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Featured this Month:

Getting Back to Normal
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
After a suicide, how does a family with children think about “normal again?” What is the time involved? How do children and adults work at this?

In the acute phase of grief, there is no normal. Bodies and minds may be dysregulated. Meals may no longer be cooked at home. Spouses may feel somewhat estranged because everyone grieves differently. Because they are alarmed by your grief, children and teens may fearfully watch your emotions and delay coming to you with complaints or wishes. As we have emphasized many times, suicide can strip a family of the assumptive world. A sense of unreality may be pervasive. The need for closeness may sometimes be replaced with a numbing aloofness. Part of you may want to reject the world and be consumed with the grief process because pain keeps bereaved people closer to the person who died. Another part may want to avoid the actively painful thoughts and memories. The question for caregivers and those who must return to responsibilities after a suicide loss becomes, “How can I authentically grieve while dealing with the ongoing needs of my family?”

The response lies with skill sets that enhance ordinary coping with stress. After a life-changing loss the response seems other than natural, because the body-mind wants to stay busy with the grief and the loss of the loved one. The response is intentional. It will become available as you identify your reasons for staying engaged. Usually, this is about your surviving children. Your instinct to attend to your children takes you beyond the pain you are experiencing. There is no exact time for this, because resilience varies in individuals based on previous experiences. Normal will be different, a “new normal.” But it must suggest safety and a secure base.

Compartmentalize: This refers to your ability to temporarily put your grief in the back of your mind as you function at work or attending to your children. It is a practice, and sometimes grief will intrude anyway, as grief activity is very powerful. But with strengths you may not know you had, you will be able to put the loss away in order to get necessary things done and present yourself to the world. As a therapist, I am amazed that our grieving adults and children often greet us with a smile in the midst of profound loss.

Designate grief time: Allow yourself the intense experience of grief whenever it seems safe and appropriate. Attend LOSS groups and/or see a therapist. Weep in the shower or in your bed, and even with your children if you can assure them that tears are a normal survival response. One grieving mother stepped into her walk-in closet to cry intensively before rejoining her surviving family members. She wisely identified when her grief was too intense to share with her children present.

Routine: Doing basic things at approximately the same time of day is healing for you and your children. Routine is, in this therapist’s opinion, the cornerstone to the new normal. It is your structure for operating individually and with your children over the course of the day. Routine supports regulation of sleep, nutrition and body functions while building a sense of security. You and your children will know what comes next for each step of the day.

Flexibility: The follow-up to routine, flexibility relaxes the discipline that moves your family forward. Fatigue, stress and trauma states find comfort in wise use of flexibility. It is another expression of your strength and nurturance. Flexibility recognizes individual needs on the part of you and your children.

Simplify: Whatever you can do to reduce clutter, high stimulation, driving, laundry, cooking…. You will know what feels unmanageable. Ask for help with the intention to cut back on whatever contributes to feeling over-whelmed.

Enlist help and support: Can you pay for new services that will help you find calm and order during a time of dysregulation? If not, who can you ask to help with shopping, driving, cleaning, etc.? This allows you to reserve energy for yourself and your children. While it may be difficult to ask, know that friends and relatives are experiencing helplessness in response to your loss. Often, friends and family feel relieved to assume responsibility for a necessary task while you are healing. In one family, the grandfather came every morning to drive the children to school. Asking for help is one of the most under-utilized coping skills.

Create pleasure: Think about how music and movies and down-time for the family resemble the old normal. Pleasure is bitter-sweet after the loss of someone who once shared these experiences with you. But with the intentional reinstatement of pleasure in your routine you are affirming the life-force that supports survival. These experiences might trigger positive memories and foster grief conversations that can heal and keep you close. This category of coping includes self-care, couple-care and child-care. It involves lots of rest, even mild exercise and fresh air, personal care and medical appointments. It may feel somewhat odd to engage in focused self-care during grief, yet pleasure may have to be relearned with practice and reawakened. Stroke the hair of your young children, speak softly, treat yourself gently. Finally, learn about child and adolescent grief. Your children have different grief responses than adults, and appearing normal is a priority for them that can’t be overstated. They are likely to continue to seek out friends and sports and sleep-overs. They may find a certain kind of relief outside the house that is not possible at home, so try to respect this. We invite you to consult with the LOSS Program for Children and Youth about your children’s unique grief needs.

Constructing a new normal after a devastating suicide loss is a thoughtful process. Sometimes it includes moving, especially if the death occurred at home. But even if you stay in your current home, the familiar terrain may now feel strange. Wherever your recovery after profound loss takes place, your intention and efforts gradually restore home and the world to yourself and children, the new normal.



Archives:

Getting Back to Normal
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
After a suicide, how does a family with children think about “normal again?” What is the time involved? How do children and adults work at this?

In the acute phase of grief, there is no normal. Bodies and minds may be dysregulated. Meals may no longer be cooked at home. Spouses may feel somewhat estranged because everyone grieves differently. Because they are alarmed by your grief, children and teens may fearfully watch your emotions and delay coming to you with complaints or wishes. As we have emphasized many times, suicide can strip a family of the assumptive world. A sense of unreality may be pervasive. The need for closeness may sometimes be replaced with a numbing aloofness. Part of you may want to reject the world and be consumed with the grief process because pain keeps bereaved people closer to the person who died. Another part may want to avoid the actively painful thoughts and memories. The question for caregivers and those who must return to responsibilities after a suicide loss becomes, “How can I authentically grieve while dealing with the ongoing needs of my family?”

The response lies with skill sets that enhance ordinary coping with stress. After a life-changing loss the response seems other than natural, because the body-mind wants to stay busy with the grief and the loss of the loved one. The response is intentional. It will become available as you identify your reasons for staying engaged. Usually, this is about your surviving children. Your instinct to attend to your children takes you beyond the pain you are experiencing. There is no exact time for this, because resilience varies in individuals based on previous experiences. Normal will be different, a “new normal.” But it must suggest safety and a secure base.

Compartmentalize: This refers to your ability to temporarily put your grief in the back of your mind as you function at work or attending to your children. It is a practice, and sometimes grief will intrude anyway, as grief activity is very powerful. But with strengths you may not know you had, you will be able to put the loss away in order to get necessary things done and present yourself to the world. As a therapist, I am amazed that our grieving adults and children often greet us with a smile in the midst of profound loss.

Designate grief time: Allow yourself the intense experience of grief whenever it seems safe and appropriate. Attend LOSS groups and/or see a therapist. Weep in the shower or in your bed, and even with your children if you can assure them that tears are a normal survival response. One grieving mother stepped into her walk-in closet to cry intensively before rejoining her surviving family members. She wisely identified when her grief was too intense to share with her children present.

Routine: Doing basic things at approximately the same time of day is healing for you and your children. Routine is, in this therapist’s opinion, the cornerstone to the new normal. It is your structure for operating individually and with your children over the course of the day. Routine supports regulation of sleep, nutrition and body functions while building a sense of security. You and your children will know what comes next for each step of the day.

Flexibility: The follow-up to routine, flexibility relaxes the discipline that moves your family forward. Fatigue, stress and trauma states find comfort in wise use of flexibility. It is another expression of your strength and nurturance. Flexibility recognizes individual needs on the part of you and your children.

Simplify: Whatever you can do to reduce clutter, high stimulation, driving, laundry, cooking…. You will know what feels unmanageable. Ask for help with the intention to cut back on whatever contributes to feeling over-whelmed.

Enlist help and support: Can you pay for new services that will help you find calm and order during a time of dysregulation? If not, who can you ask to help with shopping, driving, cleaning, etc.? This allows you to reserve energy for yourself and your children. While it may be difficult to ask, know that friends and relatives are experiencing helplessness in response to your loss. Often, friends and family feel relieved to assume responsibility for a necessary task while you are healing. In one family, the grandfather came every morning to drive the children to school. Asking for help is one of the most under-utilized coping skills.

Create pleasure: Think about how music and movies and down-time for the family resemble the old normal. Pleasure is bitter-sweet after the loss of someone who once shared these experiences with you. But with the intentional reinstatement of pleasure in your routine you are affirming the life-force that supports survival. These experiences might trigger positive memories and foster grief conversations that can heal and keep you close. This category of coping includes self-care, couple-care and child-care. It involves lots of rest, even mild exercise and fresh air, personal care and medical appointments. It may feel somewhat odd to engage in focused self-care during grief, yet pleasure may have to be relearned with practice and reawakened. Stroke the hair of your young children, speak softly, treat yourself gently. Finally, learn about child and adolescent grief. Your children have different grief responses than adults, and appearing normal is a priority for them that can’t be overstated. They are likely to continue to seek out friends and sports and sleep-overs. They may find a certain kind of relief outside the house that is not possible at home, so try to respect this. We invite you to consult with the LOSS Program for Children and Youth about your children’s unique grief needs.

Constructing a new normal after a devastating suicide loss is a thoughtful process. Sometimes it includes moving, especially if the death occurred at home. But even if you stay in your current home, the familiar terrain may now feel strange. Wherever your recovery after profound loss takes place, your intention and efforts gradually restore home and the world to yourself and children, the new normal.