Life After Loss

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

COPING WITH GRIEF AND LOSS

The thing I love most about being a therapist is helping people grow. It’s an honor to sit with someone as they expand themselves, take risks, learn to connect more deeply, and find new ways to fully inhabit their lives. 

But life is not an eternally upward spiral of positive change. It also contains loss, misfortune, diminishment, regret, and heart-shattering things that can never be undone. As much as I love guiding people along life’s upward trajectory, I also know that’s only one dimension of the human experience. We live in a culture that tries to tell us otherwise, but grief and loss are a part of life, and they compel us to suffer tremendously. 

In his memoir on grieving his wife, the writer Julian Barnes wrote that “In grief, nature is so exact. It hurts just as much as it is worth.” I believe that grief is the price we pay for loving deeply and living fully. It’s a price none of us wants to pay, but the alternative is so much worse. 

This Memorial Day, as our country mourns 31 people killed senselessly in two mass shootings, 19 of them children, I wanted to re-release this episode on life after loss. I hope it offers guidance and comfort to anyone who’s missing someone this holiday. 

I’m joined by Anastacia S., M.A., LPC, MFT-C, a therapist with a gentle, compassionate approach who has years of experience helping people heal, rebuild themselves, and grow after extremely difficult life experiences.

I’m also joined by my colleague Lisa J., M.A., LPCP, a therapist with years of experience providing grief counseling, and supporting grieving families as a hospice counselor.

I hope you’ll find our conversation about life after loss both enlightening and healing. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Life After Loss

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “My Land,” by Midnight Door

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Episode Highlights: Life After Loss

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we experienced losses great and small. Some losses feel sad but manageable, such as the loss of the ability to go out, meet with friends, enjoy a coffee at your favorite haunt. [Read, “Coping With Coronavirus Life” for more]

Some losses feel existential, like the loss of an identity defined by the things we do. There is also the poignant loss of having to scrap future plans or even the trajectory of a life-path that once felt so clear. Even more troubling is the loss of the sense of basic safety in the world.

Other losses are harder to cope with, like losing your job, having to cancel a wedding, missing once-in-a-lifetime milestones that you’ll never get to re-do, or even giving birth to a child without the support of your partner.

How to Heal From Grief

But the worst loss of all, and the one too many around the world are facing, is the loss of a cherished, irreplaceable loved one. There are no words to describe the enormity of the devastation that losing a loved one brings. The grief is overwhelming, and it feels endless. But it also contains the seeds of powerful growth

How can you cope with grief? How do you manage the waves of sadness? Most importantly, how do you heal and rebuild your life after loss?

Life After Loss: Grief Counseling Experts Weigh In

In this episode, we’re covering important topics related to grief and loss, like:

  • Why ideas about the “5 stages of grief” are misleading, and what you can really expect when you’re coping with loss.
  • Why it’s so important to give yourself permission to feel all the feelings that come with grief, without judgment or shame.
  • How to step in and out of grief so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.
  • What the path of healing from grief involves, so you can understand what lies ahead.
  • Emotional self-care when you’re grieving. 
  • How to release the past and shift back into hope and gratitude for some losses.
  • Finding meaning after tragic events. 
  • The unexpected ways that grief can help us learn and grow
  • How to use mindful self-compassion to release the idea of “getting over it” and instead find ways of deepening your relationship with a loved one, even after they’re physically gone.

We offer all this information with a sincere hope that it provides you with comfort, compassion and direction that supports you in your journey of healing.

Life After Loss: Episode Show Notes

  • Lacking Control
    • We can also feel grief from losing things important to us, such as time and experiences. 
    • This lack of control can make us feel anxious and powerless.
    • To combat this feeling, we can set routines and think of new things to look forward to.
  • Embracing Dark Emotions
    • We will feel the full force of our dark emotions if we suppress them. 
    • Like a wave, we should allow these to lift us up and eventually set us back down. 
    • We may have to set our emotions aside in order to function, but we will eventually need to face them at some point.
    • There is no right way to grieve, so do not judge yourself. 
  • Reimagining the Stages of Grief
    • Grieving is not linear. 
    • Rather than expecting ours to follow five stages, we can expect to feel all of these five emotions at one period of time.
    • Grief is more like a cycle: we can go from acceptance and then back to anger.
    • The older we get and more experience we have, the more we realize that it is possible to move on.
  • Losing a Loved One
    • Feel free to think that your loved one is still with you. As long as you live, your memories of them will continue to live on.
    • Connect with your community and find support however you can. 
  • Saying Goodbye
    • When a loved one is at the end of their life, the most essential things you can say are: 
      • I love you.
      • I’m sorry, I forgive you.
      • I’ll miss you, goodbye. 

Music in this episode is Midnight Door, with their song “My Land.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

[Intro Song: My Land by Midnight Door]

Dr. Lisa: Midnight Door with My Land. I thought that it was a nicer atmospheric introduction to our topic today because today we’re actually talking about something difficult, but also necessary under the circumstances. We are going to have an honest and hopefully helpful conversation, about loss and grief because, at this time, we have all last something. There have been losses of small things that may be in hindsight are inconsequential, but at the moment, they’re still disappointments and they feel hard. It is also our reality that people are dying. There are 1000s of people that have lost their lives in Coronavirus. There will almost certainly be 1000s more before the dust settles and many, many 10s of 1000s of people who have lost loved ones because of this. We need to face this fearlessly and talk about what it means and how to cope in a healthy way. To that end, I have invited a couple of very special guests to visit with us today. My dear colleagues Anastacia Sams and Lisa Jordan. They both work with me here at Growing Self and I’m so excited that they’re here to visit with you today too. Lisa and Ana, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Lisa J.: Thank you, you too. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, before we dive in, would you guys mind just taking a moment to share a little bit about yourselves and your background and your experience just for the benefit of my listeners who haven’t met you before? Anastacia, so talk a little bit about your something. You and I have worked together for years now. But how would you describe your work and your expertise here?

Anastacia S.: Definitely couples and family and working with individuals around different issues, from communication to grief and loss and self-esteem issues as well.

Dr. Lisa: A lot of work with couples, but I’ve always been such a big admirer of you and the way that you work because you have such a nice, emotionally focused approach. Just such an affirming style for, I think, individual clients especially can bloom with you. 

Lisa, you’re newer to our team but you have a lot of experience, particularly around grief and loss from physicians that you had before you joined Growing Self. 

Lisa J.: Yes, yeah. My background was working in grief support in a hospice and palliative care organization. Primarily dealing with what is usually the biggest loss that a person experiences, which is the loss of life, the loss of a loved one. Supporting people individually, as well as in groups, support groups, and also seeing some people through private practice as well who had had specific losses that they were working on. It’s a very challenging thing for anyone and nobody avoids it. Everyone experiences it. We all have loss and it’s one of the biggest, I think, impacts to a person’s life. It may be sometimes the first time that they come to find support because they’ve never probably felt as out of control as to when that happens. 

Dr. Lisa: Understandably so. Well, let’s talk about loss for a minute. Just a big picture because I think that we’re in a situation where many people are facing end-of-life issues. They’re losing loved ones. It’s real. It’s happening and even people who aren’t grappling with someone that they love dying are also experiencing big losses in other ways. I mean, I’ve talked to people. When you compare it with a loss of life, it’s a different thing, right? 

But having to cancel a wedding or having to give birth to a child without your partner in the room or having other life experiences that were really personally important to you that aren’t there anymore. Again, I don’t want to minimize those kinds of losses, even though again, they’re different than death. I think that we’re allowed to be sad with those losses. The loss of a job, the loss of a home. I mean, the loss of retirement even. Maybe we could start there a little bit. I mean, if we talk about general losses, what are some things that you would, in your experience, expect people to be feeling or dealing with? What’s normal? How about that?

Lacking Control

Anastacia: I think something that I’ve been thinking about with everything going on is even just at the very base level, there’s a loss of control. Because, I think, you are used to being able to control things even as small as our schedules. Even that, right now is taken away. I think that can create quite a bit of anxiety as well.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could see that. Just that sense of unease or fear that it’s something bigger than you has just taken away your decision-making, in some ways. I am at the mercy of whatever this says.

Lisa J.: Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean, I think what, Anastacia, what you’re saying is that real lack of control over the future and what we perceive as our control, right? People are kind of confronted with the fact that “Well, maybe I didn’t really have that control, to begin with. If I didn’t, what does that mean, for all these plans that I’ve made?” I think for a lot of people, there is the—you’re talking about other losses. Absolutely the basic loss of my intention for my future. As you said, that could be that maybe I have to postpone my wedding, it may have to be that I was planning, I saved up all this money because we were going to buy a house or we were going to take this vacation. It can be just so many losses, loss of what I was hoping for my own future that just changes people’s mindset. Then I think that leads people to feel so much more insecure. There’s just a sense, as you say, Dr. Lisa, heightened anxiety for people in the what-ifs.

Dr. Lisa: Anastacia, that was something that you pinpointed. When you work with your clients who are grappling with that almost existential awareness, they don’t have that much control. Are there ideas or practices that you have found to be helpful to your clients that are going through uncertainty and the what-ifs?

Anastacia: I think one of the things that I talk about is creating a routine and that just helps create that sense of security. I think that’s a big one and then focusing on the things that are controllable, or that you do have control over. Whatever that may be, whether it’s taking care of your mind and using an app like Headspace, being intentional and that kind of recentering, or things like that.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s a great suggestion. As we’re talking, I was just kind of reflecting on my own life. My summer plans have also been thoroughly blown to bits, which is completely fine. But I think I found some comfort in reshifting from being disappointed about that, to try to make different plans that are something to look forward to. It sounds so dumb but we signed up for the CSA. We have an organic farm with a community-supported agriculture kind of thing. We got a CSA share and so thinking about salad, which is really different than how we planned for this summer. We can have some really good salad. It’s something. I don’t know if that’s the right way to handle this but that’s what I’m actually doing. We’re planting flowers in my yard. 

Anastacia: I like that. It kind of forces you to practice gratitude for the little things. 

Dr. Lisa: Are you guys having any go-to’s for that you’re hauling out of your back pocket? I’m always so interested because I know a lot of therapists, right? Not only do I work with 500 zillion therapists, not 500 million, a couple of dozen, but a lot of my personal friends are therapists. It’s so interesting because sometimes the things that they do with their clients and then what they do personally. That is interesting. Can I put you on the spot and be like, “What are you guys doing?”

Anastacia: Yeah, well, I have been creating a daily routine and just trying to have slower, easy mornings to ease into the day. But then, and this might sound silly, but I kill any plant that I try to grow. I’m just not gifted in that area but I picked up a little basil plant. I’m going to attempt to grow it. That is exciting to me to see what happens.

Dr. Lisa: I had to switch to succulents at a certain point. Just neglect them for basically weeks. Just sharing. What about you, Lisa? I know that you’ve had big changes.

Lisa J.: I have. Like so many other people, right now millions of people, I feel very connected to people because my full-time role was eliminated as part of what is happening everywhere with workforce reduction and just changes in the economy. I think I have been—it’s humbling to practice what you preach. Working with people and telling them to really lean into the experiences that they’re having, and to accept what’s happening because that is your strength. It’s to allow yourself to acknowledge because part of the process of grieving any losses is acceptance. We kind of jump into it, and then out of it, and then into it, and then out of it. I’ve been fascinated watching myself do the same thing. 

I have had a number of pity parties for myself and in allowing that to happen, then I kind of move out of it. It’s like, “Okay. Well, I did it. I gave it to myself.” I think being nonjudgmental toward yourself is so important because we’ll all go there naturally. I think, practicing this for myself, and still working with clients through Growing Self and seeing what they’re going through. I feel very much in it with them. Feeling like I’m recommending things that I do for myself as well. Again, like Anastacia, you said gratitude. Well, I’m noticing some of the unexpected things that are delightful. I have a dog who has never been happier in his life. Now, this dog got used to being home alone all the time. I mean, his personality, and he’s just so engaged. It’s like, “Wow. This is something I would not have experienced had I not been home so much.”

The dog is really happy. I don’t know for people who—my kids are grown, so they’re out of the house. But for people who have children at home, I mean, this can be a mixed bag, right? Having them around all the time, examining what are some of the positives, what are some of the cherished memories that we’re going to make now that we will have moving forward. New traditions, new rituals, right? Look for opportunity.

Embracing Dark Emotions

Dr. Lisa: That’s good advice. I like the way that both of you were also talking about making sure that you are, in addition to shifting into gratitude and looking for maybe new things that are nice. Really not just giving yourself permission but almost encouraging yourself to also go into the dark emotions because I think a lot of people do that. I see clients that do that. They don’t like to feel sad. It feels like depression in a lot of ways. There’s just this heavy, dark emotion of sadness. People are uncomfortable, it feels unpleasant, and people want to shift out of that as quickly as possible. 

Or they’re also, I think you were saying Lisa, this inner narrative of what is wrong with me that I am feeling this way? Because look at how happy my dog is and I have this great basil plant and so I shouldn’t, but you know what I mean? They want to minimize and be like, “Okay, I’m done.” But you’re saying like, “Come back” and let it. Why is that important? I actually don’t like that either. When I have something big, I’m like, “I’m going to feel this later.” But why would you say that it’s so important to go there and feel the feels? Yeah, why?

Anastacia: I think it’s important because if you don’t, it’ll just come back full force later on. Allowing yourself to do it, it allows you to process what’s going on. I think that even for me personally, if I don’t process it, then it comes out in other ways, usually physically. I think that it’s very important. Now with a lot of distractions being taken away, it does create that opportunity to allow yourself to go into those places. I think it also allows for a lot of healing too when that happens.

Dr. Lisa: What do you mean by that? That it allows for healing when you go into the dark places?

Anastacia: I think, let’s see, that’s a good question. Allowing yourself to go into the dark places, I think it allows you to accept what’s going on. I think, and maybe even experience really all of those stages of grief, but in a way where once you come out. I don’t want to say it’s okay but it’s in a way—

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, it has sort of mended in the process. I think that that is such an important idea for people to hear because I think that there can be so much rejection of dark emotions. The intense feelings of sadness or loss or regret and that people want to not do that. But not understanding that allowing those feelings is actually the path to repair, as weird as it sounds. Like the waves metaphor, you’re standing in the ocean and there’s this wave coming. If you just let it lift you up and you don’t fight it and then it sets you back down again. If you fight it and try to get away, you could actually drown. You can do all kinds of sideways things to get away from grief, that creates bigger problems. Just allowing that feeling and then once it sets you back down, it always does, there has been a little mending. Maybe not all the mending. You might have to do that 87 times but a little bit. 

Lisa J.: It’s a good description and I think the wave metaphor is really useful. It’s useful, even just visually in one’s own mind. The people who may feel like they’re escalating with “No, there’s no end.” That they won’t allow themselves to go there because they think that’s just a starting point. Then what happens, it just escalates forever. It isn’t that. It is a wave kind of a process and you’re absolutely right about it. It will come back. But generally, when you start like this, when it comes back, it’s more like that. 

That’s the healing process that you’re talking about, which is that if I allow myself to have the feeling, then I get done with the feeling. I don’t have to keep having that. If I tell myself I can’t have a feeling, it will wait for you. It will morph. It will do something else but we’re not raised in a culture that says, “Feel those feelings. Go right into that.” It’s been, “I’m tough. I’m strong. No, I can put this aside” You can for a while. I mean, I would say right now, what we’re going through, people do in some ways have to compartmentalize their grief. 

Grief about things that can’t take the front burner and have to go on the back burner. That’s okay, we’re built to do that. That’s a survival strategy and that’s okay. But that understanding about allow yourself to go there at some point. Some people, it’s not a major deep process, they don’t go into a deep depression. It is just allowing oneself to even journal about what was lost and to be able to put that into a safe place so that they can go function and do what they need to do. I love that, that metaphor of the waves.

Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you for bringing up that compartmentalization and a survival strategy—I totally do that. When I have had big losses in my life, which I have, I am totally like, “I’m just gonna do something else.” I eventually will go there but I need a week or two of literal time.

Lisa: Absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: It feels too tender to even think about. I think it is because I’m a mom, I do have clients, I feel like  I have to function. If I let myself go there, I wouldn’t be capable of doing anything. It’s like this, “I will not.” For a while. But then I do have a response. I’m great in a crisis.

Lisa J.: That’s fine with people who are great in crises and all of our healthcare workers.

Dr. Lisa: Three weeks later.

Lisa J.: Yeah. Thank goodness that we’re built that way because that’s why we’re able to survive anything. We have to be able to. People who can’t compartmentalize have to deal with things in a very different way. Those who are there for others have learned how to do that and do it pretty effectively.

Reimagining the Stages of Grief

Dr. Lisa: But again, the takeaway is, do not judge yourself. If you are feeling the feelings, don’t judge. If you are compartmentalizing, don’t judge. It’s all okay but there’s no right way. 

Okay, here’s another question for you guys. We hear a lot about the stages of grief and I know that people put a lot of stock into that. In your experience, do those pan out? Do you see clients going through that? Or do you think it’s actually a little bit different than the idea that people should go through these stages of grief? Does that actually happen? 

Anastacia: I would say in my experience, I’ve seen people go through stages of grief. It’s certainly not linear. I think there’s this expectation that it’s—

Dr. Lisa: Checklist. I want a checklist. 

Anastacia: That even once you get to acceptance, then you’ve made it. Really, you can get to acceptance and then go right back into anger. I think that’s probably the way that I’ve seen it. Maybe, you might only feel a few things out of that list and that’s okay. But, yeah.

Dr. Lisa: It is what? Denial? Bargaining? Anger? Depression? Acceptance? I’m missing something.

Lisa J.: Well, from my vantage point, it’s okay for you to miss all of that. Because what we know and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who is probably—she’s my idol. I think she did amazing research in what people in the grief support community understand now is that stages are probably a challenging way of looking at grief because it does encourage people to think about it that way when actual grieving is probably pretty, unlike stages. 

I think that those five descriptors are great for identifying what you’re feeling in any given moment but they are scrambled. They, as you say, in stage, and they repeat. I think that they found that less useful. That was originally, that whole description of the five stages, originated from her work in identifying what a person goes through when they themselves are in a life-limiting illness. If I’m dying, those are the stages that a human being would go through as they come to an acceptance of their own death. 

I think the grieving process, though, looks very different. Working with clients and running groups, certainly, more people have lost loved ones. It looks a little different. It’s different. It starts with that acceptance piece. People are in denial, that’s okay. That’s our natural inclination, that’s how we sometimes get out of bed in the morning. We can’t actually accept that this person is gone. People may hear them talking to them or they don’t quite remember that they’re not there. This is again, just with the death of a person but you can think about this the same as your earlier examples of someone whose wedding is canceled.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I think about the high school senior not going to graduate or have that experience. Again, different levels. 

Lisa J.: Yes. You wake up in the morning and it’s like: “Wait. Is it true that I’m not going to be going off to campus? I forgot all over again. When I fell asleep and I woke up in the morning and I was happy and then I realized all over again, that’s not happening.” Then there’s anger, right? A little anger might come in and then sort of denial like, “Let’s reach out and see if well, maybe, they think that the dorm is gonna open. Maybe it will open in time. It will open in time. Let’s start. Let’s go get boxes. Let’s pack.” Then a little bit of hopelessness about, “What? Wait, they are not in. They’re not answering back.” Or, “I can’t get any news. This is not going to work and my friends are all planning on staying home, I guess this is going to be that.” 

That sort of process just cycles through over and over. What always happens is, as time goes on, is that at some point, for everyone at a different rate, there’s a new adjustment process for the new reality. For everyone that looks different, feels different. But in that cycling, all of a sudden, something will trickle in about, “Well, you know, this wouldn’t be so bad.” Or, “If I did this, I could live with this person that I was going to miss so much when I was going to be out of town. Maybe I can make a new plan. Okay, this new plan. It’s not what I wanted because it wouldn’t be so bad.” 

Starting to wake up in the morning realizing that the old plan isn’t happening. I’m not thinking about it as much as I used to. I’m not railing against the unfairness of it all and thinking, “What do I want to do now?” Then this momentum toward getting a little more excited about this new plan getting, “Now, I’m thinking about the details and putting myself into it 100%. I’m thinking this is going to be good. This is okay. Other people don’t even have this to turn to, I’m so glad I have this new plan. This is a great new plan. I’m gonna be okay. I like this plan.” You know what I mean?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, but I love the way that you describe that. It’s being upset—and also I just want to say, I really like the way that you describe the, maybe the outdated term would be stages of grief. I heard what you were saying is, these are all of the feelings that you can expect to have. They may all occur in the space of the same 20 minutes. This is what you’re going to feel. But that cycling through is like you are able to emotionally process and I almost like envisioned what you were talking about. It’s like a bubble that’s sort of floating away like in The Wizard of Oz. The bubble floats away and then it’s saying hello to a new thing that wasn’t what you wanted, but then when you get to know it better, you’re like, “You are my thing. This is what have and I like you and I’m going to do this.” 

Lisa J.: The older we get and the more we’ve actually done that in our lives, I think the more we believe that that’s possible. Because if I talk to my 19-year-old or my 22-year-old, it’s just everything’s black and white. I get that because I remember that. But as you live through things and you realize that what you would initially think is the worst thing that could ever happen to you, you realize, a year, five years, 10 years later, that was a good thing that that didn’t happen. I mean I think you temper it over time with realizing this happens in life and we can do this because we’ve done it before.

Dr. Lisa: That. Yes, we can do it because we’ve done it before but you also bring it up, and I have experienced this, I don’t know if you have to, Anastacia, but like things that destroyed me when I was younger, like a teenager or in my 20s. Now looking back, I’m like, “Oh, thank God.” Because out of that destruction grew something that was ultimately so much better for me and the trajectory of my life. Can you relate to that too, Ana? 

Anastacia: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. It’s so hard being in the middle of it because that’s where you experience all of those emotions. But then once you’re out and you can look back.

Losing a Loved One

Dr. Lisa: Right. You don’t know what’s going to happen, you’re like, “What will become of me now that I no longer have this thing?” It’s only after that new thing grows. You’re like, “Oh, well, that was better.” Those are good messages. 

Now, we have been talking about losses, generally. But there is a very special and I think the worst, the worst loss that is possible, is losing a loved one. As we’re talking, that is happening to people all over our country, all over the world. What is different about losing a loved one than changing your life plan kind of loss? Would you say? 

Lisa J.: I think that that is probably the most feared thing for all of us and the most challenging because we don’t, recovery from some things, we can talk about it, we can even sometimes joke about it. But the end of life is something that we just typically don’t have a comfort level with, in our culture. I’m not suggesting that we should, I think right now, the times that we’re going through are unprecedented. This to me, in my own mindset, thinking this must be what it feels like to be going through a war. So many lives are lost and that we feel powerless to do something about it. But I do think that what’s going to happen is, it’s going to be even more important for people who are losing a loved one to create rituals around what is happening and to understand that there’s going to need to be a much more—a new way of managing losses so that there’s a longer period of time in which to grieve. People who are not getting to have wakes or funerals in the traditional sense.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I thought about that. Those closure rituals are not happening.

Lisa J.: We need those. I think everyone that I know of who is thinking through these kinds of things right now are saying like, “A year from now, we’re going to have a memorial that this person so needs and that we all need in order to process the loss.” Not saying that because it is horrendous, that we’re all reading the stories about people not being able to hold the hand of a loved one. To be there and making the best of it that they can with smartphones and communicating in whatever ways they can, but with the understanding that this is a new kind of grieving. 

But this is the initial step of grieving and honoring the person who has died is going to be a much longer-term process. It should be. That will help people to manage the feelings of loss is to understand that, just as we would say to someone who did have that access to the person that they wanted to is that, this isn’t a resolution or an ending. This is part of the grief process. Now I think we’re going to be looking at people who are staying more actively engaged with their loved one because they didn’t have that sense of finality. I mean, for many people being with a loved one when they die. You’re taking that in and experiencing that is part of how we accept the reality of a person being gone and I think there will be people who can’t quite yet wrap their heads around that loved one being gone. That makes sense and it’s okay.

Dr. Lisa: There would be not just the shock component but you said something of continuing to interact with their loved one. It’s like they still feel like they exist and maybe still have little conversations with them in your head kind of thing. They’re just not here, not like they’re gone.

Lisa J.: Right. We would recommend that people feel free to do that. That can be actually a very positive feeling to continue to talk with your loved one because you will not really end the relationship with a lot of people who lose loved ones who are not elderly, who haven’t had a long life, but the relationship doesn’t go away. We really encourage people to – this not the way you wanted the relationship to continue. You wanted it face-to-face where you could wrap your arms around this person, but they will always be with you till the day you die. Let’s start to think about how you can honor their memory and be with them every day. Whatever form that takes. I think that’s what people are going to be doing now for the next months or years.

Dr. Lisa: This is so interesting. I’ve never thought about this in the same context. I’ve thought about it a lot in my work around the nature of love. The addictive nature of love, like breakup recovery, because when you begin an infatuation or you have a crush with someone, you begin imagining them in your mind and having real conversations with them in your head. That was a big part of adult attachment. It’s that mentalization of a relationship. 

I think that for people who are going through loss in the sense of an unwanted relationship loss, like a breakup or a divorce, that very same process maintains their attachment to their ex for a long time. I have never thought about it in the way that you’re saying that when you lose a loved one to death, that it is absolutely okay to just keep doing that for as long as you need to, particularly under these circumstances, because of the speed and the shock. I mean, I’ve heard news stories of healthy 35-year-old at home in bed, sort of sniffling, and their spouse comes back and they’re gone. I mean, it’s horrifying. Just to not also have the rituals of closure and your community around you. I love it that you’re saying no, just go ahead.

Lisa J.: There are a lot of cultures that really endorse hearing from loved ones that aren’t alive in this world anymore and that they see them and they interact. Because their communities don’t find that to be particularly threatening. They don’t call that crazy. We tend to self-judge very rapidly that you’re going to have to be committed or something or to hear a loved one’s voice. Are you hearing their loving words in your head? Are you hearing it in reality? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t have to matter. 

The point is that there is a part of you that wants to stay connected so much to your loved one that you’re allowing yourself to hear their voice in your head. Isn’t that really what we long for anyway, right? As we go forward, we hear our parents’ voices in our heads, hopefully, it’s like a good thing. We hear that, hopefully, the encouragement and the reinforcement, that we got from a parent early on. That’s how we internalize that person that’s not with us and I have worked with parents who’ve lost children who understand that that relationship does not have to go away. 

Nor should you feel guilty if you’re still going in your child’s room or talking to them. The relationship’s going to be there anyway. Honoring the connection and knowing that that’s there. I would say on the flip side, working with people who’ve been married for 50 or 60 years, and lose a spouse when they’re themselves, perhaps in their 80s. It’s unreasonable to ask that person to move on. Most of their lives are caught up in the experiences of a lifetime. We really recommend embracing that and allowing that person to remain there with you because it’s a part of who you are. That’s an easier thing to ask of people than to tell them to grieve the loss and move on.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, that is such a compassionate, way. Anastacia, as we’re talking, I’m listening to what Lisa is saying, it’s almost like moving a relationship into it, for lack of a better word, almost a spiritual realm. I know that you are just a very spiritual person and I wonder if, in your work with clients, if you’ve seen this too? That almost transitioning of a relationship and the role of faith or belief systems on—. I don’t want to say coping. What’s a better word? Managing. 

Lisa J.: Incorporating the loss.

Anastacia: I think that for people who are spiritual, it can be a useful tool, especially in a time where this does feel just so big. I really think that similar to some of the things that Lisa was sharing in terms of having rituals or having routines that you do that do help with that process, in whatever way. 

Lisa J.: I imagine it’s kind of hard right now for people who are really connected to the spiritual support, would you say that they’re still able to get that kind of through the video, like people going to church virtually? Are you finding that that can really be a supportive piece?

Anastacia: Yeah, I think it can be very supportive. I think it takes a lot more intention now. I think that that’s probably the biggest thing that being intentional and getting that support. A small example for me is, my aunt passed away about two years ago, around this time of year. My family, we did a zoom call. It was my great aunt. Some of my aunts, well one main aunt, was singing songs that my aunt loved and so it felt very, even though it was Zoom and I had a migraine, so I was watching it in bed. It had a good volume that wasn’t too much. I felt very connected to my family and even to my aunt in that process. I think, in the same way, going to church virtually, if you have a community of people who share whatever spiritual practice you believe and really creating that virtual community, I think will still provide—I think it almost, not to say that it feels even closer, but in a way right now, I think because this is affecting everyone on some level, it does feel like there’s even this deeper connection that even though it might be virtual, it’s still creating a deeper connection

Dr. Lisa: I get that. We need each other. All good points. To find ways to connect with your community and spend time together and do the things that you would do and that you need, even if it is a little different. This has been such a good conversation. I want to be respectful of both of your time. I know you have other things in your life besides me asking you questions, but I’m wondering if you have any parting thoughts or words of wisdom for people who are experiencing loss? Actually, this might be beyond the scope of this conversation, but I’m also thinking about people who are worried who may themselves be sick? Who are sitting with the possibility of their own passing? I don’t know if there’s an answer to this question but are there things that you have seen to the extent that people are able to, for closure conversations? Important things that can or should be discussed or done before someone passes? That are helpful emotionally, both to the person who may be dying, as well as the family that they leave? Is that too big of a question? I don’t know.

Lisa: No. I mean, are you referring to if someone has the opportunity to say goodbye, or?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to the extent that people can right now because it’s different. Because you cannot be sitting there next to the bedside, right? I mean, the things that people could or should be thinking about, or trying to do if they are able to.

Saying Goodbye 

Lisa J.: If you are saying goodbye to someone, if someone is imminently, your expectation is that they are at end of life, I would say that we are fortunate to live in a time of technology because we have smartphones and laptops and some incredibly dedicated healthcare workers who are willing to be there and take these devices into rooms where patients. We know that the patients at end of life still hear, that’s the last sense that goes. To be able to say goodbye is still possible. I know that they are trying to make that happen for people. If someone were in the situation where they were saying goodbye, it’s still the same things that would have been recommended. 

Obviously, the things that we want to say to other people is, “I love you.” If you have things that, and who doesn’t, that we feel bad for, is to say, “I’m sorry, forgive me and I forgive you.” Because we love people and we may harbor some anger and we want them to hear those words. If it’s truly the end of life. “I’ll miss you, goodbye.” Those are the things in hospice care that are so important to say, at end of life, regardless of the circumstances. I would say that if that came up for me, that would be probably my top priority. To be able to say those things to someone that I am believing I may not know the opportunity to see again. I know that’s very heavy kind of stuff to talk about.

Dr. Lisa: It’s real though. It’s real. People are going to be encountering that. Too many. Would you add anything, Ana?

Anastacia: I think just really appreciating the people in your life right now. I think that intention, I just keep coming back to that word, but really being intentional in every interaction with the people that you love. Working through resentment and really fostering appreciation in each relationship I think is always important but then I think times like this, highlight the importance of that. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. Well, maybe you guys are both steering us in closing towards something that could be a whole other podcast on its own. But this idea that death, awareness of death, pushes us into deeper contact with our life and what we want and what is important to us. I think, using the fear and the worries or the realities of death to create clarity about how we want to live. That is beautiful, too.

Lisa J.: Absolutely. People can create wonderful meaning out of the things that happened to them. I think it’s really important and I’m so glad that you kind of wrapped it up with that idea.

Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you guys both so much. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you. Again, I know that this is a hard subject but it is necessary and you both had so much wisdom to share. My sincere hope is that even one person might listen to this and take things that are helpful and nourishing to them as they’re on a difficult journey. Thank you for being so generous. Thank you.Lisa and Anastacia: Pleasure. Thank you for doing this.


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