Are you troubled by the increase of terror at home and around the world?
Travel appears riskier than ever and yet our hometowns seem equally vulnerable to unrest. How and where is it safe to voice our opinions and stand up for what we believe?
The news is full of stories that make us anxious, fearful, determined, and more – as hate, violence, and horror are on the rise in ways many never thought possible. As a member of the post-World War II Baby Boom Generation, I used to think civilization had made so much progress that it could never slip back and forget the lessons I assumed history had taught so well.
And yet, here we are: If you see something; say something. High alert. Be aware of your surroundings. Know where the nearest exit is. Neo-nazis and white supremacists are flaunting their presence and intensifying their hate-filled slogans.
We are, once again, in an “us vs. them” society. The Age of Aquarius, with its yearning for peace and love, is apparently long gone, and we find ourselves trying to cope with the resulting fear and tension.
I remember being in Junior High and reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. You may know this is the journal of a 13 year old Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family for two years in Nazi-occupied 1942 Amsterdam. They were eventually betrayed and sent to concentration camps; only her father (barely) survived.
She wrote, “It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hope rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality.” *
Her words resonate now in surprising ways.
“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” *
I imagine by the time she wrote this, Anne had already seen all-too-many examples of hard-heartedness and humanity at its worst. It has always amazed me that she could still cling to her belief in everyone’s basic goodness. Was she foolish? Was she just very young?
Anne continued: “I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too…” *
Here we have a glimpse of a more fearful and despairing Anne. I feel her being pulled down into hopelessness by the unremitting misery of her circumstances and news from the outside world. Who would blame her?
And then she concluded: “I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if i look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the day will come when I shall be able to realize them." *
Anne Frank’s writings strike me initially as evidence of our human nature to hold two (or more) seemingly opposing views at the same time. I think she’s describing one part of her that truly does believe people are really good at heart, and another part of her that’s hopelessly crushed by man’s inhumanity to man. She was able to bring these two parts together by concluding that even though her current reality was dismal, she would need her values to be intact someday in the future.
This message moved me and illuminated another possible take on our own times. I, too, believe that people are born really good at heart. I mean this in the general sense of all human beings, leaving room to acknowledge that individuals are affected by their own lives and vary widely. Of course I know that among those born good-at-heart, there is some evil, some confusion, and some struggle.
When evil, confusion, and struggle converge at times to threaten our peace and tranquility, it is incumbent upon other good-at-heart people to emphasize and communicate our principles. We will not tolerate hate or cruelty of any kind. We will not submit to terror at home or abroad. We will live our ideals of loving-kindness, which raises the earth’s energetic vibration.
There are many ways of communicating and living these ideals. I’m fond of saying there is always more than one right way to do something, so choose what fits for you. Write, speak, sing, dance, create, and live according to your highest heart-based values – it matters now, more than ever.
When we join together for love and against terror in all forms, I believe we honor Anne’s legacy and embody the words “Never Again.”
*All quotes from: Frank, A. (1967). Anne Frank: The diary of a young girl. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.
P.S. Don't forget to download your copy of The 4 Facets of Grief. It discusses the value of accepting, adapting, meaning-making, and replenishing in the face of adversity. And please leave a helpful review!
At some point, we all experience the death of someone we love. This is when grief becomes acutely obvious, with all its challenges.
But what about life’s other unwelcome changes?
For example, no one ever plans on getting divorced when they’re young and dreaming of the future, and yet so many find themselves coping with the loss of a very significant relationship and their whole way of life.
Getting a scary health diagnosis for you or your child can feel like you’ve had the rug pulled out from under you – life as you knew it has come to an end.
Losing a job, or facing any kind of financial set-back, forces us to re-evaluate our lifestyle and face a sense of vulnerability that wasn’t there before.
Whenever our plans and expectations are dashed, and we find ourselves in circumstances we never could have envisioned, this is loss -- loss of the life we thought we’d have or the life we were familiar with.
I believe a useful response to all kinds of adversity is grief.
Healthy grief is a process by which we learn to inhabit our new reality and gain resilience. It involves accepting what has happened (not liking it, but facing it), adapting to the new situation, finding meaning in the challenge, and replenishing ourselves in order to keep going.
I discuss these aspects of coping with loss in my new ebook The 4 Facets of Grief: Heal Your Heart, Rebuild Your World, and Find New Pathways to Joy. Download it free during the launch promo Sunday 7/23 and Monday 7/24 here:
The 4 Facets of Grief
Please let me know what you think of the book by posting a review after you read it. Your thoughts matter to me and will help me plan future writing.
As I was working recently on the title, subtitle, and cover design for my new book, The 4 Facets of Grief, the thought occurred to me that the subjects of grief and loss may be too sad to focus on at times. Certainly for those recently bereaved or reeling from other unwelcome change, it is indeed difficult to lean into pain, sorrow, and uncertainty any more than is absolutely necessary.
But what if grieving brought us through the pain to a new sense of order? What if we could use the grief process to transform adversity into a new beginning?
I strongly believe that grief is our natural response to loss of any kind and that we are all capable of learning healthy grieving skills and growing from these experiences. One of my goals in publishing the book is to help change the conversation from heartbreak to hope, and to make the topic more approachable.
So I chose the following subtitle:
Heal Your Heart, Rebuild Your World,
And Find New Pathways to Joy
I’m launching in Kindle format next month with a 2 day free promotion. If you are interested in getting the book for free, CLICK HERE. (You don’t need a Kindle to read it – any phone, tablet, or computer works fine.)
Just let me know you want the book for free and I’ll contact you as soon as it’s available so you can take advantage of the free promotion. But you do have to let me know you’re interested so just CLICK HERE and you’ll be the first to know it’s ready!
I’m very excited to give birth to this book (feels like I’ve been in labor with it forever) and I’m eager to share it with you. Thank you for being part of this journey!
In honor of mothers everywhere, I offer this account of one Mother's Day a few years ago. It is excerpted from my new book The 4 Facets of Grief due out this summer.
I have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. I’m incredibly grateful for my precious and miraculous children and grandchildren. It’s just that I also miss my son David, and I feel his absence profoundly on this day that celebrates the mother/child bond. As is my way of coping, I think about how I might create a meaningful observance of this bittersweet (for me) holiday.
Every bereaved mother I’ve ever talked with or read about has some type of belief in a spiritual afterlife. It doesn’t matter one’s religion or background; we mothers seem to cling to the notion that our relationships with our beloved children must somehow continue. It seems incomprehensible that a connection so intense could really be broken or that love’s energy would simply cease to exist.
And so, like a host of grieving mothers before me, I began looking for signs I could interpret as clues to David’s otherworldly existence and his attempts to communicate with me. I know … it sounds way out there … too “woo-woo” for many. That’s okay. I’ve chosen to embrace certain ideas that feel healing and meaningful to me, especially when there’s no way to prove them true or false.
Starting shortly after his death, the light in our curio cabinet would go on by itself. I thought at first maybe someone else had turned it on and then considered perhaps there was a short in the wiring. Never finding an explanation, I decided to view it as a friendly hello from David.
At various times of the day and night throughout the first 18 months after his death, the light surprisingly came on. Its brightness never failed to lift my mood as I imagined his presence in the room with me.
And then it stopped.
I tested the touch-switch, and it worked just fine. I told myself it didn’t mean anything and to be patient; to quit reading anything into it. Despite my reasonable self-talk, however, an unmistakable loneliness settled over me as more months rolled by.
One night, I decided to ask David directly to send me a sign that he was around and okay. The thought went out into the evening silence as love and longing welled up in my heart. Then I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
A week later, I received an email offering me free tickets to a Chicago play called The Pianist of Willesden Lane. I read the plot summary:
“Set in Vienna in 1938 and in London during the Blitzkrieg, The Pianist of Willesden Lane tells the true story of Mona Golabek’s mother, noted pianist and author Lisa Jura. A young Jewish pianist, Lisa dreams of a concert debut at the storied Musikverein concert hall. When Lisa is sent on the Kindertransport to London to protect her from the Nazi regime, everything about her life is upended except her love of music and her pursuit of her dream. Golabek performs some of the world’s most beloved piano music in the poignant true story of her mother’s experience in wartime Europe.”
Without knowing how I came to receive this offer, I was drawn to the play’s themes. My own mother, who died in 1991 after a long battle with emphysema, had been a gifted pianist and played nightly concerts for us in the secure privacy of our home. She struggled with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks for as long as I can remember. Who knows what she might have accomplished had she been able to overcome her angst? I always felt disconnected from her and strove to be as different a woman as I could be.
As I sat in the darkened theater the night of the performance, however, I began to experience my mother in a new way. She would have been only slightly older than the play’s teenage heroine during World War II and possessed a similar passion for classical piano. I wondered what it was like for her as a young American Jewish woman to learn about Nazi atrocities when the war was over. I thought about her reunion with her handsome young husband (my father) when he returned from overseas after their two-year separation.
As familiar, evocative melodies swirled through the auditorium and my being, I felt a powerful connection to my mother through the music and an empathy I could never have imagined. With tear-stained cheeks and a lump in my throat, I finally realized my mother was so much more than the frightened woman who raised me. She was also a talented, passionate artist who bestowed many gifts that I am only now beginning to open.
I’ve thought about this experience a lot since it happened. How did my name come to be on an email distribution list for free tickets? Why this particular play? Why now? I’ll never know. Therefore, I take it as an opportunity to believe something meaningful.
I imagine my beloved David, together with my misunderstood mother, illuminating my place among the generations. I envision them presenting me with a most unexpected and profound Mother’s Day gift: eternal love that spans time and place and connects us all.
Sometimes facing the anguish of loss (any kind of loss) can make you feel like you’re losing your mind. It can be hard to concentrate, do everyday tasks, or manage overwhelming feelings.
Any sort of unwelcome change -- losing a loved one, health challenges, divorce, financial problems -- usually involves some type of loss. And so we embark on a journey of grieving whether we realize it or not.
I'm here to say that it’s okay to take breaks from distress.
Not only is it okay; it's actually helpful. I don't mean living in denial, as it's important to inhabit reality and to face feelings. What I have learned is that taking occasional breaks from pain can actually help us tolerate it better over time.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers several strategies for distracting ourselves from distress, using the acronym DISTRACT. I have adapted these skills for those who are grieving various losses. Try as many as you can and note which ones work for you (these are very individual so remember there is no right or wrong). Regular practice will make your favorites become second nature and available whenever you need them.
"I’ll never get over it."
"I can’t handle this."
"Life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way."
"I must have done something terrible to deserve this."
Have you ever found yourself with thoughts like these? If so, you’re not alone because they’re common examples of limiting beliefs. And you don’t have to accept them.
Sometimes we develop these theories as a way of making sense of challenging circumstances; other limiting beliefs are rooted in childhood. Our brains crave order, so we come to conclusions about life or about ourselves even though there’s usually a lot more to the story.
Many of our limiting beliefs have to do with hopelessness – when what we want seems impossible, we don’t even try. We feel justified in our conclusion because who in their right mind would keep trying to accomplish something that’s not possible?
Another common theme of limiting beliefs is helplessness – the sense that we don’t have the knowledge, opportunity, or that there’s just too much involved to achieve our goal. Other people might be able to do or have this, but it’s just too big for me.
And then there’s uselessness – the feeling of “why bother?” Even if I do figure out how to cope with this particular challenge, another one is just around the corner. There’s no permanent solution so it won’t make a difference in the long run.
Have you ever blamed someone or something else for your misery? If only they would change (or if only they’d behaved better) I wouldn’t be this predicament. Sometimes it feels vindicating to believe that only circumstances beyond our control are causing our pain.
And the flip side is blaming ourselves for everything. Feeling undeserving of a good outcome and a sense of worthlessness means we can’t acknowledge or utilize our strengths – even though we all have them.
Limiting beliefs keep us from accessing our innate resilience – that ability to bounce back from whatever life dishes out. And I truly believe we can all learn to be more resilient.
So here are some ways of banishing limiting beliefs and changing our default settings.
During this first month of 2017 I’ve been thinking about how I (and many others) think about life loss and unwelcome change. It’s hard to wrap your mind around a loved one’s death, or the end of an important relationship, or a forced shift in your usual lifestyle for any reason. What do you do with your beliefs about yourself and the world?
I’ve been reading a book called Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. How each of us processes our challenges is as individual as we are, and comes from a complex interplay of genes, temperament, experience, and effort. To be sure, mindset has a profound effect on how resilient we feel.
Dweck offers two basic mindsets – fixed and growth. She describes the fixed mindset as a belief that our qualities are carved in stone – you are who you are. This would mean people always need to prove and confirm their strengths because every situation is evaluated. We judge ourselves according to feelings of success or failure, acceptance or rejection, and winning or losing. I would add feelings of happiness or sadness, and peace or overwhelm as well.
Dweck goes on to describe the growth mindset as the sense that our basic qualities can be cultivated through effort. We may all start with certain talents, aptitudes, and temperaments, but we can change through hard work and experience. According to Dweck, such a mindset helps people to thrive during the most challenging times in their lives.
This makes a lot of sense to me as someone who believes strongly in the concept of post-traumatic growth. I’ve been through enough difficulty to understand that even in the most terrible of circumstances there are things I can learn – new ideas; new ways of thinking; new ways of responding.
It’s not that I can skate effortlessly through anything to my happy place; it’s that even though I feel painful devastation, hurt, and overwhelm I try to see if there is anything I can learn from the experience. Believe me, there have been times I didn’t want to learn anything – I just wanted life to return to the way it was.
But the willingness to keep learning and developing, even when it’s hard, is part of the growth mindset. It moves you forward by helping you with Accepting, Adapting, Meaning Making, and Replenishing – all necessary facets of coping well with loss.
Science has discovered that the brain is far more capable of ongoing growth than was previously thought, which is great news for aging and coping with illness. It also brings into question those limiting beliefs that often keep us stuck.
Let’s face it – no one likes the arrival of unwelcome change. And it can feel even more outrageous to have to change your Self in response. Please let me know your thoughts about fixed and growth mindsets. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to work on cultivating your own growth mindset.
There are times when it feels impossible to be hopeful. Or even silly and misguided to go there. But wouldn't it be healing to transform disappointment, grief, sadness, and even despair into something positive? Here's how.
What Am I Hoping For?
It's important to realistically identify what you're hoping for. There are some things that cannot be changed, no matter how much you wish or how hard you try. It won't do any good to hope that our departed loved ones come back to life or that a challenging situation simply ceases to be. But we can hope that our responses to life stress of any kind can improve, thereby helping us to ultimately feel better.
When my son David died, I spent a lot of time at first wishing it were a terrible nightmare and that I'd soon awaken, overwhelmingly relieved that it wasn't really so. That would have solved everything, but it obviously wasn't realistic. It was agonizing to know my dreams would never come true.
Over time I realized my Self actually needed something to hope for, even though what I really wanted wasn't possible. So I began a quest to find something achievable to anticipate.
I could hope for the pain to ease... for less tears and, someday, more smiles. I hoped for the strength to walk through my grief and for the ability to feel peaceful again. I longed for the day when it would be "old news" and memory would feel like a blessing instead of a curse. Later I hoped to transform my sorrow into something meaningful that would benefit others.
What Is Under My Control?
Another key concept is control or even influence. There are so many difficulties in life that we honestly just can't dictate, so yearning from something different may not be a fruitful exercise. However, we can all choose how we'll cope no matter how awful the circumstances.
Returning to the example of my own loss, part of my healing work included figuring out my choices. When did I want to go back to work? To whom did I want to talk? How much solitude did I need and how much connection? How much distraction was useful and how much focus on what happened? There were endless decisions to be made and what at first felt overwhelming later became helpful proof that there were still many things under my control.
How Can I Help Myself?
Once it's determined where your control lies, you can then figure out your own self-care strategies. The obvious ones include getting regular sleep (sometimes easier said than done), healthy eating, exercise, and appropriate medical attention. Each of us also gets to choose activities that are personally replenishing, like being in nature, taking a bubble bath, or enjoying art or music (just a few examples).
Take the time to list everything you find restorative. These are usually centered around the 5 senses - things you can see, hear, taste, feel, and smell. If a certain type of music, for example, always makes you feel relaxed and soothed, this is the time to bring more of it into your life.
How Can Others Help Me?
Close friends and family members may not know what to say or do, even though they want to help. Don't hesitate to let them know what's useful (and not useful) for you at this time. Of course this can only be discovered through some thoughtful musing, so give yourself the space to ponder possibilities.
I remember telling people it felt good to hear David's name and to please talk about him. I asked for help acknowledging contributions and gifts of food; I sought out stories from other bereaved parents. And talking with an unbiased, supportive, and nonjudgmental third party is always healing.
I don't believe I'm any different than any other human; we all get to choose our own path in the face of stress, loss, or challenge. I "hope" the questions above help you along the way!
Whenever I find myself in an unfamiliar or unwelcome situation, I typically wonder what others have done in similar circumstances. Even though I know we all have different personalities, backgrounds, values, and temperaments, it still feels comforting to know I can't be the first person in the history of earth to ever encounter my current dilemma.
It's just in my nature to research strategies, whether it relates to more mundane topics (recipes, personal interests, technology challenges, etc.) or to navigating serious or even traumatic life changes. I always end up asking myself, "What do other people do in situations like this?"
This is partly the reason for so many support groups; not only is it validating to be in the company of others who have walked in our shoes, but it's also useful to learn others' ideas and to share our own. We each get to consider possibilities and to figure out what might work for us, what likely won't, and what we may want to adapt to suit our particular needs.
I strongly believe there is value in our sense of community, which is why I reached out to you in last month's survey. But you don't have to wait for another questionnaire to be a part of a healing network. Here are some ideas for easing your sense of isolation.
1. Each of my original newsletter articles is later posted on my blog at http://www.griefhelper.com/blog. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and insights there; it would be wonderful to discuss common aspects of our experiences and spark further dialog.
2. Another way to join the conversation is on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RuthEFieldMSWLCSW. I share articles there from various sources, so it would be great to know your thoughts on any of these. You can either "like" the page and get the articles directly or just check in whenever you choose. There is always a Facebook button to click on the left side of each newsletter.
3. You can send me an email at ruthfield@GriefHelper.com. This is a great option for requesting articles on certain topics or letting me know about themes you'd like to see addressed in future newsletters.
Keep in mind that posts on social media and blog replies are public conversations. Even unencrypted email is not considered a confidential medium these days, although I do my best on my end to protect your privacy. So while discussing our human responses to loss, please be careful to avoid posting very personal details or anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of your daily news feed.
4. Reach out to friends and family with whom you feel a supportive connection. There's an unspoken "sense" that we feel from certain individuals. Those people who listen without judging, minimizing, or trying to rush in and fix our problems are true gifts in our lives. Spend time with those who can simply be a companion on your journey.
5. Consider finding a support group. While they're not for everyone all the time, a support group can be a wonderful way to reduce loneliness and exchange coping tips. Identify your main challenge and see if there's a group for that (some meet online and some are in-person). See the article below for information on my Spring Bereavement Support Group.
I don't consider myself to be the authority on the right way to navigate life transitions. I believe each of us is the expert on ourselves, and I'm here to help you discover what works for you. So your post about a particular strategy, idea, or understanding may be just what someone else needs to read. I never intended this newsletter to be only a one-way communication. I hope it provides useful ideas that prompt more of your own, thereby moving you forward on your journey. And when you share your thoughts, it enriches us all.
Now that the holiday shopping is done, are you satisfied with all your selections? Were your presents received with gleeful excitement and loving smiles and hugs?
And what about the gifts you opened -- did they warm your heart and fill you with thanks?
It's never too late to give someone something special, and I offer this reminder to anyone still needing ideas: you are the gift. Your presence in another person's life is often the best present you could give.
And if you accept that you're a gift to others, I also challenge you to be one for yourself. Be the gift you want to receive:
If you want more love in your life, be more loving.
If you want more joy in life, be more joyful...
If you want more patience, be more patient...
If you want more hope in your life, be more hopeful...
If you want more gratitude, be more grateful...
And so on. Choose to be the gift you want, and you may be surprised how it fills the space around you.
Essays on Grief Resilience