Center for Grief Support services include:
- Individual counseling for adults, teens, children and families
- Support groups and educational workshops
- Grief literature and educational materials available by request
- Meditation labyrinth that is open to the public and small groups
- Community education and/or consultation to organizations, businesses and schools
- In-services for healthcare professionals
“There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I often hear ‘I’m doing this wrong or I’m not sad enough’ from clients. Who we are as individuals and what our relationship with the deceased was influence our grief response.”
– Beth Loy, Grief Counselor, Hospice of the Panhandle
Many resources are available to those who are grieving or supporting someone who is grieving. Listed here are some that are available online. More are available by calling the Center for Grief Support at 304.264.0406.
The days and weeks following the death of a loved one can be very bleak. Life may seem to have lost its meaning and the days their purpose as you somehow stumble through the hours, often without really knowing how or what you are doing. Confusing and conflicting thoughts and emotions crowd into the painful present along with memories of the past. Sometimes you think that your tears will never stop; feelings of depression and lack of energy may worry you. What you are experiencing is not unusual. It does not mean that you are “falling apart.”
Physically you are tired, perhaps truly exhausted, particularly if you cared for your loved one during a terminal illness. On the other hand, you may be reeling from the shock of an unexpected death. In both cases, neither your body nor your mind functions normally; sleep as well as appetite may suffer and so contribute to the lack of energy that you feel. But all of this you know, for you are in the midst of grief – a state that right now seems endless. The road to final acceptance of loss must be traveled by each grieving person at his or her own pace, for grief is both an intensely personal experience – its content is your life – and, at the same time, it is universal. You are not alone today in your pain.
Joy and sorrow are basic human emotions. The first one we welcome, the second we avoid. But in grief we need to acknowledge our sorrow and admit it into our lives. It cannot be made to disappear and we can – eventually – accept its reality, learn its lesson, and go on with our lives.
Now is not a time to blame yourself for what you did not do in the past or what you cannot do in the present. But rather it is a time to be patient with yourself, while you are suffering the pain of emotional wounds which have not yet had time to begin to heal. Remember that the intense pain you now feel will slowly fade to a gentle sadness, one that will again allow room for joy to enter your life. This, then, is a time to be sad but not a time to abandon hope.
From the time that, as a small child, we first become aware of the fact of death, we know that some day our parents will die. Yet when that day comes for one of them, it is a shock that saddens us to our core, for one of those who gave us life and sustained us through the years is gone. This loss creates a void in our existence that no other relationship can fill and can leave us feeling temporarily stranded, perhaps even abandoned as we might have felt as a small child.
The most devoted of relationships between child and parent leaves memories of both happy and painful times and the death of either parent can trigger a flood of these memories along with strong emotions. We vividly recall words and actions, recent or of days long past, that we wish we could take back or undo. We may also feel regret for the words left unsaid, remorse for the small things that we might have done, but did not, to show our affection or to help. We may sorrowfully recall times when, in an angry adolescent mood, we refused the love of a parent. And perhaps, now being parents, ourselves, we understand the depth of their love that lasted throughout our lives – love that never asked for reward. Whatever the relationship was between each one of us and a parent, we know that they did what we try to do now – the best we are able at any given moment. As a child, we could not imagine what it might be like to be without one of them. Now we feel adrift at the loss of a beloved presence.
A young child will have great difficulty in trying to make sense of the death of a parent and will need much understanding, comfort and support. As adults, including those of us who have experienced a reversal of roles through the care of a parent, ill or no longer self-sufficient, we know that this death occurred in an orderly fashion in relation to our own existence. Part of the sense of loss, then, may be the sobering realization that our own generation has at last become the oldest generation. We no longer have elders to look to for advice and consolation, from now on it is up to us to play that role for others, perhaps also now for a surviving parent. As we continue to observe family rituals and traditions in our lives, we shall think of our past with poignancy and of our parents with love – and we shall miss them.
Perhaps he was your husband, a brother or uncle. Or perhaps she was your wife, a sister or aunt. Maybe the one who recently died was a good friend or an old chum. Relationships are so important, especially when a large part of our identity and self-esteem are based on our family and social connections. When I can think “I enjoy being her husband” or “I feel happy and safe being his wife”, what will I feel when they’re no longer here? If “I’m proud to be related to him” or “I’m blessed to know her”, what will I experience when that person is gone? The role they had in my life, and mine in theirs, will have ended, or at least changed greatly. Will I be the same person? How can I be?
In another way, though, it doesn’t matter what my relationship was to that person because every relationship is unique. (In fact, other people might not realize how important this person was to me.) If it was a good relationship, then it was a source of pleasure, meaning and purpose for me. It provided security, order and predictability in my life. I had a chance to love and be loved when I was with that person. I delighted in their presence and in the innocent expectation that although other relationships had to end this one would never end.
If, on the other hand, there was conflict in our relationship, or we hadn’t quite resolved some issues between us, then I have lost the opportunity for physical reconciliation with them. Over time I will come to understand that I can experience spiritual and emotional healing in my relationship with them, but that’s not quite the same thing as seeing a smile or feeling a hug.
As difficult as it is, one of the tasks that we have in our grief is to recognize all that we have lost through the death of our loved one, the day to day losses as well as the deeply emotional loss. “Secondary losses” refer to the hundreds of little things that we relied on that person for, or that we associate with them. That’s why the first year after a death can be so hard…..we are made aware of these losses as seasons change.
It’s important to be freely open to this experience, though, to recognize the breadth and depth of our loss. In this way we will be guided in our mourning, feeling replenished a little bit at a time.
Soon after the death of a loved one we, are very much aware of the loneliness we feel by their physical absence. As time goes on, though, we might experience other deprivations. One of these can be the difference between the way we’re grieving and the way other people are grieving, including those in our family. When this happens, we might be left feeling alone and confused. Parents of a deceased child might become estranged from one another. Siblings might be embittered toward one another and cease communicating.
It’s important to remember that the way we grieve is based somewhat on our personality, as well as on the nature of the relationship we had with the person and the manner in which they died. People who are generally quiet will tend to be quiet in their grief. People who are more outgoing might be more expressive in their grief. Those who are logical, practical and analytical by nature might express their grief differently from those who are more sentimental, intuitive and emotional. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one way is good or bad; it just means that it’s different.
Generally, there are some differences between males and females in the way we experience and express grief. Although not true for everyone, of course, males will be inclined to see their grief as a private problem to be solved on their own; females will want to talk more about feelings related to the grief. Males often rely on activity, sometimes associated with the deceased, to come to terms with their distress. Females might typically find strength to deal with their despair through relationships with others. Again, neither manner of grief in itself is right or wrong. Actually, a balance of the two is probably best.
Age can be a factor. Depending on their understanding of death and the degree to which they are supported in their grieving, young children might be either very direct, curious and talkative, or very withdrawn. With all that’s going on in their lives and the energy it requires in return, teenagers might not appear to be grieving at all, though they probably are in some way. The grief of middle-aged and older people might be compounded by the memories and feelings of previous losses, which they now focus on rather than the most recent death.
Each relationship, even in families, is unique and the nature of the relationship we had with the deceased affects our grief. Was it a close, intimate relationship? A neutral one? A distant one?
On balance was it a pleasant, enjoyable friendship, a tension filled conflict, or something in between? Responses can vary within the family; so, too, the expression of grief.
It can be difficult, but respecting each other’s needs in a time of grief can be a good starting point for keeping the lines of communication open.
You are now familiar with the pain of grief and with the highs and lows on the road to recovery. Perhaps you have also experienced having the realization of your loss descend almost physically from the intellectual plane with its feeling of head knowledge into your heart and very gut. That can be a painful time, for it is then that you know with certainty that death is final and that your loved one is gone for the rest of your life. It is then that searching for a return ends and work on acceptance can begin in earnest.
It may seem strange to even speak of “acceptance” when it concerns that which cannot be refused. Acceptance here, however is not a passive giving in or simply resigning oneself to what cannot be changed. As a step to recovery, the acceptance of loss must be the result of an active process to integrate the fact of death and the changes that it brings into the fabric of a renewed life.
At some time during the months of mourning, a decision is made – sometimes almost unconsciously – to resume an active life in which your loved one no longer plays an essential part. Perhaps this moment could be on a day when you are amazed to realize in mid-afternoon that you did not get up that morning with a sense of doom or that you did not think of your loved one until after you got your shoes on or maybe after breakfast. These can be frightening moments and bring fears that you are forgetting your loved one. You need not be afraid – your memories will remain but the pain of recalling them can now grow weaker and the sadness become more bearable. Now you will not always be flooded with tears when you remember your loss and the scenes which at one time turned over and over in your mind will no longer fill every waking moment. When you find yourself at this important stage, you know that getting there has required real work – work which, in large measure, contributed to those endless days when you felt too limp to move from your chair. It involved slowly altering the view of your private world and close scrutiny of your own life and beliefs. Where am I? Who am I? What do I do now with the rest of my life? You have probably not found definitive answers to those questions but in accepting the death of your loved one, you have stopped trying to wish back to life the person who is no longer there and you have found a way not only to survive but also to engage again in living. You have relinquished the nagging questions that troubled you in the early months – questions that have no answers. Where there was once anguish, a more peaceful, gentle sadness is beginning to settle in and you know it is this that will be with you always.
Your outward life has changed and, no doubt, your inner life as well. The experience of grief, of working through mourning and of accommodating to changed circumstances leaves a survivor very vulnerable but can also give to each one an understanding of the human heart and of suffering that no other experience can equal. This has often been the key which allowed survivors to find ways to lead full and meaningful lives in the aftermath of tragedy and to replace an obsession with the past by an attentiveness to the possibilities of the present.
Special days in the life you shared with your loved one evoke painful memories, especially during the first year after the loss. Some sixth sense seems to alert you to their approach even before the calendar identifies them. These times are apt to intensify the sadness that pervades you. Birthdays, your wedding anniversary or other occasions that call for a family celebration may seem, for the moment at least, too difficult to continue to observe as you did in the past. While some survivors can find comfort in maintaining the rituals associated with these days, others feel that they need to find alternatives which do not evoke such a wealth of painful memories. Whether to be with others or to be alone on such days, whether to continue to celebrate as before or to try something new is for each survivor to decide on the basis of just what he or she can tolerate. But you will need to make your wishes known to those around you perhaps with an explanation of just how much your choice means to you right now. Bereaved parents need to take each other’s feelings into account as well as those of surviving siblings. In any case, one feels a need to acknowledge these special days in some way. Friends and even other family members too often remain silent as though the day might pass unnoticed if they said nothing, little realizing this makes the day even harder for you to live through. Depending on your own way of meeting these tests of one’s inner resources, a day spent alone in quiet contemplation can be as valuable for one as a day spent with others sharing memories and celebrating more openly can be for another.
Also scattered throughout the year innumerable holidays and religious festivals call forth nostalgic memories of family gatherings. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah especially prompt an exaggerated amount of advance publicity, with advice and suggestions all apparently designed to remind survivors of their loss. Traditional days of togetherness and the expectations placed upon us to be “happy” make an absence more deeply felt than ever. Some bereaved persons gain strength from the religious messages of these days and from the loving presence of other family and friends. If, however, you are not yet ready to participate in these events in your customary way, do not be afraid to say so and to suggest other arrangements that are more acceptable to you at this time. Probably nothing will seem “right” this first year, but you deserve to be allowed to make choices that best fill your needs.
Survivors frequently report that the anticipation of these days is much worse and produces more anxiety than the actual day itself. With each one of these occasions, you will probably breathe a sigh of relief when it is behind you. Each one is a test, of sorts, and each one is also proof that you can survive – that there is hope.
Helping families with grief support after an overdose: A list selected by our grief counselors that offers a variety of resources from national resources to local meetings, online resources to books that can help someone dealing with the loss of a loved one because of an overdose.