Episode 19: Healing from Losses, Healing with Grief
June 8, 2020
Intro: Welcome to the podcast Coronavirus Crisis: Carpe Diem, where you and I rise up and embrace the possibilities and opportunities for spiritual and psychological growth in this time of crisis, all grounded in a Catholic worldview. We are going beyond mere resiliency, to rising up to the challenges of this pandemic and becoming even healthier in the natural and the spiritual realms than we were before. I’m clinical psychologist Peter Malinoski your host and guide, with Souls and Hearts at soulsandhearts.com. Thank you for being here with me. This is episode 19, Healing from Losses, Healing with Grief, released on June 8, 2020. And in this episode we really get into how do we heal? How do we move through our losses and heal?
Remember the story of Richard and Susan from Episode 17? Let’s catch up with them and see how they are doing. Now Richard and Susan have been married 28 years, and their three sons are 27, 25, and 23 years old, and all have moved out of the home and are very busy with their lives.
Richard is 61 years old and is somewhat emotionally reserved – he was introverted, and didn’t talk a lot about feelings. He is not that interested in religion, but usually attends Sunday Mass with Susan. He had risen in management at his international engineering firm, eventually leading a team of six in joint venture in artificial intelligence with a foreign company. When that joint venture ended abruptly due to the other firm stealing intellectual property, and the coronavirus lockdowns happened, Richard was laid off. With the worsening economic environment, it’s unlikely he will return to that position. He is struggling with identity issues now, as he has been so invested in his work for so many years. After the layoff he initially kept himself busy with home projects and tinkering with go karts, but lately he has been much more withdrawn and spent much more time distracting himself on the internet, and also experimenting with day-trading stocks.
Susan is 60, she is more extroverted, much more emotionally expressive with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Susan is eagerly awaiting grandchildren now that her oldest son has married. She had been hoping that with her husband home from work and their sons moved out, they would renew their relationship, but there is more distance than ever. Susan has been troubled by the emotional distance in her marriage for the last 25 years, and doesn’t know what to do about it, and for several years there has been almost no physical closeness. This is more acute for her now, that her social activities and connections have been curtailed by the social distancing restrictions.
Twenty years ago, Susan experienced a real deepening of her faith and she began to practice it more seriously, with a regular prayer life an occasional daily Mass and regular confession. She had a scare with breast cancer five years ago from which she recovered. She continues to be in high demand as a professional translator in Spanish and Italian. She has been deeply worried upon finding out two weeks that the first case of the coronavirus has been confirmed at her mother’s assisted living facility. Now her 87 year old mother has shortness of breath, a fever, fatigue and a cough. Now her mother’s health is failing rapidly as they wait for the results of a COVID-19 test. Susan also recently discovered a pornographic pop up window on her husband’s home office desktop. She asked her husband about it, but he said it was nothing.
Quick review from episode 17, where we made clear some definitions.
Loss: deprived of a real, tangible good. Something good is taken from us – it can be the loss of an actual good, or a potential good.
Grief is our individual experience of loss –Grief is our reaction to the loss. It’s our experience of the loss. Psychological, physical, behavioral, emotional.
Mourning is a public expression of our grief, it’s what we show to others. Mourning is how we show our grief.
Loss – loss of job, loss of income, loss of identity, confronting aging and physical decline (no more go-karting, too hard on the body)
Grief – Six stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, Making Meaning
expressed through increased activity initially, seeking distractions through focusing attention (excitement of day trading), seeking comfort in increased pornography use, emotional and physical withdrawal, numbing negative emotions
Mourning – façade of being unaffected, brushing off attempts at connection, consolation
Loss – Loss of mother, loss of trust in her husband, loss of illusions about marriage
Grief – Six stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, Making Meaning
crying, sadness, anger at husband (sense of betrayal), body image issues (sexually undesirable) regret over lost time, “wasting her life” in the marriage, accepting her husband as he is and loving him anyway. Concentration difficulties.
Mourning – sharing with friends, bereavement group, letter to Mom, writing poetry, prayer, reading,
1. Remember that any loss that God permit is a gift. He only permits losses to provide a greater good to the one who grieves. We may not see that – we may only see it in a conceptual, intellectual way, and not feel it. But our feelings do not dictate reality, and they don’t always reflect reality. Romans 8:28. All things work together for good, for those who love the Lord. If we can conceptualize losses as gifts, we can look for the gift in spite of the grief, in spite of the pain.
2. Feel the pain of the grief. Allow yourself to feel it. Accept your emotions, whatever they are. Don’t pack it away in amber. This is what Richard originally tried to do – just wanted to move on with life, considered retirement, porn use to help him feel better, have a sense of control.
a. Allow the time for grief – packed schedule -- Susan cut back her work schedule.
b. Allow for not understanding – when you are grieving you may not understand and that’s ok. – relief comes not from understanding and knowing, but from confidence, trust, and relational connection. Think of little kids.
3. Share the grief with someone you trust– a friend, friend, family member, counselor, confessor – talk about the losses. Susan’s friend Valerie – listened to her.
a. Particularly important to share this grief in prayer. With God. With Mary, or with another saint. Guardian angel. Share it and listen.
b. Providential view. We may not understand why. It’s not in knowledge or understanding that we find security – proxy for control but in confidence and trust in God.
4. If you are a more private person, keep a journal – putting internal experiences into words. Helpful to articulate, to put into words our experience, so we can use our intellect and will better.
5. Letters are another way – After her mother died, Susan wrote her a long letter – it went over all the things she wanted to say to her mother but never did, things she wanted her mother to understand. Can also write letters to God or to Mary
6. Take care of your body – eating well, exercise, rest. Not abusing alcohol, drugs
7. Crying can provide a release – Susan and Valerie could cry together
8. Being out in nature – sunny day,
9. Maintaining a sense of gratitude – focus on appreciation of very little things. This helps ward off anhedonia
10. Maintain a routine
11. Bereavement group or therapy
Things to avoid
Avoid seeking relief through alcohol, smoking, medications, or drugs – or pornography
Lots of activity – can be a way of avoiding grief -- Richard on all the home projects, then daytrading.
Losing a sense of gratitude
How Can I Help Others through Their Grief?
The bereaved are often alone and isolated because we fear doing or saying the wrong thing. Do not let that happen. How can you help?
Prepare yourself. Someone with their own unresolved grief will have a very difficult time comforting a grieving person because their own grief is likely to get activated. Remember Susans’ mother and miscarriages? Her mother couldn’t help her much with that because of her own unresolved grief.
Be you. Be really you. You don’t have to be perfect. Willingness goes a long way
Be willing to talk about the loss – you don’t have to say much, you can mostly listen. You don’t have to know what to say.
Have patience with the grieving person. It takes time. Let the person with the grief set the pace. Valerie – Just sitting with Susan.
Do not deny or minimize the loss; avoid pat answers and easy clichés and platitudes, keep your chin up, this too shall pass.
Acknowledge your limitations.
Take action (for example, call, send a card, help with practical matters).
Be available after everyone else gets back to their regularly scheduled lives
Talk about the deceased – refer to him or her by name.
Guilt is common and often does not have a factual foundation. If someone wants to talk about, encourage that, and do not attempt to stifle or explain guilt away.
Rachel Remen and Michael Rabow (summarized by Lynn Barkley Burnett) present other approaches that have proven helpful to people coping with loss, along with those that are unhelpful.
Let me talk about it as long as I wanted to
Told me everything I was feeling was normal
Let me cry
Cried with me
Sat with me and listened
Called me back again
Was physically and emotionally present in the moment Richard and Susan’s second son John sat with Richard. Brought a photo album of go karts and went over the memories. Affectionate toward Dad.
Held my hand -- Valerie caught her hand, in spite of the social distancing. Held it.
Said "I am sorry" and meant it
Said " I am here for you"
Talked to me the same way after my loss as before
Made food for me
Listened and listened
Brought their dog – John brought the dog, walked with him.
What does not help
Tried to problem solve
Changed the subject
Gave advice before they knew the whole story
Talked about themselves and their losses
Said "call me if you need anything"
Got me to take care of their feelings about my loss
Didn' t acknowledge my perspective
Explained how I caused the loss
Told others about our conversation without asking me
Said this will be a great learning experience
Gave advice without being asked
Told me "don't cry"
Action item: If you really like these podcasts, I want you to register for the private Resilient Catholics: Carpe Diem! Community here
. In this community, we go deeper into the topics from this podcast, for even better resiliency, even more rising up and taking on the challenges of these troubled time, even more transformation, even more growth in the psychological and spiritual realms. In the Resilient Catholics: Carpe Diem! Community, I work directly with you in small and large groups, Free for the first 30 days, after that only $25 per month, which is a real deal for the kinds of experiential learning you will receive. You can quit anytime. We’re starting to build up our archive of resources. For example, we are posting the video and audio recordings from the two Zoom community meetings we recently had – one on working through grief, especially unacknowledged grief and one in which I teach two stress management techniques to community members, all grounded in a solidly Catholic worldview. There’s also discussion boards and messaging among community members – it is the very best place in the whole virtual world for people like you – people who really want to grow both spiritually and psychologically, and shed off psychological barriers to loving God and neighbor better. So come join us, check us out at soulsandhearts.com.
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