“I’m pretty sure this group isn’t for me,” she said, and I felt no criticism in her voice. “You know, I’m a ‘glass is half-full’ kind of gal and, though at first I thought the supportive environment would do me good, I realize that hearing others’ sad stories isn’t really what I need. My son’s death, though tragic, has spurred me to find the lessons for me, to see how I can triumph in spite of what’s happened.”
Grief throws a magnifying glass on our essential personality. For this bereft mother, forward movement, searching for and embracing anything positive on her journey, was the most significant thing she could do. Her natural optimism led her towards the silver lining, not the grey cloud’s underbelly. “Don’t get me wrong,’ she said, “I have plenty of ‘cry-myself-to-sleep’ nights, but I’ll be looking for the kind of support that helps me get where I think I need to go.” Her grief magnified what was essential in her character.
If we are given to anger when life goes wrong or seems ‘unfair,’ when death strikes, the clouds of rage will gather and we will storm through our grief until the clouds part again.
If we are more melancholic in temperament, we may be found isolating ourselves, brooding and despondent and depressive (often misdiagnosed as depression–the symptoms are similar). We will need the support of those who know how to commiserate without being dragged down. We will need the encouragement of those who are ‘comfortable’ sitting with sadness at length without needing to change the mood.
The successful grief journey necessitates knowing ourselves and how we usually emote. As a comforter, it means coming to know our grieving friend or acquaintance, to compare what we see in their grief with what would naturally be found in their personality. Our commitment is to respect whatever we encounter, to embrace it and to cherish it.
Would you like to talk to someone? Need grief support? Book a session on line from anywhere here.
One of the most common questions I’m asked when people find out I’m a grief counselor, is, “My friend’s dad just died. What could I say to him?”
Often, additional information is supplied, such as, “It’s been three months and he can’t seem to get past it.” Or, “He doesn’t seem to be able to stop crying. What can I do to help him?”
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you heard this–or said this–before?
Showing up is more important than speaking up. Presence packs more punch than pronouncements. Being there is more significant than saying the right thing.
I’m talking about shifting the focus of our comfort/care away from the content of our words to the delivery of our presence. But many of us are uncomfortable in our own skin and are more apt to live our lives focused on performance instead of being. We fix instead of listen; we work instead of rest; we are constantly on the move, trying to distance ourselves from the present, not knowing how to exist in THIS moment.
This pressure from within keeps us “on the move” and away from “the now.” Which explains why we want to say something instead of being quietly present with someone. We find it challenging listening to them speak, even at length, sometimes the same story repeatedly, without giving in to the urge to respond, to question, to evaluate, to correct, to fix or to make things better.
There are times when words are foundational and necessary. When a friend or acquaintance tells us a loved one has passed, we had better have a ready response. “My heart goes out to you!” is better at such a time than, “What happened?” or “How did she die?” There’s a time for those questions but in the beginning, our first task is to receive the news. Receive the news. To welcome the sad information into a heart prepared for the inevitability of pain in someone’s life.
However, once a death occurs, a journey begins, a trek through an uncharted wilderness of grief and disorientation. There is no map, because no one has walked this precise route before. And, once the news has been delivered and received, I become a companion on that journey! Even though we may have suffered a loss, we don’t know how the griever is feeling. Perhaps declaring that isn’t the best idea! What we mean when we say, “I know how you feel,” (to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt) is that, at best we remember how we felt when we experienced a loss. But to be in the moment, our loss must not become the focus of our connection: their experience now stands front and center and is the object of our care.
So, we actively listen for the following:
- What happened?
- Was the loss sudden or expected?
- How has this loss impacted our friend? (We cannot assume that if it was sudden that it has devastated our friend; nor should we assume that if it was an expected passing, that they aren’t blown away.)
- How are they coping with it?
- What are their resources?
- Are they asking for help in coping? (For help of me, or for a referral?)
- What do they need?
And, we patiently listen to the whole story, never in a hurry to respond, communicating through conscious body language that we have all the time in the world for our friend and that they have made a wise decision to entrust this burden to us!
More on shifting our caring focus down the road:
- How do we shift our focus from words to presence?
- What does active listening look like? (Body Language)
- What does active listening sound like? (Asking good questions which help the griever to explore his/her own loss.)
- How do I explore my grief wilderness?
- Is what I’m going through normal? I feel like I’m going crazy.
Need to talk to the counselor? Book an “in office” or “on line” session here.
God, grant me the serenity to love these children whom I cannot change,
The courage to see each one as a unique and ever-changing gift
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting parenting as a pathway to my own maturity,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,
Trusting that he will grow them up as He knows best;
So that I may be reasonably happy with them in this life
And supremely happy with Him (and them) forever in the next.
From a prayer attributed to Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr (adapted by Clair Jantzen)
Old Man Winter
Your chilly arrival
Makes me nostalgic
Even as you choke my nostrilled breath
I recall the soothing warmth
Of sun filled days just passed
I concede your artistry
As you suck the lingering life
From a writhing autumn
Fallen flames of dying maple
I am your recalcitrant serf
Yet your frigid invitation entices me
To wander bundled
Through powdered mounds
Of virgin white
I will survive your icy grip
Slip through your moons of gloom
And emerge crocus like to greet the April orb
You tenaciously veiled so long
I am your reluctant friend
Your stiff necked frozen fondling
Of the earth is but an eerie shadow
Over my yearning for deeper joy
Aslan’s day is coming
Christmas truce forever
The swaddled lion shakes his mane
And you were just the weather
–Clair Jantzen, November 18, 2014
So, once upon a time I decided to take power from the house out to the shed. Should be fairly simple, I thought. There was an existing plug on the outside of the house near the front, so I hooked up a cable (inside wire!) to that and ran it to the back of the house, added a plug there, then continued on, burying it (unprotected) in the ground, out to the shed. Once there, I installed a switch, a light box, a motion sensor light, then another motion sensor light. Everything’s been working fine.
Until I needed to shore up the end of the patio. Never figured out how to protect the end of it, how to keep the sand from moving and the blocks with it. I’m fortunate to have a son-in-law who’s a red seal carpenter, so I called Shaun over for some advice. He said to dig a trench and pour a concrete footing, securing the end row of bricks with adhesive to the footing. Armed with a plan, some bags of instant concrete, a wheel barrow, water hose and shovel, I start my project, all the while mumbling to myself, “Remember the wire. Remember the wire!”
You know, of course, what happened! To my chagrin, I hit the underground cable and shaved off the top plastic covering, exposing the bare wires inside. Now what? I don’t want to rewire the whole thing, do I? Of course not. Just slather a half roll of black electrical tape over it and bury it in the footing! No problem. Carry on, Clair!
Well, I finished the footing, with the help of my lovely wife, Rachel, a true Jill of all trades! I’m serious, I’d still be under the truck trying to figure out how to change a U-Joint if it hadn’t been for her. “Bang here,” says she, and, Voila! it came loose!
Problem is, trying to use the plug caused the GFI switch to flip every time. Shoot. Moisture must be getting in and shorting it out. Now I really have to rewire. Fortunately, my brother-in-law is a builder, so I called Ed over for some advice. “To do this to code, you really should take the power from inside, drilling through the wall and, using the proper outside wire, bury it in conduit!” Cool, I can do that!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. With all those skilled folks you’re related to, why not consult with them first? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
OK, so starting at the shed, I hooked up the new wire, pushed it into the first length of conduit, etc, etc, till I reached the house where I added an elbow and ran the conduit (with wire safely inside) up the side of the house with lots of extra, all ready to connect to the new wire exiting the house. A trench was dug to receive the whole thing.
Next, I measured where to drill out from the inside and, using my new $34, twelve inch long drill bit, I started into the plaster and studs and promptly got stopped at the stucco wire. Why won’t it just go through, I thought to myself. Check the package on the new drill bit: wood drill. Now the bit is dull and useless to me. So, off to my neighbor, Victor, who loaned me his beautiful hammer drill and bits. Soon I’m through the wall and…oh boy! I emerged about a foot from my awaiting conduit/wire assembly! No worries, I have a spare elbow, I’ll just use that and everything’ll be just fine.
Now, to connect the two wires, I need a junction box (that’s making it to code!). No problemo. Got that hooked up and prepared to cut the overly long conduit to size. Two heads would have served me better than the one I have, because it was taking me longer than any other cut to get through the plastic pipe. To my horror I realized I’d cut through my wire, as well, again! All right, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and I throw the hack saw down really, really hard!
OK, I’m resourceful, I’m smart, figure it out. All’s well that ends well, because I had just enough wire and conduit to add a plug, which I had wanted anyway. So, the end result: it looks pretty good, except that in the picture, it looks like…well…here’s what Shawna said about it: “It looks like you ran electrical to your planter…flowers don’t grow like that, Clair! No wonder Rachel is in charge of the garden.”