If you are reading this post, it is very likely that you are not a professionally trained grief support specialist, but rather someone who has been thrust into this role and is seeking assistance. You are hardly alone.
When a death occurs in a family, there is often one person who will end up taking on a role that other members of the family are too emotionally spent to fill. That role may be that of a caregiver, director of events, grief counselor, or all of the above. If you have ever found yourself in this position, you know how exhausting it is. Not only do you have to take on new responsibilities and deal with other's emotions, but you may find yourself putting your own feelings on the back burner. If you find yourself having to take on new responsibilities after a loss in your family, it's important for you to remember to take care of yourself as well.
Take for example, riding on an airplane. If the cabin pressure changes and the oxygen masks come down, you're instructed to put your mask on first before helping your child. Then, after your mask is in place, you help your child with theirs. For some, this may seem counter intuitive. If you're a caretaker by nature, your first response would likely be to help your child first, and then help yourself. However, if you don't help yourself first - as the flight manuals instruct - you may not be able to help anybody else. It's important that you put your own mask on first so that you'll be well and alert enough to help those around you. This logic follows in other areas of life as well. You may think that it's selfish to take time out for yourself, especially during a family crisis, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Ignoring your own needs during a difficult time can lead not only to exhaustion, but also to resentment, anger, confusion and isolation, further compounding your own grief.
If you feel that you need better tools to deal with the emotional pain of the loss, here are a few steps you can take to start better caring for your family and yourself:
Supporting your family: Listen with your heart, instead of your head, be a heart with two ears.
This may sound like a simple statement, but it requires that you learn a new skill set.
It is very easy, when you are listening to someone dealing with the emotional pain of loss, to try to "fix" their grief. The reality of things is that you cannot fix it. No matter what you say, you cannot change the fact that someone has died! Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any major change in your life!
You may have already had the experience of someone telling you how to feel or why you should not feel what you were feeling. Was this helpful? When my father died, people gave me any number of reasons not to feel bad, including he was no longer suffering, he would not want me to suffer and that he was in a better place. I knew all of this intellectually and logically, but grief is emotional, not intellectual or logical! Now I felt bad about feeling bad, but still did not feel better on any level!
If there are children in this group you are trying to help, please borrow or purchase a copy of "When Children Grieve" to get the tools you need to get started. You have a chance to help them with better information than you were given when you experienced your first loss, and it will help you as well! It speaks to creating a safe environment for expressing their feelings, rather than bottling them up. Without a safe mechanism for expressing emotional pain, children may withdraw or act out to deal with their conflicting feelings.
The fact that you are listening, rather than fixing, will already take some of the emotional load off of your shoulders.
Supporting yourself by taking action.
Remember how we said that you cannot really take help others until you help yourself? You may think that your emotional pain is less or under better control, but the truth is that everyone is grieving at 100% of their emotional capacity. So, how do I help a family member with grief? You can better help them by setting an example of how to take grief recovery action, rather than just suppressing your feelings,
If you read "When Children Grieve," you are likely aware that the tools you learned growing up on how to move through loss did nothing to really help deal with the pain inside. Now is the time to learn how to really move forward. Read and do the exercises in "The Grief Recovery Handbook," or better still, join a Grief Recovery Method Support Group. This will help you effectively deal with your own unfinished business in your relationship with the person who died. The steps are fairly simple. It will give you a safe way of letting out those feelings you are suppressing. You will have a mechanism for dealing with things you wish might have been different, better, or more in that relationship.
The fact that you are reading this means that you care for your family. You have been doing everything possible to lighten their load by handling so many of the necessary physical tasks associated with the loss. Taking these actions will better help you support them in dealing with the emotional pain as well. Recovery from grief is about helping yourself so that you can help others. That is one of the greatest gift you can offer yourself and your family!
If you found this article helpful, we suggest you check out the articles on what not to say to grievers, grief support involves knowing what to say and what to avoid, and how to help grieving children.
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