Guidelines for Living Fully, part 3

  1. Baby steps, slowImage
  2. Count the cost
  3. Selah
  4. Keep your eyes on the ball
  5. Wrist follow through
  6. Practice, practice, practice (if you want to improve)
  7. Give extravagantly
  8. Give 100% effort
  9. Network
  10. Collaborate

Rules for Fully Living, part 2

11. Honor confidentiality
12. Be appropriately transparent
13. Listen well
14. Grieve your losses fully
15. Confront evil
16. Honor differences
17. Hurting people hurt people
18. Trust your instincts
19. We teach people how to  treat us
20. Enjoy simple pleasures

We Are What We Eat

Many years ago both my father-in-law and mother-in-law received serious health diagnoses.  She was hypoglycemic, and he had serious blood pressure issues.  Both were in otherwise good health.  Neither were overweight, but both were instructed to change their diet.

He was instructed to monitor his blood pressure–taking readings before and after meals.  He soon discovered that anytime he ate any form of a favorite food, pork, his blood pressure spiked.  Bacon, sausage, ham, pork chops – all had the same effect.  He discovered the same result from adding salt to his food.

She was monitoring her blood-sugar levels.  She also had to change her diet.  She had to avoid meals high in simple carbohydrates and she had to avoid concentrated sweets such as candy, table sugar, soft drinks, cookies, cakes, and ice cream.  There were other dietary changes too.  Basically, she switched to a very healthy diet – one we all should probably follow.  If she didn’t eat right, she had sinking, almost fainting spells.  Hypoglycemia can be serious.

So, as an observer of all this, I thought to myself, “Why should I wait until I have health problems to change my diet?”  I decided to make some drastic changes to the way I ate.  Then, years later, when my brother died, I had already made the changes the coroner recommended I look into.  I am amazed at the number of maladies that can be remedied by eating healthier.

Processing My Grief

loss2To transform my unprocessed grief, I chose to plan a grieving ritual for each loss I have not fully grieved. First, I created a list of each loss in my life, listing the losses in chronological order from oldest to most recent. Under each loss, I listed the additional resultant losses. Then I verbally acknowledged the significance of the relationship and the impact its loss and the additional resultant losses had on my life. Simply beginning the process proved to be cathartic.

Next, I utilized the suggestions of Imber-Black and Roberts (1993) for creating a ritual:

  • Relating—acknowledging a significant relationship that impacted my life
  • Changing—acknowledging a transition or change in that relationship
  • Healing—being open to healing (or growth) over time
  • Believing—discovering “What I really believe”
  • Celebrating—honoring and celebrating the role and impact the former relationship had in my life (pp. 129-130).

Beginning with the first person on my list, my former brother-in-law, Glynn, I acknowledged each of the losses related to Glynn’s death and spoke aloud how they had impacted my life. I spent some time in silence, meditating on our relationship and the losses I sustained by Glynn’s death. Next, I invited healing to come into any voids those losses had created in my life. After silently pondering, then speaking what I believed about those losses, I chose a celebration ceremony to commemorate the losses. Even this small beginning produced a feeling of liberation.

Far from being free of the baggage of unprocessed grief, I now move to the next loss on my list. I know grieving is a journey, a process. Completion of the process for each of the losses on my list may take months or even years. I am in no hurry, but I will not procrastinate. I sense this process to be important to me as well as to my spouse, extended family, friends, and colleagues. I expect to be changed, transformed as a result of healthily grieving my unprocessed grief.

Fulghum, R. (1995). From beginning to end: The rituals of our lives. New York: Villard Books.

Imber-Black, E., & Roberts, J. (1993). Rituals for our times. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Jason Aronson Publishers.

Published in: on August 8, 2009 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rites of Passage

riteChange, loss, or death all involve leaving someone or something, passing across a threshold (the liminal stage), and going to a new place or situation. Therefore, most change needs to be grieved. This means not only leaving the old but entering the new. Robert Fulghum (1995) suggests a meaningful rite of passage helps with this transition. Rites of passage may include, but are not limited to, such things as:

  • A meal
  • A memory holding object of value (only to you)
  • Candles
  • Smells
  • Special utensils
  • Special dress (attire)
  • A blessing
  • Letter writing
  • Creating a memorial [plaque, pile of stones, a planted tree(s), etc.]
  • An outdoor activity (long hike, backpacking, camping, etc.)
  • Journaling or writing  memorial prose
  • Achieving something you never did before (in memory of the person, experience, or thing lost)
  • Creating a memorial piece of art or craft

Fulghum adds, “A successful rite of passage must leave room for the eloquence of silence” (p. 247).

Fulghum, R. (1995). From beginning to end: The rituals of our lives. New York: Villard Books.

Why All this Grief?

I’m a change and conflict coach.   Change involves moving from something – through the transition – to something new.  The “moving from” part implies some degree of loss.  All loss needs to be grieved.  However, grief is largely ignored in our society except when a loved one dies.  Even then, the time allowed for grief is usually minimized.  Physical death is not the only loss that needs to be grieved.

Loss of a dream needs to be grieved.

Loss of passion needs to be grieved.

Loss of initiative needs to be grieved.

Loss of enthusiasm needs to be grieved.

Loss of income needs to be grieved.   I could go on and on.

On the way to success, I help people properly grieve their losses.  It’s part of the change process.

Stay tuned…more to come on grieving.

Grief and Loneliness

LONELY MailboxA frequent byproduct of loss is loneliness. We all may need time by ourselves, but we also need the balance of time with others. When we hurt from a loss, we need to share our pain, or we may inflict it on others or ourselves. Many venues exist for sharing our pain healthily, and many guiding principles exist to help us in and through the process. One such principle comes from twelve-step programs which exhort participants to keep the H.A.L.T. principle. The H.A.L.T. principle encourages participants to not get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. That wise admonition also applies to people grieving a loss.

You are not alone.  At the very least, call me.  I’ll help you get connected to someone who cares.

Grieving Takes Time

timeC. S. Lewis (1996) said, “Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead” (p. 58). Lewis also said, “Grief is like a long, winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape” (pp. 76-77). I have experienced grief in similar ways. Years after my brother died, a memory of him popped into my mind and weeping surprisingly overcame me like a cloud floating between the earth and the sun. I thought I had concluded grieving Nick’s death. This episode of grief and the “shadow” which overcame me completely surprised me because it had been nine years since Nick died.

Fully grieving takes time and lots of it; it often takes many years. Perhaps one of the worst sayings we can use with someone suffering loss is the trite expression “get over it.”  Yet, our culture expects people to get over losses in a very few, short days. Asking ourselves a few questions demonstrates well this point: “How many days bereavement leave do most companies allow employees suffering from the death of a family member?  How many days off work do most companies allow employees suffering from the death of a close friend?  How many days personal leave do most companies allow employees for other major losses?”  Normally much more time is needed for healing to occur.

Over time, the intensity of the pain, shock, chaos and other feelings diminish. Meanwhile, hurting people hurt people. The family, friends, and colleagues of a grieving person may be among those hurt by the griever. The remedy includes allowing, even encouraging, people to fully grieve their losses.

The Grief Process

Grieving is a process which is frequently a chaotic one that may last many years. It almost always lasts many weeks, not the few days most people and employers in the U.S. culture allow for grieving. The process usually embraces several stages. This work incorporates a compilation of stages suggested by Deits (2004) and Kubler-Ross (1997). The compilation, however, is not comprehensive.

A numbness stage usually comes first. This merciful stage helps people endure the initial shock of the loss.

The denial stage often comes next. Many, if not most, of us who suffer a traumatic loss, at first deny that it really happened. This is not abnormal and may be a self-protecting psychological mechanism. Often well-meaning people attempt to force grieving people to accept reality; that is not usually helpful at the beginning of the grief process.  If the denial stage becomes unhealthily prolonged, some intervention may then be necessary and helpful. One aspect of the denial stage may be some form of bargaining.

The acceptance or acknowledgement stage commonly comes after the denial stage. Accepting the reality of the loss may hurt, but the truth eventually sets the person free from living a lie.

An anger stage commonly follows the acceptance stage. Frequently flowing from the hurting party’s lips are statements or questions of this nature: “Why did this have to happen to me?” “What are we doing here?” “This isn’t fair!” “Someone’s going to pay for this!” This normal stage can be expressed in a healthy way or a harmful way.

A depression stage frequently comes on the heels of the anger stage. This stage, like the other stages, can be brief or can last for an extended period.  When someone gets stuck in an extended period of depression, seeking competent help may be of significant importance.

A healing and renewal stage generally occurs after the previous stages.  However, probably all the stages above are part of a healing and renewal process.

Three key points exist which are useful to remember when utilizing these stages to discuss the process of grief. First, not all people go through each of these stages, and the stages do not always follow the order presented here. Second, people in our culture often get stuck –sometimes for many years or even a lifetime – in one or more stages. Third, somewhere amidst these stages many experience agony and severe pain.

Personal Unprocessed Grief

Although I have taught for a long time the need for grieving healthily, I discovered that personally I have not done it well. In fact, I realized that for some losses, I had not grieved at all.  For example, here is a partial list I recently compiled of my personal losses. Most of these losses have not been fully, healthily grieved.

Twenty-two to twenty-five years ago:

  • Glynn, my brother-in-law, died after a two-plus year bout with colon cancer
  • John, my father-in-law, died after a two-year bout with lung cancer
  • Nick, my younger brother, died suddenly from a heart attack
  • Travis, my buddy, died as a result of a heart attack

Seventeen years ago:

  • Divorce, after twenty years of marriage
  • Working class identity, when I earned my Ph.D.
  • Career, never had the opportunity to enjoy the career in academia that I anticipated while working on my doctorate. I decided not to pursue jobs open to me—all out of state—in order to stay geographically close to my children.

Twelve to Fourteen years ago:

  • Remarriage (a major gain but also some loss)
  • Texas (we moved away)

Recent losses (last eight years):

  • My dad died
  • My mother-in-law died
  • My father-in-law died

Most of these losses were never fully grieved.