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How to Handle the Complexities of Grief

Parents throughout the world can understand the anger and grief displayed this week by Leonard Gengel, father of 20 year old Britney Gengel who is still missing in Haiti.  Not only is his loss devastating to the core of his being but he was mistakenly told she was found due to faulty intelligence. Leonard and his wife are beside themselves with grief and frustration as are many other families with love ones in Haiti. Of course Haitians themselves are stricken with overwhelming grief as their families are torn apart with no clear hope of a better tomorrow.

How does one cope with such agonizing grief? Is it even possible to overcome such emotional pain?

This morning one of my clients seemed on edge in a group coaching session. He is a mild mannered person, has wonderful character and is always reaching out to help others in group and in his life. Today he related in an uncharacteristic manner as he expressed anger toward me and immediately I thought something must be hurting him that he was not disclosing. As he went on to complain about certain aspects of his life it was obvious that these irritations were not enough to significantly change his typical temperament. Another group member commented, “I think what’s really bothering you is your still grieving your mother’s death, after all it has only been a few months”. At that moment my client began to tear and he began to talk of how he felt seeing his mother wither away to nothing, while she experienced inordinate pain. “I can’t get the images of her suffering out of my mind, I was so angry at being so dam helpless”.

As the session progressed other members shared similar reactions to deaths or losses they had experienced. One member talked of how his sister recently went to his father’s grave and screamed at him for not taking care of himself, he talked of how her anger seems to grow and grow every week. “I thought it was a good thing, getting all this anger out, right Dr. C?”

It is normal to feel anger when we fear losing someone we love or in fact do loose that person. Leonard Gengel’s anger is understandable to anyone who loves their children, just as it understandable that my client’s sister is angered by a father who drank himself to death. We are angered by our helplessness, by our lack of control and by our inability to change a horrendous outcome into something positive.

If embellished too long anger however can be a defense against acknowledging and working through more fundamental feelings. It is also dangerous as it stresses our physiology to an unhealthy point where it can cause heart disease and other life threatening illnesses. It is a natural first reaction, certainly one in Mr. Gengel’s case that can propel him into action until he obtains the answers he and his wife deserve.

Grief is not comfortable for anyone. We all would rather avoid it and the conflicts in our lives if we could. Some people believe if they avoid and turn away it will go away. Don’t fool yourself, it will not. Avoidance may bring you relief temporarily, but the emotions associated with conflict will come out sideways if not expressed directly. When they do emerge indirectly we end up arguing about the toothpaste being squeezed out of the wrong end, and those close to us begin to think we’re being irrational, stubborn and close minded. We are dismissed because the focus of our anger seems irrelevant and superficial.

My client’s irritation with me and earlier with his wife was an excellent example of this kind of avoidance. Why did he choose this direction? Well I don’t think it was a conscious thought, but somewhere within him he felt out of control, helpless, anxious and scared. Expressing anger over minor issues probably gave him a sense of control and relief for a few, brief minutes. Knowing his character I knew he would apologize after our session ended and he did. I told him I took no offense. I knew he was suffering and I told him it’s normal to express frustration  to those we trust when were overwhelmed. He began to tear, lowered his head and thanked me graciously.

If those close to you are grieving give them a little space, don’t be overly sensitive if their mood is off. When one party is in grief and the other is not there it is a relational mis-match for a time. My client’s wife cannot experience the death of his mother the way he does. If he is more aware of his mood going forward, explaining at times that his thoughts of his mother’s illness are haunting him, his mood will likely be more understandable to her. Consequently he is less likely to need to choose a non-related outlet.

What happened in our group session this morning is what needs to happen in anyone’s life if they are going to grieve constructively and overcome the effects of traumatic loss. If you are in the role of the helper expressing understanding, empathy, compassion, tolerance and having the ability to look beyond the surface are essentials to guiding the tormented person to health. If you are the person grieving  you are likely to find yourself experiencing the gamut of feelings, expect your mood to fluctuate and try your very best to not spend time on small irritations, it is a sign that more important concerns are being avoided. When we lose all control we naturally look to things we can control to escape our feelings of helplessness. Acceptance of our limitations is a key part of grieving and in many ways a key aspect to healthy living .We don’t get to choose how people live, we can’t control natural disasters or chronic illness but we can develop the tools that allow us to cope with as much resiliency as possible.

We grieve because we have loved deeply. We recover through love as well. The love of those who care enough about us to tolerate our fluctuating moods allows us to heal the wounds of a broken heart.

Have a Spirit of Giving to our Haitian Sisters and Brothers

People around the world have joined forces in attempts to help Haitians who are suffering enormous hardship. These are the times when our empathy and compassion drive us to do whatever we can to be of help. I have listened to many people tell me how this experience has made them more grateful and appreciative of the freedoms and good fortune we enjoy in our country.

Suffering unites those of us who are interested in mankind; many people find it unbearable that some individuals have to endure life’s greatest pains while not having the support needed to cope effectively.  Those of good character want to help!

I was watching Haitian children singing in the streets the other day.  As their voices pleaded with God for solace I could see their spirits rise despite the chaos around them. We here in the United States often associate wealth and material possessions with happiness. The Haitian people survive with far less than we do, yet their spirits seem to shine despite the lack of amenities in their lives.

If you seek emotional freedom you must be involved in the social world. To expand our humanity we need to open our eyes, minds and hearts to the inequalities of the world. Personal liberation is brought about, in part, when we are involved with the freedom and equality of all people. I have seen in recent days a renewed sense of calm among many people who were previously troubled by matters of little significance in comparison to what we view daily in Haiti. This tragedy has provided us with an opportunity to examine our lives, question how often we are in service to others, and how our lifestyle is affecting our spirits and the lives of others. Perhaps in the face of mortality we are awakened to what really matters in our lives. We are reminded that we do not have ultimate control; we have this moment to do the right thing for ourselves and others. Our lives are truly unpredictable beyond this moment in time.

If you have found yourself very affected by this tragedy use it as an opportunity.  Try to connect to those who suffer and are in great need of your help. Be more of a giver and become less preoccupied with your own self interests. This new perspective will bring you a sense of freedom that cannot be matched by self preoccupation. In the process of healing broken wings we release our humanity and heal ourselves. Open your heart, help the Haitians, and release the goodness within you.

To find ways you can help follow the Red Cross Tweets @redcross or visit http://www.cnn.com/impact

The Top 10 Ways to Balance Your Success in 2010

  1. Spend less time looking in the mirror and more time improving your character.
  2. Be more focused on being morally correct and less on being politically correct.
  3. Talk less and listen more, suspend your need for recognition and you’ll receive more of what you desire.
  4. Curb your temper, aggression always reveals insecurity, assertion speaks to a desire to resolve difficulties.
  5. Be other focused, give more without calculating your return and rich friendships will follow.
  6. Realize the New Year will bring surprises, something will happen you could never predict, give up the desire to control all outcomes.
  7. Expand your empathy, develop better listening skills and you’ll always attract quality people.
  8. Regularly anticipate what would make those close to you feel special and take action.
  9. Arrogance and entitlement, the “me focus” attitude will leave you alone and in despair.
  10. Always remember that humility and gratitude will bring you respect, love and loyalty from others.

Change Your Story and Balance Your Success in 2010

10 Ways You Can Change Your Story and Balance Your Success in 2010.

  1. We all write a story about ourselves early in life, realize it is always part fiction.
  2. If the mirrors you look into early in life are distorted, so is your view of yourself. Commit to seeing yourself accurately today.
  3. You cannot re-write your story alone; we are all too subjective to obtain a rational view of ourselves.
  4. Choose rational people to help you re-write your story, to find out the truth of who you are today.
  5. Expand your empathic range so that your choice of intimate friends is growth promoting.
  6. Realize that the path to true self knowledge and balance comes from sustained intimate relationships.
  7. We learn the most when we commit our hearts to those around us, playing it safe keeps you static.
  8. Your romantic relationships reveal more about your true story than any other human contact. Love brings our stories front and center.
  9. In order to live a balanced life self care has to be a priority, taking care of oneself is never separate from the care of others. Abuse yourself and you indirectly abuse others.
  10. Intimacy is the greatest predictor of a balanced life; if you don’t how to maintain love you will never overcome the negative story of the past.

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