It gave me a whole new insight on the concept of “making the best of it”.
Kyle learned six weeks before her wedding that her fiancé was cheating on her. When she found out about it, she called off the 180-guest wedding and the four-year relationship. She and her mother cancelled the band, the photographer and the florist, but they learned they would not be reimbursed for the reception and block of rooms they had reserved.
So Kyle decided to turn her would-be reception into a charity benefit for the Children’s Aid Society and CARE, an international relief organization that aims to combat poverty by empowering women.
They sent out invitations to 125 women for drinks and a gourmet four-course dinner. In exchange, they invited the guests to make donations to the charities.
“I’m really just trying to turn it around and make something positive out of the situation,” said Kyle.
We can all admire the resilience of someone like Kyle after a betrayal that must have seemed like one of life’s harshest blows. The loss of our hopes and dreams and of our expectations about the way things were supposed to be can be a devastating loss, a “little death” if you like. Whether it is a death or a betrayal, the sense of bereavement (which means being ‘ripped apart’) that emerges from such an experience can generate loneliness, fear, guilt, regret, rage, depression and even despair.
Stephen Covey wrote a wonderful book based on the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“ which is a must read for everyone. With great respect to Dr Covey, who died tragically last year, may I deferentially suggest “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Grievers. ”
Habit 1: Take your time.
We define so many things on a timeline. “How long is it going to take?” is the common cry. Like kids in the back seat of a car, we constantly enquire, “Are we there yet?” Sadly there are many people who get frustrated with grieving people when they are not “there yet” after just a few months.
But grief is not on a timeline. An illness can be understood in the context of time. You get sick, you feel rotten and miserable, you take your medicine, and you gradually get better. You get over it. But grief doesn’t work like that. It comes and goes. We re-experience it on birthdays, anniversaries, special days, as well as at all the reminders of how our life and our world has changed … and there are lots of those.
Grief always seems to take longer than people who haven’t been through it seem to think. Those who overcome loss never go it alone because they know that going it alone is going nowhere. Nor do they pretend they are doing fine and not in need of support. Those who heal allow friends to reach out and help.
Habit 2: Give Yourself Permission to Grieve.
Effective grievers disregard completely the erroneous advice to “keep a stiff upper lip,” “be brave,” “don’t cry,” “move on,” and all the other “fix it” sentiments. They refuse to be stoic. They allow themselves to grieve even though it means experiencing unpleasant and unfamiliar emotions, such as shock, disbelief, depression, anger, guilt, fear, loneliness, regret, anxiety, frustration and confusion.
Effective grievers understand the importance of paying close attention to “grief work,” and allow themselves to go through it. It is the necessary psychological and spiritual energy you must expend to integrate the loss into the story of your life. It focuses on a simple question, Now What? Or to restate, “What do I do with the life I have left to live?” Or again, “How do I live meaningfully without that person and the relationship I have lost.”
Habit 3: Seek information.
For most people, the death of a loved one throws them into completely new territory. Very few individuals know much, if anything, about the grief process before they experience a loss. There are lots of people who THINK they know how others feel, but when it happens to YOU, with one of your own, it is DIFFERENT.
A healthy bereavement is usually grounded in good and helpful information from books, articles or videos.
One father writes: “After my 15 year old son died from cancer, I had to know more about grief because it had completely taken over my life. All of these new and upsetting emotions seemed to overwhelm me at times. So, I spent a lot of time in our local library researching out books on bereavement and grief recovery. I learned so much. The information I gleaned made my grief far less frightening. Today, my advice to others who are grieving is: Read all about it. Information is empowering.”
Habit 4: Avoid hasty decisions.
When Dr. Joyce Brothers’ husband of over 30 years died, she wrote the book Widowed. In that book she advised grievers: “If you can possibly avoid it – do not sell your house, do not move, do not make a major purchase, do not make a major change in your way of life. Put everything on hold for a year.”
Good advice! The reason professionals advise the bereaved to avoid making major changes is because grief clouds the mind. Grieving people are in danger of making decisions based on emotion rather than sense, and later may regret the action that was made in the heat of the moment. After one year, many emotions begin to settle down, freeing the mind to think more clearly and make wiser decisions.
Of course, there are times when financial or other considerations can force the bereaved to make decisions shortly after a loss. In that case, on a major decision like selling a house, buying a condo, investing the life insurance money, selling stocks, and so on, it is always good to seek the best advice possible from professionals as well as trusted friends and family.
Habit 5: Join a grief support group.
Rabbi Earl Grollman, an author and highly respected counselor on death and grief issues, explains the power of grief support groups in his book What Helped Me When My Loved One Died.
“At some point you may be disappointed in the reactions of your acquaintances, maybe even your close friends. You just don’t hear from them so often anymore. They seem awkward and uneasy in your presence. They may avoid your company… That’s why self-help groups have been successful in providing necessary emotional intervention through the crisis of death. People in these groups understand your fears and frustrations; they have been there before. Allow them to help you out of your isolation with a meaningful support network… They share with you the time of your grief and help you to walk on your sorrowing paths. You are no longer alone.”
Habit 6: Take care of yourself physically.
Effective grievers seem to understand instinctively that a grieving body’s immune system is suppressed by the stress of bereavement and therefore susceptible to illness. For that reason, they work to take care of themselves physically by exercising, which reduces stress, strengthens the body and improves their overall sense of well-being. It also means trying to eat balanced meals, even when (and maybe especially when) you don’t feel like it. Fight the tendency to consume junk foods. Eat healthy food which will provide the body with the nourishment and energy it needs. Try to get adequate rest, even when sleep is difficult. Grief taxes both body and emotions, while rest regenerates body and spirit.
Effective grievers stay away from drugs and alcohol. Numbing the pain of grief only postpones it. Occasionally, a mild sedative or anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a physician can help, but effective grievers never use them as a way to bury the pain. There is no pill to take away grief.
Habit 7: Seek professional help when necessary.
Most people who lose a loved one to death might not need the aid of a professional therapist. There are times, however, when bereavement is so intense and so unrelenting, that the assistance of a skilled counselor will be most helpful in managing grief. This may be particularly true when the death has been traumatic, the result of an accident or violence, or where something about the situation or the relationship has complicated the process.
Effective grievers know there is nothing wrong with obtaining help from a psychologist, a mental health clinic, a psychiatrist or a member of the clergy, or even from a community support group. Seeking professional aid is not an admission of weakness but a demonstration of your determination to successfully complete the journey through grief.
People can and do heal from the grief of their loss. “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of overcoming of it,” observed Helen Keller. Many have experienced the deep wound of grief but emerged from it to live satisfying, fulfilling lives.
Follow Dr Bill Webster’s “Thought for the Day” on Twitter @drbillwebster.