Posts tagged ‘grief’

Men and Grief: The Power to Learn to Love Again || Craig Freund

Men and Grief: The Power to Learn to Love Again

By Craig Freund

 

“Grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. Grief is the price of love.” -Unknown

Often, we learn to love without one day expecting that it may change. We may learn to love unconditionally, without reason, intention or restitution. We may love like we’ve never been and won’t ever be hurt, while in fact, this may be love in it’s purest, most open and trusting form. As much as we love, inevitably, we will all one day find that love hurts and that grief is the price we pay for having had the glorious opportunity of a loving experience.

While love can be one of the most fulfilling experiences, the loss of love can be one of the most painful. For anyone, but especially for men, navigating the experience of love and it’s intimate partner grief can be a lonely, confusing and troubling experience. Although modern masculine stereotypes seem to be on the move, traditionally, men are taught to suppress emotion, never to cry and never to reach out.

In terms of emotion, for men, it is traditionally only acceptable to express stoicism and anger. For this reason, men often resort to feelings of anger or irritability when what may be under the surface is an experience of sadness and sorrow. This struggle with grief is not limited to the death of a loved one, but might be a break-up, lost opportunity or an old lifestyle. In varying degrees, grief accompanies our experience with loss, change or growth.

While grief can be one of the most intense emotional struggles in our inherently vulnerable human experience, attempting to suppress and avoid related feelings can only lead to greater difficulty in processing grief. Suppressing these strong feelings may prevent a sort of emotional or cathartic release. With this, men can experience shame in addition to the socially unacceptable difficult emotion.

As you can see, the grief process for men can become exceptionally complicated by various societal and cultural expectations and self-imposed limitations. Often, due to their upbringing and these cultural norms, men may not recognize the underlying core emotion and the process of suppressing becomes automatic or even unconscious.

As a result, displaced and unrecognized emotion may lead to social irritability, domestic violence, or substance abuse. This process of suppression and lack of emotional expression, can lead to what has been amusingly referred to as emotional constipation. As time passes, this lack of emotional expression might even lead to clinical depression, anxiety disorders, addiction, domestic violence or even suicidality.

This stunted grief may be one possible contributing factor in the shocking statistic that nearly 80% of completed suicides are by men. Furthermore, this issue of emotional constipation may reach beyond an individual struggle and on a more global level contribute to crime, violence, lack of role models and general societal difficulty.

 The question becomes, how do we deal with this issue and how do we support men in their grief process so that they might learn to love again? For starters, it’s important to normalize the myriad of difficult emotions that might need to be expressed. From sadness to guilt and even nostalgia, grief can bring up a wide variety of emotions. Male or female, masculine or feminine, these emotions are a completely normal and an even healthy part of grief.

Next, we can label these emotions and work to understand them. In regards to grief, what might sadness need to say? What might regret have to say about our loss? They might say that you’ve lost something near and dear, they might say that you wish you’d had more time with your loved one. As we normalize and listen, we might then allow ourselves to experience and feel the emotion, all in hopes of allowing for the relief of an emotional release.

Finally, let’s not forget to breath through this process and cope with what comes up. In grief, these feelings can often be overwhelming, this makes it important to find healthy ways to cope. With this, some men have found that tangible, related projects can be cathartic. For example, some men might benefit from a dedicated wood working project, art creation, memory box or even writing a song. These intentional and sometimes dedicated coping strategies don’t impede the process, but can better facilitate steps toward healing.

With this, keep in mind that is not necessary to take on the grief process all at once, but instead, if possible it is important to balance this with healthy coping or distraction. This isn’t a task to be completed, but a natural process to be engaged and respected.

 -Normalize

-Label Emotion

-Listen & Feel

-Breath & Cope

 Although grief may never end, with time and respect for the process, we can learn to live with it. The experience of grief itself might come and go, but generally speaking with respect for this process the intensity of the grief may lessen.

Most importantly, as we honor these emotions and the role they take in our process, we can hope that we might learn to love again. We can hope that we might learn to love with open hearts, unrestrained by the difficulty of suppressed emotion and stalled or displaced grief. Men with open hearts and the capacity to love become positive leaders, role models and fathers, demonstrating strength in a manner that will empower our fellow man to lead happy, healthy and successful lives.

Moving forward we might work to raise young men in a manner that normalizes emotional experiences, fosters emotional maturity and empowers an understanding of the information offered from our emotional states. 

In my work, I often encounter men who haven’t had the opportunity to develop the capacity for emotional intelligence, they’ve either explicitly or implicitly been taught to stuff their feelings and this, rather than expression is what has been reinforced.

With a collective effort, we can teach the importance of these emotional processes and allow boys to become men who are empowered to feel, able to love and are present for their families.

“What I needed more than anything was the strength, courage and permission to grieve.” -Ken Druck

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell

In the Land of Pain: Grieving a Suicide || Mary Coday Edwards

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

March 10, 2017

Ranking 10th highest in the nation, Colorado’s suicide rate of 20 per 100,000 residents is more than 65% higher than the national average of 13.8. In 2015, about three Coloradoans per day chose to kill themselves.

Research suggests that for every suicide, at least six people experience a major life disruption, but it can impact up to 25.

The Walking Wounded

That’s a lot of sad, suffering people (see chart ).

Entity, 2015 Rate, Per 100,000 population+ Total Deaths Total Population Suicide Loss Survivors, @ 6/ Suicide Suicide Loss Survivors, @ 25/ Suicide
U.S. 13.8 44,193 321,418,820 265,000 1,105,000
Colorado 20.0   1,093     5,466,000     6,560       27,325
Denver County 13.9       94        682,000       564        2,350

Sources:  See Notes 1 & 2.

+Suicide rate = (number of suicides by group / population of group) X 100,000

Some facts defining this wounding:

-The majority of men will use a firearm; women will use poison.

-Men are about four times more likely than women to die of suicide, but three times more women than men report attempting suicide.

-Nearly all completed suicides are among individuals with mental illness.

-Nationally, one suicide occurs every 11.9 minutes; therefore, there are either six or 25 new suicide loss survivors every 11.9 minutes.

-In the United States, suicides outnumber homicides about two to one.

-At-risk population groups are men over age 75 and in mid-life.

-Other groups include:

     -young people struggling with their sexual orientation/identification,

     -veterans and military personnel, and

     -Native Americans.

In this blog, I’m not addressing assisted suicide or Western attitudes of fear and perhaps terror over death.

Nor will I focus on the morality of suicide: “is it right/wrong, good/bad?”

Instead, my focus is on the suffering of suicide loss survivors.

“ … you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott

Grief is messy, not so neat and tidy as the drawing on the left, which shows grief actually stopping before it ends.

The picture on the right not only shows a back-tracking, circuitous entanglement with grief, but more accurately, we don’t just dust our hands off and walk away. The arrow continues.

We as a species are hard-wired to grieve; it’s the universal, instinctual, and adaptive reaction to the loss of a loved one. It’s normal.

I like that idea.

We come packaged not only to love, but to grieve the loss of our loved ones (3).

We are equipped to mourn death.

But suicide loss short-circuits that instinct.  

Grief Reactions and Characteristics

Grief has been described as one of the most painful experiences an individual ever faces. In his work on suicide bereavement, Illiant Tal Young (4) subcategorizes grief as follows:

Acute grief: the initial painful response, characterized by numbness, shock, and denial, anguish, loss, anger, guilt, regret, anxiety, fear, intrusive images, depersonalization. Constant feelings of anguish and despair eventually give way to showing up as waves or bursts – pangs of grief. A memory hits us when we’re least expecting it. For me, a dearly beloved passed about six months ago, and I’m hit with this loss when I catch myself saying, “I must tell Bob about this.” And then remember I can’t, at least not in the way I used to.

Integrated grief: Under most circumstances, acute grief instinctively transitions to integrated grief. Signs of this happening include the ability of the bereaved to recognize that they have grieved, to be able to think of the deceased with equanimity, to return to work, to re-experience pleasure. For many, new wisdom and strengths, as well as broader perspectives emerge in the aftermath of loss.

Complicated grief (CG) is a bereavement response in which acute grief is prolonged, causing distress and interfering with day-to-day functioning. Acute grief remains persistent and intense and does not transition into integrated grief. CG is sometimes labeled as prolonged, unresolved, or traumatic grief.  

And it is in this land of complicated grief that suicide loss survivors often dwell.

More than Feelings of Loss, Sadness, and Loneliness

Questions haunt their existence: “Why didn’t I see the symptoms?” “Why didn’t I do more?” “Why wasn’t I there for her?”

Not seeing all the factors that went into the choice for suicide, the bereaved takes on unnecessary responsibility, resulting in self-blame.  The suicide is seen as an event that could have been prevented.

Survivors may feel abandoned, rejected, or angry at the deceased for “checking out”, leaving their loved ones behind.

In some cases, suicide is still stigmatized – along with mental illness. This can keep the bereaved stuck in shame, afraid to truthfully discuss the cause of death. Isolated from the community, they cut themselves off from counseling and the support of loved ones.

The majority of suicide methods involve considerable violence to the body, which can leave the survivors in trauma. Suicide loss survivors are more likely than other bereaved individuals to develop symptoms of PTSD.

And suicide loss survivors are at a greater risk of committing suicide themselves.

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” – Megan Divine

Summarizing, Young says treatment should include the best combinations of education, psychotherapy, and pharmacotherapy, often with a focus on depression, guilt, and trauma.

Through mindfulness practices, the bereaved can train in paying attention non-judgmentally to their body’s stress signals.  They learn to respond vs. react to the flight-or-fight chemicals coursing through their bodies, spawned by emotions of self-blame, anger, rejection, and possible stigma-induced shame.

Support groups have proved invaluable to those finding themselves unable to talk with family or community members.

And as always, People House ministers, counselors, therapists, and staff are here to assist individuals and families navigating this painful territory. People House contact details are provided on our home page at https://www.peoplehouse.org/ as well as a drop-down menu listing People House Practitioners.

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Notes & Sources:

1.)USA Suicide: 2015 Official Final Data. American Association of Suicide. http://www.suicidology.org

2.)Denver County Births & Deaths 2015: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/Resources/vs/2015/Denver.pdf

3.)Exceptions are there, of course, when mental illness robs us of that capability and/or childhood trauma – to name only two.

4.) Young, Iliant Tal, et al. Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384446/ Published 0nline June 2012

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

 

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

 

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Holidays and Grief || Jenny St. Claire

Holidays and Grief by Jenny St. Claire

holidays

Grief is about loss.  Many only associate it with physical death, but it is about anything that feels like an ending.  Several common experiences can be a breakup, the end of health through an illness, or losing a job.  Some unexpected examples of grief can be missing how the holidays were when you were a kid, being so busy you don’t have time to take a breath or the state of national affairs, like an election. Grief can surprise us with its depth, breadth and intensity.  Unfortunately, we Americans have been taught to avoid grief, which leaves us vulnerable because we don’t know what to do with it.

 

What can you do in times like this?  FEEL IT. 

I can hear some people thinking, “Why should I feel it when it hurts so much?  Shouldn’t I just get over it and be positive?”  Too often, we try to get rid of unpleasant feelings, especially during the holidays.  We numb out with delicious desserts, alcohol, TV, movies, surfing the internet or partying.  When you can identify when you’re enjoying yourself vs. avoiding yourself, you’ll gain greater clarity about what you’re doing, and maybe even what you need.  What are your top three numbing techniques? 

 

Recently, I was feeling really grumpy and couldn’t shake it.  I fought it for three days, only growing more and more irritable.  Finally, I surrendered to it, connected with it and asked for some insight.  My heart responded by filling with sorrow and I started to cry as my dog’s face came to mind.  She passed away last year and her one-year death anniversary is coming up.  I’m grieving!  While I didn’t feel good, per se, I at least felt some relief because I finally understood what was going on with me.  I had no idea my grumpiness was covering my sadness, and it was telling me I need to mourn.

 

With my current grief, I know I will make my way through it even though it hurts right now.  If there are any of you who are not so sure you will survive the grief, I encourage you to reach out for support.  Talk to trusted friends or family, call a hotline or therapist, or go to a grief support group.  If you would like some things you can do to help yourself, read on.

 

Connecting with Your Grief

Grief can be informative and transformative.  When you honor grief by being present with it, you may be amazed by what it can offer you.

How can you connect with your grief?  Here are a few ideas:

 

  1. Breathe – 10 slow, deep breaths
  2. Journal on one of these prompts:
    • What’s heavy on my heart is…
    • What I wish I could tell you is…
    • What I miss most is…
    • If I could change something, it would be…
  3. Be in nature – go to a place that calms, moves or connects you
  4. Move your body – walk, yoga, hike, dance
  5. Listen to a song that speaks to your grief

 

Once connected with your grief, let yourself feel.  Let yourself mourn what you have lost.  Let yourself be shaken up so you can let the old go, when you’re ready. 

Allow to rise within you what you need now.  Do you need to open your heart again?  Do you need to take better care of your mind, body and spirit?  Do you need to BE more than you DO?  Do you need to create something?  Do you need to learn to play an instrument?  Do you need to change careers? 

Grief transforms us over time.  Whether we wanted to change or not, we honor ourselves when we can accept what is.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from a book called Honoring Grief by Alexandra Kennedy:

“Our grief wakes us up to life.  We learn to hear the exquisite beauty and sorrow of being fully alive, to savor the simple moments, to cherish what’s here now.  If we can hold ourselves with compassion, we can hold others with compassion.  If we can let ourselves be as we are, we can allow others to be as they are.  We can begin to embrace life as it is in this moment and trust the flow of life as it unfolds.  Then we learn to walk the earth with wonder.” (p. 134)

If you aren’t feeling the warmth, love and connection you desire during the holidays, maybe being present with your grief will carry you there.  Remember this quote and hold yourself with compassion as you’re feeling the aliveness of sorrow.  Let yourself be as you are.  Let yourself receive the love you need…especially from YOU.  Now, more than ever.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth