grief breakdown

Grief Breaks Down

“I thought,” she said passionately. “‘Mother f%*kr, I can’t even kill myself because my life insurance lapsed!'” Then we burst into laughter.

It was after one of those breaking points. We were talking about an incident of the week prior. We were on the phone, she lives hundreds of miles away from me, when she announced that her car had just died in the middle of the busy road. Now long time friends, we regularly peer coach and deep dive into life difficulties, too often in brutal honesty. Often in deep pains. Joyfully in witness to absurdity that is Circling Life.

I’ve witnessed and coached and shared her grief through her former husband’s suicide and a divorce and a move across the states. She has pushed and held me through my own unfolding to find my true self through grief, trauma, energy healing, and losses as I support others in the same. This wasn’t the first side-of-the-road cry. Yet, this was especially significant as a moment of one of her own coaching mantras: What if a breakdown is a breakthrough? In fear of financial lack and prospects as she changes career direction, (what, another change and transition and loss transpired from the origins of her grief journey?) the additional cost of car tow and repair is the proverbial straw on her camel that carries her. A call from the car center a bit later revealed her confession of a storm of tears and spewed anger in public breakdown shown up with all sorts of woulda, coulda, shoulda regrets and pain for a deceased ex-husband. If only… Plus, another $500 out the window.

Again?

Does it end or go away? Who deserves this? Apparently, in the midst, the thought arises that she “can’t even kill herself because the life insurance lapsed!” Thank goodness for being a responsible mother to her kids!

Accountability and sense of Responsibility* can often get us through the next few minutes. In between there is the moment of recognition that life is what happens now and those stories are old stories still in shift. They rise again. In between these two conversations was the call the day after as she explained she had came face-to-face with the visceral emptiness of being utterly alone regardless of my long supportive stand in knowing. Even though she has people and family in town whom to call. In spite of her being in the lobby of a car dealership. Grief pain is a soloist journey. It appears when when it does. The space between her own breaths. “I really got it,” she said in grounded quiet. “I got what you say about the space that is my own deep emptiness alone. That, in the void, no one is here with me except me.”

I get this, too!

I have a personal history of cars stopping when I am in anxiety! I left two vehicles on the road once-upon-a-crisis on my way to see my husband Dave in the hospital. I am never without AAA car rescue.

More and more I recognize the energetic distractions that arise from our own excess energy as car batteries, alternators (her situation), or starters suddenly cease. One is forced to slow down. To become present. To deal with what is now. To ask for help. Or decide to help yourself. To figure out the next step. And how to get there. To review what happened or learn from what occurred soon after. It requires compassion for self to turn around the lashing of blame or the feeling as a victim. Thoughts of “if only” magic is a story designed to make the pain disappear. Minds return to yesterday for want of safety and familiarity today, whether that life was real or true. We are all raised on fairy tales of “happily ever after” in a foggy notion for how happiness actually feels. Perhaps happiness is the message to love what is right in front of you.

Instead of an external break down of things around us, the stoppage can manifest as a lack of energy on the body that shows up as depression, exhaustion, caregiver fatigue, illness or thoughts to crawl into a hole and die. It is a different vehicle and usually the phenomenon is of a slowing down into a stop, almost imperceptible until there is an obvious cease of connection to the environment of people and places.

Either way, here we are…. the ask for help and how to create movement in life. Like the Type of Death*, which can be sudden or lingering, it influences what actions you make in response. Your type of break effects your perspective. Your brain will dictate to fight, flight or freeze.

Stop in the moment then look forward.

As a coach, I have multiple perspectives of grief gained through personal experiences, client care and academics. There are simple (not always easy) practices available to support our responses and growth through loss, what we tell our self and how we hear what others say. For me, the only place to start is to understand your Here. Whether you are standing in the middle of a dangerous median or need lifting out of the hole of despair, we can all use some safe perspective and guidance. For most, grief is a doable journey along life’s path. When ignored or procrastinated those paper straws build up and the burden can become a break of the camel’s back.

When grief and loss are acknowledged as ongoing human experiences that shape us, life returns to center more quickly. Even for those in those very difficult unexpected loss or the grief associated with a chosen change. Even when there are fleeting destructive thoughts. Back into movement and flow. Into a presence for life as you know now. Recovery. The other side.

These days, the buzz in media for grief and life is a trend to be resilient. Resilience is built upon applying examined experience. It makes sense then, if circumstances of life stops you in your track, you are being asked to examine the experience. Long enough to gather your energy.

* * *

A few days later… After words. The trouble wasn’t the alternator and it didn’t cost $500. The diagnosis was: “We can’t find anything. We don’t know what happened. Something shut down the program and it needed a full recalibration. $199.” Recalibration! No, I didn’t make this up! This story is shared with permission, laughter and love.

 

*Type of Death and Responsibility are two of ten initial Influencers for Navigating Grief. Influencers are identifiable universal aspects of loss and carry weight not judgment as you move through your individual grief. They can hinder or support you in grief and loss awareness. For example, Responsibilities in you life can get in the way, such as you have to work more hours to provide for the family and therefore put grief on the back burner. Responsibility can also be your saving grace as dedication to family or purpose though work helps keep you active, connecting, and out of the hole of depression. 

5 Minute Coach’s Corner: Metaphors of Break Down

Simple questions and metaphors to shine a light on “Who are you now?” after loss.

When the outside world is a mirror to your state of challenge what is the metaphor? New sciences are showing that thought and language are activators to move energy and create action into result. If true, then what happens to or around us can be a reflection of our state of being. Agree or not, the concept is interesting to apply as a metaphor of life.

  • In the story shared here what might it mean to you to have the car break down?
  • What might be the significance of a battery vs an alternator vs a starter as the metaphor?
  • Can you think of a time in your life when the inconvenience of something breaking or an interruption was perhaps a response to the situation at hand? It usually is prefaced with, it was not a good time for… to happen.
  • With hindsight, was the moment and the outcome different? How does the passage of time change the story?
  • In this scenario, what was thought to be an alternator turned out to be a need of re-calibration. What happened to the metaphor now?

Navigating Grief Newsletter. March 31, 2018

Paradise Ridge Winery CA Love

Sustainability of Happiness

Once again, at least for my moda operandi in life and work, I have written half a dozen stories in my head and I sit here with a whole new thought to share!

Having just returned from time with my ailing 89 year-old stepfather at the side of his hospital bed in the apartment I last saw my mother alive… Well, you can imagine ghosts of grief rattling around my thoughts. The time was more palatable than painful. I felt the aching reminiscent of caring for Dave, unanswered questions for my mother, wonder and awe for what lies ahead for my stepdad, and also delightful memories all rolled into one long weekend.  Yet, I want to focus on what is ahead. The HOPEHang On Possibilities Exist – is the future view I prefer to reside. Read more

Widow not an anniversary

Not The Anniversary

September 11.

Remembered by most for the tragic terrorist attacks on the US World Trade Center and Pentagon. Ugh.

Remembered by me as my wedding anniversary. Read more

Top Ten Steps for Grief

Ten Actionable Steps Through Grief

Grief is work. Moving through grief means taking the necessary steps to reclaim your changed life in its new formation.

I didn’t wake up the day after my husband Dave died and know which way to go, who I was or what the next days, weeks and months would bring. I was sick, tired and broken. I was alone. Because I was knowledgeable about grief, hospice, and all the theories, the outside world could see me as strong and able. Ironically, that may have made me feel even more alone. But I was strong. I am strong. And it was difficult still. Read more

Grief mind body spirit

The Holistic Journey Through Grief

The work of grief is the work of life.  It is a holistic journey.

Mind. Body. Spirit.

Grief is universal. How far you walk along the grief journey is up to you as an individual. Superficially, grief is about accepting or assimilating the change of loss. Yes, that’s really big on its own! Grief is the transition. That’s often enough for most people: wrapping your heart and your mind around the emptiness. Yet, for many, the longing persists to understand more deeply about the loss that won’t go away.

Mind is one step of grief.

If standing in loss becomes your badge for life, grief becomes stuck and acknowledged, but not a journey. However, when you examine and share the heartbreak of loss and change, grief fades away to an often positive path that opens ahead.

Deeper work into grief is about the change, the transformation that occurs during the examination of that relationship for which you loved and lost, its impact on who you are today, how you operate in the world now and the so-called meaning of life. This is the topic of discussions, books, poetry, philosophers and movies since time began!

Examination comes from Reading. Writing. Thinking. Talking.

Body is one step of grief.

Transformation is about self-love. Understanding. Accepting not only the loss, but all the crevices of humans being. Grief comes in waves of feelings and memories for behaviors, regrets, gratitudes, criticisms, and all the other emotions. Grief is stored in the mind, body, and heart. Past, present and future collide.

Self-love appears in how we care for (or don’t care for) our body. Where does grief land in your body? And how much have you carried with you for long before this loss? Since mind and body are inextricably woven, loving attention to your mental or physical health will elevate both.

Feeling means to Listen. Breathe. Notice. Release.

Spirit is one step of grief.

Even deeper comes the ultimate work that falls under the heading of faith, meditation, spirituality, God.

What happens after one dies and how you stay connected to your loved one cannot be ignored. Religion, God, The Universe, Life Force, Afterlife… in grief, one critical component is to confront your deep held beliefs. Do your beliefs match up to the feelings and thoughts of your grief experience right now?

How can you look at loss without questions about the afterlife? It is impossible. Not having answers for one’s self about spirit can be an area of stuck grief. What you know to be “right” is deeply and profoundly personal. Whether through religions, rituals, traditions, or philosophy, you will meet this path on the grief journey. You may not be able to articulate or explain this part of your journey fully as the spiritual path is not necessarily an intellectual exercise.

Experience the stillness of Being. Knowing. Embracing. Expanding.

Mind. Body. Spirit.

Nobody wants to hear that grief is work. Who willingly takes on such potential angst, examination and pain? Yet, all your angst, examination and pain are already inherent in the process of your loss that is known as grief.  Choosing to discover what you need to know about grief consciously will make the process have purpose and create meaning out of loss and propel you forward into your best life. Death is a catalyst of change thrust upon you.

The order and aspect for your Mind-Body-Spirit work of grief —what makes itself known to you— varies. If you come to your loss with deep faith, this may sustain you, or could rock your world when you question the unfairness of loss. If your health has degraded significantly, your first step may be to acknowledge your own bodily needs for living. Perhaps you are someone who feels so much, you can’t even think about the loss, much less assimilate the very real changes happening around you. Grief is individual.

Work is a dirty four letter word. We reject it. We avoid it. We love to hate it. But when you think about it, work brings accomplishment, self-esteem, value and even community into our lives.

We do get through grief when we work at it, consciously. Grief doesn’t resolve on its own no matter how much time passes. You never forget the loss, the person for whom you mourn. Getting through is never about forgetting; the other side of grief is inclusive. Feeling great is not a betrayal, but a testament to love: The love for the one you miss and the love that was given to you.

Grief isn’t easy. Grief isn’t pretty.  But neither is what you are experiencing right now. As you choose to “do something” about your grief, which is your work, you walk your path to a new wholeness. Your definition for how you are whole is likely to change. But it may surprise you to find that on the other side of grief you have become more through loss rather than become less when Navigating Grief.

Through the Grief Lens

When Grief Collides With Holiday Stress

Your loss, as  a caregiver or after a death,  impacts every tradition, activity and thought this time of year. You are understandably seeing your holidays through the grief lens – who’s missing, what doesn’t work, the people who don’t get it, fatigue, gratitude, deep emptiness, putting on a mask to get through, big changes.

You don’t have much say about the world around you this time of year. Some people will be annoyingly happy. There is the onslaught of pressure to buy, buy, buy. You are likely to be asked, or insisted upon, to attend functions by well meaning friends or co-workers. Moods change without notice. Holidays are often stressful in the best years, but this year in your grief, everything is magnified. It’s like someone is using the zoom lens to hone in big on one subject: Life and holidays are not the same any more. But like a camera, you do have a choice to change or add a filter to help soften, sharpen, widen or bring your picture into a new focus.

Your world and life is changed. The picture needs adjusting. Here are three filters you can apply as ways to help de-stress your holidays.

  • The Simplify Filter. Ask yourself, “What is the simplest way to approach this situation?” For example, who says decorating must be everything you’ve ever done before? You can simply do only what is important to provide enough decor  to honor the past and present. Stick with it. Simplify might mean doing half of what you might have done in past years. If you shop, you might give a single family gift rather than all the individual presents. You could even ask for a “year off” from giftsgiving! (see Communication Filter). If you’ve been the host, share the responsibilities, delegate or step aside for another person to host. To simplify is not giving up what you want to do, it is about doing what is most comforting with your limited energy or resources.
  •  The Communication Filter. Honesty really is a great policy. Be honest with yourself as well as direct with  others. If an end-of-the-week-Friday-night-gathering-potluck-with-a-white-elephant-gift among co-workers who have been telling you to “get over it” doesn’t sound like fun, do you really go? First, know for yourself what the obstacle might be – emotional, physical or grief – then make the appropriate choice best for you. Grief zaps energy, so decide what adds to your life. In any social circle, diplomacy is called for, so assess your options honestly for personal insight and act accordingly. Write or talk with a trusted person to get to the center of your concern; once you know how you are really feeling, it will be easier to express to others.
  •  The Wellness Filter. Does what you do serve your health of mind, body and spirit? Temptations for food, drinking, staying out late, overdoing and shoulds predominate the holiday season. Taking care of you during this time of both holiday stress and grief is doubly important. What does wellness look like for you? Are you putting yourself aside for others? Whenever you are faced with temptations, put on the Wellness filter — will you “feel good” about your choices later? Or is your instinct worried about regrets? Wellness is often about balance. And even more about making sure you put on your oxygen mask first before tending to others. Ask yourself, “Am I seeking to balance my life with healthy food, sleep, socializing, exercise, (fill in your blank) and work?”

Indulgences are part of the holidays. They have a time and a place. But fulfilling your sense of wanting and even deserving the richness of the season is often at odds with your grief. Plus, in opposition to the extra social activities, December is a time to naturally begin to withdraw or hibernate with the onset of the cold winter months. This is when nature goes dormant to replenish. It’s no wonder there is a confusing pull on whether to stay or go, to grieve or celebrate.

The suggestion? Take each day anew the best you can as you have one foot in the past, and one in the present, as well as a sight into the future. After all, this where the traditions arise. They are built over time not any single year. Making an adjustment — adding a filter — to your current surroundings and needs is a necessary part of the grief journey.

Remember, too, this is not a time to deny yourself. If you find comfort in the company of others and being the host, go ahead. If tears flow unexpectedly, acknowledge that they come from love and loss. You are human. Loss teaches just what that means. So when anger of being left behind fights for attention over gratitude, it’s normal. If getting that gift or potluck dish didn’t get done because you couldn’t get out of bed, that is the truth of grief. If you haven’t been able to participate in traditions or ceremonies as fully and present as you’d like, recognize that your loyalty, faith or spirituality is not defined on one single day. Through grief and holidays, doing the best in the moment is good enough!

Each day is a new picture of life. You start again today. Your journey of healing moves in motion one frame at a time.

How to STOP Breathing

STOP! Really. S-T-O-P.

Stop. Take three breaths and smile. Observe, bring awareness into your surroundings and being. Proceed with kindness. This advice from author Rudolph E. Tanzi, Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being, just might change your life.

Breathe. Being present. Gratitude. Mindfulness. These buzz words are the answers to happiness according to many thought leaders, mediators and spiritual specialists. Can we possibly breathe our way to feel better? Can we breathe our way through caregiving overwhelm and the grief which accompanies the death of our loved ones?

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