by Jill Francis on January 10th, 2017

I am not a sociologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, scientist, researcher or otherwise trained professional who studies people, grief, and loss and then tells the rest of us what the data means.  I studied French.  Bonjour.  And although I'm no expert, I have fifteen years of studying the effects of Alzheimer's and grief on my family, I have studied friends who have suffered loss and I have observed casual acquaintances process grief.  I have many hours of personal research which have led me to non-scientifically determine there are Three Truths about loss/grief/pain that apply to all of humanity (in my humble opinion).

Truth I :  It is good to have perspective on my pain; someone else's pain may be greater than mine.  Before you tell me to stuff it, please continue to read...

 I tend to manage my "dark days" by sitting on the couch with a blanky, a bowl of ice cream and a list of "must see"  chick flicks; If there's a princess involved (animated or "real"), so much the better.  After about day three of this*, there is an Inner Voice that speaks to me and tells me to get up and join humanity.  If I don't, then on day four, (it never fails), a friend or acquaintance will call me and tell me their story of pain...which is often much greater than my own.  

There is a benefit to having a perspective of my hurt in comparison to others:  it reminds me I am not alone in my suffering and it reminds me there are those who suffer more; thereby reminding me to be grateful for my own circumstances, even if they're difficult.  Alzheimer's and the loss of my mother was painful, but I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child or of having a child with a terminal illness.  For me, that kind of pain is greater than mine and it gives me perspective.  My GPPS (Global Pain Perspective Scale) interrupts my obsessive dark thoughts about myself and helps me adjust my focus to a healthier place outside myself.  It helps me stop the wallowing in my own pain and self-pity.   But...this does not mean I can run away from my own pain...

Truth 2 : My Pain is real and in need of healing.  

Placing my pain on the GPPS and determining its relationship to others, does not mean I can hide behind theirs and ignore my own.  If I am going to be healthy and whole, then I must acknowledge my pain and go Through (​http://graciousgoodbyes.org/blog/2016/09/03/through) the process of healing.  This takes time.  And the greater the loss, the longer the recovery.  

We would never expect the recovery from a knee replacement surgery to be easier than the recovery from a scraped knee, yet when it comes to emotional pain we often treat it as a simple scrape and expect to "rub some dirt on it" and move on with life.  
That.  Doesn't.  Work.
A patient with a new and artificial knee must go through the difficult process of physical therapy in order to walk again and in order for the new part to mesh with the old bones; and they will never fully recover if they don't do the hard work of physical therapy...they will forever limp.  

Unresolved grief can lead to emotional crippling...my pain needs to be confronted addressed and healed.  I may even need a counselor, support group, pastor or other professional to help me...and that is ok.  If I want to be whole, I need to be healed.

Truth 3:  We recover at different rates of healing.

I have a friend who lost her precious momma to Alzheimer's.  About three months after her mother passed away, she mentioned that she was still struggling with her grief.  "Of course you are", I told her, "it's only been three months, that's nothing.   You're allowed a year!  Minimum!"
My friend believed she should cry for a couple of months and "move on".  I explained that most counselors and therapists believe we all need at least a year to mourn, in order to transition through all of the seasons, birthdays and holidays without the loved one.  A year.  Minimum.

I have another friend who took two years to really process the loss of her mother and she went through the Grief Share (www.griefshare.org) program twice.  Six years later, we still speak about her momma in almost every conversation.  That's ok.

Both of these scenarios may seem extreme, but the point is this:  there is no right or wrong timeline in which to process our pain...as long as we do it.  So give yourself a break if it's taking you longer than expected, or less time than you expected, and offer the same grace to someone in your life who may be hurting.  We are all unique creations and the way and timeline in which we heal is uniquely our own.

Three Truths common to all of us, yet unique to every individual.  Three Truths, that I believe, can lead to wholeness if we choose to live in them. 

(*Please recognize that my "dark days" are typically due to circumstantial depression or "the blues".  I am not suggesting that everyone should only have three days, I am simply sharing my experiences without judgement on anyone else.)



by Jill Francis on October 13th, 2016

Recently, a sweet young friend of mine suffered a miscarriage and days later she continued to have complications and knew something wasn't right.  Several trips to the doctor failed to uncover anything and she was simply told, "this is all part of the process, it just takes time".  She was unconvinced.  Excruciating pain and two trips to the ER over the course of two months and she was still told, "this is all part of the process".  Finally, a new physician listened to her, examined her, performed surgery on her the following day and told her she was lucky to be alive and that she "looked like a bomb had exploded" inside her.

Although my friend is grieving the loss of the babies (yes, there were two), and although she was suffering physically, the hardest part of the experience has been the fact that her medical providers would not and did not hear her.  The very people who were supposed to provide help and healing simply dismissed her...her pain, her loss, her voice.  She.  Was.  Dismissed.

Her experience has caused me to spend some time reflecting upon my own insensitivities, my own deafness.  How many times have I dismissed someone because I consider their pain to be minimal?  How often do I play the "my pain is greater than your pain" game to myself?  How often do I fail to listen?  Do I disregard someone's voice?  Do I tell them, "this is all part of the process"?  How often do I dismiss?  And why?

Am I too lazy to listen?  Too selfish to be inconvenienced?  Too busy?  Really?  For a cup of coffee with a friend?  Or am I afraid....that her pain really will be greater than mine and I might have to quit wallowing?  Am I afraid of being vulnerable to her pain?  Afraid her story might open  an old wound in me?  Afraid I might have to become involved in her pain and expose some of my own?  Am I afraid walls I have built to protect my heart might be pierced?  Am I afraid it will cost me something to hear her story, to share her pain?  Am I afraid to be exposed as a fraud?  As someone without wisdom?  Without answers?   Why do I dismiss?

It is my hope going forward that my friend's painful dismissal by those who were supposed to care for her will be an alarm resounding in my heart should I do the same.  I hope it is an alarm you decide to set as well.  





 

by Jill Francis on September 3rd, 2016


 
We used to play a game as children, and though I can’t remember all of it, I remember:  “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it, gotta go through it”…and so it seems to be with loss…you’ve gotta go through

Loss has impacted my life in many ways this year:  my best friend from high school lost her father suddenly and unexpectedly, with no chance to say “good-bye”.  Another dear friend lost her father due to abandonment; an odd word to use for a woman over fifty, but when your father chooses the new wife over you and when he refuses to be part of your life, what else is there to call it?  A sweet, young friend of mine lost a baby through miscarriage, a high school acquaintance lost his teenage son to suicide (I cannot fathom the pain of losing a child).  And I had my own personal loss this summer as my mother’s fourteen year struggle with Alzheimer’s ended.

Five experiences of loss, completely different from each other, yet all leaving the similar impact of pain, emptiness, loneliness and questions.  We will each grieve in our own way, we will wrestle with the emotions and the questions differently.  We will each process the anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance differently and at different rates of speed, but we each must go through the process.  Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts, no “quick fixes” and no substitutes for “the Process”…there is only through (I've heard that trying to short-cut the process can make you crazy.  I don't know that for sure, but I don't recommend you take the chance!)

Fortunately, there are grief counselors and support groups in every community if someone needs help with “the Process”.  There are many support groups online and I have friends who rave about online support communities (Grief Share and Grief Net are two).  There is also help if you become stuck in one of the stages of grief (I am too well acquainted with anger) or if you cannot arrive at acceptance.

If you have had a loss (loss can mean divorce and job loss too), you are not alone and you do not have to go through it alone.  If you are struggling, ask for help, talk to a family member, a friend, a counselor, your pastor, an online group, or e-mail me (Jill@Graciousgoodbyes.org).  It takes courage to ask someone to go through the process with you, but in doing so, you’ll find you’re not alone on the Journey of Through.

Take a deep breath (and maybe some chocolate) and look Loss in the eye and step toward it:  Can’t go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it, gotta go through

by Jill Francis on August 20th, 2016

​I ran into an acquaintance recently; one who is familiar with my mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and her slow, lingering death.  His story is similar to mine in many ways and if anyone can relate to me, he can.  It was the first time he had seen me since my momma passed away and after catching up for a few minutes, he said, “I’m sorry.  It sucks.  And that’s about all I can say about it”.  It was Forrest-Gump-like in its frankness and simplicity, even in its delivery.  And it was perfect.  It was just what I needed.

I am realizing, at the height of my grief, I have myriad emotions I do not comprehend and cannot communicate; I simply have to live through this.  I also do not have the emotional capacity or desire to hear someone else’s story of grief, even if it is similar to mine.  And there’s the rub, the paradox of grief:  I do not want to hear your story, even if it shares the same DNA as mine…yet I do not want to feel alone.  The Great Lie of grief and loss is that it tells us we are alone.  Isolated.  Unloved.  And we will never recover.

Therein lies the beauty of my friend’s phrase, “I’m sorry.  It sucks”.  It conveys regret and empathy…and empathy conveys connection…and connection conveys community…and community conquers isolation.  I am not alone.  You are not alone.  Someone understands.  We will recover

Are you grieving?  Have you experienced loss?  The loss of a loved one?  A job?  A dream?

 I’m sorry.  It sucks.
 
Jill

**If the word “sucks” offends your sensibilities, the word “stinks” may be used instead.

by Jill Francis on June 19th, 2016


 After fourteen years of Alzheimer’s disease, eight years in a nursing home, five years of unintelligible words, three years of silence and two years of sleeping, my mother is finally in her last days.  I say “finally” because it has been a long fourteen years and we have been saying “good-bye” for at least eight of them, thinking that with each decline she would leave us.  “Finally” because she has been gone, absent, removed, away…vacant…for a long, long time; it’s simply that her body didn’t seem to know.

Friends and extended family members, who have been on this extensive journey with us are aware of the circumstances, aware that she is dying and want to know how to help.  I understand their dilemma:  what do you do for a family who is simply waiting for someone to die?  Is there a Hallmark card for this? What is appropriate?  Is it too soon to start making casseroles?

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought because I have a husband and a girlfriend who have both stated they want to help, they just don’t know what to do and quite frankly, I don’t know either.  I’ve never done this before.  So I’ll give you some suggestions for me (and examples of what people are doing for me) and I have a feeling they’ll apply to most in our situation.

Please manage your expectations for how/when/if I respond.  I want to hear from you, so please text, and know that I may not text you back.  Call me and leave a voice mail if I don’t answer.  I want to hear your voice, I want to know you love me and are praying for me, but I may not want to chat. E-mail me or send me a card and know that I may forget to thank you.  Knowing my friends care about me and have me on their mind is comforting.  But please don’t treat me with kid gloves; I’m grieving, but I’m still me…I want to laugh, I want to be silly, I want to know if you’re hurting or if I can pray for you.

Don’t tell me I’ll see my mom again, that she will be in Heaven and be healed, that I’ll get over it and that time will heal.  I know all of that.  I don’t want to hear it.  Don’t tell me how to feel or that God will comfort me or that Mom wouldn’t want me to be sad, blah, blah, blah….  Say good things or just be quiet.  Don’t give me platitudes, even if they’re true.  Tell me you’re sorry.  Tell me you love me.  Tell me it stinks because that is true.

Be like my friend who dropped off a book at my house.  A book she knew I would like that would remind me she loves me.  That was a good thing to do.

Be like my friends who are helping me plan my mother’s memorial service, who are offering to participate with prayer, music and scripture readings.  They are willing to use their gifts and talents to serve during a stressful time and in a service that won’t be categorized as “joyous”.  Although I believe my mother is going to Heaven and will be healed, whole and happy and although her service will reflect that belief, it does not diminish the fact that we will grieve her loss.  It does not diminish that fact that a memorial service is hard.  Those who participate are doing it out of loving kindness for our family…and that is comforting.  If you are gifted in a way that can help a family, offer your gift, but don’t take it personally should they decline.  It is the offer (and the participation) that makes us feel loved.

Be like my friends who are willing to listen as I think through these last days and all that must be done; they let me ramble and think out loud.  I have friends who tell me what’s happening in their lives and it helps distract me from what’s happening in mine.  I have friends who allow me to be angry, melancholy, inappropriate, distant and sad.  I have friends who will pretend not to notice the extra weight I am gaining and the fact that “stretchy pants” may soon be in my wardrobe.  I have friends who listen; they’re not giving me advice or telling me how I should feel.  They just listen.

Just let me be…quiet, distant, ridiculous, needy, chatty, forgetful, rude, silly, inappropriate, wounded, wishy-washy, selfish, the best of myself and the worst of myself.  And acknowledge that this is hard, that it hurts and that you don’t understand either.

And then, when the crises has passed, when the service has ended and everyone has gone home, when you meet me for coffee or dinner and I’m still talking about my mother, let me talk.  Allow me the next year to grieve as I spend my Sundays without her, as I face Thanksgiving being grateful for who she was and Christmas knowing she is with the One who came as an infant.  Let me go through the Holidays and seasons adjusting to her absence, mourning the loss of her physical body, adjusting to my new “normal”.  Give me time…for the One who loves me most to comfort me best.  I know that joy returns in the morning but please bear with me…it may be a very long night.


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