This Can’t Be Real – The Shock of Grief

Guest post By Gary Roe

Jeff was a good friend. He sat in front of me in seventh grade English. He was quiet, respectful, and smart. He was easy to be with.

The day after Christmas break, Jeff was absent. He wasn’t there the next day either. The third day, the principle came in, looking somber.

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” she said. “Jeff got very sick with spinal meningitis during Christmas. He didn’t make it.”

I stared at her in shock. I dropped my eyes and gazed at the empty desk in front of me. “He didn’t make it,” echoed over and over in my mind.
The rest of the day was a blur. I kept thinking, “This can’t be real.”
It was real, all right. It just wasn’t real for me yet.

Loss hits us that way. We can’t digest it. It feels surreal, as if life suddenly stopped and abruptly changed direction. It’s like a dream, or a nightmare. We wonder when we’re going to wake up.
For several weeks, I dreaded going to English class. I would ease into my seat, hyper-aware of the empty desk in front of me. I had trouble concentrating. I didn’t know it, but I was still in shock.

Shock is a part of healthy grief, and it can last a while. It can come and go over a period of months, triggered by certain memories or situations.
We feel for our loved one next to us in the bed. We expect to hear them in the kitchen. We find ourselves looking for them, wondering where they are. Their fragrance lingers here and there. Our houses, and our lives, seem unnaturally quiet.
We long to hear their voice. We miss their touch. We hunger to look into their eyes. We miss everything.
Our lives have been altered forever. How could we not be in shock?

What can we do? How do we get out of this daze?

1. Don’t be in a hurry. Your grief, and the shock of it, honors the one you’ve lost. It proclaims how important they are to you. You’re never going to get over them (you’re not supposed to), but you will get through this time.

2. Be nice to yourself and patient with yourself. This time is unlike any other. Things aren’t normal and routine, so don’t expect yourself to be either.

3. Do what’s best for you, and let the world keep spinning. When my father died (I was fifteen), I got very angry that the world dared to go about its business as if nothing had happened. Right now, it’s almost as if someone pushed the pause button on your life. That’s okay. Do what’s best for you, and try not to worry about the circus around you.

So when your loss is triggered by that fragrance, song, or special place, take a deep breath. The shock you feel is real, and normal. Let it come, and let it pass on through. Then ask yourself, “What do I need most right now?”

Gary Sykes pics 076Gary Roe is an author, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley in central Texas. He has written threes books, two in the grief and loss realm. You can reach Gary at:
Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One (co-authored with Cecil Murphey)

Surviving the Holidays without You: Navigating Grief During Special Seasons


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Remembering Those Who Served-Memorial Day

photoToday I went to visit my Mom’s grave as I have every year for the past 7 years to leave some flowers and tell her how much I miss her.  What always touches me are the flags that are carefully placed at the grave of all Veterans.  I felt both proud and sad that there are so many flags…

But there are so many organizations that are helping our wounded veterans and the families of those who died serving out country.  If you feel so inspired, check out some of these great organizations, who knows maybe you will want to volunteer or support any of these groups. photo 1

Also check out this great article,  9 simple ways you can help veterans   photo 2


Things I Never Got To Ask My Mom

Mom & I in 1993- one of my favorite photos

Mom & I in 1993- one of my favorite photos!

My Mom died in 2005 and every Mother’s Day since, I still honor her memory by speaking about her to family through retelling stories.  And I will admit I talk with her often as I believe she hears me and guides me.   Recently I read a post on Facebook that said if you could spend one day with someone from the past who would it be?  For me, if would be spending one more day with my Mom.

My Mom’s memory left her gradually and she was not the same for many years prior to her death.  So if I could spend one day with her now I would want to know…

…How did you get through the hard times in your life?  Things like your parents deaths, your sister dying of breast cancer when she was so young, when Dad got into the work accident when we were small kids. 

…You were so talented at many things, piano, art, writing, did you ever desire to have a career doing any of those things?

…You were so passionate about learning up until the last years of your life. What moved you to become a life long learner? What was it about learning the Greek language that moved you?  Did you ever have a desire to travel to Greece and speak with the locals?

…Did you have regrets? Did you have an unfulfilled life?

…Did you feel loved?

…What advice would you give me now about life, love and the future?

Mom was so amazing and my younger self didn’t appreciate her talents and wisdom. She had grace and beauty and I knew she also had demons that made her sad.  When I am grounded and connected to my spiritual self I know life turned out exactly as it was supposed to be and I pray that Mom hears my prayers for guidance and wisdom for my next best steps in life.  I was blessed to call her Mom.

What would you like to ask your Mom?

Living life without anguish

contemplative woman-I decideGrief is so often a painful experience and for some a journey that never seems to end and they suffer such great sadness long after a loved one has died. Although we all grieve differently and there is no timetable saying our grief should only last a certain period of time, we can also get stuck in grief that paralyzes us from continuing to live our own life.

Recently I heard the spiritual author and teacher Gary Zukav say some thing that I thought was worth sharing because I found him quite thought provoking.

He said “If you think people left earth when they chose you will then begin to see the gifts the soul gave you while on this earth.  You will get to a place where you are grateful for the short time this person whose to be with YOU, otherwise you will live in anguish.”

He also went on to say, “If you look at your loved one as that soul who voluntarily entered the earth and voluntarily chose to leave, you will appreciate the power of the interaction you had with that soul and then you will feel the power of those gifts you received.” 

Can we learn from joy versus suffering?

I think we can find meaning in everything and everything is a choice.  We can choose to to grieve actively and at the same time feel blessed for the time we had with our loved ones who have departed or we can choose to grieve and mourn our loss feeling hopeless that life will go on for us.

We all will experience both love and loss – this is a universal truth.  How we grieve often determines how we will continue to live and how we will seek out joy.

I encourage you to find some joy today – perhaps a walk in park, coffee with an old friend or taking  time to watch children at play.  Joy comes in all forms and sometimes we have to work harder at finding it especially on those days when all we want to do is cry.

Isn’t the greatest honor we could bestow upon the memory of our loved ones is to live life in joy rather than sorrow?  In peaceful contentment rather than anxiety and stress?  Something to think about….

Can Sadness Become a Habit?

2 women comfortingI was  listening to someone recently who said her sadness had become a habit.  She would wake up everyday sad and stayed in that place all day. She went on to say that this had gone on for about a year until one day she heard something that inspired her to make a new choice and that was to find happiness. My ears perked up at the word “choice.”  I asked her how choosing differently made her feel and she said it made her feel free and happiness was better than feeling sad all the time.

The Sadness of Grief

The sadness that accompanies us on our grief journey is real. We are sad because we lost someone we loved. Sometimes sadness turns into depression which is a very real affliction and should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.  There is no time limit on how long we should be sad or grieve, we are all different and depending on the relationship and circumstances of someones death is usually the predictor of the length of the healing.

Can Sadness Become a Habit?

I wonder if sadness can become a habit. Often people feel guilt following a death and believe they shouldn’t be happy now that their loved one gone.  They know the sadness won’t bring them back but somehow it seems easier to be sad and guilty and at the same time.  I have had people say to me “how can I be happy when so and so died” and they truly cannot conceive why or how they will be happy again.  So as time goes on and on people stay  perpetually sad.

According to the author Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit” he says “Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them.”

Can We learn to be happy?

I believe we can learn to be happy even following a sad or tragic loss, but happiness is a choice and just like anything we choose in out life it requires effort.

According to an article published in the Huffington Post, on 16 scientifically backed ways to boost your happiness they give very specific examples, here are a few;

Smile. A 2011 study showed that thinking about something positive that makes you smile can actually make you happier (fake smiles don’t do the trick), while 2003 Clark University research found that smiling activates positive memories.

Pray. Spirituality and religious involvement is linked with greater well-being and happiness, according to a review of more than 300 studies on the connection between spirituality and health, while prayer is thought to relieve stress.

Laugh. In addition to relieving stress, laughter can boost mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Go for a stroll in the park. There are many health benefits to spending time in nature, including, perhaps, increased well-being. One UK study showed that subjects were significantly happier when in natural environments as compared to when they were in urban environments.

Keep a gratitude journal. Be thankful for what you have! A number of studies have found a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being, starting at a young age. Teaching kids gratitude in schools has been linked to boosts in positive emotions and optimism.

Think of happy times. Feeling nostalgic about the past can make you feel happier and more optimistic about the future, according to a recent University of Southampton study.

 Books on Happiness

Just as there are books on grief, there are equally as many on happiness.  Here are just a few…

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama
Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar
Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good Fast by Robert Holden
Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Schimoff

I hope as you read this you don’t assume I am minimizing anyone’s personal loss, I think being happy following our losses is not only healthy but important to our well-being and living out our life before it is our turn to die. Sometimes it is easier to be sad because following our loss it has become all we know but I bet that we all are honest we know our loved ones that have died would want nothing more than for us to be happy.

What do you think? I’d welcome your comments below.

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