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

Cracked and Broken

“…the very things that helped us heal, if relied on for protection too long, can cause reduced function and eventually permanent dysfunction. “

Broken. The dictionary defines it as 1. reduced to fragments; fragmented. 2. ruptured; torn; fractured. 3. not functioning properly; out of working order. Have you ever seen a sign that says “Temporarily Out of Order”? It gives you the hope the object will be working again at some point. If something is fragmented, sometimes the fragments can be put back together and it’s fixed. Sometimes not.

Cracked. The dictionary defines it as 1. broken without separation of parts; fissured 2. damaged; injured. Not as severe as broken. The parts aren’t separated, and it can be fixed easier. Damaged in some way, but not fragmented. If we apply this idea to a bone in your body, both can be fixed, but a broken bone sometimes requires additional material to help it fuse, something to isolate it while it heals and/or a longer time before it’s back to normal functioning. A cracked bone usually heals quicker, and may require a splint or cast for a short time to protect it as it heals.

There have been things in our lives that cause cracks. We are injured, but not fragmented. We can mostly function, but there’s a crack somewhere that keeps us from fully functioning in some way. We need time to heal, and we figure out how to protect that part of ourselves until it does heal. Sometimes we are worried that the same injury will occur, so even after it’s healed, we continue to protect or isolate that part of us. That’s when it becomes unhealthy. Can you imagine wearing a finger splint or a cast for the rest of your life? When used properly it aides in healing, when overused, it actually reduces function and could cause permanent dysfunction to the formerly injured part.

For some of us, there have been things in our lives that broke us. Reduced us to fragments, tore us apart, rendered us out of working order. We cannot functio

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n. We need lots of time to heal, we need to protect ourselves to heal, and we may need additional help to fuse our fragments back together. After a break, we have the instinct to over protect that part of us. We remember the pain, the confusion, the sadness, all the feels we experienced, and never want to feel that again. Again, the very things that helped us heal, if relied on for protection too long, can cause reduced function and eventually permanent dysfunction.

Let me tell you a story. When I was four years old, I was riding a motorcycle on Thanksgiving, with my brother driving, me sitting behind him, and my cousin riding on the seat behind me. We were in a field across from my house. The motorcycle fell over on it’s side. It fell on my tiny leg and broke my femur. My brother carried me home. My parents took off my little snowsuit and my leg was SWOLLEN. The doctor came to the house, and sent us off to the hospital an hour away. The bone was broken so high it couldn’t be in a cast. I was put in traction for nearly a month. My ankle was in a sling that was hoisted up, and attached to a bar above my bed, 24 hours a day. Not easy for a four year old. Then came a wheelchair at the hospital and physical therapy. I had to re-learn how to walk. My foot turned in for awhile, and my leg was weak, but eventually I went home on crutches. In time, my bone healed and I ran and played like any other little kid. It never bothered me again.

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When we have been emotionally broken or cracked, we are very aware of the injured part of us, it’s “swollen”. Sometimes we let others know that we are out of working order by pushing them away with anger, sarcasm, withdrawing, or other overt means. Sometimes we isolate ourselves, turning inward and protecting ourselves. Maybe we have “crutches” and figure out how to outwardly function, but inside we are scared or in pain and no one knows.

It’s so hard to gather all the fragments of you and put them back together by yourself. It’s so hard to know when you can stop using your splint, your cast, your crutches, because you are the one in pain. Sometimes, we have used the thing that was to protect us so long, it’s become a part of us, and we don’t even realize we are using it when we don’t need it.

I want to encourage you to ask for help. Often, a crack properly treated, can prevent a break. If you are feeling cracked, could you ask someone to help you so you don’t break? If you are broken, could you ask someone to help support you while you heal? It doesn’t

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mean you are weak or lacking or less than. It takes courage to ask for help. It’s takes strength. I want you to feel whole again. I want you to be rid of all your protective devices so you can live your life in freedom. I know it’s hard. I have an appointment this week with a new therapist. I’ve been feeling a little cracked lately. I don’t want to break. But, just making the appointment was hard. I kept putting it off. My anxiety about going is high, and I’m a therapist! If I can do it, you can do it.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous!

Jules

So I’m welcome…

“Maybe that’s what I was missing when I was lonely. A deep acceptance of my presence by someone.”

Have you ever felt lonely? I have. I’ve felt lonely when I was alone and lonely when I was with hundreds of people. Loneliness can be deep in your heart or it can be a momentary missing of someone. The dictionary definition of lonely is: sadness because one has no friends or company. From my experience with loneliness, I don’t feel like this definition is very accurate. I had friends, I even had company, and yet I still felt lonely. How then can we define loneliness more accurately?

I asked those who follow my facebook (Jules Kilson, LPC) to help me with a better definition. Here’s what some of you said:

“A feeling of isolation regardless of how many people you are around.” LH

“Not having someone to closely connect with.” PK

“A deficiency of human contact.” JK

“A void that seemingly cannot be filled, no matter who you’re surrounded by or the environment in which you live.” EK

“Walking into my empty house and going without human interaction.” LC

“A self-induced social hiatus.” KH

Feeling of isolation, lack of connection, lack of contact and interaction, a void, a social hiatus. I asked the author of the last one if that is refreshing or lonely, and they said both. In our culture, we can get overwhelmed with being constantly connected to others

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electronically. But, we are made to be in community. We desire connections and interactions. When we are deprived of these things, voluntarily or not, we are lonely.

I think that we desire authentic connection. We desire to be truly known and accepted by someone else. We desire interactions that are genuine and intentional. Interactions that are specific to us. We desire physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual contact with others that is deep and meaningful.

Both times I was in Africa, I was so impressed by a small gesture that is a part of their culture. When you enter, someone says,”You are welcome.” At first, I thought I was being chastised for not saying thank you for something. When was the last time you were told you were welcome somewhere? It feels good to the recipient. It felt good to walk into my office and have my friend Mgbechi tell me I was welcome with her, or my friend Michael say I was welcome in the car with him, or my friend Destiny say I was welcome in the kitchen while she was cooking. It made me feel noticed when my friend Rose in Uganda would say I was welcome on the patio with her. I knew they didn’t mind if I shared the space, but to hear them say it to me was a deeper acceptance of my presence.

Maybe that’s what I was missing when I was lonely. A deep acceptance of my presence by someone. Authentic connection, genuine, intentional interactions that were specific to me. Contact that was deeper than the surface and meaningful. Now that we figured that out, what can we do to manifest that in our lives and in the lives of others? How can we create connections, interactions and contacts that fill that void? I believe we can look at these things we have identified and see what is missing for us. Maybe we are scared. Maybe we are scarred. Maybe we are cautious. Maybe we can just start by saying “you are welcome” to someone else.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules