Embracing the Uncertainty

I listened to Brené Brown’s Podcast “Unlocking Us” this morning. If you listen to anything, please do listen to this. I’m a huge Brené Brown fan. She’s a Storyteller and Researcher, who has written amazing books like “Braving the Wilderness” and the “Gifts of Imperfection”.  Beyond that, she’s a Clinical Social Worker. So am I. She’s a Professor. I was briefly Adjunct Faculty. She’s Episcopalian. So am I. 

And she is just plain awesome.

She said that middle-aged is somewhere between the 30’s and dead. Oh, yay!

I typed the title of the Podcast and I first typed “Untuck It”. Oh, geez. That wasn’t right. That was from last Christmas when I was buying gifts. Brene talks about acceptance and being awkward and uncomfortable. And being okay with your flaws and imperfections. And why it’s important to do that.

This is an incredibly difficult time. Having to self-quarantine or practice social distancing is challenging, for sure. We’re confused, overwhelmed and don’t know how to do this.

Years ago, I went to a workshop to listen to Virginia Satir. She was a Family Systems therapist and studied communications. I was so incredibly lucky. The workshop was great, but I was seated next to Virginia at lunch. She was authentic and kind and listened to each of us. She said, “People will choose the certainty of misery over the misery of uncertainty.” She was right. We will often choose what is familiar even though we know it’s not good for us. 

Brené Brown says that feeling uncertain can make us believe we’re unsafe. That’s not true. There are things we can and should do. We know this will end; we don’t know when, but we know it will end.

I have an Instagram account @peggerns_therapist. I’ve gotten feedback that, while my travel and nature photos are nice, there are too many of them and not enough “professional” posts. I value that feedback. I got it from two people who I respect so much. 

Blogging and posting on Instagram is new to me. I’m having fun with it. It’s not necessarily natural for me. I’m a therapist and an introvert. I share these nature and travel photos because it’s a part of who I am. I love walking or hiking outdoors. I love traveling. And I believe that these photos can be used for meditation.  For me, they take me to places of calm and generosity and hope. So, in these uncertain times, I offer them to you. 

Listen to Brené Brown’s Podcast. Embrace uncertainty. Feel your feelings. I send you care, compassion and loving thoughts.

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Clarity and Forgiveness

I’ve been back for almost two months now. The visit to Paris and the walking on El Camino de Santiago were definitely amazing! I have had time to reflect a lot. Coming back to work and getting back to the usual day to day routine wasn’t easy; I’ve held on to the feelings I had as long as I could. What could I incorporate in my daily life that I learned? How could I keep the feelings alive and well remembered? What changes did I want to make? 

I was away for 20 days traveling with too many clothes (we shipped some home early) and thinking about how much unnecessary stuff most of us accumulate.  I was also thinking about my friendships and professional connections and how much each person means to me. I absolutely love the work I do. There are days, certainly, that I’m not at my best or I’m tired or getting sick. That’s just being human. But I appreciate my clients and my colleagues. I appreciate my friends. And I value every person I meet. 

A friend asked me what one word I had that I brought back with me from walking on El Camino de Santiago. One word?!? Really?!? I had to think for quite a while. And then it came to me. Clarity. Walking was great. The landscape was beautiful; I met some very nice and gracious people, I made friends, and sometimes I walked alone. Those times I only had my own thoughts. It wasn’t always easy, fun or comfortable. I had time to look at and reflect on my relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, and what I brought to each of those relationships. How am I? Am I the best I can be? Do I try my best consistently? Do I judge or criticize? The answers were sometimes stark and uncomfortable. The answers were: not always, not always, of course I do – all humans criticize and judge sometimes. We have to be aware of when we do that.

The word clarity leads to other words. Forgiveness. We talk about forgiveness a lot. About what the other person did that harmed us and whether we can forgive them or not. Forgiving someone is about helping ourself, actually. We let go of the place we have been keeping that person in. And free ourselves from anger, hurt, recriminations, wishing for vengeance, etc. That’s not to say we forget. We learn when we are hurt and that’s important. But that learning has its own place, its home in our memory. Our inability to forgive isn’t helpful when we let it drive and define our life.

I realized I needed to redefine some of my relationships, which is good. It’s important to grow and invite the other person to grow with you. It’s important to say when you’re hurt, when you’re happy, when you’re angry, and when you forgive. And to say thank you when someone apologizes. 

One of the new friends I made, Dawn, told me early on our walk that El Camino de Santiago always provides. She was right! Here’s a great photo of her showing us the El Camino Way!

Please follow me on Instagram @peggerns_therapist to see more photos!

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An Evening of Kindness and Gratitude in Arzua

El Camino de Santiago provided many incredible moments to me when I walked in October.  Those moments happened when I least expected them, when I was distracted with conversation, with my own thoughts, or with the fact that my knees, feet and hips were feeling the stress of several long days of walking. My walking partner and friend, Michael, and I were fatigued and challenged at this point in our walk. The terrain wasn’t terribly difficult, although there were definitely more hills to ascend and descend than I had anticipated. And lots of ancient rocks in the path to avoid.

We were in Arzua and wondering how we were going to finish walking the miles for the day. There is something about wanting to walk, to be part of what the Camino has to offer and to not overlook or shrug off any possibilities. We were determined to walk as much as we could and give ourselves to the experience of the Camino. It is an amazing thing. As the day grew longer and the very early shadows of evening began, we decided to stop and reflect on how much more walking we could safely and realistically manage. We looked forward to being at our hotel. We rested for a bit and knew we would wake up the next morning refreshed.

Photo credit: Michael Donnoe

When we arrived at our “hotel”, Casa Das Corredoiras, we were greeted by several dogs, a mixed dachshund, a mixed terrier, a Dalmatian, and a Labrador. Our hosts took our suitcases to our rooms and gave us our keys. We saw small tables and chairs on a patio and headed for them. Our hosts offered us a glass of wine, which we gratefully accepted. Galicia has some of the best wine I’ve ever had. The manager, a woman, had the face of kindness. She smiled broadly and knowingly with a gentle twinkle in her eyes. Having greeted many who have walked the Camino, she was very aware of the fatigue we were feeling. 

Our small group decided to stay there for dinner. The idea of getting back on the bus to go to dinner was something that I couldn’t do, so I agreed. When we asked the manager if she would be willing to cook dinner for us, her smile broadened and she asked if we could wait an hour. We were thrilled. We were sitting outside on a small patio in a rural part of Arzua, Spain. There was a gorgeous, rolling landscape in front of us, a clear, blue, expansive sky, a vegetable garden beneath us, a grape arbor above us and sweet dogs meandering. The grapes were sweet and the skin fell away as soon as I put one in my mouth. I could have waited much longer than an hour. 

As we watched her pick fresh vegetables from the garden, we grew quiet. We sat in the waning hours of the day filled with gratitude. We were cared for, and respected by someone who understood our needs. Someone who accepted us with joy and kindness. Someone who clearly loved what she was doing. When she walked away from the vegetable garden towards the kitchen, we stopped her to say thank you. Thank you for your hospitality and your generosity! And this place is amazing, we are grateful, we told her. She opened her arms wide and looked all around the land. Smiling, she said that we were most welcome and that she was happy to share with us. It was all from God, she said. 

We had the best, fresh vegetables for dinner that night. And I slept really well.

I invite you to see my photos from this trip on my Instagram account @peggerns_therapist.

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Trust on El Camino de Santiago

I have just returned from a trip of a lifetime. My spouse and I visited a friend in Paris we haven’t seen in a very, very long time. She’s the kind of friend who makes you feel as if you spoke the day before. That’s really special and important. Paris was amazing. We stayed in the 8th Arrondissement or District, which is known as the American Quarter. I speak some French, so that was helpful, although not critical. Except in the taxi – the drivers speak no English. It was fine, they were very patient and kind.

We stayed in an apartment that had 65 stone circular stairs to get to it. This was important because we were leaving Paris to go to Spain. In Spain we would walk El Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. That’s listed as 100km, the minimum you can walk to earn your certificate. It’s known as the French Way. That doesn’t include the times you walk off the path to see a stone church, get a sandwich or find “Los Banos”. Or the time that my walking partner, Michael, and I found ourselves on the “Complimentaria”. A slightly longer, slightly more difficult walk.

We left Paris and arrived in Madrid October 3rd. We found a place to sit outside and enjoy a light dinner. We toured parts of Madrid and further out in the country over the next few days. The actual walk began on Tuesday morning.

It was raining. I was not happy about my first day of walking being in the rain, but there it was. I was prepared with a good coat, walking shoes, great socks, technical layers, and a cover for my backpack. And walking sticks. Those sticks are very important!

I was part of a group of about 20 people and we began our journey. My spouse and I quickly realized we had very different paces. He started fast in the morning and deliberately slowed down later. He could be alone or check in with almost everyone in our group this way. I stayed steady at the same pace throughout the day. One smaller group walked really fast and arrived at our next destination first. Another smaller group brought up the rear and had designated themselves as the safety group – they would account for each person.

I found myself in between the two groups by myself. In Northern Spain. Far from home. With no one in sight. El Camino was quiet and there were beautiful landscapes all around me. Farmland, historic stone churches, monasteries, an amazing big sky. There was a monk, who was blind, greeting us from a part of a stone church. I heard the wonderful sound of a man playing a recorder – he was sitting on a stone wall near a stream.  Occasionally, I saw a herd of cows, a horse or two, once a herd of sheep.

I was aware that 19 women had been murdered in Madrid by the men who abused them. There were protests.

I was thinking about being a woman, alone, on this path. El Camino de Santiago is safe and we had been reassured and told that it was safe numerous times. I was grateful. I had my iPhone and almost always had service. Nonetheless, I was aware of my aloneness. Being alone was not new to me at all. I have often found myself in a group of 1 for whatever reason. And I have found solace in those moments. 

I thought about the women who had died. I thought about fear and violence and grief. And I got scared.  I was very aware that I could not stay in a place of being fearful. Doing that would slow me down and take me away from the beauty that surrounded me. I needed to keep walking and plan to meet the rest of the group. I needed to move forward with confidence and trust. I thought a lot about trust. And I said a quick prayer that I would not have to be completely alone again.

Trust is not easily or automatically given. Trust is a well placed belief in the truth of something or someone. Trust is emotional because we are vulnerable when we trust and it is logical because it is based on companionship, friendship, and agreement.

Tuesday ended and the rain had been pretty light. We met back at our bus and headed to our “hotel”. “Hotel” on this trip was more like a rustic bed and breakfast, which was nice. We stayed in a hotel in Madrid and during our last night in Santiago de Compostela.

Wednesday would be another long day of walking. Just to note here, we had been told the terrain was mostly level and easy. And that we’d be walking around 12 miles a day, except for Thursday, which would be 18 miles. There was always a bus or a taxi if we were too tired and sore to walk. There were definitely hills, some steep, and the strain on one’s body really makes it more than the designated miles. There were also places where the ground had old stones embedded in it. I was grateful for good shoes and those good walking sticks! (I ended up walking 70 miles from Tuesday through Saturday. I’m very content with my walk.)

My friend, Michael, began to have trouble with blisters. Michael is very fit, had broken in his shoes, had the “right” socks, etc. But because of his unexpected difficulty, he ended up being my walking partner for the rest of the time. I was never alone again. I’m sorry he had trouble with blisters, and I enjoyed getting to know him and having incredible conversations that I treasure. I’m grateful for our friendship.

I learned a lot about trust and many other emotions and decisions that I and all humans make on a daily basis. It’s not possible to walk El Camino de Santiago on a regular basis, but it is possible to take an hour or two a week to just stop and reflect. If you find it difficult to meditate, go for a walk alone on a safe trail or with someone who is comfortable with silence. Leave behind the to do list, the appointments, the obligations, the phone calls. Just for an hour or two. If it’s difficult to walk, get walking sticks and go slowly and only as far as you are able. Or find a quiet spot and sit for a while. Keep practicing this effort or intention and you might find comfort, solace or clarity. I did. Buen Camino!

I invite you to see my photos from this trip on my Instagram account @peggerns_therapist.

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From Paris to Madrid to El Camino de Santiago: Finding Joy

Staying in Paris for a week at the beginning of this journey was a great decision! We met wonderful people, saw amazing sites and had the best profiteroles ever!

We left Paris to go to Madrid, arrived there  on Friday and saw the Royal Palace on Saturday. In Paris, everyone was taking selfies, especially in the Louvre. In Madrid, photos are not permitted in the Royal Palace or the Prado Museum. I imagine that’s true in many other places as well. Our art historian guide at the Prado Museum was very knowledgeable. We learned about a few select paintings, rather than trying to see too much, which was great.

Goya is one of the great Masters whose painting we saw. I had seen some of his earlier work. Today I saw his “Black Paintings “ and heard about his later work. Goya experiences a great deal of tragedy. Seven out of 8 of his children died. His wife died. His “Black Paintings “ he painted at his house when he was clearly depressed and filled with anguish. He later found joy with the birth of his grandson. 

I’m currently reading “The Book of Joy”. It’s a conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.  Douglas Abrams asks the Dalai Lama why, after he had been exiled for so long from the country he loves, he is not morose. The Dalai Lama did not understand the word. In Buddhism, there are only a few words to  describe emotions. The word morose had to be simply translated to sad. 

The Dalai Lama didn’t understand the question even with the translation. He answered Archbishop Tutu by saying essentially, “I’ve found so much joy because of and with my exile. Why would I choose to be sad?”

I’ve read a bit more and am learning about the need for mental immunity. Just as we protect our physical health, we need to protect our mental health. The Dalai Lama talks about how we choose to think negatively and with anger. Letting go of this choice helps us develop more mental immunity. 

I have a colleague who practices contemplation. He is a gentle soul. He experiences anger, frustration, sadness, joy, etc. He does not hold negativity and anger for long. I experience him as a person who is content. I invite you to find a way to develop mental immunity and live with joy!

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I’m a New Mom: “I Can’t Do This, I’m Exhausted and Overwhelmed:” Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

She walked into my office and sat down on the sofa, looking at me. I said, “Welcome, how are you?” She started to cry and said that she had almost cancelled our session. It was a first session, we had only spoken briefly on the phone. Her baby was at home with her mother and she hadn’t wanted to leave. She shared that she had been given a screening assessment in the hospital and had been told that she was at high risk for postpartum depression. Her impression of mothers with postpartum depression was that they were bad mothers who could hurt their babies. But she was so very worried about her baby and was doing everything to protect him. She asked me how the hospital could possibly know that she was going to be a bad mother? Exhausted and distraught, she continued to cry. We spoke for a while and I assured her that she wasn’t a bad mother, but a new Mom who was struggling. And that she was most certainly not alone.

Last week, I interviewed my friend and colleague, April Gabriel-Ferretti, MS, MFT. April is a Marriage and Family Therapist, a Certified Doula and the Lehigh Valley Coordinator for Postpartum Support International. 

You’re a Marriage and Family therapist as well as a birth doula, can you explain a little what that means? 

As a marriage and family therapist I treat a variety of serious concerns including: depression, marital problems, anxiety, individual psychological problems, and child-parent relationships. MFT’s can be master’s or doctoral level and are recognized as a “core” component of the mental health community, along with psychiatry, psychology, clinical social work and psychiatric nursing.

Birth doulas play an integral role in the preparation of birth via education and work with mothers and their birth partners to provide physical and emotional support. The doula is present to help their clients better self-advocate and aid the client in having an empowering and memorable labor and birth experience. 

You’re also the Lehigh Valley Coordinator for PSI. What is that organization? 

I am honored to be the Lehigh Valley coordinator for Postpartum Support International. My goal is to provide current information, resources, education, and to advocate for further research and legislation to support perinatal mental health. PSI members, leaders, and friends work tirelessly across all levels to meet goals of the shared PSI mission to support those living with mental illness through various activities, including: 

www.postpartum.net – PSI’s website receives more than 100,000 visitors a year who seek PSI for support, education and local resource information.

800.944.4PPD (4773) – PSI’s toll-free Help Line, in English and Spanish, serves more than 600 callers a month, and rapidly refers callers to appropriate local resources including emergency services.

PSI Newsletter – Available to PSI members around the world, this bulletin gives up-to-date information on worldwide news, conferences, resources, research and events.

Area PSI Support Coordinators in all 50 U.S. states , Canada, and Mexico, and more than 40 other countries around the world. These support volunteers provide telephone and email support, information, and access to informed local resources.

Online Support Groups in English and Spanish every week, led by trained PSI facilitators.

Standardized Training and Educationfor hospitals, public health systems, clinical providers, support group leaders, social support volunteers, and others.

PSI Educational DVDs for families and providers.

Free Phone “Chat with the Experts”First Mondays for Dads and every Wednesday for Moms, facilitated by PSI Professionals.

Resources for Women, Families, Students, and Professionals.

Links to multi-language resources

Membership Directory where you can update your own profile, and conduct a search for other PSI members by name, profession, location, or interest. JOIN PSI HERE

How did you first become interested in postpartum depression? 

As a mother of three I have personally struggled with both postpartum depression and anxiety. I know first hand how overwhelming, shameful and lonely motherhood can feel particularly when you are struggling! It was through my own experiences and having worked with countless mothers and families as a doula, that specializing in maternal mental health felt like a no brainer! 

How prevalent is it?

Postpartum depression impacts nearly 1 in seven women and 50% of the time starts as early as pregnancy! Some studies suggest that it’s as much as 1 in 5. 

There seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about postpartum depression, for example, those Mom’s shouldn’t have had children and they’re bad mothers. Or Mom’s with postpartum depression need to be separated from their babies for the safety of the infant. Do you run into that perception and how do you address it?

Us frontliners are working hard to better educate professionals who come into contact with our mothers during the early weeks and months after the baby arrives. Our hope is that by educating we can debunk some of the more common misperceptions of PPD such as mom lacking the desire to be with baby, mom being suicidal or at risk of harming her baby. This is not to say that these circumstances don’t arise. However, it’s very rare that mom poses a threat to herself or her baby! The best way to address these concerns is to keep educating and having dialogue about these very important topics! 

If a Mom has postpartum depression, will she automatically have it again with subsequent deliveries? 

No. Having postpartum issues like PPD, PPA etc does not guarantee that mom will automatically have anxiety or depression with subsequent births. That being said, having these issues does put mom at a higher risk for facing similar complications with future pregnancies and births. But there’s good news! In many instances, mom knows what to look for. She is better prepared, better educated and her family and friends know what to expect and look for! 

Can men have postpartum depression?

Absolutely! It’s estimated that close to 1 in 10 fathers will have PPD. This estimate is conservative, since research has shown that men are less likely to report their mental health concerns. 

What are some examples of what postpartum depression looks like? How can families and friends be supportive? 

Typically we start to become concerned when we are seeing symptoms beyond 2 weeks postpartum. This is usually an indication that something more serious is at play. Some of the most common symptoms involve feelings of hopelessness, irritability, significant sleep or eating disturbances, feelings of disconnect with baby, worthlessness and guilt. 

Friends and family can help in a variety of ways. It can be really beneficial for mom to have others who are encouraging her to carve out some time for herself. Whether it’s simply time to shower uninterrupted, a childfree outing to the grocery store or a chance to catch up on sleep, mom needs to know that taking time for herself is not only ok but needed in order for her to put her best foot forward! 

Families can also help by educating themselves about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and by gathering resources. Some excellent resources can be found at www.postpartum.net

I’ve had some experience in my private practice where I’ve seen Moms with postpartum depression experiencing obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety as well. Have you seen this? To what extent? 

Postpartum anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression. In my own experience, I would venture to say that I’ve seen more cases with women struggling with postpartum anxiety than simply postpartum depression. 

What resources are available to women and men experiencing postpartum depression? 

In addition to visiting Postpartum Support International’s website, there are local resources available as well! Over the past several years I have spent time culminating resources to help support, treat and educate women and their families. Below is a link to my resource guide and a link to the Facebook group I run. The Facebook group called Lehigh Valley Postpartum Support, is made up of primarily local moms who are either currently in the trenches or who have been in the trenches and have finally made it to the other side. In the group there’s a lot of supportive women who were sharing their stories and their experiences, which can be healing and validating. I also make a point of educating people about what they can expect or look for in regards to their own mental health and experiences in motherhood.

Thank you so much, April! I’m grateful you’re doing this work!

It was great to talk with you, Peg!

April’s contact information is below. If you, or someone you know may be experiencing any of these feelings, offer help and support.

April M. Gabriel-Ferretti, MS, MFT, Owner 
Gabriel-Ferretti Psychotherapy and Consulting, LLC
Lehigh Valley Coordinator for Postpartum   Support International 
www.aprilgabrielferretti.com
267-987-4016

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Dreaming and Imagining

I went to a conference last week on the Gulf side of Florida. I absolutely love the area and the people were incredibly nice. The conference was on private practice and there were large workshops and breakout sessions for two days. One of our speakers finished his presentation, which was very good, and stood still for a second, then collapsed on the floor. It turned out he was okay, fortunately. He had been working long hours, not hydrating and hadn’t eaten any breakfast. He fully rested until the next day when he returned.

Self-care is so important and underrated in our culture. My colleagues and I talk about sleep deprivation a lot. We hear about students pushing themselves to do more, be more, compete, push, have more drive. Nobody ever writes a headline that says, “Great job getting 8 hours of sleep!!” Yet we cannot function without healthy amounts of sleep. Most of us know about sleep apnea, but we don’t know all the dangers of having it untreated for a long time. They are significant. We know people who snore and we laugh, or express empathy because we understand they’re tired. People in positions of leadership brag about how they can function on just a few hours of sleep. None of us can truly think clearly without a proper amount of sleep. 

We underestimate the need for self-care and pride ourselves on being able to tough it out. There’s nothing wrong with toughing it out when appropriate. There is joy and satisfaction in accomplishing something difficult. A friend of mine in the medical field went to Tanzania. While she was there, she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. That was awesome! We can only tough it out when we are mentally, physically and emotionally prepared. We can only embrace our goals that grew from hopes and dreams when we are nourished in every way.

George Lucas said, “Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it. ” He wasn’t talking about dreams we have when we’re asleep. Lucas was talking about our hopes and dreams; dreams that are part of a vision and can become goals. Imagination is something that needs to be fed and watered.

 In a few weeks, my spouse and I will be going to Madrid and joining a group of people who will walk the El Camino de Santiago with us. There are several routes that are known as El Camino de Santiago. This walk, or pilgrimage, as it’s known, is not something I ever imagined we’d do. Until about six months ago.  I saw the advertisement for it and said to my spouse, “We should do this!” I love to walk and I love to take photos. Walking 10 -12 miles a day will be different, for sure! We’ve been training for a while and that’s been really good. I am grateful for the excitement and encouragement we have gotten from people. It’s been amazing, when we’ve mentioned to someone that we were doing this, someone else nearby will say that they just came back from El Camino de Santiago and they share a little about what it was like for them. And they tell us how to take care of ourselves; they tell us what they learned about self-care. We’ve been in the process of imagining what this will be like. I know we’ll be able to do this. We’ve been dreaming, imagining and taking care of ourselves. Here’s a place for you to begin self-care and feed your imagination!

https://www.verywellmind.com/self-care-strategies-overall-stress-reduction-3144729

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Pain in Grief and Loss

The word “better” is often used when people are trying to comfort friends, colleagues or family members who are grieving. I’ve used it myself. “Things will get better”, many have said at one time or another. Someone recently told me that it was a terrible word to use with someone whose loved one had died. She was right. In her book, It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok, Megan Devine describes the way we use words to comfort ourselves, not the person in pain. Grief doesn’t get better, it changes; life is different.

I co-led a bereavement support group very early in my career. I still remember how badly it went. I cringed every week that we met. People showed up hoping that somehow being in the group would make them feel better. It didn’t. One member of the group talked about how her child, who had been driving only a few years, was killed by a drunk driver, also young. She expressed her anger and her hurt openly and honestly. Everyone listened. And the “words of comfort” started. Well-meaning, sincere and very wrong words. Things will get better. Life will be easier. And then it happened. Someone offered words of compassion for the drunk driver. There was a stunned silence. The mother got up from her seat and left. My co-leader offered some words of comfort for everyone in the group, for what they were experiencing in their journey. We closed the session. And nobody came back the following week. I was immensely relieved. We are ill-prepared for meeting grief and loss.

I’ve spoken to many people who are grieving, wrestling with the pain of experiencing the death of a loved one. I’ve experienced grief myself. I’ve been with people when they died. And I’ve learned a lot since those early days. 

I was trained in C.I.S.D., Critical Incident Stress De-Briefing (I’m not anymore). And I was one of the facilitators of a group when a student in the 10th grade at a local high school drowned. This happened in a small town and the news of the drowning traveled quickly. The town became strangely quiet. People smiled sadly at each other. Time didn’t slow down; our ability to process and absorb information slowed down. The other students were bewildered, looking for answers. The parents of the student who had drowned came to the high school to see if his classmates were ok. That seemed so strange to me. But we humans do strange things in our pain. They needed to see the other children, their son’s classmates. I believe they were reaching for connection. Just trying to hear stories about their child. But we didn’t know how to be present to the students and the parents at the same time. The child had just died hours before we met. The pain of the immediate grief was overwhelming. And C.I.S.D. is a particular and successful approach really meant for first responders. We were well-meaning clergy, mental health counselors who did our best with the tools we had. And our culture has lost its ability to show any of us the way. Our culture doesn’t understand.

The full title of Megan Devine’s book is “It’s Ok That You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief And Loss In A Culture That Doesn’t Understand. She writes: “There isn’t much written on the early parts of grief, that close-to-impact zone where nothing really helps. We’re so terrified of intense grief, and the feelings of helplessness it engenders, most resources don’t speak to it at all.”

When my son was five years old, we moved to a different town. He had a best friend and he had to say good-bye to him. The two boys hugged and said, “See you later, pal!” A few months later, my spouse and I received a message on our voicemail. From the director of the after school program that my son and Billy had been in together. The message started with how sorry she was to leave this devastating message. Billy’s mother had been killed in a car accident after she was leaving a wedding. She went to the wedding alone and had been in a car with another man. Billy’s dad had stayed home with Billy. 

Just a few weeks later, my son had a birthday party and we invited Billy. His Dad was very grateful and drove him across the state so Billy could be there. My spouse, my son, the other kids and Billy were walking towards a pond where the kids could swim safely. Our son and Billy were slightly behind us and a little away from the other kids. We heard and saw our child, our very wise and innocent child, put his arm around Billy’s shoulders and say, “I’m sorry your Mom got dead.”

The simple statement was so powerful. Billy said, “Yeah, it’s really sad and I miss her a lot.” Children are often wiser in their innocence than we adults. The need is for people to be able to tell their story and for others to be comfortable listening and just being present. A much harder task, or, really, a harder way of being than it sounds.

Devine proposes a different model of grief by encouraging us to find new ways to express our pain of grief and loss. She writes, “We can’t wage war on the “problem” of grief without waging war on each other’s hearts. We need to let what is true be true. We need to find ways to share in the shattering experience of loss – in our own lives and in the larger world. Shoving through what hurts will never get any of us what we most want – to feel heard, companioned and seen for who we are, where we are.”

Megan Devine offers a 30-day writing course: https://www.refugeingrief.com/30daywriting/ is a way for you to write your grief and loss without hearing any platitudes. Your grief and your truth about it is entirely welcome.

There is no perfect way to grieve. There is no perfect way to support someone in their pain of grief and loss. Being present and listening to their story is a good place to start.

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Hope

I met a friend for lunch one day recently. This friend is an amazing person who I love
dearly. She is a person who is very grounded, lives her life fully, makes clear decisions
and has been through a lot. I know her to be, well, solid. She’s one of my rocks. We
were talking about so many things and it was great. We were filled with compassion,
sadness, encouragement, wisdom, happiness and more. We talked for over two hours
and then had to move on.

Before we parted, I asked if she had relatives or friends in El Paso. Looking incredibly
sad, she said, “No, no friends or relatives.” I looked at her and saw more than sadness.
I asked if she was okay. She didn’t answer right away. I said that it was still important
to pray.

My spouse says all the time that prayer is our first line of defense. I believe that
wholeheartedly. Our first line of defense. Not our last or only one. And that doesn’t
mean we don’t take action. I said to my friend that I was going to continue to pray and
hope. She said that she could pray, but she didn’t feel hope any longer. Oh. Gosh. I
stopped. It took me a while to speak. I said that I would continue because hope is faith
going forward. She smiled and shrugged. We parted company.

I thought more about hope since then. And about hope being faith going forward.
When I see a client for the first time, they walk in the door with uncertainty, confusion,
sadness, anger and…hope. Hope that they can feel better, that they can find the
strength to do the work of therapy. Hope that change is possible.

In “The Gifts Of Imperfection”, Brene Brown writes, “I was shocked to discover that
hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.” (pg. 65) Brown
later goes on to say, “We develop a hopeful mind-set when we understand that some
worthy endeavors will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all. Hope
also requires us to understand that just because the process of reaching a goal
happens to be fun, fast, and easy doesn’t mean that it has less value than a difficult
goal. If we want to cultivate hopefulness, we have to be willing to be flexible and
demonstrate perseverance. Not every goal will look and feel the same. Tolerance for
disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.” (pg. 66)

Hope is active, not passive. Too often, we shrug our shoulders and casually say, “I
hope so!” We use that phrase casually and often. And that’s okay; it has its place. But
hope is an active engagement. To hope takes concentration, energy, engagement, and
courage. Hope is not complacent. Live your day fully and embrace hope!

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Pioneering Women, Successful Women, Self-Made Women

How many times have you walked by a magazine rack or visited social media and read these words? And wondered who these women are? How did they get to be called these wonderful names? Would anyone ever call me anything like that? These are the phrases that we see all the time in our culture. These adjectives were limited to our male counterparts in the recent past. We have been blessed with the opportunity to share these descriptions. But it doesn’t feel great to many women. Or ring true.

These descriptions are usually about women whose lives are devoted to success in business, whether it is non-profit or corporate. Many of them have done a great deal of good, for example, a friend of mine described a former student of hers who teaches accounting skills to women in an underdeveloped country. Another friend described a successful female attorney who was able to take time off for a trip to an amusement park with her child and some friends. A third woman working in the corporate world was getting ready to vacation in Germany and Paris. All of these women contribute to society in positive ways.

You do, too.

Every woman contributes to society in a positive way. Sometimes it’s really hard to see that or to feel it for yourself. Maybe there have been too many changes or disappointments recently. Maybe a relationship isn’t working out or recently ended.  Maybe you have a child who is not doing well in school. Maybe your job isn’t fulfilling. Maybe you just have too much to do.

These concerns can make anyone feel overwhelmed, frustrated or sad. Remember that you are uniquely you and have much to offer. Remember to take care of yourself. Remember that you are wonderful and that these feelings are natural. Celebrate you!

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