Archive for Grief

9 Things to Ask a Griever Instead of: How Are You Doing?

I'm fine

How are you doing?

That simple query is likely near the top of the list of questions grievers would rather not answer. In the grief support groups I’ve led over the years, participants often mention how much those four words irk them.

If polite, they give a neutral answer, knowing the person asking has no clue about the roiling, unpredictable feelings the death of a loved one has created. If not so polite, grievers may ignore the one asking, and/or turn away, and/or reply with blunt words they may (or may not!) later regret.

Hey, I’m guilty of asking the question. Professionally, I can probably get away with it. The group members, as they seek healing and a better understanding of grief, permit me to ask some of the most predictable questions. In the group, I attempt to create a safe space so that they can give—or not give—answers. Additionally, each person knows everyone else in the room has experienced one or more life-changing deaths.

However, most of a griever’s day is not spent with a supportive group. It’s with family gatherings, at the supermarket, in the place of worship, on the sidewalk in front of your home . . . and here comes the friend or neighbor asking: Read More →

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Grief, Unseen

Physical Therapy

I kept my questions casual when first talking with her.

Let’s say her name is Anne, which is not true. And let’s also say, to protect the proverbial innocent, that Anne’s friend’s name is Bryn. Both are in their early twenties. I met them because they were part of the physical therapy staff where I went for an irksome left knee. Anne and Bryn were friendly and efficient; they comfortably joked with patients, shared words of encouragement.

During a particular session, Anne was the one reminding me which exercise came next. She brought me the special flexible ball to help stretch my lower body, and later set the timer for how long I should be moving my limbs back and forth, side to side. I usually bantered with Anne (or Bryn), though sometimes I silently, steadily plowed through the required series of exercises.

When finished with a routine, I asked Anne the question that led to the question.

“Didn’t Bryn tell me that she started working here because you recommended her for the job?”

Anne grinned. “Right. She graduated from college and wasn’t sure what to do next.”

“How’d you two meet?” Read More →

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Both are 5 Letter Words

angerWith his voice as cold as black ice on a winter road, the nephew kept repeating, “That type of thing should never happen. It wasn’t fair to my aunt.”

I agreed with him.

Every time.

The nephew’s aunt—who’d raised him since his single-parent mother had died before he entered kindergarten—was the most important person in his life. Her final days in hospice, as far as he was concerned, became her worst days.

Based on the brief chart notes I’d scanned about this sixty-something woman, I hadn’t expected any anger about hospice. When I phoned not long after her death to ask how he and the rest of the family were doing, his anger shadowed our entire conversation.

Here, though, I must pause.

[Disclaimer]

There was no nephew. I am making most of this up, based on my thousands of calls to people grieving in the first days after the death of a loved one. And there was no aunt. The “type of thing” that “should never happen” could include many different possibilities:

  • A social worker made a promise to bring a list of local companies for caregiving options, but never followed through.
  • A home health aide didn’t properly dry off the patient after a bath.
  • A hospice physician had scheduled a visit with the family in the morning, but didn’t arrive until late afternoon.
  • A chaplain said a prayer that was explicitly Christian, but the patient was Buddhist.

I could keep adding to this list of disappointments. All of them are possible, but none of what I mentioned happened to this fictional family with a “nephew” desperately hoping his beloved “aunt” would have a calm, easy, gentle death. Read More →

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