILD (800 422 4453)
National Domestic Violence Hotline — 800-799-7233
Missing & Exploited Children Hotline — 1-800-843-5678

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — 1-800-662-435

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

Best shower scene ever!

When people are hurting, we need to ask nothing from them. They have nothing to give.

Yep! That’s the title. That’s the content of what’s on my mind today. The best shower scene ever made. Also, people are more likely to read if there is a provocative title, so whether you are here because you’re a perv, or because you are a fan, let’s talk about this.

James Bond movies. I’ve loved them since I was a little girl. I think it started because my dad loved them, and we bonded (see the pun there?) watching them together. Bond had the coolest gadgets and cars and got to go to the most exotic places. (When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “A spy.” Which breaks the number one spy rule of not letting anyone know you are a spy.) James often found himself in compromising positions with beautiful women. He’s never been a poster child for monogamy or for love. He’s been more of a “love the one your with” kind of fellow. But, things have changed.

In a recent 007 movie, Casino Royale, there is a two minute moment that is so beautiful. I show it to couples that I counsel. I use it to teach people how to love each other in a more meaningful way. (I probably should have titled this post “The Best Love Scene Ever” but some of you wouldn’t have clicked, and it’s probably you pervs that need to hear this the most.) So in Casino Royale, Bond (Daniel Craig) and Vesper (his love) have just been attacked by a gaggle of bad guys. Bond kills all of them. This is nothing new to James, but for Vesper, she is clearly traumatized, not being used to watching blood splattering and people being killed. James sends her off to tell his henchman where he has hidden the bodies and to get rid of them. He then goes back to a poker game with the ultimate bad guy.

Okay here’s the part that melts my heart. When James comes to the room, he finds Vesper sitting in the shower. He goes to her and…okay wait. You should watch this clip before we go any farther (skip to 2:15 to just see the shower part):

 

Did you see that incredibly unselfish display of love? She is sitting in the shower, fully clothed. He goes to her, without her asking, and sits with her, in the shower, fully clothed. Here’s the part I explain to my couples; he sees her, clearly upset, and without requiring her to do anything to receive his love, he joins her right where she is. In fact, he asks if she is cold and makes the water warmer. He makes her more comfortable in her space, without asking her to do anything. I’m tearing up writing about it. Do you understand the significance of this action? How good would it feel, when you are hurting or scared or broken hearted, to have someone come to you, right where you are, requiring nothing from you to accommodate them, and just sit with you?

He could have said so many things. “Let’s dry you off.”, “Let me take your dress off.”, “Come in the other room.”, “Stand up.”, “Come here so I can hold you.” He could have asked her to accommodate him so he would be less uncomfortable, but he didn’t. When people are hurting, we need to ask nothing from them. They have nothing to give. We need to go to them, accept where they are and stay beside them. Who “sits in the shower” with you? Who would you do this for?

The people you love need you to do this. Your children, your spouse, your friends. They need you to go to them and sit with them, accepting their feelings, not minimizing, not trying to cheer them up, not silver lining them, just being with them while they experience sadness, anger, loss, hurt, and letting them feel what they feel. We all just want to be accepted and understood in our dark moments. There is a time to help people move on, but there is a time to just “sit in the shower”. Who knew that cad Bond would teach us such a beautiful lesson about love?

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

 

So I’m reflecting…

Why did I think that? Then I realized I’ve had this thought before. Is it a sad commentary on our society, or just a reflection of my own fears? I want to believe it’s the first, but I’m not entirely convinced.

I was in the parking lot of the post office to mail some love to my g’babies. I live in a small town, like, really small. It’s an outlier of Kansas City, but it’s a small town. I’ve never felt unsafe here, sometimes leaving my car unlocked when I go to the store, I walk alone at the lake and wouldn’t hesitate to talk to a stranger. I got out of the car and saw my phone on the console. Here’s where it gets sad. I reached for my phone, but this is the thought I had: “I should take my phone so if anyone starts shooting I can call for help.” That was sad, but it gets worse. I stopped and noticed how I felt about that thought (because I’m a therapist). I didn’t feel weird, or aghast or crazy to have that thought. It seemed like a perfectly rational, practical, even prudent thought to have. That is what made me sad.

I sat back down in the car to reflect for a minute (because I’m a therapist). Was this because of the latest mass shooting? *reflecting…* Nope. How do I know that? *reflecting…* I’ve had this thought before. Many times actually. Going into the doctor’s office, the market, Target, my work even. *reflecting…” This has become a default thought in my subconscious that I wasn’t aware of. *reflecting…* Do I want to hold on to this thought, or challenge it? Hmmm….

My heart breaks that I live in a culture where needing help in a crisis is shaping my behavior. Have crisis situations become so common place that we are all walking around on alert without realizing it? I teach my clients a concept called Wise Mind. It’s a balance of logic and emotion to find the sweet spot in the middle called Wise Mind. So I look at my statement, “I should take my phone so if anyone starts shooting I can call for help.” That sounds logical (sad), but it’s really based in emotion. To get to Wise Mind I need to apply some logic to balance my emotion. How likely is it from 1-100 that someone is going to shoot up the post office when I go in? Probably…a 5? Maybe a 1? Ok. Is there a history of shootings in my town? No. Of all the people I know, have any of them ever been involved in a mass shooting? No. Have I ever been in a mass shooting? No. Have I ever been in a crisis situation that I needed my phone to get help? Yes. BINGO.

bunny_cloud

My emotion based statement is about my experience. My trauma. My brain connected what the media showed me (others’ trauma) to my own trauma and declared it perfectly normal. Our brains like order. They like connections and making sense of sensory input. This is why you can see a bunny in the clouds. Your brain sees a shapeless cloud, goes through it’s file cabinet to find something to make sense of it, and POOF! out comes a bunny. You see a shadow in the dark, your brain decides it looks like the shadow of man, you freeze with fear, then looking closer, you realize it’s your bathrobe hanging on the back of the door.

Have you ever known anyone that lived close to a train, but it doesn’t wake them up? Their brain stopped noticing the sound because it realized it poses no danger in that context. If I’m at an amusement park and I hear screaming, my brain tells me that I’ve heard that sound in that context before and it is safe. If I’m at my office and I hear screaming, my brain tells me that is a new sound in that environment and something is wrong. This is why every sound wakes you when you try and sleep in a new place. Your brain doesn’t know yet what sounds are safe and what sounds are not.

With trauma, your brain has decided that certain things associated with your trauma are unsafe. This could be a variety of sensory input. A certain smell, or sound. The way a person talks or looks. Even something that seems random, like striped wallpaper or the feel of velvet. Our brain makes connections. These connections can serve us well in times of trauma, but when we are safe, these connections are no longer helpful to us and can actually hinder us from living our best life. Trauma work helps identify those connections (triggers), so that you can retrain your brain to think of that input in a safe context.

I think I have to conclude that my own experience shaped my statement more than my culture. I escaped the post office unharmed. I’m challenging my default thinking by intentionally leaving my phone in the car sometimes. What default thoughts do you have? I’d love to hear from you. If you have trauma in your past, which affects your present, I encourage you to find a professional to help retrain your brain and challenge your default thinking.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules