Mila had set a goal for learning how to cope with her grief; she wanted to be the woman she used to be. In my experience, that goal is subjective. How could you measure that? How could that goal be met in a for her acceptable way?
I want to be like I used to be
I met both, busy talking to each other, in a cafe somewhere in a village along the Belgian coast. Mila, a fictitious name, was about to burst into tears, her friend had put an arm around her comfortingly. Mila’s friend turned out to have left her, after for her happy years, for another, a younger and wealthier woman. It just wasn’t fair. It turned out she had accepted that he wouldn’t return. Her grief was no less about it. She was deeply unhappy and that was obvious when you looked at her. It seemed like the light had disappeared from her eyes. She wanted to be that woman again she used to be, happy, with a rich smile, sparkling and enjoying everything that life gave her.
It’s about more than just accepting the loss
Mila had in fact set a goal
for learning how to deal with her grief; she wanted to be that that woman again
she used to be. In my opinion that is a subjective goal. Because how could you
measure that? What if she only achieved a little of the desired result. Is that
acceptable to her or not? To what extent should that goal be met for her to be
acceptable at all?
Mila made her mourning
unnecessarily complex by setting that goal. Why not start processing your grief
and see where you end up? And then, depending on the course of the process
itself, adjust here and there somewhat. Maybe she even discovers life paths and
results that are much more attractive afterwards than what she had initially conceived.
It’s about making choices
To move forward in life and at the same time achieve her goal, Mila will have to make choices. Which choices? That’s not for me to decide, that’s up to Mila! If she does not make a choice however, she literally stands still and does get any further in her life. And you know, you never get absolute certainty for making your choices. After all, once you have taken the first steps after a choice, everything changes because things that were previously hidden from you now become visible. In short, it makes no sense to consider in detail which choice you should make. Mainly focus on your feelings.
You change yourself through
the choices you make in your life. Similarly, you change because of the choices
loved ones make in your life. All those choices changed the person you were to
the person you are today! Some choices leave scars. The scars that you feel or
see in the beginning eventually become less tangible or visible, but they never
Mila may want to become she used
to be again, and maybe come a long way, but
what is today will never be the way it used to be. And just as Mila had accepted
that her ex-partner would not return to her, she also could accept that she had
changed by learning to cope with that loss.
Can Mila then never the one
she used to be, happy, with a bright smile, sparkling and enjoying everything
that life gives? Paradoxical as it sounds, and especially when she is open to
it, of course you can. But then different. Different because emotions go deeper
through the experiences she has gained; more understanding has emerged;
experiences that have made her emotionally richer; perhaps even a warmer
personality; and maybe even doing things that she had never thought possible in
her wildest dreams.
And maybe, just maybe, she does thank her
ex-partner at some point in time in the future because she ended up on a path
of life that feels she should have walked on from the beginning. Wouldn’t that
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No matter how great your loss and sadness are, how you react to it, no matter how long ago it was, what one thinks of it, there is usually a way to get out that deep valley, the valley if that great loss and sorrow. Of course, you don’t have to find the way out alone. You can get support, that is, if you allow it.
Her world stopped turning
Her world stopped turning. One of Monica’s breasts was removed because of breast cancer. For clarity, Monica is a fictitious name. About a year later she also lost her son to cancer, just before his 8th birthday. How harsh life can be. It’s so unfair.
In the meantime, again a year has passed in Monica’s life. She is still struggling with that great loss and sorrow. Yeah, who doesn’t? She’s still getting tired quickly and still can’t concentrate. Everything in life seems totally insignificant to her … especially when you compare that to that huge loss.
“Yes,” she says, “I can’t get anything out of my hands. I would really like to continue my life … but … I just can’t get it done. “
Panic strikes when the company doctor thinks Monica should be able to work again. Doesn’t he understand I’m getting tired quickly, that I can’t concentrate?
Panic strikes when people around her have an opinion about just everything. The death of her son is almost a year ago … the removal of her breast even longer. Why would you still have such an immense sadness? Shouldn’t you have processed your grief by now, right?
Panic strikes when Monica wonders how to respond to all those reactions. To her it seems that there are two worlds … the world in which she lives … and … the world in which everyone else is living. At times she can feel so lonely.
It has been a while that managers and colleagues from the company she works for, regularly contacted her or stopped by. It seems as if Monica no longer exists for them. Apart from the occasional contacts with the company doctor and human resources, nobody contacts her anymore. She must find out everything by herself and even resolve it.
“Don’t they understand what’s going on with me?” says Monica.
“Can no one give me a helping hand? Is that so much to ask? Is there no
one who even understands how gruelling times are now for me? The question ‘how I’m doing,’ they ask out of social courtesy rather then they really do want to know the answer. Can no one even produce any empathy? “
“I’m struggling more than enough in coping with my loss and sorrow. Why do I have to consider someone else? Why don’t they have any consideration for me? Is that too much to ask?” Monica asks herself. “There’s no one who hears me. No one who really listens to me. Help! “
Cry for help
On the one hand, everything in Monica’s life seems utterly insignificant when you compare that to her huge loss. But on the other hand, she’s too proud to ask for help.
And yet … Monica wants, as she said before, to continue her life … but … she just can’t get it done. Her cry for help is loud and clear! A cry that should never be ignored! By nobody!
Monica’s cry is finally heard, and people have gone along with her step by step. Her world that stopped turning, got into motion again slowly but surely. The way things look now, Monica will be fine in some point in time. However, the “scars” of her loss and sorrow will never go away, with as result that Monica will look at the world differently than before. It’s just the way it is.
No matter how big your loss and grief is … no matter how harsh and emotional you respond to this … no matter how long ago it happened … whatever people in your area think about it or their opinions are … and how you respond to this (complex) entirely … there is usually a way to get out of that deep valley … the valley of that great loss and sorrow.
Of course, you don’t have to find that road alone. There are countless people who can help you with this. People like family members, dear friends, experiential experts, professional caregivers or people from your immediate environment. Central to this is that you are willing to ask for and accept their help. It is also central that they can and want to give you that help … and continue to give that to you if you indicate you need it.
However, before that happens, it must be clear that help is needed. That could be because your world is starting slowly to move again and you, the grieving person, eventually start to realize that you can’t handle your loss or grieving on your own. That it is also possible for all of us to assure that we do not leave the grieving, you, alone in processing the loss or grief.
In a nutshell, no matter what happens or how long it takes, all of us should, without exception, stay in touch with each other … if only to help each other when one of us needs help.
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Becoming aware of mourning is important because in the literature it is described how grief represents a change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the grieving needs time to restore the psychological balance.
Becoming aware of mourning
Becoming aware of mourning is
important since it is described in the literature how sadness represents a
change in health status and well-being. Just as healing in the physiological
area is necessary to restore the homeostatic balance in the body, the griever
needs time to restore the psychological balance.
In an earlier blog I wrote about an overwhelming loss immediately after a loved one or dear one had died. This blog is about the run-up to becoming aware of grief as a result of that overwhelming loss.
A few terms
The following terms are used in this
indicates the experience of someone whose loved one or dear one has died. Grief
consists of a collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological
changes that can vary in combination and intensity over time.
Bereavement defines the loss to which the person is trying to adjust and the
experience of having lost a loved one or dear one.
is the term that is applied to the process that people go through to adapt to
the death of their loved one or dear one. The finality and consequences of the
loss are understood and integrated into the life of the griever.
As you would expect, notions such as
grief, bereavement and mourning are not limited solely to aspects related to
the death of the loved one or a dear one. It can be drawn much wider. For example,
in relation to a terminal illness, a divorce, the loss of work, the loss of
physical functions, etc.
Why should grief be dealt
with after a big loss?
Research has shown that within normal
mourning, also referred to as uncomplicated mourning, much of the behaviour can
resemble that of depression. However, the cause is different and so does the
approach to address its behaviour. The current understanding is that while most
of the depressions during mourning are transient and do not require special
attention, the idea is nevertheless emerging that a persistent depression
during the first year of mourning does indeed require professional or clinical
attention. Seen from this perspective, it is believed mourning after the loss
of a loved one or a dear one is important.
But whatever you think
about it …
The choice of whether to handle your
grief after a major loss is entirely up to you. You are free to process your
grief or not. You may not even consider it because sadness is part of life and
many in your area die. You could choose to repress your sorrow (after a short
time) into the background simply by continuing with your daily life “as usual.”
You could even choose to replace it with someone else shortly after your
“Mourning? Do I mourn? No, not at
all! Should I? Why would I want to do that?” These are questions and reactions
from a young man from Nigeria whose family member had died. He explained that
mourning does not matter to him because death is part of daily life. After all,
many people are dying around us. A reformulation of the question could also be:
if it is normal for (many) acquaintances to die or disappear in your
environment every day … how do you look at your loss or mourning?
How do I become aware of
my grief from that great loss?
Personally, I became aware of my
grief after many years. After the death of my wife, Mary Anne, I returned to
work quickly, maybe too quickly. My work was intense, the teams worked all over
the world and as a result my working hours were quite bizarre. However, it was
a fantastic job from which I could get a lot of energy. Until that moment when
I retired a few years later. I got several of those indefinable ailments, felt
gloomy, could not sleep, was tired, and reading a page of a book took me days
and still I had no hunch what it was about. Ailments no physician could put a
finger on. Occasionally there were days when all went fantastic … at least
that added a bit of hope to the little that was left of it. It all simmered a
bit until during a vacation with my son, Mervyn, we suddenly had to rush to the
hospital, I could barely breathe anymore. They saw it happen in the hospital,
but they couldn’t find the cause. Eventually everything returned to normal and
we went on with our vacation. Once at home they could not find a cause in our
hospital either. However, once I started writing my blogs about grief and mourning,
those “ailments” started to disappear slowly. Gradually I became
aware that I had finally started processing my grief.
But could you also become
aware of your mourning … instead of by chance?
In general, mourning involves a
collection of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and physiological changes that can
vary over time in combination and intensity. To name just a few:
Sadness, anger, blame, guilt and self-blame, fear, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, yearning for the deceased, emancipation or relief, numbness, hollowness in the stomach, chest tightness, tightness in the throat, hypersensitivity to noise, a feeling like you are no longer yourself, breathlessness, shortness of breath, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, dry mouth, disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, hallucinations, sleep disorders, eating disorders, distracted and absent behaviour, withdrawn into oneself, dreams about the deceased, avoiding memories of the deceased, searching or calling for the deceased, sighing, restless, hyperactive, crying, visit places that remind of the deceased, collect or carry objects that belonged to the deceased.
Yes, there are quite a few and on top
of that you must be able to be consciously involved with this matter for a
while after that overwhelming loss. Maybe you suffer from absent behaviour or
you have no energy to do anything. Maybe family members or friends can assist
you when you are not able to do so yourself.
How to proceed
Personally, I was able to conclude
that I had started processing my mourning much later. In retrospect, I would
much rather have had direct help with the processing of my grief. It would have
given me more peace and I could have enjoyed life more. Maybe even … it is
what it is…
Anyway, you can become aware of
mourning, after the death of your loved one or dear one, when you keep track of
your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physiological changes from the above
collection on say a monthly basis by indicating how these vary over time in
combination and/or its intensity. You could draw the conclusion when:
• The combination and/or intensity diminishes:
that you are processing your mourning and that you can handle the loss of your
loved one or your dear one.
• The combination and/or intensity
kind of persists: then it is wise to seek help for your mourning at a practice
for grieving and loss guidance.
• The combination and/or intensity
increases: then it is wise to seek help from your doctor as soon as possible for
guiding you with your mourning. In the latter case, based on your feelings, you
may have already considered the idea of seeking help in
an earlier stage.
This blog may be a bit on the boring side, but it is my intention to help you in becoming aware of your grief after the loss of a loved one or a dear one. From own experience, experience of others and from the literature it appears that processing of grief is important. In a nutshell, body and mind must be healed, must be brought back into balance. However, realize that that balance will no longer be the same as before. Mourning also means that you are “marked” by the loss … like in my previous blog with Kathy who rarely shows the brilliant light that she really is and with Tanja where you can see the necessary setbacks she has had when you look deep into her eyes.
It is my wish that this blog can help
you with becoming aware of your grief. It is my experience that only then your
A final comment
There is a lot of literature available in the field of grief and mourning. The Dutch version of the Foundation’s website contains a literature overview that is regularly updated. The book that I find most rewarding to read and understand is “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy”, 5th edition, by J. William Worden (ISBN 9780826134745) published by Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
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Two people who each have their own point of view, their own opinion and no matter how you look at it, both are right. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when with one of the two violent emotions play a major role, like sadness, fear or pain, then it’s important that both are willing to understand the other’s point of view. Understanding, so that the bond between the two is not severed but strengthened!
The current blog, “don’t leave me alone,” is about two people with the fictitious names Kathy and Tanya. Both have a different even opposite view of the same situation. That is possible and should be okay. But when intense emotions play a major role at Kathy … then it is important that both can talk to each other … and … can understand each other’s opinion. “And then what,” you may think. “Can’t you have a difference of opinion?” Yes, you can. But it becomes a different story when intense grief or a serious illness play a role with Kathy. Relationships can sever or even end; as with Kathy who is afraid of being left alone. Whatever you think, it happens in daily life and it “hurts people.” Nobody wants that, right?
Kathy has no shortage of friends and,
just like my daughter Anne Birgit, she’s a beautiful young woman. However, on
the outside, you can’t see she’s seriously ill. And Kathy too had to cope with
the necessary blows in her life with the result that the brilliant light she
really is, rarely comes out.
Kathy has undergone a whole range of
chemo treatments and radiation treatments. During the last consultation with
the specialist, he indicated that the treatments will continue to work in her
body for months before something can be said about the result.
It is already the second time for
Kathy in her life that she has undergone such a series of treatments. She can still
clearly remember the first series. How relieved and happy she was after she was
told that she was free of tumours … that she could celebrate life again.
The results of the second series will take months to come. Until then, Kathy is not really in a party mood, let alone to celebrate life because the treatments have been completed. She can still remember the enormous disappointment and especially her anger when the tumours returned for the second time. Until then, Kathy is full of hope that the treatments have achieved the intended effect. On the other hand, she is so afraid of being disappointed again because she realizes what that will mean for her sooner rather than later.
Like Kathy, Tanya is a beautiful
young woman who is full of energy and who is always ready to throw a party as
soon as there is anything to celebrate.
Tanya also had the necessary setbacks
in her life … yes, who didn’t. But when you don’t know it or don’t look deep
into her eyes, everything indicates that life seems to be one big party for Tanya,
and she enjoys it to the fullest.
Tanya and Kathy are close friends.
The treatments Kathy had to undergo for almost a year took a great toll. She
was more often in bed than not and too tired to do anything. Tanya made sure
that at least Kathy was eating … that is if she could keep in that little bit,
she was able to eat … and … take care of herself.
When Kathy returned after all those
intense treatments from the last consultation, it was just natural for Tanya
that this should be celebrated. That’s what you do … it makes sense … you
have completed a phase … you can go on with life, right?
Don’t leave me alone
Kathy had a different opinion. She still remembered the conversation with the specialist, the uncertainties expressed in it and Kathy also remembered the result of that first series of treatments. The enormous relief and joy she felt at the time when they told her that she was free of cancer, and a few years later the intense sadness, the anger and the fear that the tumours had returned. Now Kathy is afraid, so afraid of being disappointed again.
“What do you mean, party? There’s
nothing to celebrate” Kathy says to Tanya who doesn’t agree with her. For Tanya
there definitely something is to celebrate. The treatments are completed, aren’t
they? And with this difference in thinking … this difference in opinion … a
difference in point of view that is so logical and obvious for each of them …
that it’s impossible for them to understand each other’s point of view.
And at this point the relationship between Tanya and Kathy starts to wane and Kathy’s cry for help, “don’t leave me alone,” becomes a reality eventually.
But on the other hand, maybe Kathy’s fear has made Tanya as frightened as she is. Or … there is something that Tanya has been touched by or afraid of … which dilutes the relationship. Or … maybe … yes, you can think of and accept anything, but it’s not something you can get along with it.
How to proceed from here
For me it is crystal clear that Kathy and Tanya should discuss this with each other … and … keep talking to each other so Kathy doesn’t feel left alone. Yes, it’s clear to me, but do they think so too?
In my opinion, it is necessary that Kathy and Tanya sit together at the table and each tells her story about … what is felt … missed … should be celebrated … or not … or what they might be even afraid of.
also be beneficial to do this together with a “mediator” so that, in
addition to helping in expressing each other’s words to the other, at the same
time he or she can foster the understanding that both look at the same
situation in their own unique way.
Both have a
point, but it is important that they can understand each other’s point of view
… so that the relationship between Kathy and Tanya does not gets diluted …
but instead … becomes stronger.
experience that people start from their own opinion, or their own view they
have of the another. That’s obvious, you might think, but in my opinion, it
will be something completely different when that image is based on a series of
assumptions. The reality regarding others is usually different and much more
complex than we initially thought or assumed. That is why it is wise to keep
talking to them in order to get a better understanding for each other. The same
applies to people we think we know very well or for a long time.
You could also assume that everyone is correct. To illustrate this, imagine you are standing in a mountain landscape. The image that you see is determined from where you look at it. When you let everyone tell you what that landscape looks like, you will hear different stories depending on where these people were standing … in that same landscape.
communicating with the other person, it is important that we are prepared to
adjust our own opinions about the other person if that should prove so during
the conversation. And there is often another bottleneck because not everyone
can just do this or want to do this.
The core of the case used in “don’t leave me alone” is not unique. There are countless examples in which communication between people is the cause that they do not understand each other … with all possible consequences … like the one in “Farewell“.
Like in the used case of this blog in which two people each have their own point of view or their own opinion. No matter how you look at it, both are correct. That is allowed and there is nothing wrong with that. But when one of the two experiences violent emotions, such as sadness, fear or pain, then it is important that everyone can understand the other’s point of view, so that one of them doesn’t feel left alone in the end!
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An overwhelming loss just happened to you. At that moment you are in deep pain and don’t know what to do, but in the end, you get it resolved somehow. Be aware that it can often be a long and arduous journey, a journey in the unknown, with love and joy at the end of that journey. However, never again it will be the same as before … there will always be some pain left.
Suddenly there it was … an overwhelming loss
Recently you suffered an overwhelming loss that has a huge impact on you. It seems as if you have fallen into a deep hole, that your world stopped turning, that you are so stunned you don’t know what to do anymore.
Preferably you would want to put the clock back to the time, which might not be perfect, but in which you were happy. To the time you had the job of your life and didn’t realize that the company you worked for would eventually go bankrupt. Or perhaps to the time when that loved one was with you, who was always there for you, who always supported you, and gave you courage, who was the one your world revolved around, but who is deceased now. Or maybe to the time when you felt good and healthy and had no suspicion that you were seriously ill. After many intensive treatments the doctor informed you eventually that there wasn’t any other existing follow-up or trial treatment available for you to help.
The enormous emotional impact of the loss can raise questions like “does my life still makes sense” or “how do I proceed with my life from here” or “what is (still) the purpose of my life?” These questions will certainly not reduce the impact of the loss, on the contrary.
Your overwhelming loss and the ensuing grief and mourning can also be intensified by the opinions and attitudes of the people around you. People who, like you, are involved with the same loss but are trying to process this in a different way within their own realities. People who may not realize that everyone is mourning in their own way.
They are custom examples, or so you wish cases, which have happened to me and my family. When you happen to recognize yourself in one of these, I hope that this blog can help you.
It starts with the acceptance that what happened … did happen
Mourning or processing grief is a process that lasts as long as it takes, and which runs differently for everyone. Before the process of mourning can begin, however, you first must be able to acknowledge that this great loss that has happened is irreversible. That you accept that there is no way back because the company for which you worked is bankrupt or … that your loved one has died or … that your illness is terminal … and that what others think of your loss and your mourning is rather a mirror for themselves than that you have to do something with that.
Your acceptance of your loss does not mean that the processing of your grief is going “smoothly.” There may be times when at one point it seems you have accepted your loss while at a different moment it seems that it is not nearly the case. You may not even be aware of that but changing the acceptance of your loss from one moment to the next may generate the necessary additional emotions in you. Emotions that can translate into reactions in your body and also in your behaviour towards others. The same applies to the people in your immediate environment who are processing their grief too. It does not make it any easier.
And that was just the beginning. Yes, mourning requires a lot of energy. Jung said it back then, mourning, or processing your grief, is hard work.
Then come the questions, the life questions, on which answers are needed
Answers to life questions such as
“does my life still make sense” or “how do I continue with my
life” or “what is the purpose of my life” help in accepting the
reality of the loss. In my blog I cannot give answers to such questions because
the answers are influenced by who you are, by your background and culture, and
how you were formed during your life.
“Mmmmm …” I can hear you
think … “but how can I, as a reader, get answers to these, although
basic, but for me personally … important questions?”
In my opinion, it is important that you do not end up in a negative energy
spiral, because the longer it takes the harder it will be to reverse it again. But not everyone
recognizes or acknowledges that to themselves.
It is also important to adopt a positive attitude, so that problems become
opportunities, lessons become obstacles, and your worries are just a part of
My point of view is also that people can change … you too can change … using your heart and all the unconditional love that is available in our universe.
Easy to say but doing and continuing to do so is quite something else. It takes a lot of energy and above all perseverance. But not everyone is willing to devote that.
How do you tackle that … dealing with loss?
It reliefs when you are distracted
from that overwhelming loss. For example, you have children who need your care,
time and attention. Or you have people in your immediate environment who depend
on your help. Or you have a job. But not everyone has that.
It is easier when you do away old things. When you are open to other ideas,
other signals, other observations. But not everyone can do that.
It reliefs when you start recognizing that your fear has to do with
your thoughts that tell you that something is not possible, but that when you
can think in opportunities and challenges you can develop further and create
new opportunities. But not everyone wants that.
It helps when you dare to leave the trodden
path, and while you struggle over the path that is unknown to you, you
eventually discover a new path with new and more possibilities than you ever were
able to dream about. Opportunities that become a new reality for you. But not
It reliefs when you ignore what others think you should do, but that you listen to what your heart tells you … that you listen to your feelings. But not everyone has the courage to do so.
To provide you with some support while
processing an overwhelming loss, I can offer you some perspectives from my own
When you at length go through your
mourning with falling and getting up again, you discover at a certain moment
that the raw grief you experienced in the beginning has changed into the soft
pain of sorrow. That the pain has become a viable and essential part of you …
it has made you who you are at that moment.
It may even be the case that you have
changed so much that people around you wonder how that happened, while you
wonder why you did not start the activities you are currently engaged in much
earlier in your life.
In retrospect, you may consider that the great loss you have experienced
was necessary to put you on the path of life you are currently walking on … that
you can be proud of yourself on who you have become … on what you do now in
and with your life. What another thinks of that is like a mirror for the other
and not relevant to you.
In retrospect you may still vaguely remember any negative aspects and moments before and during that great grief, but later you remember mostly the beautiful things in your life. It gives freedom in your head, in your mind … it relieves.
Looking back in time…
An overwhelming loss just happened to you. At that moment you are in deep
pain and don’t know what to do, but in the end, you get it resolved somehow. Be
aware that it can often be a long and arduous journey, a journey in the
unknown, with love and joy at the end of that journey. However, never again it
will be the same as before … there will always be some pain
For that job of your life you’ve lost, eventually another occupation came in its place that gives much more satisfaction. For the loved one you lost and of whom you are missing the intimacy from human to human … maybe it even still hurts deeply … you are somehow still connected with the other from heart to heart. And because of that (terminal) disease you eventually learned to live and enjoy moment by moment.
Dear reader, I have learned to approach life in a positive way. That did
not happen by itself. Two intense mourning processes contributed to this. It
was hard work and there were times when I no longer knew how to continue in
life or how I could find the answers to my life’s questions. But when someone
asks me now, “if you would have the choice with the knowledge you possess now,
to completely relive your life? What is your answer?” then I would answer
wholeheartedly with … Yes!
I hope this blog is useful in helping you while processing your grief.
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