I just lost my mom about three weeks ago. She died from complications from a “minor” surgery at age 71. She was healthy for the most part. The doctor said there was no physical reason she shouldn’t have made it through the surgery. Her death was very sudden and unexpected. This was a tragic loss for my son, family, her friends and me.
Mom was one of my best friends and my hero. If anyone had reasons to be bitter and angry at life, she did. And she was in her younger years. However, later in life she embraced life, loved life, took pleasure in little things, lived in the very moment, knew what to hold loosely (things) and what to hold tightly (faith in God, family and friends). Mom grew to see life as half full (really even more than that). She “came alive” in her retirement home & enjoyed the latter part of her life especially. She was a dear mom, grandma, sister, aunt, and friend to all who knew her.
I have not been a stranger to grief in my life. However, this was the most painful, stressful, heart-wrenching and saddest experience I have had up to this point in my life. Dad died about 31 years ago and mom died about three weeks ago. It’s a strange and sad feeling being an adult orphan now at almost 50-years-old.
This puts the spotlight on one of life’s most realistic and saddest experiences - death and grief. It’s real, it’s normal, it’s hard, and it will touch us all at one time or another in our lives. Sometimes, it will come numerous times.
Death can come in many forms. There’s a death of a job when one is fired or laid off. There is a death of a relationship when there is a break up or divorce. There is a death to our dreams when the dream does not happen as we thought. There is a death of companionship when a beloved pet dies.
To love deeply is to open ourselves up to pain and grief when the one we love dies or leaves (or whatever the grief is concerning). To love deeply opens us up to vulnerability. However, I would NOT trade the closeness of my relationship with mom even though to love her meant I hurt deeply when she died.
What are some things we will experience during our grief and how can we get through it? Possessing this knowledge is vital when we are grieving.
There are “stages of grief” that we all go through when we experience a loss. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified these stages as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This does not mean that we will have a smooth transition from one to the next to the next. We will more than likely “bounce” back-and-forth between each of them many times and in various orders. For example, after a month of the loss we may feel acceptance. A few days later we may experience depression again. That same day we may feel anger. A week later we may feel denial again. After that we may feel acceptance and then go back to anger and then back to acceptance. This is 100% normal and to be expected. Grief can produce some physical discomforts like headaches, chest pains, lack of appetite, etc., too.
People with well-meaning intentions will tell us things that are meant to help but don’t. “She or he is in a better place.” “At least they are not suffering anymore.” At least you have one parent left.” “Be strong.” “Don’t spend your time thinking about it.” “God will get you through it.” “God needed him or her so He took them to be with Him.” The list goes on. Though some of these things are true and can provide some comfort, people have to be very careful and sensitive to the timing and amount of grief one has. If grieving, we may need to kindly say to the person/persons telling us this that we appreciate their trying to help, but we just need to be able to feel without being fixed right now.
Let’s give ourselves grace when grieving. Take some time off work. Realize it’s okay if we don’t feel like doing anything for a period of time. If we’re tired, let’s sleep. If we don’t feel like cooking, order out for a few days. If we’re angry at God, at life, at the person who died (or left) for dying (or leaving), at ourselves, etc., this is perfectly normal. Remember that anger is a natural part of grief. God understands. He’s the one who designed the grief process. He’s not mad at us for being mad at Him. Someone said that God has big shoulders. He can take it.
Let’s realize that there are things we wish we would have said or done differently. As close as I was to my mom, and though I said some good things to her, I grieved that there were other things I wanted to say and do that I didn’t get the chance to say and do. This will probably “hit” us all. Death can be sudden and unexpected. They knew our love for them. Sure we said things and did things that were a little aloof of hurtful at times. That’s humanity. That’s relationship. That’s family dynamics. We have also said and did things that affirmed our thoughts and love to them as well. We cannot beat ourselves up with the “woulda,” “coulda,” “shoulda,” “if only,” and other defeating thoughts. These will torment us. If we’re feeling this way, let’s seek out a professional therapist, pastor, family member or friend who can and will affirm us during our guilt.
Talk about our loved one and our grief. Some think if we talk about the loved one and “dwell on him/her,” that it is worse. The opposite couldn’t be truer. Grief will never subside to a “livable” size if we don’t allow ourselves to grieve. I have counseled people who have buried grief only to have it surface 20 years later. This happened to me regarding my dad’s death. It surfaced 20 years later in a lot of anger. Think about our loved one, talk about them, cry, laugh at fun memories, get angry, feel sad, feel hurt, and cry some more, miss them, remember them, and look at pictures. Though grieving lasts longer for some than others, it will eventually lighten only if we allow ourselves to grieve.
Find a good support group. Talk to family, friends, a therapist, a pastor, or a grief support group. This is not a sign of weakness but of strength in that we are facing our grief in order to eventually heal. Let’s make sure that our support is safe. In other words let’s not talk to people who tell us to “hurry and get on with life.” A good support is to talk with those who have experienced a death of a loved one (or a pet, or divorce, or job loss, etc.). They have felt the pain and are more likely to be understanding, compassionate, and listen.
If you enjoy animals, think about eventually getting a pet. Not everyone is a pet lover. If we enjoy pets, but don’t have one, think about getting a pet. Pets have been proven to lower stress, lower blood pressure & heart rate, and give a sense of calm to those who enjoy pets.
Rely on our faith in the Lord. Now, this does NOT mean “Just give our hurt to Jesus!” Our grief is valid and “sacred.” It does mean that 1) Jesus knows our loss, 2) He cares about each tear, 3) He hurts with us, and 4) He will comfort us little by little as we grieve. We may not be able to pray a lot or look to the Scriptures a lot due to our grief. However, one day we may only be able to say a ten second prayer to ask God for His help. This is perfectly fine to God. Remember, it will do us good to be gracious to ourselves and to not expect too much too soon.
Visit the gravesite if that’s what we desire or need to do. I’ve heard others say through the years, “Why do people go to the gravesite anyway? The person is not there. They’re with the Lord!” Usually people who say that have not lost a loved one they were deeply attached to. Or, they have not faced their grief. If we want to, let’s visit the gravesite. Talk to our loved one if we desire. Who knows, God may allow our loved one to hear our words of love and affirmation. I’m not talking about “talking to the dead” in a psychic kind of way. Not at all. I’m simply saying that we are verbalizing our thoughts and feelings of affirmation and love to the one who died. This can be very healing.
If we want to place flowers on the grave or ornaments, let’s feel free to do just that. There is nothing wrong with this if it’s what we want to do to express our grief and appreciation.
Have a memorial of the loved one. We can plant a tree, a flower, have a little memorial garden in our yard, etc. When my son graduates, he’s going to have a small token in his pocket of his grandma (my mom) that belonged to her. It’ll kind of be like her being there for him.
I’m sure there are other things we can do to help work through grief. These, or a few of these, may be a good place to start.
If grief gets complicated, like turning to excessive drinking, drugs, eating, deep depression that is lasting a long time, severe withdraw, etc., let’s seek professional help from a caring and competent therapist who will be able to help us grieve and process through our grief over time. Let’s not suffer in silence or all alone.
If you are personally experiencing a death, divorce, loss of a job, the death of a pet, etc., my heart and prayers are with you and for you. It hurts. It will hurt. Surround yourself with people who deeply love you. You are worth their love.
~Earl E. Hocquard, MACP
A few months ago I wrote an article on depression and anxiety and a few ways to help reduce its symptoms. Depression and anxiety are the top complaints of Americans and why they seek professional help from a therapist.
In my own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, I have found a simple yet helpful “tool” that I personally use to help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The tool is called the here-and-now.
This article is not meant to minimize the problem of depression and anxiety that so many people face. Depression and anxiety is very real to those who struggle with it. I have great empathy on those who deal with it. This article is meant to validate the feelings of those who suffer, and to offer another tool that can greatly help them in their fight for some freedom from depression and anxiety.
Let us consider one of the ways depression and anxiety work. Depression tends to “look back.” In other words, we can get depressed when we look in our past with regrets, “woulds,” “shoulds,” “coulds,” “if onlys,” and other thinking along these lines. Anxiety, on the other hand, tends to “look ahead” in the future and either worry about what might happen, what could happen, what we predict to happen, what others say might happen, or look at ways to control situations that may be out of our hands to control. I think you get the idea. The here-and-now lives in the present. It doesn’t live in the past with the regrets and guilt. It doesn’t live in the future with what could happen and its worries. It lives in the present with what we enjoy now, what we dislike now, what options we have now to help change the things we can, the people we love now, the amount of money we have now, etc.
I want to focus on anxiety for a few minutes here. Anxiety is the result of worrying about things in the future. It causes us to feel nervous, fearful, irritable, on edge, unable to relax, maybe a little hyper-active (or at least “on the go”). It can decrease sleep and eating, etc. It can in some cases cause a gloom and doom feeling. It is uncomfortable to live with day to day. For some, it can be “paralyzing.” Some cannot leave their home to function daily. Anxiety will put the sufferer in what is called a “fight, flight or freeze” mode. Over extended periods of time this is physically unhealthy. It releases cortisol in our system. This can interfere with our ability to fall asleep, thus causing sleeplessness.
If we can work at living in the here-and-now, we will live in the past and in the future less and less. It’s a journey that begins with the first step - making the decision that we will live in the present. Here are some examples of here-and-now thinking: “Money is tight now, but I’m continuing to budget presently. So far I have a little money saved for a rainy day. I can’t worry about what “might” break down in the future. If something does, I’ll deal with it then.” “The car just got fixed. It is working fine presently. My worrying if it’ll break down again next month isn’t going to make it not break down again.” “I have a test today in English. I’ve studied pretty well for this test. I’ll study for my math test in a few weeks, when it’s time to. I’m not going to worry about it today. Two weeks is in the future and I’m living in the present.” “My cancer is in remission, thank God. I have another check-up in six months. I’m going to live in the present and enjoy being in remission. Six months from now I’ll live in the moment when it comes then.” “My job may be laying people off in two weeks. Sure I’m concerned. However, my wife and our two children and I are going to the movie. I’m going to enjoy the moment with popcorn, soda, a relaxing Friday night, and being with my family. I choose not to let what “might happen” in two weeks rob this moment from me now.” These are some examples of here-and-now thinking to help keep us in the moment. Now, this is easier said than done. This is hard to do. I fully agree. At the same time, too, retraining the way we think to live in the present is very beneficial in decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are hard as well. What’s worse, to work on something that’s hard - like living in the present - but has great results on us and our family, or not work on it and getting more depressed and more anxious that’s hard on us and hard on our family with no results? If both are hard, let’s pick the “hard” that has good results.
Jesus knew how hard the symptoms of depression and anxiety were on people. I believe He experienced them as a human being in order to identify with the sufferers of today. Hebrews 4:15, in the Bible, says, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses….” (New Living Translation) This same Jesus, who knew the dis-ease of people living with depression and anxiety, said in Luke 12:22 and 25 - 26, “…don’t worry about everyday life....” He went on to ask, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not! And if worry can’t do little things like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?” (New Living translation) Jesus wasn’t in any way putting people who struggle with worry down. He understands the wounds that life can bring that can cause worry. He was giving us a tool so we didn’t get so “sucked in” to the black hole of worry and anxiety that it paralyzed us. The tool He shared with His listeners was living in the here-and-now. In verse 31, in the New Living Translation, Jesus used the words “day to day.” That’s all we can do is live for the day or for the present moment.
Now that we looked at the benefit of living in the here-and-now, and starting our journey of living in the here-and-now with a choice to do so, how can we grow in this? Let’s look at a few practical tips.
Thought stopping. This is a simple exercise that does give added help to continuing to live in the here-and-now. Thought stopping is a method to interrupt a thought pattern that we are trying to not focus on, and to replace the thought pattern with something else that’s more helpful to us. A person can do this in a few different ways. 1) Wear a rubber band around the wrist. If past or future thinking try to dominate the thinking process, lightly snap the rubber band on the wrist. This “shocks” the thinking process for a moment and you “tell your brain” that you don’t want to think on past or future thinking. You then begin to think on the present moment or the here-and-now. Every time your thought process begins to think on the past or future, repeat the process. 2) Saying, “STOP!” This is for the same purpose - to interrupt the thought process of past or future thinking and then thinking on the present. 3) Set a timer or an alarm on your watch.
Set it to maybe two minutes. This gives you two minutes to think through the past or future and what bothers you. When the timer or alarm goes off, then you shift your thinking to the here-and-now. 4) Use mental pictures or images. You can picture a stop sign in front of your face, or reigns on a horse that you pull back on. This interrupts your thought process to change it to the here-and-now. 5) Pray. Ask God for the strength and help to begin to shift your thinking to the here-and-now. 6) Read. Read a book or magazine that you enjoy. Read the Scriptures. This gives you a diversion and helps you focus on something other than the past or future. Several of these exercises can be used at the same time as well.
Asking a friend to help you. Friends, or family members, are a great resource. They can help in achieving what you or I might have a difficulty doing all alone. They can help in your request to live in the here-and-now. Be sure that they are “safe.” You don’t want someone “helping” you who puts you down for your struggle with living in the here-and-now or who thinks you’re stupid for asking for their help. You want those who understand, who desire to be a help and encouragement to you, and who keep your struggles to themselves (who are confidential).
Professional therapy. Sometimes people need a professional therapist to talk with. The therapist can assess where the individual is in the grieving process. If the individual is grieving, they need to talk about the past or the future. Then, through the process of grieving, the therapist can work with them to live in the here-and-now. There are other ways to help relieve depression and anxiety (as mentioned in another article on this site). This is another cognitive tool that I personally use and have seen very helpful results.
Medication. After seeing a professional therapist, he or she may discover that medication may be in your best interest due to the depression and/or anxiety level. The therapist, at that point, would discuss this with you, get your feedback, and then refer you to a psychiatrist, if you are in agreement. A side note here. Personally I would try other forms of therapy first, like grief counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc. This works well with depression and anxiety. Why do medication first without seeing if counseling/therapy would work first? If therapy only goes so far, then medication is a positive possibility.
You are not weak, silly, faithless or second-class if you struggle with depression and anxiety! A lot of people do. There is no shame in this. God doesn’t shame you. I don’t shame you. These are simply a few things to do to help you in the process of becoming free from the grip of depression and anxiety. I pray God’s help to you in this process.
Earl E. Hocquard, MACP