Loss is an inescapable part of our lives ... and none is so painful as when someone we love passes on.  How do we find our ways through to healing?

Moving from loss to a place of healing

“Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul.  
I find myself searching the
crowds for your face.
I know it's an impossibility, but I cannot help myself.” 

These are heartfelt words from Nicholas’s Sparks’ novel, which was made into the famous movie, Message in a Bottle. The character who writes them is Garrett Blake, a man who lost his wife.

Death. Grieving. Emotive subjects and ones not easy to talk about. And yet all of us have, or will have, the experience of losing someone we love. It’s one of the few things about life that we know to be true – that life itself will come to an end.  

No one can ever prepare adequately for this type of loss. It’s exactly as Sparks describes it – an emptiness in the soul. I know because I’ve felt it.   

My personal loss
I lost both my parents before either of them had a chance to reach the age of 64. And I lost them in very different ways. My father’s death was sudden and tragic. He was killed in a senseless way – not that death ever makes “sense” to us, right? The victim of a hijacking, my dad’s life came to an end in an instant, before I had the chance to say goodbye to him.

My mother’s death was different but it was no less traumatic. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and her passing took a lot longer than a moment. But even nine months, the length of her illness before she died, feels like a moment in time when you’ve spent a lifetime loving someone. That is how I felt about losing her.

Death isn’t easy to talk – and it’s not easy for me now. But I’m writing about this difficult subject because I’ve just watched a client go through something similar. It brought back the memory of my experiences – the trauma of everything. But also, those truths that death has taught me.  

As painful as it was to watch her suffer, my mom’s illness allowed us a little bit of time together. And what I wanted to do most with that time was to make things better for her. And believe me, I tried. I tried to step in and fix.

At one appointment with her specialist, during which the she was talking us through some last treatment options for Mom, I interrupted to ask questions, ready to plot an immediate plan of action. Of course what I was doing was coming from a good place – a place of love and wanting to make everything better. But my directness, my decisiveness – well, they made my mom feel as if she wasn’t even in the room.

Freedom to choose ... and surrender 
My mother was someone who hardly ever scolded me. But in that moment, she spoke up. She said calmly but very powerfully to me that she was the person who was dying. And so she should be the one to choose the journey of her passing.

Wow. What a milestone moment that was for me.

Her speaking up made me stand back and begin to support her in the way that was meaningful to her, not me. She didn’t need me to control the situation. At the end of the day, the universe was in control. All she needed from me was for me to hold her hand as she chose the journey of her own passing.

And so when my client phoned me in tears the other day about something similar that she was facing, I was able to share that story with her and talk through the importance of acceptance as her new starting point for love.

Yes, it’s hard to hold back when you want to fight. There is very little dignity in death and yes, let’s rage against it for as long as we can. But when raging is not what is needed of you, when it’s time to take a breath and surrender to what is – then oh, what an honour to be allowed into the inner circle of your loved one’s last wishes.

The two faces of grief
This is just one of the lessons that death and grieving have taught me. The author Sarah Dessen writes: “Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.”

If you are in pain – the pain of watching someone you love suffer – let yourself be anchored by the weight of grief. Be open to what your tears want to teach you about the people you love. And about yourself.

Grief is such a raw emotion to deal with that I am deeply grateful to clients, Ronelle Baker and Kathy Lithgow, sharing their stories. This newsletter is compiled with the hope that something will help those who are grieving towards some healing.


Warm regards

A compassionate guide

There is no right or wrong way to grieve;  each person's response to loss is different.

Mourning the death of a loved one is a process  all of us will go through at one time or another.  

But wherever the death is sudden or anticipated,  few of us are prepared for it or for the grief it  brings.   

In this compassionate and comprehensive guide,  Therese A. Rando, Ph.D. and bereavement specialist and  author of Loss And Anticipatory Grief, leads us gently through the painful but necessary process of grieving and helps us find  the best way for ourselves.

Rando's topics include:
*How grief affects you
*What influences grief
*What to expect in grief
*Sudden versus anticipated loss
*Family reorganisation
*Loss of a spouse, parent, sibling, child
*What recovery will or will not mean
*What is necessary to 'resolve' your grief
*Personal bereavement rituals and funerals

This book is available from the Chartered Library at Chartered House.  Chat to Pam if you wish to borrow it.

Reframing for healing

Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, is more famous as a Holocaust survivor.

His experiences as a concentration camp inmate, and his resultant coping mechanisms, led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even in suffering.

In his book Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl gives the example of an older man devastated by the loss of his wife.  Frankl's advice is to reframe the situation. 

Despite the unimaginable difficult circumstances in which he was living, Frankl - and many of his fellow prisoners - was able to reframe his suffering in positive terms.  One way was to be grateful for those small things that we take for granted - a beautiful sunset, a gesture of friendship, memories of loved ones.

Some prisoners (not all) were able to create a sense of purpose and meaning that transcended their surroundings.

To find out more about reframing suffering, click here.

Six things to say to those grieving

When someone close to you dies, you initially receive a good deal of advice and support. Some of it is helpful, some not.  This article by Christy Heitger-Ewing, writing for Huffington Post, offers suggestions for helpful things you can say to someone who is newly grieving. Click here to read the full article.  

1.  "I feel your pain" is an expression of empathy.  This is not the same as saying "I know how you feel" , which is better to avoid.

2.  "How about a hug?" Physical contact can bridge that sense of isolation and loneliness.

3. "I'm sorry for your loss." Direct. Honest. Gets to the point.  Patti Fitzpatrick, bereavement minister, says these words are the second of two simple but extremely helpful and healing solutions. The first is simply to show up.

4.  "I'm here for you." For many of us, grief can make us uncomfortable - we hurt to see others in pain.  It's natural to want to 'fix' them, but just be there in whatever capacity they need.

5.  "I'll bring you some lasagne next Tuesday." This is just an example of offering to do something specific rather than the usual: "Let me know if you need anything."

6.  "Would you like to talk about your loved one?" We worry about talking about the person who has passed, assuming it will hurt the griever. The opposite is true.  The griever knows someone else remembers their loved one.

The writer's companion article is:  8 Worst things to say to someone grievingClick here to read it.

When grieving comes home ...

Chartered client, Ronelle Baker, reflects on her grieving process at the loss of a close friend.  She shares her story in the hope of helping others experiencing the same pain.

So when you’re battling through grief, you are told about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What you’re not told is that once you’re through one of these stages, it’s not yet done … any particular stage can come back and wring your heart all over again!
Past and recent loss 

 29 years ago, I lost my mother to ovarian cancer.  At the time, I was working hard to become a successful businesswoman and felt that “we can get through this”. Of course that did not happen.
On the death of my mother, the grief “stage” that would not release was anger.  I was mad as a snake that she’d died: diagnosed on Tuesday, died on Sunday but battling the disease silently for years. So, while her passing was probably a “happy release” (an unhelpful phrase), that did not ease the pain at the time.

Click here to read the rest of Ronelle's account.

Loss ... uninivited, unwelcome, but you must plan for it

Chartered client, Kathy Lithgow's story serves as a reminder that loss comes unbidden, unanticipated.  While we cannot avoid the heartwrenching effects of grief, we can lessen the impact of its practical outcomes by planning.

Sheila and Bob had created a happy family with two lovely children … and when a third came along much later, they celebrated the joys and dealt with the challenges of the large age gap.
The youngest, Brenda, was adored by her family.  Sadly, the demands of adolescence drew her to drugs and her life spiralled out of control, despite numerous visits to rehab centres.  The worst happened when she succumbed to her addiction.
The unbearable grief took its toll:  Sheila was diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and gradually fought her way back to health. Inspired by Bob’s cultivation of his favourite hobby – cooking, Sheila embraced her passion: teaching.
Because Sheila had experienced a scare with cancer, she assumed that she would be the first to die. This assumption was never discussed.  She lived life with this conclusion in her mind.
Bob, though somewhat overweight, had no serious health issues and hardly ever visited a doctor. One day, feeling dreadful, he asked Sheila to take him to hospital: he was admitted immediately. In Sheila’s mind, this would be a short stay. Two days later, Bob passed away.

For the rest of Kathy's story, and some practical advice, click here.


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