Text Size

April 2005


By Al Vigil

Some life events are happening in my life now that are bringing up the pains associated
with losses of lives. 'New grief' of course brings up 'past grief.'

We're taught that we should love others as much as we love ourselves. Often times this is at best a difficult if not impossible task. Alright I'll say it out loud: I have found it hard to love some people that I don't
like. But, then we give ourselves guilt with the 'shoulds.'

Common 'shoulds' can happen after a loved one, or someone we 'should have loved' dies. Call it guilt, or anger, or blame; it's still ... 'I should have loved them more.' 'I should have been a better son/daughter.' 'I should have treated him/her better.' 'I should have known... .'

I'm working very hard into changing my 'shoulds' to 'I did the best I could at the time.'

'I did the best I could' — now those short six words, clearly speak of forgiveness for yourself and for the one that died. It speaks of resolution and amends of critical issues between those gone and with you as the survivor of that person's death.

The very difficult part about forgiveness between the survivor and the deceased is that we can't be sure that 'forgiveness' was given or received. One of the people involved with the issue is not here to accept or to deny the outreach of that forgiveness.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to forgive while people are still alive. It is also definitely easier now than later, when it's certainly too late. When we've been seriously hurt, we can know that forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting ...it means resolving.

Life isn't about forgetting. It's about forgiving ...so that we can live on.

Between the writing of these words, and your reading them., I have started my very own 'need to forgive'
list. Some of the people on the list are deceased and some are still very much alive.

The list won't be very long, —but not as short as I would have preferred.

I pray that God will help me to forgive. He will understand when I can't forget.


"Surviving Grief ...and Learning To Live Again"
By Dr. Catherine M.. Sanders
( Reviewed by Al Vigil)

On the dust jacket this book is described as — "An insightful compassionate account of the grieving process that helps us through the pain and isolation experienced with the loss of a loved one."

To begin this review I want to use the very words of Dr. Catherine Sanders, "A broken heart is not a myth." Now ... I want to add my own words, "I knew that!"

When we lose someone to any kind of a death, we grieve. Most of the descriptions about the grieving process that I have read and heard about, are very similar. In an unexpected death there is shock, anger, denial, helplessness, etc. —and not necessarily in that order. Life on a day to day basis, even moment to moment, becomes a roller-coaster of emotions. It is very insightful that the author, Dr. Sanders, describes the grieving process as normal healing phases that one just has to go through.

In the first phase, especially in an unprepared death, there is 'shock.' Dr. Sanders uses the word shock to describe the physical and mental trauma that we sustain when we first learn about the loss. The length of the shock will depend on the intimacy and the support that we have with those that love and care about us.

In the second phase we become 'aware of the loss' as time goes on and we choose to continue living without the person that died. Our life is different. We can feel untethered to anything that has previously meant security.

The third and fourth phases she describes as 'conservation and the need to withdraw' and 'the turning point.'

But it is the fifth phase : renewal —that gives us hope, and assurance that we will heal from the pain that breaks our heart. We can recognize that there is a road toward joy and happiness with those that still love us.

There are many lessons in grief. We can learn them one at a time. We can call them steps or we can call them phases, but how well we learn them will be demonstrated in how well we apply them — as we continue to choose life for ourselves.

Dr. Sanders works through her own grief as a psychologist in private practice in Tampa, Florida. Her knowledge of the grief process is personal. She knows grief first hand with the loss of her aunt, her father, her 17 year old son, her brother, her son-in-law, her mother, and her husband.

After the serious injury of her son in a terrible boating accident she couldn't admit to the thought that he might die. "How could he?" she writes, "Children don't die." But ...he did die, and not the Dr. Sanders, but the Catherine, —the mother of Jim, later became aware of how afraid people are of another's tear's as she worked through her own grief.

"Surviving Grief ...and Learning To Live Again" is published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Available in bookstores under Psychology/self-help.

A Death In The Family
By Jill Curtis (Re-Printed with permission © 2004)

Sooner or later we are all affected by the death of someone we love. Of course, we each have our own individual way of reacting when we are faced by grief and loss, so keep in mind that one person's response may be very different from another's. If this is not taken into account, there can easily be a rift between different family members. Whereas some people find an outlet in uncontrollable tears, others may weep in private, or indeed find it impossible to let go at all in this way.

The death may have come out of the blue and so the sudden shock at hearing the news may make it difficult to accept that it has taken place at all: this kind of denial is often the first reaction, and so the often heard 'Oh, no!' is thus a way of warding off the dreaded tidings.

A death caused by an accident will trigger off a host of questions; a preoccupation with 'What if's' is likely to haunt for some time. Almost all deaths bring about a need to blame someone, and so after a suicide the family left behind will often wrestle in vain to understand how they missed the signals which if acted on may have saved a life. If the death comes from an accident, it is not unusual for the blame to fall upon the person who has died 'What on earth was she doing?' or 'Why did he go there?' The hardest situation of all is when someone blames themselves for the death - for whatever reason - of the one they loved.

To be racked by 'if only's' is all too common, and if the loss comes as a result of depression, drinking too much, or drug abuse, families are left in torment about what they should - or could - have done. It is often little comfort to know that ways were tried and failed. The burden carried is not lightened, and indeed the weight is often compounded, by the thought that 'I should have tried harder'. But, in fact it is not always possible to know the extent of someone's alcohol or drug intake, and certainly depression can be masked in all manner of ways from the most observant and caring person.

Keep in mind also that a miscarriage is a bereavement. Remember that misery can be added to anguish by kindly friends saying supposedly encouraging things such as 'Try again right away' or even not accepting the event for the tragedy it is.

If a death comes after a long illness it can be a surprise to find that even though you thought you were prepared for it to happen, the impact is still painful and time is still needed to ease the grief. It is not helpful to hear from well-meaning friends or family that 'It was a blessed release.' Very often hearing that doesn't help at all.

As much as we may accept that to lose a parent is in the order of things, and even if we think we have prepared ourselves for this eventuality, the blow when it comes is severe. If there has been deep love, then the loss can be almost unbearable, if there has been discord, the pain of knowing that it is now too late to mend fences can be very hard to deal with.

How can you help someone through their grief and mourning? Never try to encourage someone to look on the bright side. To say 'He lived to a ripe old age' or 'It's for the best, really' or even 'She would have wanted it this way' is actually to dismiss the complicated and raw feelings that are stirred up after a death of a loved one. Even wise words, such as 'Time is a great healer' do not mean very much to someone in the throws of mourning. Anyone who is suffering needs all the support they can get. People need this help, though, in different ways. For some, to know that there is a friend to call on at any time of the day or night is a blessing; for others to be left to grieve in peace is the best gift you can provide. Empathy and understanding are the watch words here. If you are truly wanting to help someone - be there when they feel an urge to talk, and fade into the background when they need some space. Make sure that there is food available, and be on the lookout for jobs that must be done. A flurry of activity is often a way of masking grief, and if this is someone's way of coping let them be.

How long does this acute period of mourning last? It varies with each of us. Prolonged grief can blight someone's life - remember how Queen Victoria reacted to the premature death of her beloved Albert. Fortunately in today's world help is available from a variety of outside sources. A visit to a GP, a counselor, or a call to a 'Crisis Center' may be what is needed. Recovery from a bereavement takes many forms. Some men and women can, and do, eventually move on. Others are walking-wounded for a long long time. So be kind, whether to yourself or someone close to you, and take time not only to mourn, but to recall the good times as well. These memories will help to keep out the bitter cold of knowing you have lost forever someone who had a special place in your heart.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Jill Curtis - is a senior psychotherapist working in the UK.

Over the past three years Jill has developed "Family Onwards"which has over a hundred articles on it and is a continually expanding section of reviews of books on various family issues. She has also contributed to other web sites connected with parenting, families, self-help, divorce, gay issues and women's interests. Her website and articles receive enthusiastic praise.


Twelve Suggestions To Help Healing & Growth After The Death Of A Loved One
# 1. Permit yourself to fully experience your feeling of grief, fear, guilt, bitterness, etc. Admit that you are having these feelings, then ride them out. You will feel better afterwards. If you hold them back, they will build up and overwhelm you.

# 2. Avoid telling others you feel fine if you don't. You need not go into detail about how you feel but don't avoid being honest about your feelings.

# 3. Don't tell yourself you should do things. Say to yourself; I will choose to do this. Make it your choice, not what you feel someone else thinks you should.

# 4. Gradually learn to refer to possessions as yours, rather than his/hers. When you say my car, my house," etc, you are accepting your true situation.

# 5. Reflect on your dreams. They may let you see your subconscious attitudes and thereby enable you to face and work through them.

# 6. Seek new friends. Try new activities and hobbies. Join organizations and groups that you think you would enjoy being a part of.

# 7. Have an imaginary conversation with your loved one, in which you talk over your future plans. Especially say goodbye, so that you can move ahead with your life.

# 8. Once you make a decision, do not make it over a dozen times. Think a problem through carefully and decide what you feel is best to do and then do it without regrets.

# 9. If you think of yourself as a unhappy person, who isn't any fun any more, you will convince yourself that you are that kind of person. Think of yourself realistically, instead as a person undergoing a severely stressful situation.

# 10. Be fully aware of everything and everyone around you. You cannot think of two things at once, so this will let you forget your grief at least part of the time.

# 11. Outgrow your fear of being alone. Being alone, at least part of the time permits you to get to know and to like yourself.

# 12. Normal feelings include all emotions that you are feeling. We grow through our experiences. When we experience many emotions we live a fuller life that people who have only experienced a few, and we do become stronger as a result of it.

Forgiveness is letting be,
What was, be gone,
What will be, come,
What is now, be.

Leo Bascaglia — "Loving Each Other"


By Dr. Tom L. Gillette

As a sociologist who teaches death and dying and a hospice patient volunteer, I am intensely and sometimes painfully aware of the secularization and denial in American society. Much of our behavior is based upon avoidance and it is an all too rare individual who sees dying as an important and potentially enriching spiritual experience. In a very real and perhaps tragic sense, death has lost its spiritual meaning. Or at least the meaning it might have.

Death reveals to us our central social processes. There was a time, for example when the majority of us died at home. It is estimated that most of us will die somewhere else, usually in an institutionalized setting. Despite their contributions to our overall health care, I don't much care for any kind of institution as a place to die. They tend to be lonely, depressing, and ultimately alienating for both the living and the dying. Most importantly, the spiritual dimension of death is too often institutionalized to such a degree that it fails to recognize the ultimate significance to the individual of this profound transition. Conscious choices of living out the end become limited by institutional norms.

"Conscious dying is impossible without conscious living."

In my years as a hospice volunteer I have never known a patient who would choose an institution over his or her home a place for making their passage. In my teaching of medical school faculty I rarely encounter a physician who wants to die in a hospital, if given the choice. Perhaps this will change in the future, where we will have "Soylant Green" type arrangements for death. But for now, there is a tragic lack of spiritually nurturant places for dying.

Who wants to die with a sense of being unknown? Or known only as "the patient in 12-B"? Unloved? important? Shuffled out of the mainstream to make way for the living? Not me. I am going to say goodbye in my own home, with my friends around me, and the music of Mozart backing up the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. At least that is part of my plan. But there is more to it than that. This is only the beginning of "conscious dying."

"Every day provides us with dozens of choices."

The idea of conscious dying has been around for a long time, but tends to get lost in the morass of mass society and scientific procedure for prolonging life. Stephen Levine in his book "Who Dies?" suggests that the "first recognition in the process of acknowledging. Opening, and letting go that we call 'conscious dying' is when we begin to see that we are not the body."

You might look at it this way. You have a body, but it is not you. No more that when
you put on a raincoat, the raincoat becomes you. Sounds simple, but of course it is not. Some of us spend years trying to internalize and personalize that idea! and then consider its ramifications for both living and dying.

The great Buddhist meditation master, Sogyal Rinpoche, views death as a natural event which he knows he cannot escape. However he takes the position, as do most Buddhist masters, that we can prepare for our death. "If we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well. Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind and in our way of life." Conscious dying is impossible without conscious living. Prominent scholars and writers from all major groups will agree with this, one way or the other.

We can actually use our lives to prepare for death. We can look at our life now, not waiting until the end for an assessment. We can look for meaning and purpose to our life. Every moment of life provides an opportunity to prepare for death and for eternity. Every day provides us with literally dozens of choices which shape our preparation for death. Those choices may move us toward positive spiritual evolution, or the opposite. If you choose consciously, you evolve consciously. Unconscious choice means unconscious evolution.

So which do you choose? What is your intention with each choice? A choice of love and compassion? or a choice of alienation and conceit? a choice of peace or a choice of conflict? It is your conscious choice, your conscious intention which is the ultimate driving force which determines the quality of your life and your death and 'What Comes Next.'

At least that's the way it seems to me.


Everything changes, nothing ever stays the same !

Letting go of the way things are, is our growth and our healing !

Anticipating the good things that changes might become,

can free us to live each new moment to its fullest !


Security code