Posts

8 tips on how to support a family in grief

img_2005-2

 

Ten years ago I was on the most devastating journey of my entire life.

Two days before we flew back to Sweden for the Christmas holidays, we had received the most devastating news a parent can get; Ingrid had a terminal genetic disease and had about 5 more months to live.

Now we had to face our families and friends and tell them that Ingrid, only three months old, would be leaving us again. I can’t begin to describe how awful I felt, and how it pained me to see our friends and family having to cope with the news. But they did, and they stood by us like the rocks they are.

It also made me think….

How would I have reacted as the friend?

What would I have done for a family in that situation?

Would I have known what to do or say at all, had it been a friend telling me the same news?

The answer was no.

Below I have listed 8 helpful things you could do if you have friends or family that have experienced loss this year.

1 – Respect that they might not want to participate in the holiday celebrations this year, maybe it’s just too much for them. Ask what they want and need instead, and if there is anything you can do to accommodate their wishes.

2 – Offer to help with practical tasks, like cooking and cleaning. After a loss there is just no energy for the everyday routines.

3 – Invite the family for dinner so they don’t have the pressure of hosting holiday events themselves. There is no energy for those either, believe me.

4 – Respect that the family might want to be left alone. Check in with them form time to time to let them know that you are there for them, but don’t try and activate them and “get them out of the house”.

5 – If the family has children, offer to take them out for activities so the parents can have some alone time.

6 – Help them remember. One of the biggest fears after a loss is that the person who died will be forgotten. Give the family an opportunity to talk about what has happened, share memories, and give space for tears.

7 – Have patience. Don’t get annoyed or frustrated because they want to repeat the same stories over and over again. It’s not because they are stuck or refusing to “get over it”, this is an important step for the healing journey.

8 – Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT avoid a family in grief. There is nothing more painful than seeing friends and relatives disappear after a loss, just because they didn’t know what to say or do. It’s better to say “I have no idea what you are going though, but I’m here for you.”, than disappearing from their lives because you didn’t feel comfortable.

 

Should you have any questions on how to support a family in grief, do not hesitate to contact me! That’s why I’m here. 

Will it ever get better?

2007_04_18_5It’s “that day” again this week. The 14th of May. The day that will forever be marked as the day Ingrid died. We call it her Angel Day, the day she got her wings back again.

That day used to be blacker than black. I would take the day off work because I knew I would be useless in the office that day. I would be spending the day crying and feeling that huge, empty hole in my heart.

All the details of that morning of the 14th of May 2007 were crystal clear, as if they were frozen into a snap shot of pain and grief in my memory and in my physical body.

I thought it would have to be that way for the rest of my life. Because how could it ever NOT be painful to remember that day?

But it’s NOT painful anymore.

The day is filled with memories, but the difference now is that it’s not physically painful to think about it. I don’t have to re-live that day as if it was happening all over again (as in the movie Groundhog Day).

Today we celebrate the 14th of May as if it would be a birthday. In a way it is, Ingrid’s Angel Day. The day she became a little angel and guide in our lives instead of being here in physical form. Her siblings pick a cake, get the balloons out and we celebrate that she is still in our lives in her own, special way.

I sometimes have a hard time understanding how I’ve managed to turn the loss of my child in to my biggest strength, but I have. I’ve done it because I got access to tools an people that could help me through and guide me towards healing my heart. For that I’m truly grateful.

 

 

My very first post EVER

Did a little time travelling this evening and found my very first blog post from May 26th 2011. It’s amazing what can happen in three years time! From unemployed to starting my first business (Parenthood Puzzle), to certified Grief Recovery Specialist with over 30 finished clients (and that’s just in the last 1.5 years)! From finding that setting up a blog is challenging to building and managing my own website… I wonder where I will be in another 3 years time!

My first post:

img_0424.jpgThe corporate job is no longer, a coach has been hired, a Facebook group page has been created, a blog is taking it’s first staggering little steps, an action plan is being sketched upon and the whole kitchen door is full of Post-Its. Now, to set up a blog was a bit more challenging that I had thought and then mix it with the new experience going from PC to iMac in the process did not make it less challenging, but absolutely doable. The list is long for tomorrow and I want to get some meet up events started for next week already, want this to be the pilot run for the “real deal”. The blog is going to be my way of keeping record of what’s happening and when, help me keep track on my progress and reaching of one goal after the other. I read somewhere that Goals are Dreams with a dead line, and that is now plastered over my computer as I write. So please feel free to join me on my journey from corporate stress to entrepreneurial bliss (?). Soon two little kids will be picked up from day care and the entrepreneur will put on the mommy hat for the evening, which is a very nice hat indeed! Let’s see where it all ends!

My own story about deep grief and profound healing.

It feels like I’ve got two lives, the one before getting married in September 2005 and one after. My first life included working and studying abroad and starting a career in the hotel business based in Stockholm, Sweden.

IMG_5696My first major loss took place in September 2001, when my father passed away after a long battle with cancer. I felt so lost and disoriented without him, and it took me more than two years to get back to a reasonable state of health again. That is when I was introduced to the Greif Recovery Method for the first time, and I ended up buying the book. I’m sure I read it, but I didn’t have the energy to work though the method on my own. Nor did I have the courage to find myself a partner to work with, so the book ended up in my bookshelf.

In 2005 I got married and left Stockholm to join my Swedish husband in Zurich. As I had lived abroad before I didn’t think it was that dramatic, but this time it was for an unlimited time I moved away form my friends and family. Our first daughter Ingrid was born in September 2006, one day after our first wedding anniversary, and we fell in love with her immediately. All of a sudden we are responsible for this little human being, for life!

As we went for Ingrid’s 2-month check up the doctor was concerned about her lack of leg movement, so she sent us off to the Children’s Hospital here in Zurich for further tests. On the 16th of December 2006 we got the diagnosis, Spinal Muscle Atrophy type 1, a very rare genetic disease with a life expectancy of approximately eight months. Our hearts smashes to tiny little pieces and our lives would never be the same again. There is no way you can prepare yourself for a moment like that, to hear that your 3 month old baby has got a terminal illness and is going to die. I just wanted to scream and never stop screaming!

ängel Ingrid och mammaWe had our first battle with SMA already two weeks after getting the diagnosis, when Ingrid caught a bad cold and one of her lungs collapsed. She fought death off that time, as she would on several occasions after that.

We had the most amazing care team from Kinderspitex in Zurich, which gave us the chance to care for Ingrid at home. To be able to live life as normal as possible in the comfort of our own home was such a big help for us. I’m convinced that it prolonged Ingrid’s life and definitely ensured the optimal quality of life as a family. Ingrid passed away peacefully at home in May of 2007, almost 8 months old.

After we had lost Ingrid it dawned on me how little help there was for us as parents. We had received excellent medical care for our child, but after she was gone and all the medical equipment had been collected we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. We now had to arrange all the practical details like organizing the funeral, order a tombstone and arrange all documents to be able to fly back to Sweden with an urn. Having to deal with all of this while in a state of chock and grief was daunting, and I have never felt so alone, isolated and lost in my whole life. There was no real list of support options presented to us, so on top of everything else I had to muster the energy to look for help myself.

Immediately after Ingrid’s passing I signed myself up as support parent at the Children’s hospital as well as with the palliative home care team (Kinderspitex) here in Zürich. At least I would be able to give other parents with SMA babies a chance to contact a fellow parent. But what about all the other people being stuck in loss and grief for various reasons? How could I be there for fellow expats experiencing loss and grief? How could I assist people living far away form their natural support system of family, friends, native language and familiarity?

That’s when the Grief Recovery Handbook mysteriously nudged itself out of its dusty existence in my bookshelf. I decided to do the certification to become a Grief Recovery Specialist to be able to offer this support, not only to fellow SMA parents, but also to other people experiencing loss.

-214Today I work with my passion to help others getting unstuck from their unresolved grief, feel less alone and isolated and have someone listening to their story. I wake up every day feeling so blessed to be able to do this kind of work, and that Ingrid taught me so much about life, death and all the things in between.

With love, Karin

 

Time heals all wounds… Or does it? 5 things to ease the pain

One of those myths we keep on hearing about Grief is that time is supposed to heal all wounds.

Really?

My own take on this is that the intensity of the chock, grief and pain after a significant loss does indeed subside over time. However,  you only need to hear that certain song, quote or word; see that certain church, hospital, picture; celebrate the first Christmas without, anniversary without, birthday without… Or you start to imagine how life would have turned out had they still been in your life (you get the picture right?). All of a sudden the memory and the physical discomfort associated with it starts to flare up like a bad nightmare.

Before you know it you are fully re-living the stress, sadness, chock and heartbreak as if it was happening right this very second. It’s happened to me on several occasions, and it feels like I was transported back in time and put back in that very instant. And I have caught myself thinking, “but time is supposed to heal all wounds, so why am I still so overwhelmed, sad and stuck? What a load of BS!”

“The mistaken idea that after enough time passes something will magically change to make us whole again is preposterous. If we were dealing with any other human pain, no one would say – Just give it time.” from the Grief Recovery Handbook

Take care of your broken heartIf you broke your arm, no one would suggest you sit and wait until it heals, right? But if your HEART breaks, that’s one of the first “helpful tips” we get!

How many of you are still experiencing pain caused by a death, separation, pet loss, move or loss of faith that might have happened 20 years ago?

I often meet people that are dealing with “old” pain and grief dating back as far as childhood, and as soon as we start talking about it they are immediately experiencing the event with the same intensity as if it was indeed happening RIGHT NOW. Unless you are given the right tools and action steps (might it be thought therapy, coaching or any other technique), the old pain will still be stored in your memory and sometimes even in a body part, causing pain and discomfort.

I had pain in my right shoulder for many years after we lost our daughter. I just didn’t get why the pain was there until I got help to connect the dots, that my right shoulder was still carrying her. As her muscles were so weak,  she was CONSTANTLY hanging on my right shoulder. Not until I realised that and dealt with the pain of losing her did the pain go away!

So here are 5 things that you could do to ease the immediate pain:

1. Think about a loss that is still very painful.

2. Write down exactly how you feel about it, and if there is a physical pain that goes with that feeling.

3. Start writing down what is still bothering you about the situation.

4. Put all of your thoughts, apologies, forgiveness and other emotional statements you would like to tell this person in to a letter.

5. Imagine this person, or take out a photo and read the letter out loud adressed to this person. End with a clear GOODBYE.

I would still recommend to get in touch with a Grief Specialist or therapist if the pain is too great to face on your own.

You might also find this video helpful:

The day I lost my dad

It was September 2001. The world was in turmoil after the 9/11 events in USA and my dad was in hospital with end stage cancer.

Me and my (then) boyfriend (now husband) were on holiday in Spain as I got the call from my mum. “Dad is in a really bad state and you don’t have time to come back to Sweden.”, she said. I went completely cold, then  paralysed with fear. I CAN’T BE ON HOLIDAY WHEN MY DAD IS DYING!

IMG_5696Somehow we managed to get to the airport in Malaga, get the last tickets on the flight to Madrid and onwards to Stockholm. I called my dad as we reached Madrid and he just thought I was being ridiculous for rushing home. During our last leg up to Stockholm, my dad got a lot worse and in order to stay conscious he got the phone book out and called ALL his friends and family to say good bye.

I can’t imagine how it must have felt for the people picking up the phone that day. I mean, what do you say when your friend calls to say goodbye FOREVER? But that was his way, his friends were so important to him and as he had decided that it indeed was the day to leave, he wanted to be nice (I guess) and let everyone have a chance to say their goodbyes.

We reached Arlanda Airport and rushed through the customs. All of a sudden I hear “Karin! HI!!”, and there was my father’s best (and oldest) friend’s daughter. She had been on the same flight as us, and ironically her father was the only person my dad didn’t manage to get hold of on the phone that day.

We stayed with my dad the whole night. I was lying beside him and we were telling stories, recalling memories, giggling and crying. All of a sudden I noticed a shift in his breathing. We gathered around the bed, said our goodbyes and he took his last breath.

broken heart

My heart broke, like it’s never been broken before. He was my mentor and my guide, and now I had to navigate the world without him. It was odd (and frankly, scary as hell), because he had always been there. And now he wasn’t. I just couldn’t understand how the world could continue without him in it. I saw people going about their daily business, bewildered. How could anyone still think it was important to go grocery shopping, go partying, go to work?

I hurt for two whole years, existing in a burnout blur that no doctor or therapist could help me heal from. No one seemed to be able to put the pieces together – the fact that grief and burnout had very similar symptoms. It was only when an ad caught my eye on the train one day – the Grief Recovery Method – it said. one of those light bulb moments – OMG, it was GRIEF I was suffering from! I immediately bought the book at once, but when it arrived I didn’t dare to read it. So it went in to hiding in my book shelf.

Instead of getting more help, I brushed it off and started changing the outer issues of my life. I left my job, enrolled in a university program, started a summer café and managed to heal in the best way I could. The pain and sadness was pushed deep within, only to surface on special occasions like birthdays and seasonal holidays.

And that’s the thing with people we lose early. They are not only missed because of the past we share, they are also missed because of all the things they won’t be there with us to experience! That has been one of the hardest things for me to get over.

I remember our wedding day, the day of days you want your whole family to be there. My mum had asked my dad before he passed away what advice he had for us when it came to getting married; “Well, they shall walk with their husbands ‘to be’ down the aisle. They are not my property to give away, so I wouldn’t be doing that.”, he said. Now that I was standing there, knowing what he had said, I felt less burdened but yet tremendously sad that he wasn’t there in person.

He had also expressed a wish to have grandchildren one day, so when I got pregnant with Ingrid my heart started aching again. He wouldn’t be there to see his first grandchild being born. But after we got Ingrid’s terminal diagnosis I felt so relieved that my father would be there to greet her and take care of her when the time came for her to leave.

IMG_1252Today they share their grave in Uppsala, which is both sad and reassuring in a weird combination. 

The loss of hopes and dreams

Swiss MountainsOn the 14th of May 2007 I did not only loose my child, I also lost all the hopes and dreams that I had painted up in my mind while she was growing in my belly.

To finally be a little family. To see her develop and grow. To experience her first tooth, her first birthday, her first steps, her first words, her first day of school, our family holidays. To see her experience and learn about the world. To see what her path would be in life and to be there to cheer her on, comfort her, encourage her and see her grow up to be an adult. To love her unconditionally.

All of that was also lost, and all of that I finally had the opportunity to express as I wrote her a letter. It made all the difference, so there is hope, people! You CAN survive, and you can even be happy again. I’m the perfect example.