If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Blessed Mother Teresa

Working Through the Pain

Ironically, the first major step in working through the pain of a loss is to acknowledge that the loss has created pain and that we are going to proactively do something about it. What constitutes the pain and how to work through it are as distinctive as the individual experiencing it. There are no simple formulas or how-to books to refer to. As I have written so many times, every situation, relationship, and death is unique. Does the pain of this loss include loneliness where it didn’t before? Are there feelings of guilt, anger, anxiety, etc? Is there a crisis involving the meaning of life? It is only through careful, thoughtful, inward consideration of our particular situation that we are able to understand fully where we are in our pain and what we need.

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Your Assumptive World

From the time we are infants, we observe, experience, and learn about the world around us. From these observations and experiences, we form our own particular set of assumptions and beliefs about ourselves, the external world in general, and our relationship to that world. These assumptions, some of which we consciously know and others that become part of our core being, last into our adult lives sheltering our souls. Even if we do not consciously believe it, three premises form the foundation of how we see the world: the world is good, life has meaning, and I am a worthy person.

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Meaning Making

We humans are natural storytellers. We describe our lives in terms of the stories that we tell – the memories of how we grew up or what we did on our summer vacation, how our day went at school or at work, and what our plans are for next Christmas. It is through stories that we put our past in perspective, describe the present, and plan for the future. Of course, these stories change as we experience new things in our every day lives.

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Introduction to Restructuring Your Relationship

Historically, the advice given to those who have lost a loved one was to forget the deceased, quit “spending” so much emotional energy on him/her, “move on” with life, and find another relationship to “invest in.” Robert Neimeyer has a good description for this – love was being treated as if it were money that could be easily re-directed from one investment (relationship) to another. However, for a person who has lost a loved one, such advice seems ridiculously simplistic and cruel. How can we so readily forget someone we love, and besides, why should we? That person was an important part of our lives. How can we be expected to just walk away from those emotional binds? Thankfully, we now realize that “forgetting and re-investing” is bad advice – we can’t, and even shouldn’t, try to. Instead, we should do what we do naturally – actively strive to maintain a connection with our deceased loved one.

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Extraordinary Experiences

Sometimes during their mourning, people hesitantly report that strange things are happening to or around them, and they perceive their deceased love one to be involved.  They think they are ”going crazy” because they feel the presence of, talk to, smell, hear, see, or feel the touch of their loved one.   Others may see a message in the sky created by clouds, the lights in the house may flicker at a certain time, a favorite item of the deceased such as a feather may suddenly appears, etc.  The most common experience is the pleasant and reassuring feeling that the deceased is present.

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Linking Objects

No matter how long we are on this earth, no matter how rich or poor we are, we all accumulate some possessions. Even an infant has gifts given to him/her that become his/her possessions. What we are most interested here are the personal possessions (sometimes called “personal effects”) that our deceased loved one owned. Personal possessions can range from tools used for work or hobbies, clothes, writings, artwork, toys, jewelry, musical instruments, personal items such as a shaver or perfume, recipes, etc. They are those items that are closely associated with our loved one. (I am not referring to large-ticket items such as real estate and financial matters that are best handled through a will.)

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When to Get Help - Children

Certain warning signs that may indicate that a bereaved child needs professional help with his/her mourning. Before I begin, I would like to stress a couple of points. First, not all bereaved children need professional counseling regarding their grief. Children can be remarkably resilient and about two-thirds are able to adjust well within two years after the death. However, one-third of bereaved children have sufficient emotional and/or behavioral problems that counseling may be justified. The challenge is determining which children make up that one-third.

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When to Get Help - Adults

The first situation that may require some professional help is if the mourning seems to go on for a long time. In other words, a person seems to be “stuck.” Most people can tell if they are making some progress in their grieving, but if the mourning has gone on for years, it may be time to find someone who can help discover the reason.

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