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Tuesday, April 14 2015
Safeguarding Your Relationship During Times of Profound Loss and Grief

When confronted with a profound loss, all marriages and committed relationships are seriously tested.  A tragedy or profound loss acts as a magnifying glass focusing on and enlarging the weak spots in a relationship.  For many couples, the pressures of grief are devastating and ultimately lead to a break up.  Yet, this result is not inevitable.  If a couple can understand the forces of grief, their relationship has a greater chance for survival and ultimately for emotional growth. 

The grief process following a loss, while natural, is an emotional roller coaster.  No two people ever grieve the same way even if they have lost the same person or experienced the same tragedy.  Each person’s grief process evolves and changes over time.  An individual may struggle to keep peace with his or her own grieving while having little capacity to be responsive to his or her partner’s experience.  Being aware of this and other facts about grief may reduce the misunderstanding and blame that often develop between a couple experiencing profound loss.  

Grief often affects couples in the following ways: 

Feelings of blame and anger are normal and are often displaces onto those nearest  — especially partners.

Grief attacks ones feelings of security, strength, and independence which are necessary components for a positive, healthy relationship

Normal ways of relating are disrupted by grief.  Communication about day-to-day problems may be avoided due to preoccupation with the loss, a desire to protect the other, or just plain lack of strength.  Without regular communication, everyday problems accumulate and lead to larger misunderstandings which spiral into greater feelings of helplessness and aloneness.

When both people in a couple are grieving, finding a respite can be difficult.  Partners often feel intense guilt about asking the other for help or taking time out for self-care.  

The painful emotions experienced in grief are difficult and, at times, impossible to put into words.  As a result, people tend to retreat from others and close down.  This creates communication problems and may fuel fears that ones marriage and family will be lost also.

If couples believe they should be able to grieve together and find that they cannot, they may experience a sense of failure.  It is common for partners to think “since we share a love for this person, we should be able to share our grief and lean on one another.”  But the fact is that one can not lean on someone bent double from their own burden.  

Suggestions For Easing the Strain During Times of Grief

Recognize that change will occur in the relationship as a result of the loss.

Become familiar with the process of grief and what to expect. What may be a perfectly normal part of grieving may be seen as “crazy” if one does not have accurate information.  Realistic expectations can create space for both partners and decrease feelings of guilt and failure. 

Recognize that each person’s experiences a different loss and has a unique way of grieving. In a couple, each person has a separate and distinct relationship with the deceased and each will grieve for different things.  Patience and tolerance for differences is important; one partner may be expressive while the other may be restrained.  When one is having a good day, 
the other may be struggling. These differences are normal and do not mean there is less love
in the couple.  

Recognize the differences in how men and women grieve. Usually, a woman’s grief will be more intense and last longer than a man’s.  A man must respond to a woman’s need for compassionate listening and dialogue during her grief, while a woman needs to realize that she can not expect to remake a man into a female mourner.  A woman must offer respect and support for a man’s more physical expressions of grief through work and activity.  

Make a commitment to each other to keep the lines of communication open despite the tendency to close down and retreat. 
Set specific times aside to discuss events that have taken place as well as to share thoughts and feelings.  Be an attentive listener— hear what your mate is sharing about his/her feelings and needs.  

Agree on family activities which will always be shared by both of you.  Examples might be:  social gatherings, church functions, soccer games, certain kinds of shopping, school conferences, visits to certain family members.

Agree on activities that can be done by one of you without the support or attention of the other.  Examples include certain kinds of shopping, helping a child with homework, household chores, certain kinds of socializing.

Express affection throughout the day. Sometimes feelings of deep concern, care and pain can not be expressed in words but a hug can get the message across as well as give comfort.  Find small ways to convey the love  that continues to exist between the two of you in spite of the grief you are experiencing. 

Recognize the need for solitary time—for reflection, respite, and healing. Each person will need some time to get away from the burden of constant grieving.  Do not take it as rejection if your mate needs to have time to go off alone.

Have other people to talk to. Do not expect to have all of your needs for support, sharing and understanding met by your partner.  No single person can help with all the feelings a grieving person has. 

Find ways to have fun together. Laughter is healing and, contrary to what it may feel like, having fun once in awhile is not a betrayal of the one you have lost.  It is possible to laugh while deeply missing your loved one. This may involve getting away or engaging in familiar ways of playing which distract you, however briefly, from your grief.

Work with a counselor who is familiar with the grief process if your relationship seems to be having difficulty. It may take only a few sessions to clear the air and get your relationship back on track.  A counselor may act as a coach as you go about the difficult work of grief.  

Therese Rondo in her book, How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, suggests that “there are positive responses to bereavement as well” (p.176) She notes that the work of grieving may result in “deeper family commitment and unity, increased personal growth, closer relationships, increased sensitivity, new meaning to life, and increased awareness of life’s preciousness and fragility, and an improved ability to express feelings.”   

Posted by: by Susan Anderson, MSW, LCSW AT 12:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, December 20 2014
Animals and Mindfulness

Being present with my animals -- either my own or someone else's -- is one of life's joys for me.  Listening to their soft breathing (and yes, snoring) as they nap next to me, feeling the softness of their fur, observing the curve of their small paws, noticing the look of trust and devotion in their eyes, and taking in their scent as I bury my face in their fur are just a few ways I can be mindful with my pets.  I find that if I focus on these things, closing my eyes and taking it all in, I soon find myself feeling relaxed and content.  Aside from the actual physiological benefits of this (lowering of blood preassure and heart rate) it brings a smile to my face and for that moment, all is right with the world.  I recently came across this article from Portland Mindfulness Therapy, entitled "Animals as Mindful Teachers"  that I thought was very interesting.          

Besides lowering our blood pressure through their soft, gentle companionship, animals show us what pure awareness looks like.  They are not confused by verbal thoughts, so they easily and naturally model for us the simple presence of mindfulness.

By paying close attention to our animal companions, we can learn more deeply how to practice mindfulness.  By entering the rich experiential world of a dog or cat, you will discover what responding to the world can look like without any trace of verbal thinking.  It is direct; it is pure; it is immediate.  It is very refreshing to experience.

We cannot be like other animals, because we are verbal creatures.  This is not “bad,” it’s just what we are.  Verbal behavior has allowed us to build a world of wonders, an incredible world of technology and culture.  But our verbal capacity also has had costs; one such cost is the loss of access to our pure, immediate experience.

Before we were 2 years old, we had access to that world.  Under the influence of mind-opening but potentially very harmful drugs, some of us have accessed that non-verbal world.  Others have a natural talent for accessing that part of our experience.

For the rest of us, there is mindfulness practice, a slow but certain road to an increasingly direct, refreshing, and satisfying experience of this existence, this life that we are.  Animals can be our teachers in deepening our practice.  If we are closely attentive to them, we automatically learn from them.

By watching, by communing with, by connecting to and “becoming one with” our animal companions,  we can benefit from moments of contact with the pure awareness they model for us.

If we are practicing mindfulness meditation regularly and with determination and devotion, these encounters with animals can help us make greater and greater contact with the world of immediate experience — the only world that satisfies the heart’s deepest desire.

So when you change that litter box or take that dog for a walk, consider how much that animal is giving you.  Are you present to them, enough to learn what they are offering you every day, effortlessly?

If so, you are on your way to experiencing perhaps the greatest gift of Human life: to be a verbal animal, who has regular access to the bright, rich, satisfying world of pure experience: the best of both worlds.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Give it a try for yourself!

Posted by: Susan Anderson AT 10:25 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, October 17 2013

If you have children or are close in some way to children within our community, have you been wondering how they are handling the post-flood stress and strain?  Do you know families in the area with children or are you a family in which one of the parents may be living away from home during the week in order to keep his/her job in the valley?  Or do you know a child whose parents may have lost his/her job or had hours cut to the point of significant financial strain on the family?  What about kids whose experience of the flood has led them to fear of other types of disasters that could befall our community or their family?  All of these are very real possibilities for many of the children within our community and it is important that we as the adults in their lives, are aware of this and provide them with the extra support and understanding they need at this time.  

The following are some things to know about the impact of natural disasters on children and that which we as adults in their lives can do to help them through.

Children’s reactions to trauma are strongly influences by adults’ response.  Children look to the adults in their lives to take care of them and thus are very astute at noticing and tuning in to the reactions of the adults around them.  Acknowledge the fear and stress you may be experiencing but reassure them that they will be taken care of and life will return to normal.   

Children should be allowed to express their feelings and discuss the event, but not be forced. Listen to and try to answer their questions and let them know their reactions are normal and expected.  Some children’s concerns may be related to misunderstandings about things they have heard adults around them discussing or heard on television and news reports.  Adults can provide correct information that can ease a child’s worry.  

Look for ways to re-establish routines that were in place before the crisis.  Tell the same bedtime stories, eat some of the same foods, and use or replace favorite blankets or toys.  

Recognize that children mourn.  Children feel losses but in a different way than adults.  They may miss different things than adults and mourn in ways that may not be recognized as grief.  It can be helpful to talk with children about what they miss from home, school or neighborhood.  If mom or dad must be away from the family, reassure children that it will not be forever.

Keep in mind that children respond to events on a different timetable than adults.  It may look as if they have not reacted to the event in the first days or weeks but months later may have difficulties.  Do not let let a “cycle of silence” develop in which parents assume, because children are not reacting initially, that they may not need to talk about the issues.  If children see that adults are not talking they begin to believe that it is not okay to talk about it.  It is important to make sure that children know you want to hear their thoughts, feelings and questions.  

Take care of your own needs and try to deal with your own reactions as well as you can with family, friends and other sources of support.  You will be a better position to help and support to the children you care about if you are coping well.  



Posted by: Susan R. Anderson AT 10:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, August 29 2013

The following is a compilation of the voices of the many children I have seen over the years, who have shared their experience of living in two homes after their parents have divorced and moved on with their lives.  

My sixth grade play had just gotten over and I stood surrounded by family who had come to see me.  My mom and dad with each of their families were there;  mom with her new husband, Tim; and dad with his wife Marcia, and their little baby boy.  Mom and Tim stood on one side of me and dad and his family were on my other side.  Not far away were some of my friends with their parents.  They had all decided to go to Dairy Queen after the performance to celebrate.  My mom was friends with them and was going too.  

I knew my friends wanted me to come with them but it was dad's weekend to have me and we had made plans as well.  Dad said it was "up to me" if I wanted to go with them; that I should do what I wanted.  My family and friends stood looking at me, waiting for an answer.  No one pressure me or told me what to do but I knew exactly which decision would make which person happy.  I heard mom say, "just do what you want to honey, whatever you decide is okay."  While it helped to hear this and quieted the voice that often urged me to try and please everyone, I was still uneasy inside.  It wasn't so much that I didn't want to let anyone down.  the real question I realized, was what did I want? What would make me happy? I would be happy going with dad but going with him automatically meant I'd miss mom and being with my friends.  Yet, if I went with mom and my friends, I wouldn't see dad again for another week and then I'd miss him. 

I saw my friends putting on their coats and getting ready to leave.  Mom and dad both looked at me, waiting for me to decide what to do, again reassuring me that it was up to me.  I blurted out, "I know, but it's just so hard!"  All I wanted right then was to not have to choose between my mom and dad at all; I wanted to be with them both and for it to feel normal.  But it was my weekend with dad so I decided to go with him.  I hugged my mom good-bye and watched as they all walked away. 

This happened just last weekend mom and dad; remember?  Maybe it didn't seem like a big deal but ever since this happened I've been thinking and decided I wanted to let you know some things about my world -- the world that was created for me when you decided to get divorced.  I'm not mad at you and I don't want to make you feel bad.  You both know I was scared and mad, hurt and confused when you split up.  Things were really rough for awhile.  But you were both there for me and I'm pretty much used to how things are now.  I'll even admit I like my two new families.  Step parents aren't as bad as they're cracked up to be and my little brother can even be kind of fun. 

But sometimes it feels so hard to live in two such different worlds.  You guys don't fight or disagree about too many important things about my life.  But you are different from one another and living in each of your worlds sometimes gets to be sort of mind-boggling and hard.  When I leave to go to dad's mom, you might miss me but you stay put in your home with Tim and your life is the same (same with you dad).  When I leave though, I go to a completely different home where I have a family and I belong, but it is different from where I've been and it isn't always easy to switch gears.  At dad's I go to bed at 9:00 but at your house mom, I get to stay up until 9:30 or 10:00.  Dad, you're allergic to lots of things so we don't have any pets.  At mom's I have George, our dog, and the two cats so that means I have chores to do that I don't have at dad's and I miss them when I'm gone at dad's.  At dad's there's my little brother who I get to play with and help take care of and when I'm at mom's I miss him.  Mom, your rules for the computer and being online are stricter than dad's so when I'm with you I have to tell my friends I can't talk to them as much online.  With you mom, I can speak out about how I feel about things, whenever I want to.  Dad thinks that's being disrespectful so at his house I have to watch it.  At dad's we go to church so I get up early on Sundays but at your house, mom, we only go to church once in awhile so I sleep in on Sundays.

Maybe it doesn't seem like much.  I guess these do sound like small things when you think about it.  Buy you know, it adds up and there are times when I feel like I just don't relax and want life to be simpler.  What if I've had a tough week and don't want to go through the hassle it sometime takes to get ready for the change between the two homes?  What if I'm tired or having fun and just want to stay put, wherever I am? 

Did you know that every time I go to be with one of you it means not being with my other parent?  That seems so obvious as I write it but do you really stop to think about what that's like for me?  I love you both so much but I am almost never with both of you at the same time (and if we are...awkward).  Being with one of you always means leaving the other.  Sometimes I feel like I'm two people; one when I'm with you dad, and one when I'm with you mom.  Yet how often I have wished there were two of me or that you guys lived in one big house; you and Tim on one level mom, and you and Marcia and my little brother on another, dad, with a special stairway that only I could use to go back and forth between each family whenever I wanted, with a room of my own inbetween. 

I'm not telling you all this to make you feel bad mom and dad.  And you know, I guess I don't even really know why I'm telling you th is except that I don't want to keep it all to myself any longer.  Just letting you know that this is how it is for me helps a little, I think.

I know by now that you aren't getting back together and I'm not even sure I'd want that anymore.  And I sure know you won't move in together with each of your families.  I'm old enough to know there isn't really any big thing you can do to make things different for me; you are divorced and because I'm your kid and want to be with you both, I will have two homes.  Just the same though, I think it will help to know you think about what it's like to be me and that you understand. 

Posted by: Susan Anderson AT 11:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email


My style is genuine and interactive. I listen deeply and offer honest and direct feedback with compassion and non judgement.

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Alpine Counseling Services LLC
363 East Elkhorn Avenue
Suite 301
P.O. Box 2973
Estes Park, CO  80517
(FAX) 866-291-0519