Few phrases will cause such an immediate, intense, almost visceral reaction from me as, “You’re so strong!” It’s a phrase that I have heard countless times over the last few years. On the surface, it sounds like a compliment that I possess the ability to hold and manage more than you would expect, and I work to receive this message as the one the sender is trying to convey. What it feels like the person is saying is that they are unable to deal with my sadness, grief, frustration, anger, or whatever emotion, and they need me to be strong because the emotions make them uncomfortable. I’m left feeling alone and dismissed.
In the early days of grief, the feelings of being overwhelmed with the “business” of death can feel paralyzing. Often, there are seemingly endless tasks that need to be completed within a very short amount of time. Sadly, most of these tasks require the next of kin, so that leaves the people that are in the midst of intense shock, grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, or whatever mishmash of emotions to navigate yet another emotional load; it can feel like too much.
The feeling of being alone is scary. Navigating really strong emotions without support and guidance is treacherous, we might make decisions or take actions that are counter to our actual needs because of the disorientation that strong emotions can evoke. So what can we do, as the person in the midst of a seemingly never ending emotional storm and as the person watching someone we care about struggle to fight the onslaught of emotional waves? Be there, be present, and be willing to listen. You can’t take away their pain for them, you can be that safe place where they don’t have to pretend to be “ok” or “fine”.
Providing people with the chance to not be strong, to be authentic and genuine with the feelings they are experiencing, no matter what those may be, can be just the thing that we all need to do truly develop that strength. If you are struggling finding that internal strength to deal with loss or grief, or just need that safe place to discover your strength consider reaching out to a therapist. You are strong! We can help you think it, feel it, and believe it!
Really, right now take a few seconds to focus on your breath. Notice what it feels like as it goes in through your nose and out through your mouth. A faith transition can be frightening and incredibly disorienting. Maybe you have that feeling of waking up in a strange place in the middle of the night, wondering where you are, only to remember you’re visiting a new town. Give yourself a moment to breathe, think, and become acquainted with this foreign land. Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you might feel excited or like you are on a new adventure. Sometimes you might feel hurt or betrayed. Sometimes you may feel lonely and out of place, but remind yourself that these emotions, like waves will go in and then go back out. Notice how you’re feeling without judgement.
Start with What You Know
When your world feels turned upside down, it can feel like you don’t know what to think, believe, or know anymore. That’s ok. Start with what you do believe or what you do know. Maybe you believe in service or the power of good people to make a difference. Maybe you know how important your best friend is to you or that mint chocolate chip is still your favorite ice cream. What do you value? What is important to you? Make a list.
When you lose a community or separate from important people in your life, you may up feeling isolated or like no one understands. Despite that very real feeling, there are people who have gone through, or who are going through, a change in their Mormon lens too. Try looking for groups on Meetup, or Facebook groups. Network through people you already know or friends of a friend.
Connect with Resources
“When Mormons Doubt” by Jon
Odgen or “Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis” by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie are both
two excellent books that are specific to Latter-Day Saints. Looking to people
of other faiths, like Tova Mirvis in “The Book of Separation” can also be
Take your time exploring
the world through your new perspective. Be patient with yourself and give
yourself the permission to say no and to take breaks. Find a therapist who can
meet you where you are and support you wherever you decide your journey will
take you. You’ve got this.
Recently, I attended a funeral for my dear friend who had a significant impact during my adolescence. As the days led up to the funeral, I looked for a babysitter but was unable to find one so I needed to take my 5-year old son. I had concerns about what behavior he would have throughout the event and what he would think or take away from it. I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. He was well behaved and respectful throughout the day. He showed sympathy by giving me a tissue when he saw my crying and empathized with my friend’s son who was visibly saddened.
A few days later, we were working on a holiday craft and my son started asking questions about the funeral. “Why did we go?” he asked and “Was she your family?” He was able to reflect on the emotions of others. He commented on my friend’s son’s emotions and said, “It’s good that it wasn’t his mom so he still has someone to care for him.” He stated, “I would be so sad if you died.” He then proceeded to ask questions about how people die.
This situation really had me reflecting about how to talk to children about death and should they attend a funeral.
How to talk to your children about death
When deciding how to talk to a child about death, consider the age and development of the child. Children process death differently than adults. They may realize that they feel sad but may not understand the permanency of death. Here are some suggestions to start the conversation.
Be honest and straightforward. Telling a child that a loved one is “in a better place” can be confusing and send a message that there is something wrong with this place. Instead, you could say, “Uncle Jack died in a car accident. That means that we won’t get to see him anymore.”
Answer questions honestly and directly. When your child asks when Fluffy the pet turtle is coming home gently remind the child that Fluffy has died and will not be coming home.
Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. Children learn from the way we act and respond in daily events. Shedding tears in sadness of the loss is appropriate for your child to see and it will help them learn how to cope with emotions when they come up. With this, encourage your child to express their emotions.
Remember that children will have their own reaction to loss. Offer empathy and understanding through emotions or disruptive behaviors.
Marriage is a wonderful change, but it certainly brings some challenges, not just for the couple involved, but also for the in-law relationship dynamic. I recently sat down with the Good Things Utah to share my top 3 tips for daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws:
We all experience forms of trauma at some point in our life. Some trauma is obvious and very serious. While other trauma can stem from minor events which we may not always classify as traumatic; such as, feelings of embarrassment during a presentation or public event. Both large and small traumatic experiences can resurface and manifest themselves in our lives as increased stress or anxiety. Sometimes individuals do not realize that the stress or anxiety actually stems from some form of trauma. So, how do we rewrite the traumatic events of our life? EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy, is one form of therapy that has been proven to be extremely effective in helping individuals overcome the negative effects of stress, anxiety, and trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy may sound like a strange and scary form of therapy. You may have questions, like “What do eye movements have to do with therapy?” or, “I like my senses, what exactly does it mean to be desensitized?” While, I do have experience and expertise in facilitating EMDR therapy, I am not a scientist, or a doctor so I’ll leave it up to an expert to answer some of the more detailed questions. The following article provides an excellent overview of what EMDR is, and some of the more intricate details about how it works. This is a great starting place for individuals interested in EMDR or learning a little more about this form of therapy.
A while back, my garage was burglarized and my new mountain bike was stolen. I left that morning disgruntled, frustrated and very upset having had my garage broken into. It was fortuitous that I was going to EMDR training the day my bike was stolen. My colleague was able to use EMDR for my experience with my bike. Upon coming to training that day I was livid, so livid I had a difficult time being present. That afternoon during my brief EMDR treatment I started out resentful and angry. Funny enough, I left the session frustrated that I was not frustrated that my bike being stolen. EMDR had worked and I had been able to process through the event and overcome the negative emotions I likely would have felt.
If you, or someone you know, is interested in beginning EMDR therapy please contact me at 801-944-4555 to schedule an appointment to learn more.
I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on a recent episode of the “Mormon Matters” podcast; I joined other LDS therapists and experts to talk about ways that we can ensure ourselves and our families are protected in ecclesiastical situations. With the #MeToo movement and other instances of high-profile men abusing their position of power to take advantage of vulnerable people, it’s time we take a look at the dynamics of how all of this applies to Mormonism. The purpose of our discussion was not to instill paranoia or fear that dominates our thoughts, but instead to empower Mormon families to be smart and safe in how they approach ecclesiastical settings.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same. Nor would you want to!” – Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler from “On Grief and Grieving”
We live in a society that is uncomfortable with death and grieving; we just want people to “get over it” and be done. It makes us feel better if they are back to “normal” and are “okay”, then we can return to our lives without guilt. However, grief is complicated, messy, and full of emotions that we don’t want to acknowledge, let alone feel. So, what happens when we lose, or someone that we are close to, loses a person in their life? A spouse, child, parent, or friend. How can we help them, or ourselves, with this messy grief business? Honestly, the answer is so simple yet so complicated at the same time; grief is as unique and individual for each person as their fingerprint. There is no “right” way to do it. As a widow myself, there are a few things that I found, and continue to find, as being helpful and healing in my grief journey.
Grieving is a lonely, isolating business. Sure, there is the initial influx of mourners that surround the family in the days and weeks immediately following the loss, but what about after that? Can you be that person that shows up, texts, or calls just to chat, go for a walk, or grab a cup of coffee and give the grief stricken a sense of normalcy while chaos reigns elsewhere in their life? It’s often said, “Let me know what I can do to help.” Often however, in the midst of grief people aren’t even aware of what they need, nor do they want to impose on family or friends and ask for help, but they crave human interaction and connection. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but just knowing that someone is there and cares can make all the difference during those really difficult moments.
Listening to the Tale
Just as each person has their own grief journey they each have their own tale of grief, how they came to the painful spot where they dwell. While those on the periphery may have witnessed and been part of that journey, it may be surprising how the mourner interprets their experience. For some, telling the tale is cathartic and allows them to release what they’ve held within themselves: guilt, shame, anger, fear, relief. While for others it gives them space to voice the confusion of trying to process a surreal experience.
My experience with losing my husband landed me squarely in the “trying to process the surreal experience” camp. Trying to wrap my head around him being here one minute and gone the next was really difficult for me to wrap my head around. My friends and family were all present in witnessing, but I needed to express what it was like for me. I felt almost desperate, at times, to have someone understand and validate me. I didn’t need anyone to “fix” it for me, they couldn’t, but to have them say, “Yep, that sucked!”, meant the world to me.
The “Right” Way Doesn’t Exist
As a society we have constructed this movie image of what grief should look like, the bereaved go into a deep mourning for a while, but then they pull themselves together, “move on” with their lives, and the grief is finished. In reality, grief presents itself in a multitude of variations. For some there is the anticipatory grief that accompanies a long illness. For others there is the acute, shocking grief from a sudden death. Yet still for others there is the guilt-ridden survivors’ grief that can accompany trauma and suicide. With such differences in experiences how can we really expect for people to process grief in the same way? Within the same timeline? And with the same reactions? We can’t; it’s a preposterous assertion.
Need help or know someone that needs help processing the grief related to losing a loved one? Wasatch Family Therapy has a team of therapists that can help you wade through the sea of emotions that accompany the grief journey, we would be honored to stand witness to your tale and help you find the “new” you that evolves from the death experience.
Divorces are traumatic, painful, and messy; there are so many raw emotions to work through, but if children are involved, the most important priority for two adults is to work to make sure that their kids are well taken care of. Here are four tips to successfully co-parent following a divorce:
Create A Safe Zone
There’s communication with your ex that takes place behind the scenes, but when you’re directly interacting with him/her in front of your children, remember to act cordially and with respect. Kids are extremely perceptive to things like tone of voice, eye rolls, or other verbal and non-verbal cues. It is already a delicate situation for them, so let them see you being cordial; it will be a tremendous gift for them to see their parents interacting this way. If your feelings toward your ex are still quite volatile or intense, stick to email, texting, or communicating when the kids aren’t around.
See Your Ex as an Asset (Not an Enemy)
It’s easy to feel antagonistic toward your ex-spouse, and although your marriage relationship is no longer intact, you still need to come together as partners to successfully raise your children. Remember that no one loves your kids or is as invested as the other parent! Even if emotionally you’re not quite at the point where you’re ready to see your ex spouse as an ally, hold on to the hope that he/she can eventually help support you in parenting.
Focus on Positive Aspects
This is not an easy thing to do! There are definite reasons you got divorced, and those things are often in the forefront of your mind, but consider the strengths and gifts that your ex-spouse has that can be used toward your child(ren)’s benefits. Maybe he/she is very engaged, good at helping with homework, or very in tune with the kids’ needs. If your child can hear you speaking positively about the other parent, he/she can better adjust.
Support Your Child’s Relationship With The Other Parent
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to undermine or diminish a child’s relationship with the other parent. Maybe we feel threatened or jealous, like we’re in competition with the ex-spouse, or maybe we have a hard time letting go of our own pain and conflict. But kids desperately need a relationship with both parents (particularly after a divorce), and it’s crucial for you to do everything you can to facilitate that connection in order to help your children thrive.
If you’re struggling to co-parent after divorce contact Wasatch Family Therapy and connect with one of our amazing therapists.