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Coping with Your Grief Over the Uvalde Murders

Uvalde, Texas, is grieving. America is grieving. A single man has committed a crime of unimaginable violence, taking the lives of at least 21 people—19 of them children—and now an entire country is bereft. Whether you live near Uvalde or far away, whether you personally know someone connected to the tragedy or not, you are probably grieving. Because you have empathy, you are grieving on behalf of the families whose loved ones were so senselessly taken from them. Grief is normal and necessary. In addition, you may be experiencing a loss of a sense of safety for your own family and others you care about. You may have lost a sense of goodness in the world. You might also have lost trust or pride in your country or community. You are also probably wrestling with why this happened, as well, and your search for answers is part of your grief.

Grief Dreams

Have you ever dreamed of someone who died? “Grief dreams” (dreams of the deceased) have not been extensively studied, yet what research exists shows they are common. 53-75% (Black et al. 2019) of recently surveyed bereaved individuals had one or more dreams about someone important to them who has passed away; they reported both positive and negative dream imagery, but overwhelming appreciated and felt helped by the dreams. Even reliving trauma related to the death seemed to have a positive impact in most cases, helping the dreamer to process and incorporate the loss.

A Bond Unbroken:  Remaining Connected to Friends Who Have Died

Losing a friend can be a shattering event, one that we will likely experience more than once over the course of our lives. Because friends can take on multiple roles in one relationship (how often have we heard, "She was my best friend, but she was also like a mother/mentor/sister to me"?), we can feel this loss experientially on many different levels.  We may be surprised at the depth and strength of our feelings and be uncertain about how to move forward and begin to cope after a friend dies.

For several years I presented weekly wellness classes to adult men and women cancer patients at a cancer support facility. Most of the classes focused on ways for participants to optimize wellness while undergoing various treatments for cancer. Such classes provided a sense of direction and hope at a time when fear and pain dominated life’s daily landscape.  I also presented classes to terminally ill patients, often attended with their family members; these classes focused on providing direction and hope through activities that fostered life review and the exploration of meaning so that participants could come to a sense of peaceful completion at the end of life’s journey. One activity we always did was the writing of an ethical will - it is an activity I still do with my private end-of-life clients. Recently I began urging some of my grief support clients to explore ethical will writing to great benefit as a tool for processing the sudden or tragic death of a loved one.

"I want you and dad to keep living."

The grief journey. I’m sure it’s a little different for everyone and that something in the above list resonates with and makes those grieving feel a bit better. At least I hope so. But the truth is, my experience so far is, that when I wake up panicked at 3 a.m., the only two on the list that I hear are the last two. There truly are no words. And the worst thing ever is burying your child – in my case, my only child.

Just as we benefit from having an active support system when we are grieving, so too do we want to support others in our life who are experiencing bereavement. It is compassionate and healthy to be there for friends and family, colleagues and acquaintances who are navigating grief after loss.

The Process of Accepting Difficult Grief Emotions

Several months after he lost his wife Mary, my very first grief support client Tony said to me: “The sadness is back - again. I hate this! I wish I didn’t feel this way – I just don’t know what to do with this much sad. I think I’m failing at grieving.”  Since then, I’ve heard these words repeated often by other clients. This sense of not knowing how to grieve right is a common response during the mourning period to the unfamiliar experience of dealing daily with difficult loss emotions.

As I think about the many ways in which this global health crisis has shaped and shifted our everyday lives and culture, always central in my preoccupations and concerns is the omnipresence of grief. Whereas we know that grief is uniquely experienced from person to person, the sheer saturation of individual and collective losses over the last two years can seem overwhelming. It would be challenging to find anyone who has not experienced weighty losses over the last two years, whether from the death of a loved one or through other means.

The death of a loved one brings a sort of emotional trauma to family and friends: someone we once knew to be solid and permanent is now only available to us as thought and memory. Learning to come to terms with this reality is the very essence of the grief healing process.  Important Note: This post contains stories about infant loss, mass-fatality violence and suicide. Client names have been changed for reasons of privacy.

This Year, Resolve to Remember A Life

Some New Year’s resolutions, such as starting to exercise, eating better or making a career change, can be difficult to keep. We often start out the New Year energized to make big changes in our lives, but it’s often not long before we let these resolutions go by the wayside. This year, how about resolving to do things that keep the memory of your loved one alive? Whether you choose to do something on your own or invite family and friends to participate, here are some ideas to inspire you ... 22 resolutions for 2022. Select a few and make 2022 the year of Remembering A Life.