Since grieving is as individual as a fingerprint, each person’s journey through it is unique. I will share some suggestions that helped me get through the devastating early years after the loss of my son in hopes they can make the journey a little less painful for you.
There is a Swedish proverb that says “Grief shared is halved but joy shared is doubled.” I believe this is true. Grief groups aren’t for everyone, but my husband and I found The Compassionate Friends to be a lifesaver, especially in the beginning. At first, I was frightened and barely able to share my story. As each person in the group shared his or her unique loss, however, we felt connected and not as lost or alone in our grief.
We learned that anger, memory loss, anxiety, inability to make a decision, excessive crying, and trouble sleeping were all “normal” after losing a child. We became hopeful that we, too, could survive and eventually rebuild our lives as these other parents who were farther along in their grief had done. The Compassionate Friends has over 600 chapters around the country, one near you can be found on the group’s national website.
Additionally, there are hospice groups who team a professional grief counselor with a group of people experiencing similar kinds of losses (such as loss of a child). We also found this to be very helpful. Ours met weekly for nine weeks and had a nominal fee.
Personally, I found that the general grief support groups at local hospitals or churches were not nearly as helpful. Losing an elderly parent or spouse is difficult, but it cannot compare to the loss of a child. It was so much more helpful to be with other families who had experienced a loss like ours.
A loss of this magnitude may very well warrant help from a good professional. I encourage any bereaved parent or sibling to consider this. My medical doctor diagnosed me with “complicated grief disorder” which means that the painful emotions after a loss are so severe that the patient has difficulty resuming normal life activities. The psychiatrists I visited only wanted to prescribe anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications. This was not helpful in my case since I suffered severe side effects from each one. Many bereaved parents do find help from these medications, however. Regarding psychologists, finding the right one for you can be challenging. I tried several before finding someone who actually helped me. In just a couple of visits she gave me practical “tools” I could use to help overcome many of my emotional challenges.
Meditation can be extremely helpful on many levels: reducing anxiety, allowing a respite from the pain, helping to manage the responsibilities of daily life, and so forth. Meditation, although sounding simple, can be a challenge.
Since I am a “Type A” personality, sitting quietly while pushing a myriad of thoughts out of my head seemed impossible. Most techniques involve sitting in a comfortable chair, away from noise and distractions. Breath control is sometimes involved, with slow and controlled breathing techniques. The objective is to clear your mind of any and all thoughts.
There are many techniques: some involve a mantra (a repeated sound or word), others have you look at a candle flame and/or play meditation music, and still others use guided imagery. Personally, I had the most success when listening to guided imagery. There are many books on the subject. As with anything worthwhile, it takes practice and perseverance.
Television, Music, and Books
I recommend scrutinizing everything you watch on television or in the movies. News reports contain so many stories about death and violence, it can be hard for a fragile heart to take. Instead, I found enough news by simply scanning the newspaper. I also avoided any violent shows or movies. My heavy heart couldn’t bear to watch anything that wasn’t uplifting or heart-warming. If something you’re watching makes you feel worse, change the channel or turn it off.
Music can be used to reflect your mood or even to change your mood. I would play a sentimental song when feeling the need to cry. Tears are healing and a good way to release emotions. Conversely, if I wanted to lift my mood, I would listen to something more upbeat.
Instead of watching TV or listening to music, reading can be a source of relaxation and/or learning. I loved to read about near-death experiences, after-death communications, and psychic mediums. I felt compelled to know what happened after death and what Heaven was like.
Some form of exercise is important even if you need to push yourself in the beginning. Changing your surroundings and getting your circulation and energy flowing is well worth the effort to aid in healing. Again, what is appropriate for each person varies greatly. It can be as simple as a short walk or as vigorous as kick-boxing.
I would use a brisk walk in a park with trails and hills in order to decrease my anxiety. Yoga was my other favorite form of exercise. It allowed me to work on multiple things at once; stretching, balance, core strengthening, energy flow, breath control, and meditation. Other people prefer swimming, running, sports, or salsa dancing. Of course, whatever activity you start with can change to fit your needs as you heal.
Bernard Williams once said, “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” There are great healing benefits from a pet’s unconditional love. Whether it’s a cat, dog, or even a horse, a beloved pet can go a long way to fill the hole in a broken heart. I attribute a great deal of my healing to my intuitive and loving golden retriever. She never tired of my hugging her or crying into the scruff of her neck.
Look for the last part in this series, “Taming the Grief Monster, Moving Forward.”
Part 2 of 3
Linda Zelik lost her 24-year-old son in 2010. She is currently the facilitator of the South Bay/LA chapter of TCF. The above article was adapted from her recently published book, “From Despair to Hope, Survival Guide for Bereaved Parents,” which can be found through the website: www.GriefHelp4Parents.Weebly.com or at Amazon.com