Category Archives: Moving On

Signposts on the Path Through Grief

You’ve probably heard about the five stages of grief…

Stages of Grief
the 5 stages of grief

…originally talked about by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. She labelled five distinct stages that people who are coming to terms with their own death generally seemed to go through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The five stages of grief model was an incredible breakthrough at the time because it identified a lot of what grieving people go through as being normal and healthy.

Kübler-Ross never intended those stages of grief to be used as a model for how people ought to approach their own mortality, or how we ought to experience grief for someone else’s death. As human beings, we so badly want to be certain about things, don’t we? We often think, “if I just knew how I was supposed to do this, then I could work really hard and do it right.” The reality is, the process of grief isn’t a tidy series of steps or stages that we can do once and be done with it. It’s really important to remember that we all grieve in our own unique way. That way is impacted by our personality, our situation, our relationship with the person (or pet, or job, or role) that we have lost, and many other factors.

Other grief experts later identified specific needs that all people seem to have during the grieving process. An author I very much admire is Dr. Alan Wolfelt. He has written a number of very helpful books addressing griever’s needs in all areas of life, from the physical to the mental and emotional, to the social and spiritual. He focuses on our human needs for recognizing the reality of our loss, feeling the pain and other emotions associated with it, remembering the person who died, adapting our self-identity to our new situation, searching for meaning in our life, and accepting the help of others. When I first read his work his thinking really resonated with me, and it still does.

Mapping Grief

In my own work with people who are grieving, whether they are working through the death of a loved one in their life, or coming to terms with a major life We need a map to guide us through our grieftransition that results in a sense of loss or overwhelm, I’ve noticed another thing that seems nearly as universal as the needs of grievers. It has to do with the way we imagine and talk about ourselves in grief. The process of loss or change often leaves us feeling lost ourselves – adrift on an unknown sea, perhaps, or wandering in an unfamiliar and harsh landscape. The words that my clients and I have used to describe our own various experiences of grief have so often been ones that bring up images of a place: sometimes terrible, always strange, and often frightening or lonely.

In short, it’s not so much that we need to know the names of stages of grief, it’s that we need a map of our grief, and a compass to guide us. It’s pretty common for a while at the beginning of grief to want to find THE map – something to tell us exactly where we are, and how long it’s going to take us to find our way back home again, and which road to take. Oh how I wish there was just one!

What eventually has become clear to me is that the best grief maps are those we have made ourselves. Maps we’ve drawn of the contours of our own lives and what we know about how to navigate our own challenges with the tools we have and know best. In order to make an accurate map, up until mapmakers could access a real-time satellite photo of a place, you needed to be in the place itself, tread the ground, and measure carefully. This is doubly true of geographies of feelings and relationships. There are no satellite cameras or Google Maps for this. The mapping of grief is a process that takes time and care, and needs a lot of support. I won’t try to stretch this metaphor any further or it will fall apart – but remember how many ships all those historical explorers used?

Your path through grief…

Signposts for grief journey…will depend a lot on what kind of terrain you’re trying to navigate. In the next few weeks, I’m going to write more about grief maps, and the kinds of helpful signposts we’re likely to need as we make them for ourselves. For now, if you find yourself struggling and feeling lost as you grieve, I hope you’ll remember to be kind to yourself, and accept as much support as you possibly can. One place you can start is by downloading my e-book, Finding Peace In Your Grief, right here, for some practices from Art Therapy to help you create the calm space to nurture yourself during this time.

 

And of course, you can contact me for a personal conversation about working together on mapping your path through grief.

I’ve included a couple of additional resources for you. More on the 5 stages of grief.  And another great article on The Journey Through Grief

 

 

Welcoming Love: One Small Part of Moving On

Last month I wrote about moving on after my dog died

Moving on, photoI’d like to share how it’s been working out. It might be just me, but I do find that once I open up to an experience, I seem to be granted the opportunity pretty quickly! Having decided that it was time to at least start thinking about welcoming the love of another dog into our lives, my husband and I (well, okay, mostly I!) allowed ourselves to surf the various local dog rescue websites. We knew a few things about our limits – no dogs with so much emotional baggage this time that they couldn’t be trusted with other dogs or people. We wanted an adult, or even a senior dog that was already known to be safe with cats. Oh yes – we also both wanted at least a medium sized dog. Famous last words!

Picture after picture, story after story

The number of dogs that need a home is staggering, and heartbreaking. But not every one of them would be happy with us, nor would we be happy with all of them. Boundaries can be tough to hold on to when you’re confronted with suffering. I had to remind myself many times that, even if I’d feel really good about rescuing a dog from Iran or Thailand, I wouldn’t know until they were with us if they would be a good match for our household, and that handling some of their issues would create a level of stress for us that would therefore create stress for them too.

Being self-compassionate is not selfish.

 A regret I still hold about our life with Audrey is that her emotional issues probably would have been better served in a family with no cats, or by an owner more savvy with fear-based aggression. We did our best, and she knew she was loved, and I also know that our best wasn’t always THE best. It was good enough. With a new dog, I wanted to be better prepared and less impulsive, while still following my heart. It’s been an interesting balancing act.

Fast forward (really, really fast…)Big love

So somehow we found ourselves looking at an organization that rescues Greyhounds when they can no longer race … and there’s this lovely fellow with a missing toe and eyes like a deer … Welcome home, Aodhán! (Which we’re pronouncing Aidan, possibly incorrectly, but we don’t think he cares much.)

“The 40-mile-an-hour Couch Potato”

 I am learning a great deal about Greyhounds at this point. Aodhán is definitely “at least” a medium sized dog – not quite Great Dane sized, but awfully tall nonetheless. In between bursts of manic playfulness he spends hours and hours asleep. I would like to move towards inviting him to join me in the office, to keep me (and those clients who are willing to have him) company. He needs a bit more work on polite manners, and I think he’ll be great when we get there. He’s not taking up the space in my heart that Audrey left; he is creating his own space there, and I find that there’s room for them both. It wouldn’t be true to say she would have liked him – she didn’t like any dogs – but somewhere in her Wolfhound soul I’m pretty sure she is glad that at least we got another long-legged sighthound!

I’ll let you know when he’s ready to join the Open Hearth Studio staff. Until then, keep your tail wagging!

Moving on: Good-bye Audrey New love, moving on