In the northern hemisphere, October begins the transition from the warm days of summer sun to the long winter’s rest. The transition is not sudden, as we move slowly from one season to the next. The transition is presented to us through the splendor of God’s creation, in the beautiful colors of the changing leaves, the acorns being stored away for the long winter and the smells of fall telling us to prepare for the time when everything goes to sleep.
Our senses allow us to appreciate God’s creation and we are reminded of how unique this world of ours truly is. It was created for us, His children, to experience life and honor Him until the time that we are called to be with Him in paradise. It is in our appreciation of this gift that we are also commanded by God to respect all life, regardless of where and at what stage that gift of life is presented to us.
At this point you may be wondering what the Catholic Cemeteries Association has to do with respecting life. My response is simply, everything. When we bury our deceased loved ones, we express our respect for the life they lived regardless of the length of time God granted us the gift of that person’s life. When parents come to us to bury their baby that died in the mother’s womb, we bury the fetus in the baby section and provide the family with a memorial because as Catholics, all life, regardless of the time spent on this beautiful home entrusted to us by God, is deserving of respect.
Our natural world is filled with beauty, but God also allows the world to move forward without interference. We are granted the freedom to live our lives with the goal of attaining His gracious gift of eternal life in paradise. Each of us knows the path to paradise; Jesus gave us the map when He told us to love God above all else and love thy neighbor as thyself.
Our cemeteries are places where we celebrate the lives we cherish and are reminded of the final reward.
Every person who loses a loved one is going to experience a unique form of grief. The pain and loss you experience depends completely on your relationship to the deceased, the circumstances surrounding their death, your stage in life, and countless other factors. This is also why your personal approach to grief often changes depending on what loss you’re experiencing at a given time.
All that being said, no matter how or who you are grieving, there is a “typical” process that one travels through to adapt to their loss. Sometimes called the “Stages of Grief” the grief process includes denial, anger, anxiety, bargaining, and depression in the early stages, with acceptance, hope, and healing marking the readjustment to your new way of living. However, some losses warrant a more unique or complicated response. These complicated forms of grief may require more effort to work through, which is why it’s important to be able to properly identify them – whether for your own grief journey or to help others in your life. Keep reading to learn more.
Anticipatory grief is very common among people who have chronically ill or terminally ill loved ones. This grief is unique, in that it begins before your loved one passes away. It is the expectation of the loss that can be very consuming and provoke early feelings of grief. If you’re struggling with anticipatory grief, you may hear phrases such as “enjoy the time you have left” or “take things one day at a time” from loved ones trying to comfort you, while in reality these phrases can be very hurtful. It’s important to know that experiencing grief before the loss is completely normal. It is not preemptive and does not mean you’re not grateful for the time you have left with your loved one. Anticipatory grief is just another element of the very complicated experience that comes with caring for and loving someone who is nearing their final days.
Complicated grief can manifest in a few different ways. However, the two most common forms of complicated grief are chronic and delayed. As their names imply, chronic grief is defined as intense grief that lasts for an extended period time – long beyond the scope of a typical grief experience. Delayed grief also entails a longer grief experience, as sufferers experience minor grief effects at first, only to have very intense and consuming grief later on. Both chronic and delayed grief are considered complicated because they’re characterized by a complete inability to carry on with your daily tasks and can prevent you from moving forward to the final stages of healing. If you are suffering from complicated grief, it’s often advised that you seek professional assistance in moving forward through your grief journey.
Cumulative & Secondary Grief
Cumulative grief occurs when you lose several loved ones within a short period of time. Similarly, secondary loss also involves working through multiple losses at once, though in the form of ideas attached to your loved one, such as financial security, celebrating anniversaries, etc. For more information on these forms of grief, please click here.
Disenfranchised & Distorted Grief
Disenfranchised grief can occur if your family, society, or your culture tell you that your grief is not valid or warranted. Distorted grief can be similar, as it can occur when you experience an extremely tragic or sudden loss that elicits a wide variety of intense emotions. Disenfranchised and/or distorted grief occur often among those who lose a loved one to suicide, overdose, or other sensitive situations. Feelings of guilt, unworthiness, and isolation are common among those suffering from these forms of grief. It is often helpful for those experiencing disenfranchised and distorted grief to seek professional assistance in progressing along their grief journey in a healthy way.
Above all, remember that there is no right way to grieve, and there is no such thing as a “normal” grief journey. The types listed here are a few of the most common, but there are countless different reactions and feelings you may experience. Some people may experience multiple forms of grief, and yet some people may experience no grief at all (read more about Absent Grief here). Whatever you’re going through, just remember to be patient with yourself and know that we are here to help you however we can.
Learn more about the Catholic Cemeteries Association’s grief support resources (including support groups) here.
For those who have lost a loved one, new year’s resolutions come down to personal preference. For some, the idea of a resolution may seem too overwhelming at the time– similar to starting a new project or chore in the midst of extreme sorrow. For others, resolutions serve as an inspirational and motivational tool that helps them cope with grief and grow as a person. Whether or not you choose to take on a new year’s resolution is entirely up to you and where you are on your grief journey. However, if you are interested in taking on a new year’s resolution, keep reading for some ideas!
Recognize your strengths
Losing a loved one can install feelings of weakness or helplessness. Start the new year by making a list of your personal strengths, your blessings, and your dreams. Take action and leverage your strengths to accomplish new goals and cope with your grief.
Make sure that you aren’t using a busy schedule or work life to cope with your grief. Not only does that make for an unhealthy healing, but it can also be emotionally and physically exhausting. Make a promise in this new year to slow down and take more time for yourself.
Attend a support group
Support groups are a great way to cope with your grief. Sharing experiences within a support group is a way for all involved to grieve in a healthy and constructive way. (Interested in joining a support group? Click here.)
Try a new hobby
It’s never too late to learn something new. If you feel stagnant or if you feel stuck, pick up a new hobby and see where it takes you. Whether it’s photography, sewing, or hiking– find something new to learn and enjoy to bring some excitement in your life.
Get 20 minutes of sunlight or fresh air each day
Fresh air and sunlight can do wonderful things for the mind, body, and spirit. While it may be tempting to stay indoors all day, try to get outside for at least 20 minutes each day. Even if it’s just in your backyard.
Speak your loved one’s name
Keep the memory of your loved one alive in the new year by speaking their name often. The key to grieving is not to forget, but to remember with hope that you will one day be reunited.
Start a journal
Journaling can be a great way to cope with grief and express your emotions. Think of journaling as a personal letter to God. What are you feeling? What are your hopes? Share these with him and see where the journey takes you. Try to make it a daily habit—God likes to hear from us every day.
Be open to happiness
While there will always be a part of you that misses your loved one dearly, never forget to be open to happiness and new experiences. Pay attention to the blessings God has placed in your life, big and small.
Children provide an interesting perspective to essentially everything. Their fresh impressions and highly curious minds foster imagination and wonder. They are driven by pure emotion and instinct. These traits are part of what makes childhood such a formative time in our lives. Unfortunately, losing a loved one as a child is a harsh reality many people face. It can be hard to console children through grief, for their way of processing their emotions is much different than it is for adults. However, there are some key things you can do for the children in your life who may be grieving to help them grieve in a healthier way. Keep reading to learn more.
The best thing you can do for a child who is grieving is to be honest—in all regards. First, it’s important to be honest about death itself. Describing those who have died as being “gone,” “asleep,” or “taken” do not accurately describe what happened. Children are familiar with these terms and assume that those who are gone can come back, those who are asleep will wake up, and what’s been taken can be returned. Death is a permanent force and one that should be explained and defined to children. It’s also important to be honest about how their loved one died. Telling children how their loved one died can help them form rational conclusions about how death works, and they can have an outlet for any negative feelings they have. Just make sure these negative feelings are aimed toward a thing (such as an illness) and not a person (such as a doctor). Helping them understand the actual concept of death and what it means is the first step to helping them along their grief journey.
Next, it’s important that you are honest about how you feel. It’s a natural protective instinct to put on a brave face for children. This is okay. You want to be strong for children who are experiencing such a tragic loss. However, there is a way to be strong and brave while also being honest. Telling a child how you truly feel following the loss of a loved one can help them understand their own thoughts and feelings. Chances are you are likely feeling a combination of emotions—you may be sad, confused, or even angry. You can experience all of these emotions simultaneously while grieving, and it’s important that children realize they can experience several conflicting emotions as well. Instead of being a “rock” be a role model. Find ways to connect and communicate with the children in your life.
Be There for Them
Finally, continual conversation is crucial. Losing a loved one and journeying through the grief process is traumatic for anyone—let alone children who may not even fully be aware of what they’re feeling or how to express those feelings. Taking time to check on the children in your life and having conversations about their grief (in an age appropriate manner) can help them progress along their grief journey. Be ready to answer any questions they have and answer them honestly. It’s also important during these conversations to emphasize that you will be with them for help and encouragement. Many children will foster fears of abandonment and separation after losing a loved one. Reassuring children that they will be cared for can help soothe these fears, and will also ensure that their energy and thoughts are more appropriately dedicated toward healing and understanding their grief.
These tenants can be helpful guides to the grieving process, but also remember that grief is unique in every conceivable way. If you find yourself consoling a grieving child, make sure to keep this in mind and help them in whatever way is most appropriate—and don’t forget to take care of yourself as well! You can only help others work through grief if you yourself are also able to work through grief in a healthy way.
For some, the idea of planning a trip may be incredibly overwhelming following the death of a loved one. However, taking a vacation, regardless of how grandiose or modest it may be, can be extremely beneficial for those struggling with grief. Traveling to new places provides a fresh perspective, and seeing the world on a larger scale can help fight feelings of isolation one may feel while grieving. It shows you that there is a world outside of your grief—one that is still full of new opportunities and joys! This is easier said than done, so keep reading to learn more about how you can make your vacations and travels a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable.
Set realistic expectations
It’s easy to get carried away when planning a vacation. Brochures and commercials are filled with perfect images of smiling people and sunny weather. While vacations are certainly intended to be fun and exciting, after losing a loved one it’s important that you set realistic expectations. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Grief can drain a lot of your energy, so make sure you don’t plan too many energy-dependent activities. In most cases, a more relaxing vacation is most appropriate after a recent loss, such as a spa day, camping trip, or a quiet weekend at a bed and breakfast.
Grieving is a dynamic and unpredictable journey. No matter where you are on your personal journey, your emotions, mood, and energy can all change dramatically without warning. That’s why, when planning a vacation, it’s important to be patient and flexible with yourself. Don’t plan anything that can’t be easily cancelled or rescheduled, and it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. In some cases, it may be good idea to plan a few different vacations, then see which fits best as the date gets closer. Having options takes some of the pressure off vacationing, and provides a more relaxed perspective on the whole process.
Communication is undoubtedly one of the most important elements of journeying through grief, regardless of whether or not you choose to travel. However, if you do decide to vacation, communication becomes even more important. For those traveling with family, it’s important to be open and honest with each other. Everyone grieves differently. Certain activities or memories that may not be painful to you may be painful to someone else and vice versa. Therefore, talk about what you have planned for the trip and make sure everyone is comfortable. It may be helpful to plan activities specific to each family member to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. It’s always a good idea to communicate with God as well. Share your feelings, fears, and joys. He will be accompanying you on whatever journey you choose to go on.
The first vacation following the death of a loved will be the most difficult as the absence of the deceased person will be felt at its highest level. This pain will lessen with time, and just knowing this and anticipating the challenge will ease the current pain you feel and hopefully make it more tolerable. The pain is actually the love you feel for the absent person. The stronger the love, the stronger the pain. And everywhere love goes, grief goes too. So know that you will feel the absence even in another place, and be prepared to greet it and welcome it as part of the healing process.