The Importance of Finding a Grief Companion

Do you need to find someone who will try to understand what you are feeling? Historically, our culture has taught us to keep our feelings under guard and the expression of grief is often considered a sign of weakness. Add to this the fact that the emotions most commonly associated with grieving–anger, guilt, and depression–have the tendency to isolate and keep people at a distance. All of this converges at a time when one of the most valuable coping techniques, a trusted companion (or companions) who will be there with you, is needed.

Can we break through the isolation barrier to dealing with grief? The answer is yes.

To begin with, let’s not forget that positive human interaction is one of the most critical components of sound mental health. Many psychologists emphasize that the quality of our interpersonal relationships is as important as the food we eat or the vitamins we take. We are social beings who thrive on interaction with others. The need for a friend, family member, or other support person during the grief process is essential to forming a nurturing community if we are to prevent unnecessary suffering.

Specifically, the ideal support person allows us to grieve in our style and not direct the course of grief. Therefore, we need good listeners first, who are not afraid to be around pain. Some of our friends may be good at helping with chores and getting things done, but are not good listeners. This suggests the importance of recognizing the pluses and minuses of your support network and the need for more than one caregiver.

● Do not be afraid to ask for help at this distressing time. The search for support obviously begins with close friends and family members who may or may not be of great help.

● Consequently, others you do not consider being close friends, as often happens, may turn out to be most sensitive to your needs. At some point, you may have to educate your support system by telling them exactly what you need at a given time: to be alone, to talk about what you are feeling at the moment, or that you need to cry and not to let your crying upset them.

● If your family and friends are unable to provide the needed support, especially for a long period of time, look for a support group at your local hospice, hospital, or church. This may be necessary when some support persons think you should be getting over it and begin to abandon you. Education about the normalcy of your experience can be an important outcome of any group. So much can be learned about grief and grief work, and often you may be able to connect with another who is going through a similar loss. Helping each other in the listening process is often a healing experience for both.

● In the meantime, learn all you can about dealing with loss. Ask the support group leader, the bereavement coordinator at your local hospice, or your local librarian to recommend readings as well as others who have been through similar losses. Search the Internet. There are many helpful websites that have chat rooms where you can ask questions of others who are further along in their grief than you are. One may turn out to be the grief companion you need. Do a Google search on grief and you will find many choices.

In the final analysis, your choices, your wisdom, the action you take will play the key role in how you cope with your loss. And your support network can help immensely. You know your needs better than anyone else. Decide who you feel is best equipped to meet those needs and be your companion in the journey to managing your loss. Then take action to reinvest in life.

Comfort Poetry For Loss and Bereavement

The poem about loss and bereavement that follows came to me within an hour. I am not a poet! From time to time, however, rhyming verses appear in my mind with such lightening speed that I can barely get them down in time. This is what happened here. The entire first verse – which is about coping with grief – occurred to me instantly. As the result of a Tweet!

In reality, the words of comfort had probably been fomenting for more than a day, because I had previously been commenting on a social networking site about the pain and sorrow which seem to plague some people, interminably. Not, you understand, that I am condemning anyone. Grief and bereavement are not time-definitive: they last as long as they last.

But there is a sense in which we may not wish to let go. A sense in which each of us may contrive to envelop ourselves in our grief, in the way that a child hugs a comfort blanket to itself. And it’s not always healthy to do so!

I have written other poetry for bereavement, notably Death Is But A Door, but here I want to make a distinction. These verses are not intended to be exclusively for those who are left to mourn a death, but are meant to be comfort poetry for anyone suffering loss of any sort: be it job, marriage, home or financial security. My hope is that the pain and sorrow to which you have fallen victim will be healed in these words of comfort.

This is a work in progress. If you have suggestions to make to improve the verse, please let me know in the comment box.

Comfort Poetry: Weep A While

Weep a while for what might have been

Let grief rest, but not nest, in your heart.

Then smile a while for all that went well,

And tell sorrow it’s time to depart.

For tears and grief, like a rising flood,

Will bear all that is past in their path.

Til their task is done and the rising sun

Brings new light in the night’s aftermath.

For from the ark, when dispelled is the dark,

Will appear, like a mountain, a peak.

So let sorrow take flight, like a dove on the wing,

To return with fresh hope in its beak.

Then look to the heavens for what’s yet to come

And trust that what’s gone is redeemed.

For the ark and the peak and the dove that is God

Offer more than you ever have dreamed.

© Mel Menzies, 2008-2009

Autographing Books Isn’t About Your Signature: Book Marketing in the Trenches

My recent writing focuses on loss, grief and recovery. Last weekend I autographed books at a national bereavement conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The traffic in the bookstore was constant, at times, packed. Presenters’ books, including several of mine, were displayed on a special table.

Some authors ponder about what kind of pen to use, where to sign, and what to write. Not me. Flattering as it is to be invited to an autograph session, I don’t think that is what the sessions are about. These sessions are an opportunity to meet readers, cultivate readers, and gather information for future books.

What did I learn at the conference?

1. Thick books may scare the bereaved. “I can’t concentrate,” one attendee admitted, “so I couldn’t read thick books like those.” She gestured to another table and added, “Your books are the right length.” Another attendee said my books were the perfect size to stick in a purse or backpack. This was encouraging because my forthcoming book is about 112 pages, the same length as my other grief resources.

2. The cover can make or break a sale. All of my grief resources have photos on the covers. I find these photos on a royalty-free website and send the numbers to the graphic designer. “I love that shot!” a woman exclaimed. This led to a conversation about symbolism and my reasons for choosing the photo.

3. A casual approach works best. Most attendees were glad to meet an author, but some were leery and thought I would use a “hard sell” approach. I’m not a hard sell person, I’m a funny sell person. Laughter is good medicine and I tried to joke with people. Once a conversation was started, many attendees stayed to chat.

4. Life experience counts. One attendee walked up to me and declared, “You shouldn’t be writing books about loss unless you’ve lost a child.” She was surprised when I said my daughter died in 2007 and I was a bereaved parent. Clearly, the people who came to this conference wanted to talk with authors who had been in the grief trenches.

5. Conferences are networking opportunities. I received an invitation to speak and another invitation to be on a radio program. Networking with other authors, all kind and caring people, was another conference benefit. Though I may never see these authors again, I enjoyed talking with them and sharing experiences.

6. Autographing is really about listening. Every person who came to the conference had a story to tell and I listened to many stories. Some stories were so heartbreaking I couldn’t come up with comforting words, other than “I’m so sorry.” Still, I encouraged people to tell their stories and that is important. I also autographed books in memory of their deceased children.

About 1,500 people attended the conference. Though I met only a fraction of them, I learned from the ones who visited the bookstore. Autographing books also gave me the opportunity to interact with my publisher and the bookstore team. I’m glad I went to the conference and was blessed to meet other bereaved parents.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson