Thanks-Giving: 3 Tips for Finding Gratitude through Grief

It goes without saying that the holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year. With countless obligations and expectations, everyone feels some elevated stress during the months of November and December. This stress can be even more severe if you’ve recently lost a loved one. In a time when we’re supposed to be counting blessings, you may feel that you have nothing to be thankful for. These feelings are valid and a normal part of the grieving process. However, there are ways to work through these feelings and find glimpses of gratitude through your grief this holiday season. Keep reading to learn more.

ThanksGiving

Tip One: Embrace Your Feelings

It’s important that you truly embrace what you’re feeling. Trying to bury your emotions for the sake of others is unhealthy and may even deepen your feelings of loss, since you can’t express them. Don’t feel like you need to behave in a certain way over the holidays. Even if everyone else in your life is in full holiday swing, it’s okay to tell them you’re not feeling up to a certain party or activity this year. It’s okay to not feel in the “holiday spirit”. It’s okay to want more alone time. Try not to get swallowed up in the expectation of others. Without your loved one, the holidays will be forever different. Trying to fit into your traditional mold may not work. Recognize that you will need to make changes based on how you’re feeling at a given time. We can open ourselves to wonderful new and healing experiences when we decide to let go of previous expectations and obligations.

Tip Two: Embrace Your Outlook

While it may be hard to find things to be thankful for, try to find some glimpses of hope in your life. Blessings can be as simple as having food on the table, a roof over your head, or a meaningful friend in your life. Taking time to appreciate the wonderful parts of your life doesn’t mean you don’t miss your loved one. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about them, and it won’t erase the pain you feel. However, noticing blessings in your life will help you balance the good with the bad, and give you greater perspective. There are countless mental health benefits to listing blessings, and this in turn can help your physical health as well. Remember that your outlook is the one thing in this world that you have complete control over. Peacefully remembering your loved one while having a joyful outlook is a balance we all have the potential to achieve.

Tip Three: Embrace Your Faith

It’s important to remember that, while God allows difficult times to enter our lives, He wants to help us find happiness again through the grace of His comfort and strength. He wants us to experience peace and to truly enjoy the life we’re given. Losing a loved one will change your life forever, and the sorrow associated with grief is unlike anything else on this earth. But we are all called to find meaning beyond the suffering. Our faith gives us hope and calls us to greater things. God has plans for each and every one of us—plans for hope and a future. While we may not always see the logic or reasoning behind the path God leads us on, we must trust that He alone knows what is best for us. He is leading us on the path to everlasting life—to a place where we will be reunited with our loved ones forever.

Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Please click here:  https://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s hard to believe, but the winter months are fast approaching! As the sun starts to rise late and set early, many individuals start to experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can affect nearly anyone, but those who are grieving may be especially vulnerable to this unique type of depression. In short, SAD is characterized by an increased feeling of depression during the winter months. Experts believe this is mainly due to the changes in natural sunlight we receive during the winter months. While experiencing SAD during the winter months is most common, it’s also possible to experience SAD during the summer or spring. It all depends on the individual and their physical and emotional chemistry. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of SAD, as well as common coping techniques.

SAD blog

Signs of SAD

Just like any other form of depression or anxiety, SAD can manifest in variety of ways. There are, however, some more common symptoms including:

  • Severe depression for several weeks with no good days
  • General tiredness and sluggishness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
  • Being easily agitated
  • Feelings of guilt or self-loathing
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide (Seek help if you are experiencing these thoughts. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone immediately).

Ways to Treat SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder should be taken seriously. If you find yourself identifying with the symptoms outlined above, it may be wise to meet with a healthcare provider to discuss your options. There are many treatment options available. Below are 5 coping mechanisms commonly used to combat symptoms of SAD.

  1. Light Therapy

As previously mentioned, it’s believed that one of the main causes of SAD is the change in natural sunlight. Therefore, many people find that light therapy is an effective tool in coping with SAD. There are many light boxes you can buy that mimic natural light. Exposing yourself to a cool-white florescent light for just a few minutes each day has been proven to improve overall mood. Further, even if it’s a bit cloudy out, spending some extra time outdoors in the fresh air can help your mood. It will also make sure you do get exposure to whatever natural light is able to escape through the clouds!

  1. Eat Well and Exercise

It’s important to remember the strong connection between physical health and mental health. That’s why it’s also important to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise. Make sure you nourish your body by giving it the vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. Moving your body can also help, as exercise releases endorphins, which are proven to naturally improve your mood. While it may be tempting to stay cuddled in bed with a big serving of comfort food, try to eat as healthy and exercise as much as possible.

  1. Find a Favorite Activity

It’s important to practice plenty of self-care during depressive periods. It can be helpful to find an activity you enjoy during the winter months. Certain activities can become a helpful and constructive outlet, and they can also give you something to look forward to when winter starts approaching. Maybe it’s a creative hobby like painting or knitting. Maybe it’s baking. Maybe it’s saving a book you’ve been wanting to read until the winter months. Whatever it is, find something that you can do during the winter months to keep your brain stimulated and your mood elevated!

While these techniques have been proven to help most people struggling with SAD, please remember that each person and situation is unique. It may take some time and self-reflection to find coping techniques that work for you. However, the tools outlined above are great places to start.

Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Click here to learn more.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

What You Should Know About Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s guilt is a very special form of grief. It can be displayed in a variety of ways, and in some cases people may not be able to identify it in themselves. Like all forms of grief, it’s important to work through it in a healthy and constructive way. Keep reading to learn more about survivor’s guilt- what it is, what common symptoms are, and some helpful coping techniques.

What you should know about survivor's guilt

Who is susceptible to survivor’s guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is often seen in people who survive a very significant trauma. Often, this trauma involves the death of other people. Some common victims of survivor’s guilt include veterans, first responders, and survivors of acts of terrorism. However, there are other sources of survivor’s guilt such as transplant recipients, children in families affected by miscarriage, those with loved ones who died by suicide, and many other possible causes. Survivor’s guilt, though often experienced by those directly involved with the trauma, can also impact those who were nowhere near the situation or circumstance. As is the case with any type of grief, it is also very specific to the individual and situation. People may experience survivor’s guilt even when they did not know the victim or situation personally.

What are some signs of survivor’s guilt?

While the effects of survivor’s guilt vary from person to person, there are a few common symptoms in people who experience this unique form of grief:

  • Sense of depression or anxiety
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Numbness/ feeling unattached to reality
  • Questioning of one’s own mortality
  • Feelings of deep regret or “unworthiness”
  • Feelings of being restless or helpless
  • Irritability and insomnia

These feelings are certainly normal after such a tragedy, and are important to acknowledge as part of the healing process. However, if you notice that your symptoms persist for several months with no good days it may be a good idea to seek professional counseling. Always seek professional help if you have thoughts about harming yourself or others.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

What are some ways to cope with survivor’s guilt?

Remember that openly accepting your grief is the first step toward long term healing. Since grief is unique to each person, finding a coping mechanism that works for you may take some time. With that in mind, here are a few good places to start:

  1. Self-care

It’s very important that you take care of your body. Grief takes a strong emotional toll, yes—but it also takes a physical one. Getting plenty of rest and eating healthy foods is a good way to take care of your body during such a stressful time. You should also be doing activities that support your mental well-being. While it may be hard at first, doing activities you enjoy and taking time to mentally rest are important. Remember that you deserve to be happy – regardless of the tragedy you went through.

  1. Seeking support

While support groups are a good idea for all types of grief, they can be especially helpful for those struggling with survivor’s guilt. Hearing about the experiences of others and realizing you’re not alone can be incredibly insightful. It can help you work past feelings of personal guilt and shame and remind you that what you’re experiencing is incredibly human and normal. If you’re interested in joining a support group, please click here.

  1. Remembering those you’ve lost

Many people find that creating some type of memorial, volunteering for a charity, or otherwise spending time remembering those who have passed away is a good way to work through their grief. It keeps the memory of the deceased alive, which is important to survivors who find comfort in staying connected to the past. It can also be a good outlet for extra energy or restlessness one may experience while grieving.

Survivor’s guilt is something that many people live with every day. You will have good days and bad days, but hopefully by identifying your grief and finding a coping technique that works for you, you can find a way to live a fulfilling and happy life after experiencing a tragedy.

The Catholic Cemeteries Association has several bereavement resources available to the community. Please click here to learn more.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

The Grief People Don’t Talk About: Secondary Loss and Cumulative Grief

“These are the griefs that people often don’t recognize as factors in their level of grief but they greatly affect one’s ability to manage their grief journey.”
– Rhonda Abrams, Catholic Cemeteries Association, Bereavement Coordinator.

The Grief People Don’t Talk About_ Secondary Loss and Cumulative Grief

What is Secondary Loss?

The grief we experience after the death of a loved one can be excruciating. The loss of someone is known as “primary loss”, but often the death affects many different areas of life. People can begin to lose much more than their loved one. This domino effect is known as “secondary loss”. Secondary losses are those elements of life that were closely attached to a departed love that, in their absence, are also missing. Secondary losses are unique to every individual and can be experienced in a spectrum of ways. Understanding the idea of secondary loss can help you identify the complexities of your grief experience and therefore give you more insight on how to grow along your grief journey.
There is no way to know exactly what each individual will experience. Factors such as personality, lifestyle, and relationship with their deceased love one will impact the type of severity of the secondary grief they feel. Common types of secondary losses are listed below.

Concrete: Characterized by loss of property, financial stability, etc.
This can include loss of:
– Income
– Home or business

Identity: Characterized by roles within the relationship with the loved one.
This can include loss of:
– Relational identity (no longer a husband, wife, parent, sibling, grandparent, etc.)
– Role as caregiver (or vice versa, taking on the role)
– Purpose in life
– Self-confidence

Beliefs: Characterized by deep personal questioning brought on by loss.
This can include loss of:
– Faith/belief system
– Hope for the future
– Goals/dreams that involved the person
– A sense of a life shared with another person

Support system: Characterized by relationships that become distanced or disappear.
This can include loss of:
– Support of family/friends/community due to pain or conflict
– The way one relates to family/friends
– Feeling of belonging and acceptance

Connectedness: Characterized by feeling unable to connect with deceased loved one.
This can include loss of:
– Memories as they begin to fade
– Belongings of the person
– Solitude in your own pain, as you feel the pain of watching others grieve the loss as well
– The person’s company at important milestones (weddings, anniversaries, births, graduations, etc.)

How do I deal with Secondary Loss?

Sadly, like most issues associated with grief, there is no easy answer. Sometimes the primary can be so consuming we don’t even consider the secondary losses we may be experiencing. However, over time the weight of secondary loss can grow. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with secondary loss and learn to identify it. Understand that it is a completely normal part of the grieving process. Just like the passing of a loved one, each form of secondary loss demands a unique and personal grieving process. Don’t push these feelings aside. You should experience them fully. Just as you would mourn the loss of your loved one, similar coping mechanisms and comforting activities can help you work through secondary grief. They key is finding something that works for you and your specific situation.


What is Cumulative Grief?

Cumulative grief is the experience of suffering an additional loss before given proper time to mourn a previous loss. Ideally, after losing a loved one, one would have enough time to process, mourn, and heal on their own time. However, there are cases when 2, 3, or even more deaths happen in a short time frame. This can be very confusing and harmful to the bereaved, as they are not given proper time to mourn each death separately.
Because there is no timeline that fits everyone’s grief journey, it may be hard to know if your grief is cumulative. However, if you feel overwhelmed or that you do not have the time to process each loss separately, you are most likely experiencing cumulative grief and should seek assistance from a trusted friend, clergy, counselor, or support group.

How do I deal with Cumulative Grief?

When we become overwhelmed, our body helps us survive each day through denial, avoidance, and shock. While these are toxic ways of living for a long period of time, it is common and often necessary to experience these in the short term. It is important to recognize these as survival tools, but we should really work toward addressing our loss directly and expressing our grief in a healthy way.

Here are some helpful reminders for those struggling with cumulative grief:

  1. Don’t compare your grief journey to that of others
  2. Time by itself will not heal your grief. A loss that is never fully addressed will not heal
  3. Substance abuse will prevent you from fully healing
  4. Don’t group losses together- each loss deserves its own special place in your heart
  5. It may be necessary along your grief journey to re-adjust your beliefs and expectations
  6. Reconnecting with family and friends can be extremely restorative and healing
  7. Never be afraid to ask for help. Help can take many forms such as a trusted relative, friend, clergy member, or support group. Sometimes professional assistance is also appropriate.

Regardless of the type of grief you’re feeling or what stage of your grief journey you’re in, please remember to be patient with yourself. Grief is a messy and complicated process. The lines between the types of grief may be blurred, and the various emotions you feel along the way may be equally murky. Practice patience and self-love and know that there is always help available to you, should you choose to seek after it.

Are you interested in joining one of our Monthly Grief Support Groups? Our informal gatherings are hosted once a month at several locations. Whether you’re ready to open up about your grief experiences, or would rather sit, observe, and be in the presence of those who understand, there is always a seat open for you.
Click HERE to learn more 

Post written by Gabrielle Sergi 
Post edited by Katie Karpinski

 

References
Cumulative Grief Aka Grief Overload Aka “Holy Crap I Can’t Handle All This Loss!!!”. (2017, November 2). Retrieved August 5, 2019, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/cumulative-grief-aka-grief-overload/
Secondary Loss — One Loss Isn’t Enough??!! (2018, December 29). Retrieved August 5, 2019, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/secondary-loss-one-loss-isnt-enough/

6 Journaling Prompts for Those Who Are Grieving

Taking up a new activity such as grief journaling after a significant loss can be intimidating, but it can be very restorative. Everyone’s healing is unique and unfolds in its own time, but reconnecting with your body and reconstructing personal self-narrative is vital. A grief journal can be a way to express this narrative free of judgement. Without the freedom to explore the full extent of your emotions, it becomes a nearly-impossible challenge to rebuild. Grief journals can also record growth and reveal patterns useful in the future.
Listed below are 6 prompts to help you begin. Write freely and genuinely, the space is yours.

berevementblog

1. Today, I am really missing…
2. What really angers me is…
3. I wish I could ask you…
4. My hope for me is…
5. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by pain, regret, guilt, or despair, I will repeat this mantra:
6. The greatest lesson I have learned is…

You may find grief journaling, or journaling overall, is not for you. If other outlets of expression work better for you, pursue them. Some people find that drawing or illustrating their emotions works for them. Others may find more unique activities such as playing an instrument or crafting helps them express what they’re feeling. Whatever the case, finding an activity that helps you work and grow through your grief is vital to a healthy bereavement process.

If you have an activity you’ve found helpful, please share it in the comments. Your suggestion may help others in your situation.

Interested in attending a grief support group? Click here to learn more. 

Post written by Gabrielle Sergi