As I write this post, it’s early July and incredibly warm—not a fan of 39 degree days! I have no idea where we’ll be by the end of July when this blog is scheduled to be posted. My hope is that we will be farther along in opening back up, as more of us are fully vaccinated, case numbers are down and fewer of our loved ones are in the hospital battling Covid.
No matter what your temperature :-), here are the interesting ideas links for this month.
The pandemic has changed the way that we hold funeral services (or even if we do) and how we celebrate our loved ones who have died. This Guardian article tells the poignant story of one woman’s 150-mile walking journey along the Thames River from London to Oxford to visit her brother’s grave and the realizations that she had along the way.
The following two items; an article from the Atlantic and a post from the blog Food52, help us to maneuver as we work our way through post-pandemic social norms around what is now considered to be polite when interacting with others and how to host gatherings. What is the expectations around physical contact? Distancing? How do you have explicit conversations about who is being invited and what the ground rules will be? I especially like the use of compassion in these areas as everyone is at a different place in their re-entry journey. Being around others can bring both a profound sense of relief and its own emotional hurdles and compassion can help us navigate it.
This weekend the world was given an image of the loneliness of grief. On April 17, 2021, many people in the world watched as the British Royal Family said goodbye to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at his funeral service in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Through media coverage, we were granted an intimate view of a family in mourning. No matter our opinion of the monarchy, it’s important to remember that this is a family that is grieving the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Prince Philip would have celebrated his 100th birthday this June.
A Common Experience
While we are probably not a member of a royal family, many of us have shared this experience of losing and honouring a loved one during this pandemic. We can relate to having to limit the number of guests who can attend the service and internment. We know what it’s like to maintain physical distance from our friends and family members when what we need more than anything is a hug and words of comfort whispered in our ear.
Part of the original plan for Prince Philip’s funeral was that his coffin would be carried by a custom-built Land Rover hearse (Prince Philip designed it himself) through the streets of London in order for the public to pay their respects and say their farewells. Understandably this didn’t happen. We also know the pain of not being able to honour our loved one in the way that they may have pre-arranged themselves or as we would like to do for them.
A Woman Alone
One of the most poignant images from the service is that of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only thirty people were able to be in the church. Those in attendance had to sit in their household ‘bubbles’. This wife is now alone in her bubble.
For a minute, let’s forget the famous identity of this woman and think of her as a fellow human. Elizabeth met Philip when she was thirteen years old. Philip was 18. Apparently, for Elizabeth, it was “love at first sight”. For eight years they continued their relationship through letters until they were able to marry when Elizabeth was 21.
As a married couple, they set up a household, had children and worked at their careers. Sadly, a few years into their marriage, Elizabeth’s father died suddenly. This meant that Elizabeth had to take over the family business. Philip, knowing how important this work was to his wife and her family, had already agreed that he would support her in this endeavour—even if it meant stepping back from his career.
When Philip died, they had been married for almost 74 years. Throughout those years, their relationship weathered good times and bad. They worked together on common goals—supporting each other along the way. Elizabeth was heard to say soon after her husband’s death, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years…”
And now…like many other people who have lost a spouse, Elizabeth is without ‘her person’.
How Can We Help?
Unless we personally know Queen Elizabeth, there isn’t anything we can do for her. However, I think she represents many grieving people that we do know.
One of the most common things I hear as a therapist is that people mourning the loss of a loved one (no matter the connection to them), is that they are surrounded by care and support immediately following their person’s death. However, over time, the check-in calls dwindle away, notes and emails stop and offers to spend time together become farther and farther apart. Others go back to their own lives, and the person in mourning is left sitting alone. The loneliness of grief is intense.
While being busy can be the way of life for everyone, what the griever experiences is a ‘secondary’ loss.
We can think of it this way…imagine a still pond of water. A large rock is dropped into the pond sending large ripples away from where the rock entered. This rock symbolizes the death of the loved one and the ripples are the major changes that happen in the griever’s life.
As the ripples move away from the initial point of contact, they become less violent—yet they still make waves—upsetting the surface of the pond. These are the secondary losses. The difficult thing is that they tend to happen as the bereaved is coming out of the shock phase that follows the death of a loved one, and are experiencing active grief experiences such as grief bursts (sudden crying jags), sleep issues (too much or too little), and grief brain (brain fog).
If you know someone who is grieving, please stick around. I know that life is busy, and it doesn’t take much. In fact, you often don’t even need to say anything. One client shared with me that one of the most comforting things a friend did for them was to show up for regularly scheduled walks. This wise friend let them take the emotional lead. Sometimes they needed to talk, other times to laugh or cry. Often, they needed to be quiet together and not feel quite so alone.
And now…here’s a wonderful video from grief therapist, Megan Devine, on How to Help a Grieving Friend. Enjoy!
The recent Spring-like weather may have some of us thinking about Spring Cleaning! If this is you, here is a post from the archives that may be helpful. Enjoy!
We often think of grief and loss as relating to life events such as the death of a loved one or being let go from a job…but what about, through financial difficulties, divorce or aging, we lose our stuff.
There’s help for the physical process.
I recently met with Susan Kemp of 4 Life’s Transitions (www.4lifes.ca). Susan and her team help families and older adults deal with the issues and challenges of dissolving a lifetime of residential accumulation. A large part of Susan’s work is supporting individuals to sort through their belongings with the goal of moving their treasures on to new owners.
As we talked, it became clear that often the most difficult part of this process for people isn’t the physical moving of the items, but the act of letting go. A table isn’t only a table; it’s the location of countless family dinners and the associated memories. Even simple items such as a collection of sewing fabric is a reminder of when each piece was purchased, or was left over from making a child’s cherished prom dress.
There are ways to cope with the emotional process.
Some people have no problem saying goodbye to their things as they choose to move them on to others. In fact, individuals practicing minimalism or simplicity report that the act of downsizing their possessions is emotionally freeing. The important word here is “choose”. How do we cope when we are forced to say goodbye to our treasurers or possessions by events beyond our control?
Recognize that the process is difficult.
The process of letting go is hard, so be gentle with yourself. You know the healthy things that make you happy and help you relax, so make sure you have easy access to these things. Have trusted people ‘on call’ who are aware of what you’re doing and can offer support.
Be sure to take frequent breaks–nothing can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed than being tired or hungry. I often encourage my clients to create a ‘self-care box’ that houses items that they can use to help with calming. While the contents are individual, some people include a favourite movie, tea, bubble bath, journal, list of phone numbers of supportive friends/family members, etc.
Share the task with a friend or family member. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of “The Minimalists” describe hosting ‘packing parties’, where they enlisted friends with task of boxing up Ryan’s possessions. ?In this way, many people are there to help, and it was a party.
It’s not just about stuff some items are emotionally loaded.
It’s easy to get blind-sided by the memories of our possessions as we sort through them. Not only can this add a lot of time to the process, it can also leave us emotionally drained. Besides tapping into the self-care ideas/box mentioned above, what are your other healthy coping strategies?
Have a ritual for saying goodbye. Some people take pictures of their possessions before putting them in a box. This way, they can visit their ‘things’ whenever they want. Other people will write a farewell note to items that hold special memories.
I recognize that choosing who is to receive your possessions can be tricky. In some families there is little argument about who is to take home Dad’s stamp collection or Grandma’s favourite china cup. In others, disagreements about who takes possession of possessions can cause permanent cut-offs between family members. If you think that your family may fall into the second camp, it’s a good idea to work with a therapist to help sort out the underlying feelings that are leading to these arguments. Often, the fights are not about the family china, but deeper, undisclosed issues.
On a more positive note, when my grandmother decided to move into a senior’s home and pass on her possessions, she chose who was to receive each item and then spent many years visiting her ‘things’. Nana reported feeling great joy at seeing how her belongings took on new lives in her grandchildren’s homes.
Tap into your values by supporting a charity.
Donating our items can be a wonderful way to say goodbye. For some people it gives the process of letting go a sense of meaning. If your favourite charity doesn’t accept physical items, selling your belongings and donating the money is an alternative. Some agencies, such as the Mennonite Central Committee will even pick up large items such as furniture.
At the end of the day, it is only ‘stuff’. As Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff says in the 1938 Academy award-winning movie “You Can’t Take It With You”; “As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends”.