#divorce, #hope, Addiction, Alzheimer's, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, compassion, Discovery, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Resilience, Uncategorized, wellness

Rearview Mirror: 2018

As we bid farewell to another year,

action blur car daylight
Thanks, 2018.

I find myself once again, reflecting.

Which honestly, I think I do too often. I’ve never reflected so much in my entire life, as I have in the last 2 years.

Frankly, it’s exhausting.

I find myself looking for fellow reflectors – travelers on this newfound trail of introspection.  Those are the people I can really talk to. The people who can skip pleasantries, and understand what it’s like when your life got flipped, turned upside down.  Those folks are rare, but easy to identify.

How? By the big questions they’re asking, the books they’re reading, and their willingness to raise their hands – like the annoying kid in school – begging to be called on, ambiguous grievers are often eager to discuss their grief (i.e. overshare asap).

But, why?

Because ambiguous grievers are isolated unless we find others – our people.  And if we are isolated, we aren’t healing.

Looking back, I realize that I noticed these people prior to my own induction into the group, but I never knew what to do with them.  I realize now that my ignorance in grief meant I was pretty lousy at offering comfort. Instead, I would offer a “relational story”.

Maybe I’d share that I had a friend with a similar story, or had a friend-of -friend who had a happy ending after your same thing happened to her. Of course, my story offerings were all uninvited and unsolicited commentary.  Sorry after the fact, to anyone who was on the receiving end of my then  so-called “comfort”.

I just didn’t know any better. Now I do.

I learned this by watching (some very wise, or experienced) friends counsel me.  How they showed up for me,  I noticed the ones that offered relational story comfort like I had, and how it lacked any real comfort, even though it was always well-intended.  What got my attention is what gave me actual comfort, specifically what friends said, or did that helped.

The people who would say things like “I’m sorry, I know you’re hurting and I love you” or I’m here in you want to talk”, or even “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I’m thinking of you.”  Equally helpful were the people (BLESS THEM) who would just listen,  like the cousin who booked a flight to spend a long weekend me with doing ALL the mundane things a single mom does,  the gently encouraging friend who invited me, without pressure, to her Christmas party THREE times, or the friend who dropped off a 1,000 piece puzzle (of my kids’ faces no less) to keep me busy during a difficult few days without them. Not ONE of these friends shared the ole “relational story” and all of them really, truly, helped me.

As someone who has been living with ambiguous grief for the last two years, and fiercely fighting to get “through” it, I have recently come to accept that this deeply felt loss may never fully leave me.  Rather, it is something that has become a part of me, and something I’ll likely always carry with me, and learn to live with, at least in some form. Just like my broken tibia from 5th grade.

And why wouldn’t it? 

Ambiguous grief happens only after the loss of non-ambiguous love.  It is grief born when your loved one is no longer as they once were to you, yet they haven’t died.  That love has to go somewhere, right?

As I look back on the past year, I’m grateful to learn that my own experience in ambiguous grief has actually helped others. I’ve helped not because I have all the answers (far from it!), but because I am simply willing to talk about it.  In the world of the social media “highlight reel”, we don’t often see the pain, hardship, or struggles of our friends and family.  But, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  It just means they are kept private, often held close for personal reasons.  Maybe the griever grew up in a environment where one didn’t “air dirty laundry”, or maybe they struggle with low self-esteem, or lack a sense of belonging.  I have learned that another reason we don’t share our setbacks has a lot to do with shame and embarrassment, with worry of rejection or abandonment.  All of which leads to isolation, among other things.

I learned about that too, (firsthand) in 2018.

By being curious about my personal experience with grief, and along with the encouragement of trusted friends and even experts in the field, I spent a large part of 2018 studying “AG” and it’s gnarled nuances.  I’ve listened to countless stories from those in struggle and I’ve found strength in their resilience.  All of which helps me remember I am resilient, too. (or at the very least, striving to be!)

My priorities have shifted in 2018, in large part because I’m now a single parent of three teens who are my first priority.  I’m working hard on my mental and physical health and I’m spending more time in prayer and meditation than ever before.  I’m spending time with people and activities that help me heal and learning to let go of the things and people that don’t. (I wish I could say I am doing this last part gracefully, but at least I’m trying.)

2017 was the hardest, most trying, and emotionally painful year of my life.

2018 was the second hardest/painful, yielding the most personal growth, and hands-down, the most spiritually fulfilling year of my life.

2019, I would like to be a little easier on my heart, and even more gratifying for my soul. Pretty, pretty please.

While I don’t know what lies ahead, I know who I am, and I know that I’m not alone.

Thanks to my people for being with me this year. Even if you told me about your neighbor’s sister’s best friend’s high school guidance counselor who also had my same story.

I understand and am oh, so grateful.

xo

PS – You can learn more about ambiguous grief and even take an assessment to better understand if this is something you may be experiencing, by checking out: www.ambiguousgrief.com 

 

 

 

Addiction, Alzheimer's, Ambiguous Grief, compassion, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Resilience, Uncategorized, wellness

AmbiguousGrief.Com

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 8.15.40 AMReally excited for the launch of ambiguousgrief.com. In collaboration with my research partner, Dr. Sophia Caudle, this site features everything Ambiguous Grief (AG):

🌱the AG Process Model   🌱the AG survey and  (interesting) survey findings 🌱an Assessment Tool- to help determine if you are experiencing AG 🌱links to helpful articles and meaningful personal stories.

It’s my hope that this website will serve both patients and clinicians alike, and help them to recognize and name this grief. Doing so is the start of a positive pathway to healing, and I know it’s important. 

Also, whaaaaatttttt?! 🙋🏻‍♀️this girl learned to build a website! 🙌🏻 Yes! hashtag#ambiguousgrief hashtag#grief hashtag#resilience hashtag#posttraumaticgrowth hashtag#recovery hashtag#mentalhealth hashtag#mentalhealthawareness hashtag#addiction hashtag#divorce hashtag#discovery hashtag#deathofarelationship hashtag#healing 🌱

Addiction, Alzheimer's, Ambiguous Grief, Grief, Grief Support, Uncategorized, writing

Use Your Words

View story at Medium.com

When my kids were toddlers and learning to talk, I used to tell them to “use your words” when they wanted to express something. Though those years are now long behind us, I recently found myself encouraging one to “use your words”, when a frustrating situation was spinning in the wrong direction.  Then, I heard myself give the same advice today, this time to strangers asking my advice on how to cope with ambiguous grief.

As it turns out, ambiguous grief impacts a lot of people.

(Who knew?!)

Two years ago, I surely didn’t.

In fact, I didn’t even know it existed.

But not anymore.

Now, I know it well, and I am honored to hear from others who are finding themselves seeking to understand their “different” grief, too.  Just today alone I was contacted by three people who heard of my story and writings on “AG”, and wanted to connect.  They too, were looking for is an understanding of what they were experiencing, and finding that few (if anyone) in their circles seemed to understand, much less feel comfortable wanting to listen and discuss.

Their stories were varied, but all held the commonality of heart-aching loss and deep grief over losing a loved one, but not to death.  One to the diagnosis of addiction, one to an unwanted divorce, and another to the discovery of deep intimate betrayal.  Though each “entered” into ambiguous grief from a different starting point, all were working to reframe (if possible) their relationships with their living loved one.

When asked what tools help me the most, I always talk about writing.  Which can take many forms: journaling, blogging, scratches on paper, or typing notes on your phone.

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

So, today I suggested they each try writing out their stories so as to seek to find words to express their pain.  But none of them thought they could.

“No, It’s too late, I should have started when this first happened.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start, it’s so painful and I’m not a writer.”

“I don’t know if I even have the words to describe this.”

While I understand that not everyone enjoys writing, or believes they are capable (they are!), I invited them to consider doing so for a few reasons:

1) It helps one articulate and process difficult emotions and experiences

2) If shared, it can be a powerful tool for helping – oneself and others. (and you all know how much it’s helped me!) Check out this article that speaks to writing as a healing tool for both mind and body!

3) I reminded them that this isn’t a submission for a Pulitzer Prize – it’s writing FOR THEM! It’s available for public consumption only if they so choose.

I assured them that their story could be theirs and theirs alone.  Or when ready, maybe shared with a friend or two, so that they can better understand the experience.  Or perhaps they may feel brave enough to share it with their networks on social media, or submit it for publishing in hopes that it may resonate and be of service to someone in need.  But for now, just.start.writing.

Recently, a friend wrote about, and bravely publicly shared a candid account of a difficult day.  As her mother transitions into residential care for Alzheimer’s Disease, their roles are shifting and the relationship taking a new form. Her story is a beautiful testament to the power of love and the willingness to face, and not run from, ambiguous grief.  I invite you to read it and share it, too.  We never know who our stories will inspire.

Beth's STORY

Read Beth’s Story

Then, I hope you’ll consider writing your own story.  My hope is that the more we share our truths – the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the hideous piles of pain – the more we will be able to heal, see our shared humanity in one another, and help feel well-able to move through the difficult days when they arise.

So pick up a pen, or plunk on your laptop – whatever modality helps you “write”.

Start by writing just for you, without the pressure of sharing it.  Don’t worry about structure or punctuation, just do what my kiddos would do, and

use your words.  

I know you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#divorce, #hope, Addiction, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, compassion, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Uncategorized, wellness

The Sacred Act of Holding Space

Last summer, deep in grief,  I was exchanging texts with my dear and wise friend, Robin. We were supporting one another through difficult life transitions, and connected often. During one particular exchange, she signed off with a sentiment unfamiliar to me.

It was a simple salutation, but I didn’t understand it.

I’m holding space for you…”, she wrote.

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Not entirely sure what that meant, and not yet inquisitive enough to ask, I shelved the comment.

Until a few days later, when she wrote it again.

 

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As I understood it, she was telling me in her own way, that she was thinking of me.  

Awww.  So nice, right?

Wrong. Way wrong.

I finally did ask her what she meant by it, and as it often happens, I started to hear and read about other people using the same term as well.  

Now, months later, having space held for me, and holding space in return, I get it.

I truly get it.

I understand that holding space is one of the most important gifts we can give those we love and care about.

It’s far more than just “thinking about you”.  It’s seeing a friend in distress and making a commitment to stand grounded in empathy and compassion.  

Holding space is quiet and strong, and it doesn’t rush in to try to “fix” anything.  

Holding space doesn’t offer advice or make suggestions.  It certainly doesn’t compare their pain to yours.

Rather, it acknowledges that a person is experiencing deep, even complicated, feelings.  It recognizes that such emotion must be felt and endured, not numbed and buried.

Holding space invites conversation, it listens and affirms.  It honors the human experience through the most difficult and trying times.   In doing so, it acknowledges our shared humanity.  Which feels so “right”, yet is so counterintuitive in today’s fast-paced, multitasking, solution-oriented society.  

Here, we want to ease the suffering of our brethren, so we are often quick to offer advice, make suggestions, and even relay stories of others in similar situations, hoping the connection will provide comfort.  

It’s hard to see those we care about in pain, so for some, it’s natural to want to help.  

For others, seeing loved ones ache is a scary mirror to our own struggle, so we offer nothing and simply go away.  

But holding space gives the gift of understanding to our grief and struggle without any pressure to “get over it”, or “move on”.  Holding space doesn’t abide by a timeline.

In having this done for me, I have been able to do so for others.  In this practice, I have come to learn that holding space is indeed, a sacred act.  I am so honored to hold space for others.  

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Still not sure what this looks like?

Here’s a handy dandy reference guide to get you started:
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So, who could you hold space for today?  Or perhaps you are someone who would benefit from the love of space being held for you?  Reach out and share space, and watch it come back to you.

Lastly, I wonder what our world would be like if we showered one another with this seemingly benign salutation, and really meant it.

I have to believe we would feel as seen as supported as I have.  (Thanks, Robin)

Holding space,

Stephanie