What Should I Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

Written by: The Circles Team

Nov 28, 2020

“When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million, empty words.” Dr. Therma Davis

Grief is not pretty.  It can be raw, painful, messy, and awkward.  We know it as a normal and natural response to the loss of a loved one.  We will all experience it at some point in our lives, yet despite its universality, we are not always well equipped to deal with it or know how to best offer support to those going through it.

Imagine you have just learned that someone you deeply care about has lost a loved one.  Maybe it is their spouse, their young child, or an aging parent who has battled a chronic illness for many challenging months. You want to share empathy and show support, but it can be hard to know what to say – or perhaps more importantly, what not to say to them during their time of loss. Your intentions are good, and your heart knows that your loved one needs your care and support, yet you stumble to find the right words or right actions to comfort them.  Sometimes we fear saying or doing the wrong thing, so we withdraw and do nothing, leaving our loved ones to face formidable challenges alone and without support.

The truth is that we as humans need to share the everyday experience of grief with others.  Those experiencing loss need the gentle comfort and availability of friends and loved ones, not just for the immediate days following the loss, but often for months and years to come.  We know it can be hard to find just the right words, so here are four tried and true ways to support a loved one who is grieving in their time of need.

Let Them Be Sad: Our natural response to feeling sad is to try and cheer them up and make them feel happy.  We often try and distract or minimize their pain associated with grief.  We may encourage our loved ones to reengage with daily living and move quickly past their sorrow.  Remember, though, that an essential part of healthy grieving is experiencing the pain and suffering associated with loss head-on courageously.  Despite good intentions, we need to recognize that being sad, angry, mad exhausted or moody are natural responses to loss. They are a necessary part of processing and healing. No matter how difficult, put aside your feelings of discomfort, and take the time to validate your loved one’s emotions.  Let them know that you feel sad too. Please help them to express their pain and sorrow.  Hold them when they need to cry. Scream with them when they are angry and say that life can be cruel and unfair. Let them know that there is no time limit to their grieving and that you will be there with them through the hard times, for as long as it takes.

Give Love, Not Advice: Remember that grief belongs to the griever, and it is not about you. This is their unique experience and journey, and you are there to support them.   The words that you say do matter, so try and choose them carefully and with intent.  Be an active listener to show support and be wary of offering unsolicited advice. Active listening involves being focused and letting your body language show that you are open to what they are saying.  Sit close to your loved one, maintain good eye contact, and reach out and hold them when needed. The power of touch can be very healing to the griever. Try to avoid sayings that minimize their pain, such as “your loved- one’s suffering is over, and they are in a better place” or “you are so young, you will be able to move on and can always remarry.”  Avoid comparing stories of grief.  Remember that part of healing can be sharing beautiful memories about the lost loved one.  Encourage your loved one to mention the deceased by name and when they want to share, listen openly to stories about their lives and even more difficult and painful aspects of their death.

Remember Big Dates and Little Dates: Time will move on, seasons will change, and there will be specific personal dates and calendar reminders that will trigger emotions for your friend or loved one throughout the year.  Remembering significant dates and little dates can be incredibly supportive and appreciated as your loved one grieves.  Try and make what might be difficult dates a little bit easier for your loved one.  Set yourself reminders of birthdays, anniversaries, and other essential days into your calendar.  Reach out to your loved one on those important dates and let them know that you remember and that you are thinking about them and available to listen.  When holidays approach, extend an open invitation for your loved one to join your family for dinner or other events so that they are not alone.

**Remain Available:  ** All too often, the funeral ends, and friends and loved ones will move on with their own lives, leaving the mourner to grieve alone.  Remember that the pain and trials your loved ones are facing are just beginning.  Grieving is a long process, filled with many peaks and valleys. Instead of asking your loved ones to let them know what you can help with, be specific in how you will help.   Remember that your loved one might be hesitant to ask for help, or she may be so overwhelmed that she does not know what she needs.  Offer your time to them by saying, “I am available on Monday, and I will come over to walk your dogs or do your grocery shopping.”  Offer to do a load of laundry or some cleaning while you are visiting.  Organizing a community meal train with friends can also help take some of the stress off of completing daily chores.  As the months pass, continue to check-in.  Take the time to call to share a beautiful thought or memory that reminded you of their lost loved one.  Send a handwritten card or note to let them know that you are thinking of them.

Your loved one might fear that the person who died will be too soon forgotten, but it is equally as important to let them know that as the days turn to weeks and then to months that YOU are standing by their side and have not forgotten about them.

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How Can Support Group Therapy Ease the Pain of Grief?

Written by: The Circles Team

Nov 10, 2020

Have you recently lost someone you loved?  Are you having trouble moving through the stages of grief?  Do you feel like you are paddling upstream, through Class V rapids, and don’t know how to catch your breath?  Grief, like love, may be the most powerful emotion we as humans feel.  When we lose a loved one the feeling can be crushing and very difficult to move on from.

Grief is not only paralyzing, but grief can also be so very lonely.  Grief is personal and unique to each and every one of us.  And at times it may seem like you are the only one who could possibly feel such, deep and gut-wrenching pain.  The truth is that there many others out there suffering the pain of grief, alone just like you.

Talking about death and grief openly in our culture is at best awkward.  Death reminds of us of our own mortality and it is commonplace for our culture to avoid the discussion at all costs. After the funeral, we are expected to neatly move on.  Get back to work. Get back to living.  The truth is grief is messy.  It is disruptive.  It lasts a long time.  And there is no straight forward easy path to healing. For healing to truly take place you must work hard and diligently through the stages of grief.  At Circles, we have seen firsthand that one of the best ways to work through grief is to work through it with the support, kindness and care of others going through the same challenges.

Finding support with others in a group setting can make moving through difficult times in a nurturing environment much easier.  There are many specialized support groups which focus on grief.  These groups, often led by a professionally trained grief therapist, help those who have experienced loss move through the stages of grief collectively and in healthy, productive ways.

If you have never been part of a support group before – it is natural to have questions.   Here are a few frequently asked questions that we often get with regard to joining one our online professionally facilitated grief support groups.

What Can I Expect From A Grief Support Group? In Circles grief support group, you can expect a safe and nurturing environment where you are encouraged to share your feelings openly and honestly.  Support groups are a safe, confidential space to speak from the heart about your lost loved one.  If it is difficult to talk about your emotions you have the availability to remain anonymous.  It is expected that your emotions will run freely and openly.  It is encouraged that feelings and difficult emotions are expressed and received with support, kindness love and care. Circles support groups are more than just a peer support group.  All our groups are led by a professionally trained and licensed facilitator.  Over a matter of weeks your facilitator will get to know you and share important insights for your healing and progress.

What Will Talk About During Our Weekly Group Sessions?

At Circles, we follow an evidence based curriculum for each of our support groups.  Our experienced facilitators listen to you, your expectations and your needs.  The topics discussed are individualized and are relevant to you and your peers.  The first few sessions of your support group will be about getting to know one another and building the trust and rapport needed to share openly and confidently about your feelings and grief.   We have heard from many of our participants that their weekly group meeting highlights their weekly calendar. They look forward to the consistent, non-judgmental support available to them each week.

What are the Benefits of Joining a Grief Support Group?  One of the best things about attending a grief support group is an essential reminder that you are not alone.  Although we have been leading support groups for many years, we still find it amazing that group members report that they feel more hope and meaning in their lives after just one or two sessions.  Other benefits that are group members report include:

Feeling less lonely  Having reduced feelings of distress, anxiety, and depression  Finding increased coping skills  Increased sense of self -empowerment  Increased knowledge and resources  Positive emotional, mental, and physical health outcomes  Having an increased sense of happiness and hopefulness

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss American psychiatrist and author of “On Death and Dying,” said the reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to."   Our mission at Circles is to find the best in you to help you cope, find resources, and heal within our emotional support groups.

The Healing Power of Grief Journaling: 10 Writing Prompts to Get You Started

Written by: The Circles Team

Oct 01, 2020

After the loss of a loved one it is common to feel that you are going through the movements of life with very little purpose. Grief can be overwhelming, lonely and long lasting. The emotions of grief are all encompassing and oftentimes it may feel difficult to find a safe space to let your feelings out. After the loss of your loved one you may have many things you want to share with them. For others you may feel that while they were alive you have left important things unsaid. Writing or grief journaling can be an excellent tool to express your emotions in a safe and healing way. Writing can be therapeutic, cathartic and can help you to organize feelings or sort through conflicting emotions.

Writing may come easy to you. Perhaps, it is something that you find enjoyable. Or you may be thinking I have never been a writer. I am not very good at it. I don’t know even know how to get started with grief journaling. The good news is that grief journaling is a healing tool available to everyone.

Whether you are a seasoned writer or new to the practice, here are some writing prompts to get you started. Feel free to use a computer if you are more comfortable. Paper and pen work equally as well. Or if you are super tech-savvy, there are even journal apps to get you started, such as https://journey.cloud. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. This grief journal is for you and does not need to be read by anyone else. Let your thoughts, emotions, and even tears flow freely.

Ten Writing Prompts For Grief Journaling

  1. The hardest time of day for me is…………
  2. My favorite memory about my loved one is………….
  3. If I could speak to my loved one right now I would say……………
  4. The three things my loved ones loved about me were……
  5. The hardest part of grieving is………………
  6. Who can I reach out to when I am sad. My support system includes……
  7. The things that help me the most right now are?
  8. How have you changed since your loved one died?
  9. If you had one more day with your loved one what would you do?
  10. How can you best honor the memory of your loved one?

Experiencing PTSD and Complicated Grief After Traumatic Loss

Written by: The Circles Team

Dec 07, 2020

What do you think of when you hear the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Perhaps you imagine images of soldiers who have experienced unthinkable trauma first hand? But, did you know that grieving the loss of a loved one and PTSD can go hand in hand? Mainly when a loved one’s death occurs traumatically or unexpectedly.

The myths surrounding PTSD are plenty. The stigma surrounding PTSD is strong. The symptoms and treatment of PTSD, especially as related to grief and loss, often goes misunderstood. At the same time, the importance of recognizing the symptoms and warning signs of PTSD is crucial for diagnosis and subsequent treatment options.

When Grief Becomes Complicated Grief is the experience of loss in one’s life. The death of a loved one is marked as one of life’s most significant stressors. Pain from loss can be overwhelming, and these feelings are normal and expected. Experts define grief as being either “normal” or “complicated.”

Grieving is unique to each of us—most people dealing with loss exhibit intense symptoms that fade with time. Healing ultimately occurs, and individuals can return to their daily life. For some, grief is complicated, and healing does not happen promptly. Complicated grief occurs in about 7% of bereaved people. Studies show that PTSD and other anxiety disorders coexist in bereaved individuals with complicated grief. Individuals with PTSD need the help of a professional. As a result, it is vital to recognize symptoms and strategies for providing support.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD? No one truly knows why some people have PTSD while others do not. Grievers who are experiencing PTSD have symptoms which dramatically affect their ability to function in their day to day life. Symptoms will often linger for more than one month.

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the Event
  • Flashbacks of the trauma or hyper-focusing on what the individual might have gone through in their final moments
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Physical symptoms can include heart palpitations, sweating, or hyperventilating.
  • Persistent avoidance of things or events that remind us of the person or place where the tragedy occurred.
  • Feelings of Guilt or Self Blame
  • Anger or Rage
  • Feeling Numb or Detached

The Importance of Reaching Out and Finding Support After a traumatic event, such as sudden or violent death, it’s normal to feel emotional pain and out of sorts. Most individuals, who experience the loss of a loved one, will start to feel better after a few weeks or months. Suppose the emotional pain becomes too much to bear. In that case, you experience intense physical symptoms. You cannot function in your daily living. After a few months, you are not feeling any relief. Please reach out to your doctor or a mental health care provider for advice and support.

Professionally facilitated emotional support groups can be a great addition to treatment for PTSD and complicated grief. Support groups can give you a sense of connection to people experiencing similar types of loss. Many support groups connect you with individuals who have experienced similar kinds of losses. This makes the connection even more valuable.

Despite feelings of loneliness, it is essential to remember that you do not have to suffer alone. Start by recognizing your feelings are important and valuable.   Acknowledging and sharing them are an integral part of your healing. Reaching out for help is a courageous act in itself, and connecting with others going through a shared experience can be transformative.

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