Letting go is painful but necessary. It may be one of the most passionate experiences of your life. Emotions are our first response when we care, when we love.
Losing something or someone we love causes powerful feelings. So, when we mourn, we honor the enormity of our loss with matching agony. We resist the loss mightily. We usually feel angry and resistant to something we would have prevented. We feel pain, fear and, often guilt, about what we deem our part in the loss.
Feeling this chaotic mixture of emotions is exhausting as it courses through us. The work of riding the waves of mourning takes time, tears and degrees of privacy. It costs and it is the honorable ritual of losing someone or something we deem precious.
A Journey of Spiritual and Psychological Growth
by Heather Carlile
Healing from Losses and Wounds
Emotional pain is not a sickness. Feeling sad, angry, guilty and afraid is mourning. It is our natural and healthy emotional response to traveling the unpredictable path through loss, discouragement, disempowerment and adversity. Emotions show us what we care about and they guarantee that we move forward. Grieving ensures that we heal from our losses and wounds through letting go, accepting the loss and facing the future.
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Our Natural Responses to Loss
RESPONSES TO LOSS: According to Ken Moses, Ph.D., internationally renowned grief expert, we all have three choices following a major core level loss.
1. ACT OUT – Behave in unusual patterns or out-of-control usage of substances or habits.
2. DISSOCIATE – Split off or shut down one or more parts of our feeling self.
3. GRIEVE OR MOURN – Experience and express the emotions (includes catharsis of tears).
The Catharsis of Grieving or Mourning: You need to give yourself permission to grieve…to feel the loss and cry out the pain. If you don’t express and release your feelings, you will block the grieving process causing adjustment problems later on.
Grief that is expressed is grief that we can live with; grief that is suppressed is grief that will rise up to haunt us, surprise us, and shape our lives in ways we cannot control.
The Three Stages of Grief
1. Shock or Denial and Isolation– Emotional Numbness, and Very Clear Thinking to Solve Problems and Take Responsibility for Practical Matters.
2. Emotional Reaction: Anger, Bargaining, Depression – Emotional Intensity, Sensitivity to Profound Personal Change Internally and Externally.
3. Renewal or Acceptance – Acceptance of the Change, Re-birth of Identity and a New Life’s Journey.
Symptoms: When you are mourning or grieving a loss, it is normal to be:
1. Forgetful – you are using more of your right brain abilities so the logical and memory abilities can be secondary.
2. Exhausted – emotional intensity and unusual responsibilities drain energy.
3. Confused – when you are experiencing the deep emotions of grief, you are feeling more than thinking.
4. Hallucinate – especially following a death you may see non-physical images. This may be just a manifestation of the searching and yearning for the person who is gone.
5. Anger and Relief – Don’t feel guilty about feeling anger or relief at times. Both are normal reactions. But be sure you share those feelings only with people who will understand and not judge you for having them.
6. Have difficulty concentrating and making decisions or a short attention span.
7. Are absent-minded or forgetful.
8. Are irritable – easily angered – bothered by little things.
9. Experience shortness of breath, tightness in throat, heaviness in chest.
10. Have difficulty sleeping or sometimes sleep more than usual.
11. Feel distant, separate or different from others, like “observing from afar.”
12. Feel alone no matter how many people are present.
13. Feel lost, without direction or adrift.
14. Cry at unexpected times and often over seemingly unrelated things.
15. Find yourself working abnormally long hours.
16. Sometimes feel like you have no energy and don’t want to do anything.
17. Are angry or critical towards family or friends over things said or not said.
18. Have little or no interest in things you used to enjoy.
19. Review your past and friendships/opportunities lost.
20. Feel old or worthless and of no value to others.
21. Find most conversations boring, superficial or trivial.
22. Feel that listening to others complain is sometimes too much to handle.
23. Want to change career or job, residence, friends, spouse, etc. (Not wise now.)
24. Replay over and over what happened – who said what – who did what.
25. It is normal to have fleeting thoughts of giving up or even of suicide. Just let those thoughts float on through. However, if they become prolonged or pervasive…SEEK HELP.
The Six Emotional Stages of Grief
MULTIPLE EMOTIONAL STAGES: During change or loss, you may experience more than one stage or aspect of the emotional states of grief at once. Notice how many of them you are in at the present. How many have you already been through?
NO PARTICULAR ORDER: These emotional states do not occur in any particular order and we may experience more than one at-a-time. They are automatic reactions to a core level loss. They do not progress in an orderly fashion, rather we experience them as chaos sometimes feeling two or more at the same time.
The Purpose of Pain
From Michael Ryce:
Life is designed to give us as many opportunities as we need to heal. If we don’t take the initiative and do our inner work, life often motivates us through pain.
From G. Randall Vaughn:
When we are in a situation where we are hurting, we want out! Usually, we do not really care how we get out, we just want to stop hurting. That is only natural. Like a cake in the oven, it is hot in there! But there are times when we are in a process that God is working in us and that hurt is bringing out things in us that could only come out under pressure. It is in those times that we learn lessons that we could not learn any other way.
A friend recently asked me, “Randall, what do you think is the purpose of pain in our lives?” I thought a moment, and responded, “It is simply a catalyst. It causes a change to occur.”
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
It is your duty to discover how pain may be a blessing in disguise and to overcome the pain and restore harmony to your body and soul. Consider the inevitable frustration that precedes any creative growth, or the intense pain that a woman feels while giving birth. No matter how great such pain may be, it is ultimately justified by the goodness it produces.
From Judy Allen:
All pain is an ego illusion. As such, it can never teach us lasting lessons. But it can be the stimulus to begin to see differently, and to ask for the better way. The purpose of pain is the healing of the soul. God permits pain, not only to punish the transgressor and the rebel, but also to heal him–primarily to heal him , to save him, to do him good.
When we pay attention to our pain, we begin to recognize that its purpose is to make clear to us that we always, ever, have two choices: pain or peace. When we feel life is good, we have everything we need, we are healthy, have the perfect mate and the perfect job, what is there to want? We don’t need to choose: we think we have everything. And as long as we still think we can “do” this, fix this, solve this, manage this, our pain is not great enough to find the better way. We will not choose until we recognize a clear choice: pain-or peace.
From Heather Carlile:
Most major losses are made up of many smaller sub-losses. For example, someone who is divorced has lost not only the marriage (the spouse role), but also may have lost:
cook and homemaker,
golf or dance partner,
half of a social couple
It is important to identify these smaller losses so you can better understand the “BIG ONE.” By breaking down this overwhelming loss, you can say good-bye to each sub-loss, one-at-a-time. Letting go of the less significant ones first will allow you to proceed to the most hurtful ones, gaining strength along the way.
ASK AND INFORM: Rally your support network. Tell friends and family what you need. Remember that most of your dear ones have a desire and a need to be informed.
THREE PLUS: Find at least three friends—you will wear one out.
SENSITIVITY AND TEACHING: Know that some of the people you love, trust and lean on will disappoint you. Remember, this is due to their lack of information regarding grief and their discomfort at seeing your pain. Be patient and educate them. In the meantime, turn to someone who knows how to help.
Relieving the Stress of Grieving
Suffering a core-level loss brings on emotional and physical trauma that always raises stress levels, usually to the point of placing the griever at greater risk for illness or accident. Hospitals are full of grieving people. So, this is a time to take extra care and forethought.
Taking Care of Your Physical Strength
It does not make sense to demand from yourself the same level of mind-body functioning during grieving as before the loss. When you find your mind in conflict with your body (e.g. your mind says, “I’ve got to do two loads of laundry and mop the floor before bed,” or “I’ve got to wash the car and balance the checkbook before I can have a nap,” while your body is screaming, “I’m exhausted, I need rest!”) LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!
Remember to renew your energy…REST! EAT! PRAY! MOVE!
To remain healthy during grieving, follow these guidelines:
SLEEP MORE: The body does most of its healing during the sleep state.
NOURISHMENT: Eat nutritious food. Don’t skip meals. Limit high fat and sugary foods.
SUBSTANCES: Avoid alcohol, caffeine, narcotics and tranquilizers.
DOCTOR: Keep in close contact with your physician. Let him/her know you are grieving.
FLUIDS: Drink a lot of water. Grievers frequently suffer from dehydration and often are not aware of it.
PEACE: Use prayer and meditation.
EXERCISE: It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just do some moving each day. Walks are especially therapeutic.
Touch and Nurturing
TOUCH: Ask for hugs. Get a massage. Caress and apply lotion to your own skin. Snuggle with a loved-one or a stuffed animal or pillows. Touch is vital to healing.
NURTURING: Nurture yourself with kindness. Try not to rush, give yourself time to be still. Think of what experiences comfort you (other than “using foods”) such as soft clothing and blankets, calming music, beautiful flowers, etc.
REGRESSIVE NURTURANCE: What comforted you as a child? Use it now. Nothing is too ‘infantile.’ You do not have to apologize for comforting yourself. Ideas: Rock in a rocking chair, swing at a playground or on a porch swing, hug dolls or stuffed animals. Have someone read to you. Cuddle your pets. Curl up with lots of blankets and pillows. Suck your thumb. Drink from a bottle. Don’t worry about what someone else will think. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know.
The Universal Cleanser: In addition to drinking plenty of water, use water in every way possible. Water is the universal cleanser. Be aware of the metaphorical element that you are washing away the pain, you are cleaning the wound, you are rejuvinating your body, you are purifying your thoughts…calming your soul.
Take long baths or showers.
Use a whirlpool, sauna or jacuzzi.
Take a water aerobics class.
Play tapes of the ocean or rivers or rainfall.
Use a mini indoor fountain.
Walk along a lakeshore or the beach.
Read Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Soak your feet and hands.
Typical Beliefs or Self-defeating Thoughts
Underlying the Stress-Prone Personality
External Locus of Control or Source of Value makes us vulnerable to these useless, draining and irrelevant thoughts. They drain us, they are false…they are lies! Stop that voice and speak to yourself with kindness.
My value as a person depends on what others think of me.
If somebody disagrees with me, it means she/he doesn’t like me.
If my spouse (friend, parent, child, etc.) doesn’t love me, I’m worthless.
Solution Self-Talk: I am a good person. I am true to my own integrity.
Judgmental and Critical – Perfectionistic
I should always be generous, considerate, unselfish, etc.
I should know, understand, and foresee everything.
It’s terrible to be average or mediocre.
In order to be happy and/or worthwhile, I must be competent and successful in whatever I do.
People should always be blamed or punished for their mistakes, failures, and weaknesses.
If I make a mistake, that means I’m stupid, inept, worthless, etc.
If I’m not the best (or perfect at something), then I’m terrible or no good.
Solution: I am flexible and kind with myself. It’s okay to be human.
Fearful – Need to Be in Control
It’s awful and terrible when things don’t go the way I would like them to.
All my problems are caused by other people and situations which I have no control over.
If something can be dangerous or fearsome, I must be concerned about it and keep worrying about the possibility of its occurring.
Solution: I surrender to calmness and I trust that things beyond my control eventually work out.
Using the Power of Anger
Anger seems to be a pervasive emotion. Doctors meet up with angry patients regularly. Pastors and counselors encounter angry people trying to deal with personal problems or problems in the family and at work. Parents and teachers see children who seem angry at their siblings, angry at the system, and adult children can become angry at their aging parents, or angry for no particular reason. Yet, the problem of anger often goes unaddressed, and it seldom just goes away.
STRENGTH AND ENERGY: The capacity to feel anger is natural; it is built into our bodies and is important for moderating our physical and emotional levels or for us to “fight” with an elevated level of energy;
NEED FOR CORRECTION: Anger is a signal that something is wrong. Like pain, anger signals a need for correction. Long-term suppression of these signals may be emotionally and socially harmful. Anger may be the last emotion to resist numbness and despair, and is thus a survival mechanism, a last ditch attempt to make good;
RELATIONSHIP CUE: Anger warns others to be careful. Anger serves as the “relationship cue” that helps to indicate tension and even danger. Getting angry when expressing grief is a typical example of such “relationship cue” anger.
Thanks to Dr. Timothy Quek for some of the info on anger. Send e-mail to Dr. Quek firstname.lastname@example.org
Laughter and Humor Even When Grieving
RELEASE: Laughing is a wonderful way to release pent up emotions. It is a great healer for several reasons.
BONDS PEOPLE: First, it bonds people in a very dramatic way, so share your laughter whenever you can.
RELIEVES PAIN: Also, laughter actually relieves pain by triggering the release of the body’s own anesthetic-like chemicals. Sometimes grievers are afraid to allow themselves to laugh because:
It seems disrespectful to the one who died or is inappropriate to loss situation
They feel, “If I laugh, everyone will think I’m over it,” and having a bad day won’t be acceptable anymore.
The latter may be true with some people who are uncomfortable with ambiguity, so choose your laughing buddies with forethought.
DEFUSE FRUSTRATION AND ANGER: ‘Silly humor’ can help defuse frustration and anger in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry and call someone a name or refer to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that word would literally look like. if you’re at work and you think of a co-worker as a ‘dirt-bag’ or a ‘single-cell life form,’ for example, picture a large bag full of dirt (or an amoeba) sitting at your colleagues desk, talking on the phone, going to meetings. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humor can always be relied on to help un-knot a tense situation.
HELPFUL HUMOR: There are two cautions in using humor. First, don’t try to just ‘laugh off’ your problems; rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don’t give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that’s just another form of unhealthy anger expression.
What these techniques have in common is a refusal to take yourself to seriously. Sadness and anger are serious emotions, but they are often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.
Heather L Carlile · MA · LPC 801 E. Campbell Road, #152 · Richardson · TX 75081 214 · 636 · 5889
How to Create Your Own Personal Pressure Cooker! (NOT!)
Leave Your Body Alone: Follow every impulse to eat junk food, drink alcohol, take drugs, have unsafe sex with lots of people, and above all–feel guilty about it.
Don’t Rest: Ignore tiredness; keep on going no matter what. Never take a sick day.
Make Misery: Do things that make you feel miserable, sad and frustrated. Follow the opinions and advice you get from others. Notice all the ways you are victimized by people and the world and how you are ‘in a rut.’
Get Mad: Foster resentments and criticism against others and especially yourself.
Be a Worrier: Imagine the worst that can happen, visualize the images, feel it happening and obsess about it. Make sure that you worry most of the time.
Isolate Yourself: See intimacy as a trap that is fearful, smothering and manipulative. Remind yourself that you are abandoned and wounded when you trust someone else.
Ignore Kids: Children need to have unstructured time so let them live their own lives. Encouragement gives them big heads and accountability limits their freedom.
Blame Others: It’s their fault that you have difficulties and challenges.
Dedicate Your Life to Work: Above all don’t take time off for yourself or for vacations. Be the most obedient, productive, perfectionistic worker and look down on those who ‘chill’ as being disloyal, weak and lazy sluff-offs.
Dedicate Your Life to Play: Don’t care about anything other than what feels good to you. Be totally true to your needs and freedom. Remember that worker bees have a dull life, dutifully file taxes and needlessly complicate their lives by caring for others.
Hide Your Truth: Be careful to hide your true feelings and opinions. Others don’t understand and they’ll use them against you. If you do show your sadness, fear, frustration or joys, you’ll really look foolish. At any rate, the best way is not to feel your emotions at all.
Express all Emotion: Dramatize all of your feelings to get sympathy so everyone will know how pitiful you are, will feel guilty, and will take care of your problems for you.
Take Life Seriously: At all costs, avoid goofiness, laughter and humor. You’ll make a fool of yourself. Besides, life is serious and demands great forbearance.
Stay the Same: Protect yourself from even thinking about the possibility of change. Do the exact same thing consistently knowing that, sooner or later, you’ll achieve a different result. Just because change can bring greater satisfaction and happiness doesn’t mean it’s ever a safe bet. Remind yourself of all the failures and disasters created because of crazy new ideas and inventions.
Inspired by Steven James’ article, “How to Make Yourself Sick.”
Please use this wonderful list as a humorous reminder to identify ways you need to reduce your stress and take better care of yourself and your lifestyle.
BOOKS: The healing power of laughter:
Anatomy of Illness by Norman Cousins
Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie Siegel, M.D.
Aside from free entertainment available to you through the community or college or church, your imagination is the only limitation on what you can do for fun with no money. Many of these ideas sound crazy! Pick a few that might be fun for you and experiment. Add your own ideas. If not now, when?
Visit a pet store
Take a candlelight bath
Grow a beard
Start a club
Master Mind with a friend
Write a letter
Play board games
Commit a Random Act of Kindness
Put together a puzzle
Have an egg toss
Give a massage
Reread old letters and journals
Test drive new cars
Look at the babies in the maternity ward
Kick a rock down the street
Paint scenes on your windows
Write affirmations on your mirrors
Write a poem
Give a haircut
Learn to juggle
Adopt a grandparent, little brother or sister
Throw a popcorn and TV movie party
Write to Ann Landers
Make yourself breakfast-in-bed
Watch sunrises or sunsets
With a stranger, and without conversation, start a game of tic tac toe
Build a snowman or a sandcastle
Call a friend (not long distance!)
Floss your teeth
Plan a slumber party
Start a water balloon fight
Open all your cabinets, doors and drawers, then close them
Look at old photographs
Create a greeting card
Make wildflower crowns
Listen to music
Take a nap
Fill a friend’s car with balloons
Have a goofy scavenger hunt
Peel an orange, keeping the peel in one piece
Shortsheet the beds
Weed a garden
Wash and wax a car
Scratch a back
Fly a kite
How to Relax!
Deep relaxation can reduce stress and improve attitude, health and learning. You probably have your favorite relaxation recipes. I’d love to hear your ideas so we can share them with others. Below, you will find brief descriptions of the tried-and-true methods for learning to relax. And, for the fastest source of comfort and soothing companionship, I do recommend a happy cat or pet. The contented ones are great and gifted teachers! (My girlfriend, Cindy, creates cat heaven in her home…as Luca and Allie ably demonstrate how simple it can be on soft surfaces or Silky’s and Cindy’s laps. The laps will have to be provided by you, however, this is only ‘a serving suggestion.’)
What is deep relaxation?
A feeling of warmth and calm brought about by slower breathing, lower pulse rate, reduced blood pressure, reduced muscle tension, increased blood flow to the brain, and increased alpha waves.
Relaxation and Learning
One study showed that students who practiced deep relaxation daily remembered almost twice as much and solved problems more quickly than students in a control group.
How to Produce Relaxation
Deep Breathing and Relaxing – the 6-3-6 Breath
Relax your muscles, get comfortable and take a deep, slow breath.
Breathe in through your nose, inflating your stomach to a count of six.
Gently hold the breath for a count of three.
Slowly exhale, pursing your lips like a whistle, flattening your stomach to a count of six.
Close your eyes and repeat 2 or 3 times.
Notice the tension leaving your body.
Now breathing more normally, let your mind become passive and empty.
Quietly repeat a word like calm, or home or peace, or ommm with each exhale.
Become aware of the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling and with the sound.
Gently relax each muscle group from the feet to the face.
Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
Progressive Muscle Tensing and Relaxing
Relax your muscles and get comfortable.
Now tighten the muscles in your hands by making a fist. Breathe in.
Exhale slowly and relax the hand muscles. Notice the released tension.
You may visualize the tension flowing out of your hands as you exhale.
Do your hands feel lighter? Do they tingle or feel warm?
Repeat for other muscle groups: arms, legs, face, shoulders, face, etc.
Let your mind relax. Become aware of warmth and calmness.
Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
Begin with breath awareness.
Scan your body and relax your muscles.
Imagine yourself alone in a beautiful, safe and peaceful place.
Do a relaxing and fun activity in your imagination.
Notice how relaxed your body feels.
Bring your attention back to the room and open your eyes.
Other relaxation methods include: clearing the mind, autogenics, stretching, meditation, biofeedback and yoga.
To get the most benefit, practice deep relaxation twice a day for 10 or 20 minutes. However, you can use these techniques anytime. For example, try it just before something which usually causes you tension or anxiety like a test, a difficult conversation, a public presentation, etc.
Recommended Reading for Grief Recovery
Awakening from Grief: Finding the road back to joy. by John E. Welshons.
Don’t Take My Grief Away: What To Do When You Lose a Loved One by Doug Manning.
The Grieving Child: A Parents Guide by Helen Fitzgerald.
The Mourning Handbook by Helen Fitzgerald.
Self-Nurture: Learning to Care for Yourself as Effectively as You Care for Everyone Else by Alice D. Domar.
www.pbs.org/wnet/onourownterms/ – Bill Moyers on Death and Dying.
The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson
Beyond the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Stress-reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Meditation: A Simple Eight-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life by Eknath Easwaran.
Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis
The Stress Solutions: An Action Plan to Manage the Stress in Your Life by Lyle Miller and Alman Dell Smith
Tapes and CD’s to Help with Grief Recovery
Hay House, Inc. with Louise Hay, P.O. Box 5100 Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100 800/654-5126
Inner Journeys, with Heather Carlile, 214-636-5889
EcaP (Exceptional Cancer Patients) with Dr. Bernie Seigel, author of Love, Medicine and Miracles, Middletown, CT, 203/865-8392
A Journey of Spiritual and Psychological Growth
by Heather Carlile
This Study Guide was created by Heather and is used in her Grief Recovery Groups.order Heather Carlile’s Grief Recovery Guide as a book or download it immediately as an ebook.
Now just $29.95
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Table of Contents
I. Understanding Grief
Natural Responses to Loss 1
You Know You’re Grieving When 2
Identify Your Sub-Losses 3
Help Others Help You 4
II. Letting Go
The Three Stages of Grief 5
The Grief Model 6
Permission to Grieve 7
The Four Tasks of Mourning 9
The Seriously Ill 10
III. Broken Dreams
Releasing Those You’ve Loved 11
Those Who Have Loved You 14
Loss is Losing a Dream 15
IV. First Two Stages of Grief
Purpose of Denial 17
Purpose of Anxiety 18
V. Importance of Writing
Letter to God 19
Writing and Journaling 20
The Benefits of Journaling 23
VI. Emotional Intelligence
The Purpose of Depression 25
The Purpose of Guilt 25
The Purpose of Fear 26
Adversity Inspires Growth 26
What Do I Say? 27
VII. Understanding Anger
Anger is Normal 29
Expressing Anger Appropriately 31
Using the Power of Anger 33
Laughter and Humor Even When Grieving 33
VIII. The Stress of Grieving
Taking Care of Your Physical Strength 35
Touch and Nurturing 35
Water – The Universal Cleanser 36
Free Fun! 37
Manage Stress and Learn to Relax 38
IX. Spiritual Support
Meditation and Prayer 39
Prayer Partners 41
Master Mind Partnership 41
X. Why God Gives Troubles
Adversity Inspires Growth 47
Acceptance of Reality 47
Acceptance Scroll 48
XI. Forgiving and Blessing
Taking Responsibility 49
Removing Internal Emotional Blocks 49
Forgiving Others and Yourself 50
5 Steps to Forgiveness 52
Blessing Scroll 53
XII. Finding Faith
Seeing the Signs of God’s Love 54
The Vision Quest 55
Fear Becomes Faith 55
Discernment Scroll 56
Recommended Resources 58
After Awhile 60
Heather Carlile · MA · LPC
801 E. Campbell Road, #152 · Richardson · TX 75081
214 · 636 · 5889
Dear Reader, Please don’t hesitate to send me a question, leave me a comment or give me a call for you or your loved ones.
I understand grief and loss and consider it to be healthy, sacred and devastating.