Monday, August 31, 2015

The Loneliness of Grief: Crying Out to God

            Grief stuns and unravels us from the inside out. Loneliness seeps in, sometimes immediately; sometimes only after the busy days of funeral preparations, and the funeral, and after the friends and family have filtered away and returned to their normal routines. It’s that feeling you get when you know the person you said goodbye to is gone from your present earthly life forever and is not coming back, and life here will never be the same. And crying out to God is often the first thing we do.

            The reflexive cry erupts from the gut. Even atheists who deny the presence of an intelligent, creative being (outside of themselves, of course), cry out in anger, hate and disbelief to a God they deny exits. Even Stephen Hawking, the famed wheelchair-bound British theoretical physicist suffering from disabling and deadly amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with his atheistic faith; he and Russian investor Yuri Milner have launched “Breakthrough Listen”, a 100 million-dollar research program aimed at locating intelligent extraterrestrial life in the universe. Hmmm… Even though Hawking says he believes life on Earth arose spontaneously, it makes me think of the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes.” (And when you’re grieving and a little unnerved about the future, you might feel as though you’re cornered in a foxhole.)
            You don’t have to read too far in the Bible to find people crying out to God. You find it in the Book of Genesis. In Exodus, the second book of the Bible, in Chapter 2, verse 23, you find the Israelites crying out to God because of their captivity in Egypt:
            “Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the     
            children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and
            their cry came up to God because of their bondage.”

            Later, in verse 4 of Chapter 17, you read about Moses doing some yelling out to the heavens, too. “So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
            In Numbers 12:13, we again hear Moses beseeching God: “So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘Please hear, O God, I pray.’”
            In Deuteronomy 26:7 and Joshua 24:7, the Israelites and Joshua reminisce about their crying out to God.
            And so it goes. In nearly every book of the Bible you find someone crying out to the creator of the universe. There’s a lot of crying out by King David and other Psalm writers. The Apostles cried out to God during the genesis of the church, while under persecution. Paul cried out to God when he got knocked off his horse and lost his eyesight—in the process of becoming a believer and turning his life to Christ. Even Jesus, God’s son, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” while he was hanging on the cross.
            The point here is: It’s natural to cry out. And the most natural person to cry out to is God.
            Are you angry with Him? He understands and can take your ranting. (Check out the books of Job and Psalms if you want to know how much ranting God can take.)
            Does your grief cause you to cry out because you want to know if He’s there? If He actually exits? If He’s even listening, or cares?
            Crying out in grief is the most natural response I can think of. In the short run, it helps you feel as though you are sharing your burden with someone else, or at least hope you can. Or, if you’re angry, you might feel that you’re helping to unload some of your grief by pointing fingers of blame at someone, which is also a natural response.
            So go ahead and cry out. Loudly, if you want. Stand out in the middle of a forest and scream in agony.
            And next week we’ll take a look at how God responds when we do.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!

May you find blessings in your week,


(All Scripture passages in this post were taken from the New King James Version Bible.)

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Loneliness of Grief: Self-Care


            Self-care gets a bad rap sometimes. In our me-focused society, just the word can trigger feelings or impressions of selfishness, time-wasting activities, self-indulgence, narcissism, and wasteful extravagance. While self-care may indeed balloon into all of those, the self-care I’m referring to is the type of care you need in order to successfully navigate the grief process, in order to return to the living.
            So let’s look at good self-care that helps you heal.

1) Don’t rush! The first and most important thing to recognize is that you shouldn’t try to rush through (or allow someone else to push you through) the grieving. Remind yourself that this will be a one-step-at-a-time process. When my grandmother was hit by a car while walking to the bus stop, she suffered a severely fractured leg that required a plate to replace the pulverized bone they had to remove. After she lay in a coma for three days, she first needed to heal physically, and then it took her two long, frustrating years to learn to walk again. Her youngest son had to leave their California home to live with his much older, married-with-kids sister in Iowa for two years. Both literally and figuratively, my grandmother had to return to living one slow, and sometimes painful step at a time.

            So tack that up on a wall at eye level, or tape it to your bathroom mirror: “This is going to take time!”

2) You’re priceless. Remind yourself how valuable you are to God—He wants to see you through this—and how valuable you are to others who need you to get through this.

3) Choose contact wisely. Avoid contact with people who are not contributing positively to your healing, or at least keep the contact with them to a minimum. (Some of your friends and family members may actually harm and thwart your healing.)

4) Journaling. Buy a journal and journal your pain, your thoughts, your heartache no matter how random those words might be or how confused they may sound. Cry out on paper.

5) Use your voice mail. If you aren’t in the mood or you lack the energy to converse with others, don’t apologize for it or chat with them out of feelings of guilt or responsibility. Leave a message on your answering machine/voice mail, thanking them for their call and telling them you’ll return the call when you’re feeling up to it. You might include something about how you’re doing, just to bring them up to speed, if you want.

6) Use your email. Activate your email auto-responder with a similar message so senders won’t expect an instant reply from you.

7) Beware of the television and Internet! While they can help you keep in touch with people or help burn hours, they can be addicting and brain numbing, neither of which will be to your long-term benefit. And watching either one within an hour or two of going to bed at night can severely disrupt your sleep and brain wave patterns.

8) Medication. Do not be fearful of asking your doctor for anti-anxiety or anti-depressives, but plan to take them for only a little time, (unless you have severe clinical depression and absolutely need them to survive). There are other highly effective ways to combat depression and anxiety. But using the prescription meds to take the edge off, especially in the beginning of your grief, can be helpful for healing.

9) Sleep aids. Consider using sleep aids, but beware of prescription medication. Again, using medicine like Ambien can seem helpful, but it doesn’t allow your brain to engage in deep, dream-stage sleep, which is what is needed. Again, there are other, more effective, healthier methods to combat insomnia. Over-the-counter melatonin can be a good option for some, but talk to your doctor first.

10) Pamper yourself. Yep, go to the spa, have a manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage. (Men, you should consider doing any or all of these things, too!) I’m not talking about you giving yourself a mani or a pedi, either. Have a trained aesthetician do the procedure. The health benefits of having someone give you these types of treatments are astounding. There really is power in physical touch. And there are psychological benefits of getting yourself fixed up and looking good. You are more likely to feel better about yourself.

Another benefit of going to a spa for treatment or having your hair done is that spa technicians and hair stylists are usually really great armchair psychologists and exceptional listeners. You’ll feel like you’ve had a combined beauty and brain treatment.

11) Animal benefits. If you have a pet, spend more time petting them, and giving them a massage! Research has shown that pet owners are usually healthier and have lower blood pressure (Read: Are more relaxed) than non-owners.

12) Eat right! AVOID SUGAR like you would avoid a highly contagious disease! Consuming sugar shuts down the immune system for several hours and leaves you vulnerable to infection. It also inflames your tissues, which is the exact opposite of what you want happening when you’re healing. Some people liken it to a poison. The more research I read about it, the more inclined I am to agree with them.

And consuming smaller meals every two hours keeps the digestive stress down in your organs, especially the pancreas and liver. Good fats and proteins; no fried foods; healthful veggies and a limited number of fruits, and very few or no fruit juices. Too much fruit sugar can negatively affect your blood sugar levels, which increases inflammation. And absolutely NO soda, diet or otherwise. (Diet soda is actually worse for you than the regular stuff.)

13) Sleep amounts. Get just the right amount of sleep: Not too much and not too little. When you’re in the initial stages of grief and loneliness, you will most likely need more, because it’s when you’re sleeping that the body heals itself. However, too much sleep isn’t good for you, either. Seven to nine hours is ideal. Women usually need more than men, and they’re more sensitive to nighttime sleep disruptions. If you can’t sleep, get up and read, or journal, or pray, but don’t turn on the television! That will only worsen your insomnia.

Be in bed by midnight, preferably 11:00 PM. Your body starts working to rid itself of toxins between the hours of 1:00-3:00 AM, and it can ONLY do that when you’re sleeping and are entered into a deeper sleep level. If you’re awake at those times, there’s no detoxification going on. Your body can’t do it. So your liver and digestive tract store that awful stuff, which can make you sick.

Make sure you sleep in a dark room. No lights from phones, (which should NOT be next to your bed), clocks, or nightlights. Consider getting room-darkening curtains. Otherwise, your body rhythms can be disrupted with unnatural light streaming in your windows and underneath your doors. That can also keep you from achieving optimal, deep brain wave sleep.

And drop the room temperature. Between 68 to 72 degrees is optimal. If you live in a really dry environment, get a humidifier revved up to 55% humidity. Below that percentage the ambient air sucks moisture out of your body, which means you’ll quickly become dehydrated, and your body will be working overtime to achieve internal physical and chemical balance. (Called homeostasis in science-speak.)

14) Be a kid again. Consider getting out your nap mat and taking a mid-afternoon snooze. Forty-five minutes to an hour-and-a-half is ideal, and only between the hours of 1:00-3:00 PM. Anything after that time, and definitely after 4:00 PM, will likely disrupt your evening sleep.

Along the lines of being a kid again, if you feel up to it, play. Do something silly or fun that has no intended goal. Laugh a lot. When is the last time you went to the park and slid down the slide? Made a sand castle at the beach? Have fun for the pleasure of having fun. Bonus: Play is important for good brain health, too!

15) Get up, shower, and get dressed. Even though you don’t feel like, get out of your jammies and nightgown and let the water cascade across the body. Put makeup on, do  your hair, and put on nice, clean clothes. It’s great for not only the body but also for the soul.

16) Exercise. Getting exercise, as far as some neuroscientists are concerned, is actually more important for the brain than it is for the rest of the body. The organ that receives the biggest benefit from exercise is your brain. The exercise keeps the blood nourishing the brain, and keeps it alert and functioning well. Exercise tends to make you feel happy, especially with all of those morphine-like substances exercise releases running around in your body post-exercise, sometimes for more than a day (depending upon the exercise strenuousness). Choose something you like to do and do it, even if you don’t necessarily “feel” like it. If you’re feeling anti-social, get a DVD and exercise to it in the comfort and quiet of your own home. Purchase some low cost gym equipment you can set up in your house for convenience. Take frequent breaks to go work out on it, or just do some light stretching exercises.

Walking outside is probably premier exercise #1! The health benefits of getting outside, breathing fresh air and getting the blood pumping for 20-30 minutes can’t be praised enough. It’s one of the most highly recommended activities for people suffering depression. And it’s recommended that you get outside first thing in the morning. It elevates your mood and sets the stage for having a decent day. (And some statistics show that how you spend the first ten minutes of your day dictates how the rest of the day will go.)

So, walk. Walk alone or walk with a friend, especially one who won’t exhaust you by talking incessantly. If you want to talk incessantly, pick a friend who’s a great listener. Or listen to uplifting music while you’re walking. Or pray. (On a side note, this is an ideal time to pray for others. Praying for others helps distract you from your problems and actually makes you feel better emotionally. Use this time to nourish yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally. It’s great at accomplishing all three.

17) Counseling. Find a good counselor who will listen and guide your through the healing process. Having an outside ear and support system is valuable to your recovery.

And most important, ask the One who is in the caring business to guide you on this self-care journey. He knows what you need more than you, or your next-door, armchair doctor neighbor knows. God is an extravagant giver.

He’s one friend you don’t want to set aside on this healing journey.

Next week we’ll look at how we respond to God in the loneliness of grief.

So, until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Loneliness of Grief: Mourning From the Inside Out

           While everyone around you sees the outside of you—the “normal” looking part of you—you know that your grief and loneliness have started on the inside, deep within your gut and soul. Your mourning starts internally and progresses outwardly, forcing itself through the heart, nerves and tissues like magma in a volcano heats and churns, boils, and erupts. Although you might not explode or spew rocks, ash and debris like a volcano, (although that does happen when you’ve reached your breaking point), your internal self feels the violence of the rupture, and your heart and soul bleed red. You are mourning from the inside out.

            And, like a volcano, you need to let the pressure release, without trying to stop it up with a plug to quiet it down or stop it, or pretend it’s not happening. That only worsens the pressure and causes a more cataclysmic event in the future.
            And that is why self-care is so critical in grief. But, unfortunately, self-care is often shunned, negated, belittled and considered selfish and unnecessary. As Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. writes in his article “Healing Your Grieving Body: Physical Practices for Mourners”, it is not always easy to care for yourself in our society, which tends to be a “mourning-avoidant culture.”
            Self-care is not about having or doing it your way because you deserve it, or partaking in something frivolous or self-indulgent. This is about caring for yourself because you need it and because you probably won’t heal sufficiently or completely without it. As Wolfert says, “Without doubt, physical self-care takes time, mindfulness, and discernment.”
            The first mental obstacle recovering grievers need to overcome is to feeling guilty because they have been taught, or are frequently told by others, that self-care means you are feeling sorry for yourself. There is a big difference between practicing mindful, purposeful self-care and having a pity party. It means paying special attention to your particular—special—needs.
            Let me give you an example. A family member recently sprained his ankle playing soccer. Sprained it quite severely, in fact. Sprained it so badly that it immediately puffed up to the size of a baseball and left him disabled and in tremendous physical pain, and discolored from the internal bleeding showing up as bruising on the skin. No one would deny by just looking at the ankle that it had been severely damaged. And it needed care. Even though there were no broken bones, the injury was severe enough to require an air splint and crutches, with no weight bearing on it for at least seven to ten days, with a total healing time of at least six weeks. Unfortunately, he tried walking on it within seven days and had to return to the sports medicine doctor because he reinjured it by walking on it. The doctor told him it was probably more damaged now than it had been in the original injury, and his recovery time has been lengthened and the recovery jeopardized due to his early-return-to-normal-activity attempt.
            I think everyone reading this understands the wisdom of keeping the ankle iced (he was), and keeping it elevated (he was), keeping it bandaged and protected (checked off on that one, too), and not putting any pressure on it (he also did that, at least for a week), in order to allow it to heal completely.
            So why is it that when we’re talking about damage that occurs to the feeling heart, soul and mind that we ignore the obvious and necessary healing required for that kind of injury? And if, as doctors tell us—and we grievers can certainly attest to—the grieving causes so many physical ailments and symptoms, why do we not pay more heed to the resting, the protecting, and the activity avoidance that needs to occur in order to recover from the damage loss and grieving do to us?
            Maybe it’s because the pain is something that we really can’t see, and others can’t detect. And we think that if we can’t see it, then it can’t possibly be there.
            We feel loneliness in grief because we’re lonely due to the loss. We feel loneliness in grief, because, so often, few understand the grief process we’re slugging through and don’t give us the space or the encouragement to enter completely into the grieving that’s so necessary for healing and future a return to living.
            Can you not imagine God drawing us aside and saying, “It is too much for you. It’s time for you to come away with me and rest. Just be still and rest. Be nourished by me, be refreshed, be protected under my wings and within my shadow.”
            Or do you instead imagine Him commanding you like a petulant old man to “Pull yourself together! Put on your boots, lace them up and stop sniveling! What’s the big deal? Carry on! Everybody suffers.”  I hope not, because that is so unlike God.
            Self-care is about listening to Him guide you through your loss, listening to your body as it tells you about what’s going on with it internally, what its status is. You may move haltingly forward and then take some steps backwards in the process. That’s okay. That’s the way the body heals, inside and out. It requires daily, thoughtful care—rather than dismissal, avoidance or neglect it often receives. And premature return to “normal” activity. As Wolfert states, “…a lack of self-care represents an internal disregard for your being. So, as difficult as it may be for you right now, caring for your body is vital to your temporary surviving and long-term thriving.”
            Self-care is a prescription for grief and loneliness recovery. It’s about taking responsibility for your health.
            And for your sake, and for the sakes of your family and friends, do you not want to survive and then thrive? I know if you are in the acute stages of grief and loneliness, it might take you a few minutes to really answer “Yes” to that question. I do know that not caring about whether you survive, let alone thrive, may cross your mind more than once. That’s normal too.
            But if you’re reading this, I’m going to guess that you have a tiny speck of hope—or you’re trying desperately to hang onto one—or you want to understand or help someone who is grieving or struggling in grief-driven loneliness.
            Having emerged on the other side of the valley of grief, I can verify that the self-care works, and the fight to keep hope alive is worth it.
            Next week we’ll look at how we can carve out some self-care tips and strategies. (Some of these will be good for those just struggling through the chaos of life that also causes loneliness!)

So, until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



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