Thursday, March 26, 2015

Understanding the Grief of a Family Member or Friend

We are to have “compassion one to another.” As a family member or friend to someone who is grieving, you have an admirable selfless desire to comfort and help them in their time of need. As you attempt to do that, remember that you also have inward motivations to remove personal worry and the obligation you feel to deal with their issues and sadness. Guaranteed, you will tire of their grief long before they are through it.  If you are a true friend, you will need to practice patience and understanding if you want to aid them instead of causing additional pain.
There is as not just one set of stages, but infinite paths people follow. The existential issue of mortality along with the other variables, i.e., length of relationship, love-quality, religious background, social supports, etc. lead to highly individualized responses. This has important implications for friends and family of the bereaved. Assumptions about what your friend is going through are dangerous because they can disqualify that person’s reality. Since each person’s experience is unique and since it constantly changes over time, the best option for people who want to help is to just to listen – bear witness to what your friend is going through. Let him know that you care, that you want to understand better, that you are willing to spend time – this is how to best support a grieving person. - Susan Anderson
Family and Friends meaning well generally want to give advice in order to fix the person or the problem, but the root of the problem cannot be fixed. The loss of a loved one is a life long trial. For some this loss  becomes "an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively. (Holland) In these cases, it is important to encourage your family member or friend to seek professional help and then to provide extra needed support.
Fortunately, in most cases, people are able to cope with the help of a support system of family and friends.  Knowing how to help becomes critical if you are one of those people providing that support.

It is important to understand that the loss of a loved one is not something that they will 'get over' some day.  The burden will lesson with time, but it can resurface as well.  Being there for them well past the first year is the mark of a true friend.  I have been lucky enough to have many of those who have patiently listened to me and remembered me over the last several years; they have been true angels in my life.

Do not make the mistake of comparing your past or present experience with grief to their present grief at hand.  The truth is, unless you have personally suffered the same kind of loss in very similar circumstances, you do not understand.  Even among my friends who are widows, we readily acknowledge that our circumstances and grief are unique. Comparing and judging leads to additional hurt.  Acknowledge that you know you don't understand, but that you are will to be there for them.  Allow them to deal with their grief on their time table and not yours.

As a person who is grieving, I know that I am not always in control or prepared for triggers that set off my grief.  As a widow said,
"Grief chooses you, you don’t choose it. We’re doing the best we can to play the hand we’ve been dealt. You can’t make grief go away. It’s just there trying to drag you down."
Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, when grief comes we have to choose to face it or suppress it. Be observant and aware of times that may be hard for your friend or family member. Be especially sensitive on holidays and other special occasions that are generally joyful for everyone else. People who are grieving, especially in the later phases learn to suppress those emotions in front of others.  It can be a very lonely place to pretend everything is okay when you are silently crying inside.  In social gatherings perceptive friends have often offered me a quiet pat and a knowing smile without saying a word.  That in and of itself has helped strengthen me and make me feel less alone.

People who are grieving have the need to share, to reminisce, and to reflect about their loved one.  They enjoy hearing what people miss and admire about them, but they also a need time to contemplate, to relax, and to “be still” even while in the company of friends. Let them take the lead.

Sometimes when I am emotionally on the edge, I do not want to talk about Scott of my feelings.  Other times, I don't want him to be forgotten, or I am hurting too bad to suppress emotions any longer.  I know it's hard for others to perceive what I am thinking and feeling.
When a grieving person wants to talk, don't respond in ways that show you are uncomfortable. I have often felt that people do not want to hear about the depths of my emotions.  I see that is makes them uncomfortable, sad and helpless.  I feel the need to comfort and reassure them that I am okay. One of the reasons I do not share is because I don't want to drag them in.  Grieving loved ones are more likely to share if you have responded in the past in a positive,caring and compassionate way.

Through the process of patiently helping and assisting there are times that we simply have to trust in God to help them work it out. If they have a belief in God, encourage them to hold on in His love.
"Though [they] may feel “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says,  we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind." (Holland)
"Grieving a Death." Anderson, Susan. Date last modified <2006>. Available at: Accessed <03/25/2015>.

Holland, Jeffery R, "Like a Broken Vessel." Oct 2013

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Battling Self-Doubt and Weakness to Better Access the Power of Heaven

I find now more than ever before that I need the strength on a daily basis that comes from turning to God.  The death of my husband has unequivocally taught me this.  

However, through this process I have at times become discouraged... I get frustrated at myself that I am not doing everything perfectly.  I feel that I can never measure up to the demands that are placed upon me.  Feelings of grief and sadness return, and I feel that I have some how failed because I should be doing better than I am that day.  Then I eat too many cookies and beat myself up for that.  Soon the discouragement and the self-criticism can spiral out of control. I end up in a puddled mess on my knees begging for relief from the pain.  I find my confidence to approach God is weak in those moments because I feel so very weak.
"The adversary knows that faith in Christ—the kind of faith that produces a steady stream of tender mercies and even mighty miracles—goes hand in hand with a personal confidence that you are striving to choose the right. For that reason he will seek access to your heart to tell you lies—lies that Heavenly Father is disappointed in you, that the Atonement is beyond your reach, that there is no point in even trying, that everyone else is better than you, that you are unworthy, and a thousand variations of that same evil theme." - Klebingnat

"As long as you allow these voices to chisel away at your soul,
 you can’t approach the throne of God with real confidence."

When I allow those voices to christen away at me, that is when I feel that strength and power lessen in my life. Self-doubt prevents me from getting that extra help that I need.   

I know that I can choose to change.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation…. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Victor Frankel

Here are 6 ways that help to dissipate these evil voices and restore me to the peaceful assurance and spiritual confidence I need to draw on the powers of Heaven.

1. Take responsibility for my spiritual health.

I can accept that my choices control my destiny. I can stop blaming, justifying or making excuses for my circumstances.  Yes, my husband died, but that did not take away my power to choose to do what is right.  I can choose to pray, read my scriptures and reach out and help others or I can choose to feel sorry for myself and turn inward.  I know when I choose that first path, that my confidence increases and I feel an added power in my life.  I feel more that I can ask for help if I am doing what I should.

2. Take responsibility for my physical health.

When I exercise and eat right I know that I feel better. Not only do I physically feel better, but I feel stronger spiritually and emotionally. I feel more in control. These are things I can choose. Too often I use grief to justify why I shouldn't do this. In the moment I may think I feel better binging on ice-cream, but the later regret always makes me feel worse about myself.  I think this is a big source of discouragement for me.  As I give up control of my body to appetites and passions, I feel less powerful.  I feel less confident, and that filters to my faith.  My spiritual confidence increase when my spirit, with the help of the Savior is in control of my body.
3. Voluntarily and wholehearted practice obedience.

When I am obeying the commandments and staying true to the things I know are good and right, then I feel that I have more of a right or a claim to ask God for help. "Selective obedience brings selective blessings, and choosing something bad over something worse is still choosing wrong." Obedience always brings greater light and power into my life. It opens up my channels of communication with God. When I am doing right, for the right reasons, a peace and happiness distills upon me and I feel more comfortable with myself.

4. Learn to repent thoroughly and quickly.

The quicker I am to acknowledge mistakes, repair relationships, or correct my behavior, the quicker that help from God returns.  I have found that rationalizations and justifications keep me in a negative place.  Trying to change and be better makes me feel better and brings that help back.  Too often I bump my alignment with heaven because of my own stubbornness.

5. Learn to become really, really good at forgiving. 

Holding grudges and being angry with people seems to be the quickest way to spiral me down into grief.  Forgiving frees me from anxiety and negativism.  It opens me back to receiving light and help.  Sometime we have big things to forgive that may take some time and extended effort, but often it is the little things, as I become offended, that really bring down my day.  If I can just let those go and realize that everyone has personal struggles and imperfections then I can feel so much more peace.

6. Accept trials, setbacks, and “surprises” as part of life.

I hold heartedly believe that we are hear to prove ourself to God... to show Him that even in difficult circumstances that we will turn to Him and be obedient.  There is so much suffering in this world, and I find it rather selfish to think that I should be exempt.  Furthermore, it is through the suffering that I am learning and able to help others.  The biggest thing is to not let those voices convince me that God does not love me or is punishing me because of my husband's death. I have to ignore that thought, because nothing good comes of it.  I find that as I have accepted my trials as a time to prove myself and as a time to learn, that extra help has flowed into my life.  I think that often trials and tribulations are evidence that God believes we are prepared to grow.

As I have focused on these 6 things when I feel the power of Heaven waining in my life, I have found that I can refine and realign myself to access that help again. My confidence returns and a feel a peace and reassurance that God is pleased with my small efforts, even though I make mistakes.