Mature woman and adult daughter sad together

A Mourning Mother’s Bill of Rights

By Grief/Loss

As a mother, losing a child is a heart-wrenching loss. Everything changes. You may question your choices as a mother or even your ability to parent. You may blame yourself (or someone else) for what happened. In your mind, you may replay the events that led to your child’s death again and again. Some days, you may even feel like you’re going crazy. But you’re not crazy – you’re grieving.

As you grieve and work to come to grips with what has happened and how you can move forward, remember that there’s no timeline for grief. There is no need to rush the process. As you walk through your own personal grief journey, as you mourn the loss of a child who carried so many hopes and dreams, remember these things:

sad woman sitting at home looking out window

You have the right to grieve

Grief is directly related to love. Because you are a mother and you loved your child, you will grieve the loss like no one else. You carried this child within you. Held them in your arms and tucked them in at night. You also cherished hopes and dreams for your child that are now unfulfilled. The gaping hole left behind will need time to heal.

Keep in mind that mothers tend to take care of everyone else before they take care of themselves. Remember: you have a right to grieve and to focus on your own healing. If you find yourself getting stuck in your grief or having trouble functioning from day to day, you may have developed complicated grief. If you are unable to focus on anything except your child’s death, feel numb or that life has no purpose, or have trouble carrying out normal routines, consider talking with a professional to help you sort through your emotions so that you can get on the road to healing.

You have the right to talk about what you’ve been through

Talking about your grief will help you heal. For one mother, it will be easy to talk, while another mother, it will be very difficult. Find people you trust or other mothers who have experienced a similar loss and talk with them. Share the weight of your grief. You don’t have to walk through this journey alone – you can invite others in.

At times, you won’t feel like talking, and that’s okay. Listen to your needs but don’t give up on expressing what’s going on inside. Ignoring, suppressing, or bottling up your emotions won’t make them go away. In fact, it often makes them more powerful and more likely to negatively affect you down the road.

Mature woman and adult daughter sad together

You have the right to feel what you feel

Losing a child is going to bring out many different emotions in you as a mother. Shock, denial, confusion, yearning, guilt, sadness, depression, to name a few. None of these are wrong. They are all normal. In fact, there’s no “right” way to grieve. For every one of us, the experience is different.

Depending on the age of your child, you may be dealing with guilt or blame. You may be angry at yourself for not watching your child more closely, for allowing them to participate in an activity, for not being there. Or similarly, you may blame your spouse/partner for these things. It’s okay to feel this way, but in order to find a way to live again, you will need to process through these emotions.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator says: “You might have the urge to ‘keep your chin up’ and stay busy and wait to ‘get over’ your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.”

So, embrace whatever it is that you feel – don’t push it away. Even though you may want to ignore it or push it away, you must go through the pain in order to move toward healing and reconciliation. And even though you may not believe it right now, you need and deserve healing.

You have the right to be tired, physically and emotionally

Grief is hard work. You may find it hard to sleep, and as a result, feel tired and overwhelmed. If you are mother to other children, caring for them may also drain your energy. In some cases, people even experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and weight loss or gain. Please know – this is a natural reaction. The body is in distress, the same as the mind and heart. Respect what your body and mind are telling you, especially if you have other children who need you during this difficult time. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Be kind to yourself as you grieve the loss of your child.

Husband comforting wife

You have the right to grieve differently than your spouse/partner

Since there’s no “right” way to grieve, it stands to reason that no two people will grieve in the exact same way. But just because your grief and your spouse/partner’s grief don’t look the same doesn’t mean you aren’t both grieving. Give your spouse/partner space and grace to grieve differently. You’re both hurting – that is a certainty.

You may feel that your spouse is in some way to blame for the death of your child. If this is you, don’t keep those feelings bottled up inside. If you can talk it out peaceably together, do that. However, if you need a mediator, find an objective person (like a counselor or therapist) to help you talk things through.

You have the right to experience “grief bursts”

At times, the feelings of grief are going to appear suddenly and overwhelmingly. This is called a “grief burst.” It could be triggered by many things. You breathe in your child’s smell. Around the house, you find a photo from a favorite day. You realize that your child will never graduate, marry, have grandchildren, etc. A special day arrives, like a birthday, graduation day, or the holiday season. The powerful surge of emotion can be scary, but it’s normal and natural. When these bursts happen, honor and acknowledge them; don’t suppress them. Find someone who understands and will let you talk out what you’re feeling.

Mature mothing laying wreath on grave

You have the right to participate in healing actions

Sometimes, in order to heal, you will need to do more than talk – you need to act. At the funeral or memorial service, share your cherished memories. Create a memory album. Mark your child’s birthday in some way. Talk about your deceased child with your spouse/partner and other children. Discuss as a family what you can do to honor your child’s memory. Write to your child on their birthday or on special occasions to share how much you miss them.

These are all acts of mourning – the outward expression of your internal grief. As hard as it is to believe, as you do the work of grief and participate in healing actions, you will find a way to move forward. You will never forget your child – nor should you – but you can find the path toward a good life for yourself, your spouse, and your living children.

You have the right to embrace your spirituality

Right now, your faith is either sustaining you, or it’s feeling shaky. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay. If you are a person of faith, find ways to express it that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings. Pray. Meditate. Journal. Talk to other moms. Share what you’re feeling with God; he’s big enough and loving enough to accept and understand whatever you’re feeling, even if it’s anger toward him.

Woman creating scrapbook

You have the right to treasure your memories

As a mother, you have some very special and unique memories that no one else has. A mother’s love is unique and special, so you must find ways to treasure your memories.

You could collect keepsakes – photos, handmade items, favorite toys or clothing items, etc. – and create a memory box or scrapbook. Write your thoughts and feelings down. Have a piece of jewelry made to wear in remembrance. Start a tradition that brings you comfort. Talk about your child openly, not only to get your own feelings out but to allow your spouse/partner and children the same opportunity.

You have the right to move toward your grief and heal

While you may be dealing with guilt, shame, blame, or regret right now, remember that you do have the right to grieve and to heal. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that we never get over a death; instead, we learn to reconcile ourselves to the loss. He states, “Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future…. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”

Young woman thinking as she sits beside lake

Moms, the journey ahead is not going to be easy. The loss you’ve suffered is significant and heartbreaking. As you grapple with the loss, grieve in whatever way you need so that you and your family can find healing, peace, and reconciliation.

*Adapted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.

Grandparents, Your Grief Matters Too

By Grief/Loss

In so many ways, a grandparent’s grief following the loss of a grandchild is overlooked and unacknowledgedWe all instantly think of mom, dad, and siblings, but more often than not, grandparents and their grief are forgotten. Today, we’re here to say that grandparent grief matters, too. No matter how old your grandchild was, your grief is real, legitimate, and deserving of support and love.  

As a grieving grandparent:  

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief 

In so many ways, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. You feel a deep sense of grief and loss over the death of your beloved grandchild, and you also feel a responsibility to help your own adult child through their own loss. By all means, help your adult child as much as you can through this devastating loss, but don’t forget that your own grief is real and not something you have to push aside.  

2. You have the right to talk about your grief

While it’s true that you aren’t the parent, you’ve still suffered a deep loss. One of the most common and beneficial ways to process grief is talking about what you feel. Just because you are in a unique position doesn’t mean you have to stay silent about what you feel. Don’t bottle it up. Perhaps your adult child needs to know that this loss has devastated you as much as it has them.   

3. You have the right to feel what you feel 

Grief brings out a wide variety of emotions, and you have a right to feel them. You may feel sad, angry, shocked, or even guilty. There may be a very deep sense that the death of your grandchild is unnatural and unfair, which is true. All of these are normal emotional responses to the death of someone you love, and they are a healthy reaction to the loss you’ve suffered. 

4. You have the right to take care of yourself, physically and emotionally 

As we age, our energy levels decrease, so you may have noticed that you have less energy than you did when you were younger. That said, grief takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll on you. Your inclination may be to help your adult child as much as possible, but make sure to also take stock of your own physical and emotional needs. If you need a nap, take a nap. If you need a brain break, take it. Do what is needed to give yourself as much energy as possible so that you can face the grief journey ahead while also offering a helping hand and caring heart to your grieving adult child.  

5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts 

There will be times when an unexpected wave of grief will come over you. This is called a griefburst. It can feel frightening, but don’t worry, it’s normal. And even though you may feel that your loss isn’t as significant as your adult child’s, try not to compare losses. Everyone is hurting, and you have the right to grieve, too.  

6. You have the right to participate in healing rituals 

After losing someone you love, participating in healing rituals helps you take that first step in the grief journey. By honoring and remembering life, you take time to cherish your memories and share them with others. As a grandparent, you have as much right as other family members to find comfort in your memories and dreams.  

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality 

For many people, faith serves as an anchor during the tumultuous seasons of life. If you are a person of faith, then fall back on your habits to help you cope with your grief. Meditate. Pray. Sing songs. Write. There is comfort in God’s arms, and you have the right to seek refuge there.  

8. You have the right to search for meaning 

Especially following the loss of a child, you may find yourself asking, “Why did this happen? Why couldn’t it have been me instead?” It’s natural to ask questions and to search for meaning in the loss. Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. Regardless, searching for meaning is a natural part of the grieving process, and it’s okay to contemplate and consider the questions running through your heart and mind.  

9. You have the right to treasure your memories 

While you may have lived a little on the periphery of your grandchild’s life – not being the parents – you still have a strong connection to your grandchild and many precious memories. Cling to them. Share them with others. Discuss the love you feel and the loss you feel. Your memories are priceless so treasure them close to your heart as you grieve.  

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal 

Grief takes time. It’s different from person to person. You will grieve one way and your spouse will grieve another. But no matter what it looks like, you have the right to grieve the loss of your grandchild. You also have the right to heal and not feel bad about it. Right now, the hurt may be too deep, too new, too fresh, but in time, as you do the work of grief and work through your emotions, you will find the path toward healing and reconciliation. Your life is changed forever, but you can still find hope and meaning, discovering ways to honor your grandchild’s life and memory.  

Everything You Need to Know about Death Doulas

By Grief/Loss, Living Well

Have you heard about the growing use of death doulas for the terminally ill? No? Then you’re in luck. We’re going to take a look at what death doulas are, how they help individuals and families, why it’s a growing practice, and more. Let’s get started!

What is a death doula?

You may have heard of a birth doula – a woman who walks alongside a new mother from before birth, through birth, and then following the birth. Well, a death doula does much the same, but for death rather than birth.

Also called death midwives, end-of-life coaches, or even transition guides, these doulas take a holistic approach. They are trained to focus on the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of death, leaving medical to healthcare professionals. Their overall goal is to normalize the experience of death for everyone involved, taking it from an uncomfortable experience to one filled with rich, sweet memories.

So, what do death doulas actually do?

Though many death doulas are medically trained, their focus is not medical care. Instead, they work in partnership with hospice palliative care to ensure that your loved one’s whole person is taken care of on the path toward death. One of their main concerns is to help the terminally ill person have a good death, whatever that may look like. For some, it may mean being surrounded by family; for others, it might mean watching a favorite movie and then sitting quietly with their most treasured people.

In addition to helping people take a measure of control over death by defining what a good death looks like to them, a few other things that death doulas help their clients and families with are:

  • Suggesting ideas for optimal comfort, including giving massages, holding hands, etc.
  • Providing spiritual, emotional, or social support to both the dying and their family
  • Simply being with the dying person, whether to listen, stay silent, read a book aloud, watch tv, whatever they want
  • Educating both the terminally ill person and their family about the process of dying so that they know what’s coming and what to expect
  • Working on legacy projects with the dying, like writing letters to loved ones, taking family photos, creating gifts, writing down life experiences, etc.
  • Offering consistent presence during the final days, easing any fear or anxiety that the dying person may feel and allowing family to take much-needed breaks
  • Encouraging the dying to take care of estate planning, such as completing a will
  • If the family wants, a doula can help plan a funeral or memorial service or provide grief support

Because death doulas often take a holistic approach, they will be familiar with home vigils, wakes, and even natural or green burial options, if these are of interest to you (they will work in tandem with a local funeral home). However, the doula will not pressure you into any decisions; their job is to find out what the dying person wants and advocate for that.

Why is this practice growing?

In many ways, death has become sterile and impersonal, often occurring in hospitals or nursing home care facilities. As a culture, we have come to avoid death. This tendency can cause those who are dying to feel more alone and isolated. With the aging Baby Boomer generation, it’s likely that there will be a rise in the need for alternative care services that may allow more people to stay at home during the end-of-life phase or provide care at hospice or other care facilities. Death doulas may be an answer to fill in the gap needed for end-of-life care. A hospice nurse can only come at certain times to assist while a death doula can be much more available to assist the family, even after the death has occurred.

How do you hire a death doula?

It’s an individualized process. Some doulas have private practices while others work in connection with hospices, hospitals, or other community organizations. But no matter how you find a doula, you should sit down and interview them first. After all, if the doula is going to walk through weeks or even months with you and be privy to intimate details of your family’s life, you’ll want to choose someone you feel comfortable with, who honors your personal beliefs, and is trustworthy.

Before securing the services of a doula, you can review what types of assistance you want (which days/hours of the week, cooking meals, sitting with the dying person, working on legacy projects, etc.). Most often the doula will tailor their work to suit your needs and preferences. So, go over everything before you sign anything. Also, a conversation about compensation will need to occur, with the doula letting you know their current rates. Each doula sets their own rates, so you will simply need to ask.

What kind of training do doulas have?

While the practice is currently unregulated, there are associations that offer certifications. A few learning institutions that offer training are the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, International Doulagivers Institute, and Lifespan Doula Association (LDA). While the programs at each institution vary, most death doulas receive 6-9 months of training before they receive a certification.

Janie Rakow, the president of INELDA, says this about the role of a death doula: “We journey with the person who’s dying and their family to help them navigate through the whole end-of-life process. Although hospice is wonderful in the death and dying field, they don’t have the hours and hours and hours that the doulas have to really, deeply, get into this work. It’s kind of an adjunct to hospice where we’re there for them [the dying] to provide emotional, spiritual, and physical support.”

Is a death doula right for your family?

It’s entirely up to you. Look at your support network. Decide if your friends and neighbors will help you through a loved one’s terminal illness. Ask yourself questions: Do I want help? Do I want help from someone I know? Or, would I like to bring in someone with specialized training? Do I have the funds to pay for a doula’s services? Also, talk with the person who is dying and get their thoughts. Do they want someone who will offer consistent support? Do they have projects they want to complete?

Whatever you decide is best for your family is the right thing to do. Right now, most families don’t utilize the services of a death doula. However, if this sounds like just what your family needs, start putting out feelers in your community. You may find just the right person to journey with you.

Easter Meditations for the Grieving Heart

By Grief/Loss

After the loss of a loved one, you may feel a little lost and alone, clinging to your faith in God, despite present circumstances. You may even be struggling this Easter to trust in God’s love, to rely on His promises, or to believe He’s right there with you. But don’t forget what Easter is all about – it’s about Jesus conquering death and bringing hope to all who believe in Him. As you wrestle through your feelings of grief this Easter, set aside some time to sit quietly, think, pray, and meditate on peaceful, uplifting thoughts.

This Easter, we have gathered a few readings to bring comfort as you process your feelings about loss and faith. We hope that you take courage and hope from these words and remember that God is with you every step of the way.

Scripture Verses

Psalm 23 (English Standard Version)

Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known passages in the Bible. If you are grieving a loss, it may feel like you are going through the “valley of the shadow of death” that David describes in Psalm 23. Yet this scripture reminds us that even in our darkest times, God is with us, walking right next to us. And just as He did not leave his Son in the tomb, He will not leave us in the valley of grief. He prepares a table before us, showers us with goodness and mercy, and draws us to Himself so that our joy will be full.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


1 Corinthians 15: 51 – 57 (New Living Translation)

Easter is about hope and restoration. Losing a loved one reminds us how fragile and fleeting life is. But hope reminds us that we will one day be reunited with those we love. As 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us, death does not last forever. Jesus has conquered death and the grave!

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Romans 8: 35, 37 – 39 (New Living Translation)

The loss of someone you love may have left a gaping hole in your heart that feels like it can never be filled. Questions and doubts about God’s love may rise up. Anger and disappointment at God can drive you further from peace. This passage in Romans reminds us that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love. Though you may feel far away from His love in the moment, there is nothing in creation that can separate you from His love. Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter morning has made sure of it.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Poems & Quotes

Poems and quotes can speak volumes and give our minds little nuggets of wisdom to treasure. Here are just a few selections for Easter poems that we hope speak to your grieving heart and bring comfort and peace.

Easter Joy (by Joanna Fuchs)

Jesus came to earth,
To show us how to live,
How to put others first,
How to love and how to give.

Then He set about His work,
That God sent Him to do;
He took our punishment on Himself;
He made us clean and new.

He could have saved Himself,
Calling angels from above,
But He chose to pay our price for sin;
He paid it out of love.

Our Lord died on Good Friday,
But the cross did not destroy
His resurrection on Easter morn
That fills our hearts with joy.

Now we know our earthly death,
Like His, is just a rest.
We’ll be forever with Him
In heaven, where life is best.

So we live our lives for Jesus,
Think of Him in all we do.
Thank you Savior; Thank you Lord.
Help us love like you!

Life’s Daily Doses (by Lenora McWhorter)

Life is measured in daily doses
Of trials and pleasures each.
Day by day grace is dispensed
To meet our immediate needs.
Comfort comes to the weary
We find that which we seek.
A bridge is built at the river
And power is given to the weak.
One day’s load we have to bear
As we travel on life’s way.
Wisdom is given for the occasion
And strength to equal each day.
We are never required to stagger
Under tomorrow’s heavy load.
We journey one day at a time
As we travel life’s rugged road.
God’s mercy is new every morning
And His faithfulness is sure.
God perfects all that concerns us
And by our faith, we will endure.

Celebrate Our Savior (by Joanna Fuchs)

On Easter morn, we celebrate our Savior;
Whatever people seek in Him, they find.
In history, there has never been another
So holy, sacrificial, good and kind.

His resurrection makes us all immortal;
In heaven, we’ll be together with our King.
Eternally we’ll share in all His blessings;
Happy Easter! Jesus Christ is everything!


The very first Easter taught us this: that life never ends and love never dies. -Kate McGahan

We proclaim the resurrection of Christ when his light illuminates the dark moments of our existence. -Pope Francis

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. -Saint Augustine

The greatest gift of Easter is hope. -Basil Hume

Music & Lyrics

Finally, music can speak to us in a way that gets past our mind’s defenses and goes straight to our hearts. These classic hymns are reminders of all that Jesus accomplished on Easter morning.

Amazing Grace (John Newton)

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
‘Twas grace has brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright, shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun

Because He Lives (Bill & Gloria Gaither)

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and the joy that he gives
Oh but greater still, the calm assurance
We can face uncertain days because He lives

And because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth a living just because He lives

And then one day, I’ll cross that river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth a living just because He lives

May these words of hope, of death conquered, of life with God, give you hope and encouragement as you grieve the loss of someone dear to you. God is near, and He will not leave your side.

What is Compounded Grief?

By Grief/Loss

There are times when the normal feelings of grief become even more difficult to cope with. This may be because of previous life experiences, the nature of the relationship and family dynamics, current mental state, or the way the loved one died or is dying. Whatever the reason, grief can sometimes take a turn for the worse and may require the help of a professional therapist. The four most common variations of the grief experience are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded (or cumulative) grief, and anticipatory grief. Let’s look at compounded grief so that you have a better understanding of why this type of grief may be more difficult for the mourner.

First, Let’s Define Normal Grief

Before we dive into compounded grief, it’s important that you understand what normal grief looks like. Put simply, grief is your natural human response to the loss of someone or something you love. The emotions of grief vary greatly – sadness, anger, guilt, relief, shock – but these are all normal responses to loss. As much as you may prefer not to feel or deal with these types of emotions, they are actually a healthy part of the grieving process. When these emotions of grief become overwhelming, trigger deep depression, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, or are extreme or prolonged to the point that the mourner cannot care for themselves, we all understand that something more than normal grief is at work.

Grief is often accompanied by age-old rituals that bring people together to mourn. We hold hands, offer words of support and love, send cards and flowers, make donations, and deliver hot meals to the grieving family. We stand together to support those who are grieving and give them emotional and physical support as they come to terms with the loss. But what happens if one loss after another keeps piling up without giving you time to process what you think or feel?

Enter Compounded Grief

As we move forward, we’re going to review several key aspects of compounded grief. We’ll start off with a definition before moving into who’s susceptible, the complications compounded grief can bring, and a few tips for processing through compounded grief.

A Quick Definition

In short, compounded grief, also known as cumulative grief, is a pile-on effect of grief or “grief overload.” It may mean losing several loved ones in a short period of time. It may mean losing a loved one, then a relationship, then a job, then a pet, then a natural disaster hits and damages your home, etc. The losses can come from various sectors, but put together, it’s a big pile of grief and loss to deal with.

Additionally, losses you have not been able to process or face yet (even if they are from years ago) can add to the compounded nature of your grief. This is one reason why it’s so important to deal with your thoughts and emotions surrounding every type of loss, so they don’t create a tangled web of emotion that’s difficult to unravel.

Who’s Susceptible?

It’s possible for anyone to encounter compounded grief, but there are certain groups that have an increased likelihood: the elderly, healthcare professionals, and trauma survivors. Let’s break this down a little.

With the elderly, advanced age makes it more likely that they will have more friends and family die in a shorter period of time. For healthcare professionals, especially those in hospice care, the ER, or ICU, death may be a regular occurrence. As they see patients die, the losses and the emotions can pile up. And finally, trauma survivors who may be dealing with years of pent-up grief over past pain may feel unequipped to deal with new losses.

Now, remember, anyone can encounter compounded grief. These three groups are just at increased risk. No matter your age, you can experience a cascade of losses – loved one, friendship, job, pet, relationship, etc. – and you can begin to feel an overload of grief.

Complications that Arise from Compounded Grief

As with disenfranchised grief and complicated grief, there are certain complications that are unique to compounded grief. Let’s review them.

1. A tendency toward avoidance

When experiencing multiple losses in a relatively short period of time, your natural inclination may be to shut down emotionally and  avoid thinking about or dealing with the pain. You may feel extreme fatigue for a prolonged time. Yet another loss piled on to existing losses may trigger depression or suicidal thoughts. You may not know what to do or how to get out of the rut, so you avoid your feelings altogether. However, this is the last thing you need to do. Avoidance prolongs your grief, and as more losses occur down the line (and they will), your grief is only compounded more.

2. Watch out for numbing activities

Because avoidance is common with compounded grief, be on the lookout for numbing activities. In other words, things you do to avoid dealing with the grief directly. Common numbing activities include excessive alcohol consumption, binge-watching TV, online gaming (even the ones on your smartphone), and substance abuse. Additionally, outbursts of misplaced anger, blame, and overreactions to others’ comments or actions can become more common. While these coping mechanisms may seem to ease the pain in the moment, they can be harmful to yourself and others. It is important to ask yourself if your coping mechanism is helping you or hurting you even more in the long run.

3. A strain on your faith

For some, experiencing loss after loss can lead to questioning faith in God. You may feel like you are being punished or find yourself asking how God could allow this much struggle and pain. If you feel shaken in your faith, it’s okay. God is not surprised by your feelings, and He’s not offended by them. Be honest about how you feel–don’t sugar coat it. Read through the Psalms to find prayers that express how you feel. Stay connected through the stress and grief and feelings of betrayal. Lean on Him in the days to come as you start to work through your grief.

Tips for Processing through Compounded Grief

As with every type of grief, you can process through what you feel and begin to find healing and reconciliation on the other side. But it will take hard work and perseverance on your side. Here are a few tips to help you get started as you work through your compounded grief and begin to feel the burden of grief overload lighten.

Take Your Time & Grieve Each Loss Individually

While it’s important not to avoid your grief, that doesn’t mean you should rush through the grieving process and lump all of your losses together into one big grief session. Instead, take time to honor each loss individually. While this process will take you longer, it will be much more effective in actually helping you mourn the losses. Each loss is distinct and unique, deserving of specific attention. Perhaps you start with the smallest grief and work your way through it. Then, choose another one, and work through it. By breaking your grief into bite-size pieces, you will feel less overwhelmed and be able to give each loss the focus it needs.

If you are grieving multiple people, consider writing down their names, your memories, their strengths, what you would say to them today, or what you miss about them. As you move into your memories and bring them to the surface, you will begin to release the emotions that have been pent up inside.

Find Ways to Express Your Grief

We all process grief a little differently than each other, so what works for your friend may not work for you. You can make some educated guesses on what will work for you but remain open to options that may make you feel uncomfortable. It may be exactly what you need. A few examples of ways to express your grief include talking with a friend, journaling, participating in a creative endeavor like painting, woodworking, or sculpting, joining a support group, or engaging in physical exercise like runs or walks.

Or, if your feelings are more intense, you may feel the need to expend yourself. You could use a punching bag, go on vigorous runs, go to a batting cage, shout at the sky, or whatever else will bring you release. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others (or breaking the law), find something that will help you release your emotions.

If you decide to talk with others about your grief, you might choose an understanding friend or family member who won’t try to minimize your grief. You might also consider whether attending a grief support group would be helpful, especially if other people in the group have experienced a similar loss. Finally, don’t be afraid to seek out a professional. With so many losses to sort through, a professional therapist can help you come up with a plan, establish a routine, and start addressing your grief in a healthy way.

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Emotions

As you find ways to express your grief, you may find some unsettling emotions below the surface. That’s okay. Grief brings out a wide range of emotions, like sadness, anger, shock, despair, fear, relief, or even guilt. No matter what you’re feeling, don’t be afraid of it. It’s normal, and you just need to take that extra time to process through and nurture yourself as you do the work of grief.

Practice Self-Care

Compounded grief takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll on the body. That’s why you should take extra steps to take care of yourself. You need adequate rest and nutrition to give your body the fuel it needs to get through the grieving process.

Here are a few suggestions for self-care:

  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Get a massage to release any tension or stress you may feel
  • Create art – painting, drawing, writing, making crafts, woodworking, etc.
  • Sing or listen to music
  • Get outside for walks and hikes
  • Journal about your feelings
  • Read
  • Meditate or pray

Honor Your Losses

Lastly, search out meaningful ways to honor each specific loss in your life. Take time to think about the loss that hurts the most and try to put words to the pain or start a healing ritual. For instance, with the death of a person, you might write a tribute poem, watch their favorite movie every year, or bake their favorite dessert on their birthday. With the loss of a pet, you could put a memorial stone in your yard or walk your pet’s favorite path. Or, for the loss of a relationship, you could place a keepsake in a memory box, or you could box up all your keepsakes and either donate or throw them away. What you do isn’t as important as honoring your feelings and your needs. As you honor your losses, you can begin to release your emotions and find a way to move forward.

We can’t necessarily plan and prepare for compounded grief because we don’t know when it will happen. However, we can cultivate good grief habits and actively engage with our feelings. If you are currently dealing with compounded grief, don’t give up. Take one day at a time, one loss at a time. As you work through each event that has caused you pain, you will move forward and find renewed meaning and purpose in life. Your grief doesn’t have to control you; you can take back your life.

7 Tips for Teaching Your Child How to Process Grief

By Grief/Loss

From the moment we enter this life, the journey is full of ups and downs. Moments of happiness, excitement, and meaning intermixed with moments of pain, anger, regret, and grief. None of us were born knowing how to deal with the complex emotions we feel; we have to be taught. As children, we needed the adults in our lives to teach us how to respond to the difficult situations that life threw our way, like how to process grief. So, as you face the ups and downs of life, how are you helping your children create healthy grieving habits they can use as they grow up and face all types of loss?

A Parent’s First Impulse

Before we move into a few helpful tips, it’s important to acknowledge that your first impulse as a parent or caregiver may be to protect your child from the pain of loss. While this desire comes from a good place, try not to give into it. Your child doesn’t need you to make the battles of life go away. Instead, they need you to give them the tools to fight the battle for themselves, to process what they feel, to talk it out, to steadily discover the way to healing. In other words, none of us can run away from the tough things in life.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator who has companioned hundreds of families and individuals through the grief journey, puts it this way:

You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again. Unresolved grief can leave you feeling “stuck” or empty. Your ability to engage in life could be inhibited and you might feel like you’ve shut down.

Instead, choose grief. And as you walk with your grief, actively mourn. By taking action, you will eventually integrate the death of your loved one into your life. In exchange, you will find the hope, courage, and desire to once again live a full and rewarding life.

In short, we must all learn how to deal with grief in healthy ways so that we can live full lives, and your child needs your help learning the skills to emotionally succeed. But how do you get started?

7 Tips for Teaching Your Child How to Process Grief

Much of what children learn, they learn through imitation. Meaning, they learn by seeing and mimicking that behavior. Have you ever had one of those moments when you hear or see your child express one of your own habits? It’s often a wake-up call for parents. They think, “Oh! I didn’t realize he picked up on that.” Just as your kids can pick up your not-so-great habits, they pick up your good habits, too. So, what can you do to help them pick up good grieving habits?

1. Teach them their feelings are normal

First of all, lay the groundwork that their grief emotions are natural, normal, and not to be feared. So many people suppress what they feel and don’t express what’s on the inside in healthy ways. Often, they leave their feelings unaddressed for so long that when they finally do come out, it’s an explosion of negative emotions.

Rather than letting it get to the point of combustion, teach your child healthy ways to express their emotions, especially those associated with loss. Whether it’s sadness, anger, regret, guilt, whatever – help your child understand that what they feel is normal and nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. They just need to find the right way to process and release those emotions.

2. Show them how to express their feelings in a healthy way

When you consider ways to process and release emotions in a healthy manner, it’s important to remember that every person is different. No two grief journeys are the same. What works for you may not work for your child. So, take their personality into account and explore different options until you both find one that fits.

A few ideas to start:

  • Have your child draw a picture depicting what makes them sad and have them explain it to you
  • Ask your child to write down what they feel or a favorite memory
  • Create a memorial item together – a scrapbook, photo book, quilt, a stuffed animal using a loved one’s clothing, etc. Go to Creating Memorial Keepsakes from a Loved One’s Clothing, Creating Memorial Keepsakes from Funeral Flowers, or if you’ve lost a pet, go to 10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas for more memorial ideas.
  • Introduce specific arts & crafts that will help them identify the emotions they feel
  • Read aloud age-appropriate books that discuss grief and loss
  • Show children how to practice simple yoga moves or mindful breathing exercises to help them learn how to self-calm
  • If their feelings are more explosive, look for safe physical ways to reduce stress, like running, playing chase, going to a batting cage or a golfing range, kicking a ball, etc.

Be an active participant in these activities with your child and help them learn how to express what they feel rather than pushing it away. With this habit in place, as they grow, they will understand the need to accept what they feel and look for ways to express it.

3. Take time to share stories and memories

An important part of the grief process is remembrance. Most often, this means telling stories, sharing memories, keeping special belongings, looking at photos, or watching videos. You may have noticed that when a person grieves, they share memories and tell favorite stories – maybe even the same ones again and again. This is all part of remembrance and transitioning the relationship from one of physical presence to one of memory. Encourage your child to share their memories and favorite stories. Listen with a compassionate and patient ear when they need you to simply hear what they have to say.

4. Demonstrate how to accept help

This one may be tough for some. You’ve likely had independence and self-reliance ingrained in you since your own childhood. In many ways, it’s great to be self-reliant, but it’s not always what you need. Accepting help from others doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing it on your own. It simply means that you understand that things can be easier if you don’t have to do it alone, and there’s nothing wrong with making things easier for yourself and your family.

So, as you face tough situations in life, accept help from those around you. That may mean accepting an offer to watch the kids, mow the lawn, run a few errands, or make a meal. Then, when your friends need help, give back. As you actively give and accept help, your child will notice what you’re doing. Invite them to be a part of it to cultivate the habit of giving and receiving help.

5. Tell them that grief takes time

Grief ebbs and flows, and in some ways, it never fully goes away. No matter how much time passes, some part of you will always miss the person who has died, and that’s natural. But in time, if you do the work of grief and express your pain in healthy ways, you will find a path to move forward.

It will look different from person to person. For some, grief lasts months, while for others, it lasts years. There are many factors at play, including the closeness of the relationship, the circumstances of the death, and the mourner’s personality. When grief and loss come into your family life – whether that’s a person, a pet, a friendship – use that moment to talk to your child and give them realistic expectations of the grief journey.

6. Answer their questions honestly

Have you ever met a kid who didn’t have a few questions? Asking questions comes naturally to them, so don’t be surprised if they have a lot to ask you about death, dying, grief, and more. Some questions you might be able to anticipate, while others may take you by surprise. No matter what, answer their questions honestly and simply.

It almost goes without saying, but don’t blanket over the truth about what happened with “white lies.” Children are naturally trusting, but if they find out later that you lied to them about something very important to them, you could damage their trust in you. In the same way, avoid euphemisms, as they just confuse children about what really happened. Instead, thoughtfully and sensitively answer them. They don’t have to know all of the details. You can decide what’s appropriate for their age and maturity, but always be completely honest. Children are much more resilient and understanding than we give them credit for.

7. Assure them that everything will be all right

Right now, in this moment, things may not be all right, but in time, they will be. Assure your child that the tough moments of today don’t create a dark future for tomorrow. Give them hugs and kisses. Provide the one-on-one time they need to feel secure and loved. Help them find ways to express what they feel.

Take one day at a time, one moment at a time. Life won’t go back to the way it used to be – that’s impossible – but it can still be good. That’s what the grief journey is all about: finding a way to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered, grieving the person you love, and discovering what life looks like now and how you can find new meaning and purpose.

These tips are intended to be building blocks for the years ahead. Just as it takes time for you to teach your child how to use silverware, interact in social situations, and make smart decisions, it will take time to impart these nuggets of truth about the grief journey. But in the end, your child will learn how to process what they feel in a healthy way and see hope for the future despite today’s difficulties.

5 Tips for Helping Your Child Process the Death of a Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you understand just how much you can come to love that animal. Whether it’s a dog, cat, guinea pig, ferret, fish, turtle, or rabbit, pets have a way of making their way into our hearts. As an adult, you have experienced loss in your life before, but for children, the first death they may go through is the loss of a pet. So, how can you help your children process their emotions and move toward healing?

Honor your child’s feelings

One of the best things you can do for your child is treat their emotions with respect and validity. Assure them that it’s okay to feel sad, hurt, or angry. It’s normal to feel this way after loss. Stay away from telling a child how they should feel or that they need to “be strong.” This exhortation may be why so many adults have learned to brush away their emotions, to stifle them, but that’s not the way to healing. It’s a form of avoidance, and undealt with emotions can lead to long-term consequences. By letting your child know that their emotions are real and valid, you give them the freedom to feel what they feel and not be afraid of it.

Share what you feel

Your first inclination may be to push aside your own emotions so you can “be strong” for your child. But your child needs to know that you cared about the family pet, too. If you don’t show your own sadness, your child may think that their own sadness is wrong, that they should be more like mommy or daddy, unphased. Now, it’s up to you how much emotion you want to show in front of your child. Don’t scare or frighten your child with your emotions, but do let them know that you’re sad, too.

Be honest

Some children are more inquisitive than others, but no doubt, your child is going to have some questions. Answer as honestly as you can (taking their age and maturity into account). Don’t use euphemisms or half-truths. Instead, sensitively explain what happened and answer their questions. Children can handle the truth (often much better than adults can). According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, children between ages 7 to 9 will have the most questions, so be prepared.

A few questions you may hear:

  • Why did [pet name] die?
  • Is it my fault?
  • What happened to [pet name]’s body?
  • Will I see him/her again?
  • Where did he/she go?
  • Will he/she come back?

Give them time and encourage discussion

Grief is an interesting thing. It doesn’t go away in a day, and sometimes, it sticks around for a while. That said, let your child know it’s okay if they need to talk about your pet again. In fact, sharing stories and talking about our grief is both healthy and necessary. While you may have personally moved on, give your child the time and space they need to grieve. And if they need to talk, create the space for it.

Find tangible ways to help them grieve

Children are hands-on learners, which is why touching and play time are important to their early development. Because of the hands-on nature of children, you might consider using activities to help them process the pain they feel.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Draw a picture of your pet
  • Write a story
  • Create a collage of favorite photos and place it in a prominent place
  • Hold a short memorial ceremony where each member of the family has a chance to share
  • Sit down as a family to share favorite pet stories
  • Make a scrapbook or memory book together
  • Buy a stuffed animal to represent the lost pet
  • Choose a memorial marker – a plaque or a stone – and place it in a special place

By helping your child deal with the death of a pet, you are giving them valuable life skills that will aid them as they grow into adulthood. After all, the loss of a pet, while difficult, is not the only hard situation they will face in life. By giving them the building blocks now, you can help them learn how to grieve in a healthy way, no matter what kind of loss they may encounter in the years ahead.

5 Tips for Announcing a Death on Social Media

By Grief/Loss, Technology and Grief

Announcing the death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult task. It forces you to acknowledge that someone you love has died, and in many ways, there’s just no way to put what you feel into words. But announcing the death on social media, through an obituary, or in a newspaper is a necessary step.

Social media allows us to communicate rapidly and widely. You may not know every person your loved one had a relationship with, so making an announcement online is an efficient way to reach people. Additionally, posting online creates a place for people to mourn, share memories, and express condolences while also keeping things simple for you. More than likely, you are already dealing with a wide range of emotions, and it’s much less draining to post once than to attempt to talk to each person individually.

Even so, death is a sensitive topic and should handled with care and tact. Let’s review a few tips for announcing a loved one’s death online.

1. Notify close loved ones first

Make sure you notify close family and friends in a more personal way first, such as in-person, with a phone call, or via private message (depending on the circumstances). You certainly don’t want people close to the deceased person to find out about their death online – that would make a difficult situation even harder.

2. Wait before you post

The first 24 hours after the loss of a loved one is often a period of shock and activity with planning for any funeral or memorial services. Additionally, you will be contacting any close family and friends with the news. That said, it’s best to wait a day or two before you put anything online. The wait will give you time to set the service details, contact people in person or over the phone, and personally process some of your own initial feelings of grief.

3. Use sensitive wording

With social media, people can read posts anytime throughout the day. So, it’s always good to add a bit of an introduction to your post so that people know you have sad news to share. That way, they have a bit of a heads up.

Here’s an example: “Family and friends, it is with great sadness that our family announces the passing of a very special person. I’m so sorry that you will hear the news this way, but our family wants to make sure everyone hears before the funeral.”

4. Remember that social platforms are a public space

As with any online posts or comments, don’t write anything you don’t want everyone to read. Consider all of the people who may read your post and be prepared to receive responses from them. When you post, you may want to include an obituary or memorial page to allow people to offer condolences and share memories freely.

5. What to include in a social media death announcement post

Finding the right words may feel a little overwhelming, and that’s okay. You can keep things simple. Just remember that you can make the post formal or casual, personal and sentimental or to the point. The format depends on your personality, but there are a few key pieces of information to include.

What to definitely include

  • Name of the deceased and relationship to you (the person posting)
  • Date of death
  • Time and location of any services: memorial, funeral, graveside, visitation/viewing, and/or reception/gathering (make sure to specify whether these events are public or private)
  • Any information about memorial donations
  • A favorite photo of your loved one (an individual photo, not a group)

As you consider what information to include, be mindful of your word choice. Also, try not to share too many details about the death (unless you want to). Focus on sharing positive memories and giving others an opportunity to share theirs. You might also consider linking to the obituary if it’s available.

Examples to help you get started

  • Many of you know that my father was struggling with cancer. While I’m sad to say that he is gone, I’m glad to say he is no longer suffering. He was a man of integrity who laughed often and loved hard. My mom, my brother, and I invite you to join us for a funeral service on (date) as we celebrate his life and what it meant to all of us.
  • It is with deep sorrow that we inform you of the death of a beloved husband and father, (insert name). We will have a private family memorial service followed by a public reception on (date). We would be pleased if you could join us at the reception to share memories and celebrate (name)’s life. Click here for more details (link to obituary).
  • Our family is deeply saddened to inform you that our beloved grandmother, (name), passed away in her sleep (day of week) night. She was a gem of a woman who has been a pillar of strength, love, and unity for our family her entire life. Her funeral service will be held on (day of week) at the (location name) in (location) at (time).

These examples are simply to get you started. Feel free to look up other examples online and customize the text with your own details and embellishments.

With these 5 tips, you can now decide what’s best for you and your family. If it makes sense, an announcement on social media allows you to:

  • honor your loved one’s life
  • inform their extended network about their passing
  • create an opportunity for a shared mourning experience

No matter what you decide, lean on each other and find the support you need for the days ahead.

10 Challenges Grieving Grandparents Face

By Grief/Loss

When a child dies, our thoughts immediately turn to the parents and the deep grief they must be feeling. And while this reaction is good, right, and warranted, we often forget that there are also deeply grieving grandparents who need our support and sympathy, too. Because they are often overlooked, grandparents face several unique challenges on the way to healing.

Often called “neglected mourners,” grandparents take a back seat to the primary mourners – the parents and siblings of the child who has died. But Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, tells us not to forget grandparents. He says: “When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”

Because they are often overlooked, grandparents face some extra challenges. Let’s review those challenges so you can better understand what a grieving grandparent may be feeling and can determine how best to love and support them through this terrible loss.

10 Challenges Grieving Grandparents Face

 1. Their grief is often unacknowledged

As mentioned above, grandparent grief is often overlooked or unacknowledged. This tendency is not intentional or malicious, but it does make the grief journey harder for grandparents. Grief that is unacknowledged or overlooked by society or groups of people is called disenfranchised grief. Often those whose grief is disenfranchised have a hard time sharing their thoughts and emotions because they feel that their grief is out of place or doesn’t help the situation. While grandparents often feel helpless, angry, and heartbroken over the loss of a grandchild, they may feel less able to openly express their feelings because they are not the primary mourners.

2. They may not receive the support they need

Because grandparents are not the primary mourners, they don’t often receive the support they need during a time of loss. Friends may rally around the child’s immediate family and bring casseroles and condolences, but is anyone offering the same type of support to the grandparents? Unfortunately, the answer is commonly no. And while there are generalized grief support groups, it’s hard to find a support group that specifically addresses grandparent grief.

3. They may feel unable to share their feelings

As a matriarch or patriarch of the family, it’s natural to want to show a strong, loving face to family, especially to a grieving adult child and their spouse and children. Because a grandparent may feel the need to offer support to their grieving child and doesn’t want to add any additional burden, they may push aside their own feelings of grief in favor of offering support and assistance. While offering practical help to their grieving child is good, it can sometimes be at the expense of their own grief journey. There’s a delicate balance to find between helping and healing.

4. They may deal with family splintering

The death of a child can put a lot of stress and strain on a marriage. While it doesn’t happen often, there are cases when a marriage is unable to survive the death of a child and a whole new set of challenges are introduced. Not only is the immediate family adjusting to separated life, the grandparents must also learn how to adjust to this new lifestyle. They may not be able to see their living grandchildren as often as they did before, which may complicate the grief they feel over the grandchild who has died. Instead of being able to enjoy their living grandchildren, they are pushed even further to the outskirts, their grief and needs overlooked and unacknowledged.

5. They may have to take on a parenting role

Depending on proximity and the closeness of relationship, grandparents may be asked to step in to help with siblings while the parents deal with the effects of losing a child. In some ways, this is a blessing. Grandparents can spend time with their living grandchildren and further cement those precious relationships. On the other hand, with less energy reserves, grandparents may have difficulty finding the time and mental/emotional energy to process through their own emotions of grief. Every bit of energy goes toward keeping the family afloat.

It’s important to note that parents will also feel this strain as they grieve the loss of their child. They will be torn between responsibilities to living children, jobs, friends, family, extracurricular activities, and more. A hybrid option is likely best – parents and grandparents (with other friends and family) helping each other along the way and alternating babysitting to give each person the breaks they need.

6. They may feel helpless in the face of their child’s pain

First and foremost, a grandparent is a parent themselves. Their own child is in deep pain, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They want to help, to fix, to prevent pain, but in this case, there’s often a sense of helplessness. Some grandparents may feel depressed at their lack of ability to help and may experience additional stress because they are concerned about the mental and emotional well-being of their child.

7. Their health may suffer

For particularly elderly grandparents, health and wellness are a concern during times of grief. Because young people are often physically healthy, they don’t think too much about the physical difficulties of grief. However, for elderly grandparents, deep grief can lead to not eating, sleeping poorly, socializing less, and not functioning as well. It’s best to keep a loving eye on grandparents whose health is not the best and keep a lookout for potential declines.

8. They don’t have as much energy

As mentioned earlier, grandparents may not have as much energy as they used to. Their pace of life is already slowing down a little and energy levels are decreasing. Grief is hard mentally, physically, and emotionally, so it may take grandparents a little more time and effort to grieve. While they do have more life experience and have likely lost loved ones before, the loss of a child is especially difficult at any age.

9. They deal with a loss of legacy

Both parents and grandparents expect a child to outlive them, so when that doesn’t happen, there’s a sense that a legacy has been lost. This feeling can be especially potent if the grandparents only have one grandchild. Whether the grandchild is two, ten, or 25, they must deal with the loss of what could have been – what should have been.

10. They may deal with feelings of guilt

Some grandparents may feel guilty after the loss of a grandchild. Having lived a long life themselves, they may struggle to make sense of what has happened. Questions like, “Why couldn’t it have been me?” may pass through their minds. While this feeling is natural and normal following a loss, guilt is often misplaced and can lead to grieving complications.

Now that you understand several of the challenges that grieving grandparents face, let’s talk about a few things you (and they) can do to grieve well after the loss of a grandchild.

Tips for Grieving Well

As the grandparent:

  • Find ways to express your feelings
  • Talk to friends or relatives about your loss
  • Don’t compare your grief to that of your child or son or daughter-in-law; everyone’s grief is unique and different
  • Take care of yourself physically so you have the mental and emotional energy you need
  • Honor your grandchild’s life and memory in meaningful ways

As the supportive friend or family member:

  • Offer a listening ear
  • Help with household chores and must-do activities to give grandparents more time and energy to work through their grief
  • Express your condolences and acknowledge their loss
  • Look for ways to include them in healing rituals and meaningful moments

The loss of a grandchild is a severe blow – to both the parents and grandparents. None of them will ever truly “get over” the loss, and really, that’s not the goal. The goal of healthy grieving is to find a way to reconcile yourself to the loss and begin to move forward with meaning and purpose. The child that has died will always be missed – that’s a fact. Though life has changed irreversibly, it can be good again as you do the work of grief and meaningfully and personally grieve.

10 Tips for Processing Addiction or Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one is hard and emotionally draining – every time. However, when you lose a loved one to suicide or addiction, the loss is not only hard, it becomes stigmatized and disenfranchised. In other words, it’s hard to talk about, hard to get people to understand, and in many ways, you may feel ashamed or unable to talk about what happened because you don’t even fully understand it yourself.

As you begin to work through the emotions you feel surrounding your loved one’s death, it’s valuable to understand that what you’re feeling is normal. Are you angry? Confused? Feeling guilty? Sad? That’s okay. Do you even feel a small sense of relief that the up and down struggle with your loved one’s emotional state is over? That’s okay, too. And completely normal, by the way. Your emotions are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are something you must actively process through so that you can reach healing and find a way to reconcile yourself to your loved one’s death and the circumstances around it.

Let’s review 10 suggestions that will help you on your grief journey as you work through your feelings of loss and find a way to move forward.

1. Remember, you’re not alone

While there is often a societal stigma associated with suicide or addiction deaths, don’t allow yourself to become isolated. You are one of many thousands of people, even tens of thousands, affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide or addiction. Seek these people out. You will find those who are willing to talk about their experience and help you walk through yours.

2. Confront the circumstances

It’s easy to deny the role that drugs or mental health issues played in your loved one’s death, but it’s better to find a way to acknowledge the circumstances of the loss. In many ways, your loved one did not choose to die. They were under the influence of highly addictive drugs or of powerfully persuasive and destructive internal thoughts. In both instances, they were unwell and not themselves. If you can find a way to accept the reality of the situation – tragic as it is – then you have taken an important step toward grieving in a healthy way.

3. Express your feelings

As with any type of loss, you need to move the emotions inside out. In other words, what you’re feeling on the inside needs to be released rather than pent-up. You can do this in a variety of ways. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, grief support group, or professional therapist. Take time to journal, create art, compose music, or capture photographs – all focused on capturing what you feel. If you prefer physical exertion to help you express your more intense emotions, go for a run, do woodworking, restore a car, or do something else that fits your particular interests. The main thing is to find options that help you offload whatever you’re carrying inside.

4. Understand what leads to addiction or suicide

While it may seem a difficult task, the more you understand what led to your loved one’s death, the more capable you will be to process through any feelings of guilt or self-blame. You may think that you could have somehow prevented the death or could have done more. As you learn more about the factors that lead to addiction and suicide, the more you will realize your own role in the narrative and that your loved one was the only one capable of overcoming their own battles. You could not have fought the battle for them. Don’t take on more blame than is actually yours to bear.

5. Stand up for yourself

Because addiction and suicide deaths are often stigmatized by society, you may come across people who are insensitive or unkind. Don’t be afraid to kindly tell someone that their comments are hurtful and not helpful. You will be able to tell if the person is being intentionally unkind or simply doesn’t realize their words hurt you. For those who are unintentional, explain why their comments aren’t supportive, and they will likely apologize. For those who are unkind on purpose, dismiss their words as unimportant. Then, if it’s best, avoid seeing them in the future. You are dealing with a deep, complex loss and the last thing you need is a human hurdle on your way to healing.

6. Learn about available resources

Often, there are grief resources available right there in your community. Whether it’s a professional counselor or a grief support group, you should be able to find help near you. Some support groups that are nationwide (though not in every city) are:

  • GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing)
  • Al-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with alcoholism)
  • Nar-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with substance abuse)
  • GriefShare (grief support groups)

If none of these meet your specific needs or aren’t available in your area, do a Google search or call local hospices or funeral homes to see if they may have a list of grief resources available in the area.

7. Care for yourself

Grief takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on your body. Get plenty of sleep, stay active, and eat nutritious meals to give your body the energy it needs to sustain you through the grief journey. Take time to pamper yourself. Get a massage or a pedicure. Go out to the golf course for a few holes. Go for walks or runs with friends or alone. Buy yourself a treat (within reason). In other words, make sure that you aren’t running yourself ragged, but instead, are caring for yourself.

8. Meet your spiritual needs

As you take care of yourself physically, make sure to take time to meet your spiritual needs as well. Meet with a spiritual leader. Pray. Meditate. Sing. Write. Cry. As human beings, we are complex and have so many facets. We are the entire package – mind, body, and soul – and all three aspects need care and attention during times of grief. Right now, you may feel hiding or ignoring God, and that’s okay. He’s not going anywhere, so when you’re ready, reach out and He’ll be there for you.

9. Honor your loved one’s life

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, often says “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In other words, take time to honor your loved one’s life in formal and informal ways. Plan a personalized funeral or memorial service. Invite friends over for a gathering to talk through your mutual loss. Attend the visitation to pay your respects. Give and/or receive condolences and sympathy. Make a collage of photos as a remembrance. Plant a memorial tree. Create a photo or scrapbook that will remind you of the good times and look at it when you miss your loved one. Some of these may resonate with you and others may not. Simply choose what works best for your life and personality.

You may be tempted to forego many of the normal funeral traditions because of the sensitive nature of your loved one’s death. While you can certainly make appropriate changes, take the necessary time to remember your loved one’s life and mourn what could have been.

10. Give yourself time

Healing from loss doesn’t happen in a day. Instead, it’s one day, even one moment, at a time. Don’t expect yourself to heal quickly. Give yourself the time and the grace you need to grieve well rather than in a hurry. There’s no timeline for grief. As long as you are doing the work of grief and working through your emotions, you can take all the time you need. There will be good days and bad days. Your grief will surprise you some days and will be absent on others. It’s all part of the process as you move toward healing and reconciliation.

Hopefully these insights will give you a place to start as you walk through your grief journey. While you may never know why your loved one chose this path, understanding their reasons isn’t the ultimate goal. What matters is that you take care of yourself through your pain, that you confront the emotions you feel, and that you allow yourself to heal and find renewed meaning and purpose in life. You can do this.

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