Grieving the Different Losses in Your Life
online conference transcript
Russell Friedman, author of the Grief Recovery Handbook and Executive Director of the Grief Recovery Institute, joined us to discuss dealing with many different kinds of loss and grief, including losing a loved one through death or divorce, or the sadness one experiences from the loss of a pet or the loss of a stillborn baby. Mr. Friedman also talked about the pain associated with a loss, how to deal effectively with a loss and the sad or painful feelings that accompany a loss.
Audience questions centered on the grieving process, whether to grieve alone, talking about your loss and grief with others, experiencing an emotional crisis from multiple losses and the concept of trying to move forward.
David Roberts is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Grieving the Different Losses in Your Life." Our guest is Russell Friedman, author of the Grief Recovery Handbook and Executive Director of the Grief Recovery Institute.
Good evening, Mr. Friedman and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being our guest tonight. Before we get into the meat of the conference, can you please tell us a bit more about yourself and your expertise in this area?
Russell Friedman: Yes, thanks for asking me onto the show. I had spent much of my life in the restaurant business. I arrived at the Grief Recovery Institute devastated by a second divorce and a bankruptcy. It was at the Institute that I learned to deal with my own pain and then to help others.
David: When you talk about "loss and grief," you're not only addressing the topic of "death and dying," are you? (see: What Is Grief?)
Russell Friedman: No, not at all. We identify at least 40 different life experiences which can produce the range of emotions called grief. Death is just one of the 40.
David: And can you tell us 3 or 4 others, just so we can get a sense of what loss and grief encompass?
Russell Friedman: Yes, divorce is a fairly obvious one, and so are major financial changes, where we would even use the word "loss," as in the loss of a fortune. Less obvious is MOVING, which changes everything we are familiar with.
David: What have you discovered in people that makes it difficult for some to deal with the grieving process?
Russell Friedman: The biggest culprit is the misinformation we have all learned since we were 3 or 4 years old. For example, we were all taught that time heals all wounds, yet time only passes, it does not complete what is unfinished between you and someone else, living or dead.
David: What is it then that makes for "effective grieving"-- a way for people to actually heal or better deal with their loss?
Russell Friedman: Good question. The first order of business is to learn what has not been effective so we can replace it with better ideas. In addition to the fact that time does not heal, there are at least 5 other myths which contribute to our inability to deal effectively with loss. For another example, we were all taught to "not feel bad" when something sad or painful happens. That idea puts us into conflict with our own nature, which is to be happy when something positive happens and to be sad when something painful happens.
David: So, are you saying that it's perfectly alright to feel the pain associated with a loss and not to bottle up your emotions or dismiss the pain?
Russell Friedman: Not only alright, but very healthy. The human body is a "processing plant" for emotions, not a container to carry them around.
David: Do you think some people are afraid to grieve over a loss? Afraid to deal with the pain associated with a loss?
Russell Friedman: Yes, absolutely, and it's totally based on false information - ideas that indicate that we are somehow defective if we have sad or painful feelings.
David: Here's an audience question on this subject:
sugarbeet: I lost my dad in October and it is really hitting me hard. How do you stop yourself from bottling up your emotions?
Russell Friedman: Hi Sugarbeet. Sorry to hear about your dad's death. Probably the first thing you need to do is establish at least one friend or relative that it is safe for you to talk with, where you won't feel judged or criticized for being human.
David: I think some people may be afraid to talk with others for fear of being judged or pushed away.
Russell Friedman: Yes, based on the fact that we were all taught to "Grieve Alone" for example, the expression that says, "laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone." Therefore, you will be judged if you cry.
sugarbeet: I had to see him suffer, and I keep getting flashbacks... Thanks. It seems like most other people don't want to talk about this subject.
David: The preoccupation of the griever wanting to talk about the person and the relationship to that person can sometimes push people away. In the other person's mind, they're saying, "enough already," and after awhile they might start to avoid you. Is there a point where you should stop talking about your loss and grief with others?
Russell Friedman: Sadly, since people are socialized to believe that they should "give you space," which creates isolation, and since we are falsely taught that our sad feelings would be a burden on others, we feel trapped and go silent, which is not good for us. That's why the first thing I told Sugarbeet was to find someone safe.
Wannie: When do you stop being so mad?
Russell Friedman: There is sometimes great confusion about the emotions we experience following a loss. People are incorrectly encouraged to believe that there is a "stage" of anger that relates to death of a loved one. We don't believe that is always true. Most people are heartbroken and sad, but society allows anger more than sadness.
David: Should you give yourself a timeline for "getting over" your grief?
Russell Friedman: That presumes that "time" would heal you, which it can't. Our humor for that is to ask the question - if you went out to your car and it had a flat tire, would you pull up a chair and wait for air to get back in your tire? Clearly not. As it takes actions to fix the tire, it takes actions to heal your heart.
Wannie: What kind of actions heal your heart?
Russell Friedman: The first of several actions is to discover what ideas (time heals, "be strong," and others) you have learned to deal with loss. Next is to review your relationship with the person who died to discover all of the things you wish had ended different, better, or more, and all of the unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations you had about the future.
djbben: Does it have to be actions or can distraction help as well?
Russell Friedman: Ah, great question. Distractions come under the heading of one of the 6 myths that we identify which hurt, rather than help, grieving people. That myth is "Keep Busy," as if staying busy and making Time Pass would complete what was unfinished between you and the person who died. It won't because it can't. Keeping busy merely delays the real work you must do.
Hannah Cohen: Mr. Friedman, this past New Year's eve I lost my long time friend to suicide. I feel guilty and numb with periods of crying in-between. Feelings were not allowed when I was growing up and even now. Could I have done something to prevent this tragic loss? It makes me want to go back to my addictions again. The pain is horrible. I slipped. I went back to drinking so I could continue not to feel. Thank you. She was to receive her Ph.d. in anthropology in May.
Russell Friedman: Ouch! Hannah. One aspect first - guilt implies intent to harm. May I assume that you never did anything with intent to harm your friend? I bet that I'm right - in which case the word guilt is a dangerous word. It is probably more accurate to say that your heart is broken in a million pieces and that you have a hard time thinking about the future without your friend. I'll address the issues of addictions in a few minutes.
David: Hannah, I also want to suggest that if you have slipped back into drinking to deal with your emotions, maybe it's time to get some professional help, ie., see a therapist to talk about what's going on.
Is there a point, Russell, when one should realize that dealing with this pain is just too much and they should seek professional help?
Russell Friedman: In a crisis, we all tend to go back to old behavior. Our addictions certainly qualify as "old behavior." It is very difficult to do something new and helpful when an emotional crisis happens.
It is never too soon to get help. Many people wait, especially on issues about grief and loss, because we've all been taught that time will heal, and that we're not being "strong" if we're having those kinds of feelings which are caused by loss.
David: I think that's very important to keep in mind.
izme: I have had four deaths in my family within the last eight months and will be losing another family member soon. I am having problems dealing with one loss before another has to be dealt with. Any suggestions that might help?
Russell Friedman: Izme: the problem with multiple losses is that if you don't have the tools, skills, or ideas to deal with the first loss, then you don't have them for the second, the third, or fourth - and to top it off, it makes you terrified to think about dealing with another one, because of the accumulation of feelings caused by the prior losses. You must go back and work on each loss - the techniques in The Grief Recovery Handbook are designed for doing that.
David: Mr. Friedman's website is here: http://www.grief-recovery.com
How do you deal with the cliches like: "you've got to move forward" and "time heals all wounds," etc. that your friends and others throw at you?
Russell Friedman: Our website features a series of 20 articles which can be downloaded for free. One of the current ones being featured is entitled Legacy of Love or Monument to Misery. It talks about how a loving relationship would not leave us crippled in pain after a death.
Regarding dealing with incorrect and unhelpful comments: One piece of language that I have used for myself and encouraged for others is to simply say: "Thank you, I really appreciate your concern." The point is not to have to try to educate someone while your heart is broken, or to distract yourself by getting angry with someone who says the wrong things.
MicroLion: How do you address the loss of a pet? Other people often do not understand the intensity of grief that can result from this.
Russell Friedman: Wow! I spend at least 20% of my waking hours dealing with grieving pet owners. It is shameful that many people in our society do not understand that the closest the thing to unconditional love that we humans ever perceive is from our pets. Go to a website called www.abbeyglen.com and click on the grief recovery button. There you will find some articles I wrote for pet owners.
HPC-Brian: How do you deal with a death when you think that your over it and it comes back to haunt you
Russell Friedman: Since we have been socialized to deal with grief in our heads (or with our intellect) rather than emotionally with our hearts, there is a very high probability that we will try to just move past and through the loss, without taking actions that will actually complete the pain. What is left is like a series of land mines, which can explode anytime there is a stimulus or reminder of the person who died - even decades later. That is why the sub-title of our book is The Action Program For Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses. Without actions, what most people do is just shift the pain out of sight.
katy_: Is it healthier to keep yourself busy and your mind off the issue or to dedicate time thinking about it?
Russell Friedman: Katy - No, staying busy is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, just "thinking" about a loss is not helpful either. What is called for are a series of small and correct choices which lead to the completion of unfinished emotional business and in turn to an acceptance of the reality of the loss and the retention of fond memories.
David: Here's a short summary of what Katy has been dealing with:
katy_: When I was about 12, I went through some huge life changes. A very close family member died, my dad suffered depression and had become a stranger to me - I found this extremely difficult to deal with. I was unsure of how to deal with the emotions. I bottled them up, feeling that I'd be ok, but I became very unhappy. I had to deal with a lot of complex emotions at a young age. This had its effect. I definitely felt a huge sense of grief. I grieved over the loss of my childhood and my life.
Russell Friedman: Absolutely, Katy, any other outcome would almost be illogical. While we cannot give people their childhood's back (I couldn't retrieve mine either), we can help people become complete with the past, so that they don't have to relive it and repeat it over and over and over - do I make my point?
David: We seem to have a lot of people in the audience, Russell, who have suffered very large multiple losses. Here's another comment:
angelbabywithwings: I have had many, many losses, and I know I have never learned how to deal with them. Traumatic childhood, several deaths in my family in the last four years, and a lifetime of being depressed. I had a stroke 10 years ago which has left me with short term memory loss in which I can't learn anything new. Two years ago, I was hit by a car and suffered a fracture in my right ankle. I had surgery, etc -- all the stuff that goes with it. The second surgery was a year later to take out the pins.
David: This sort of brings me to the question, do you think that with multiple losses, we leave ourselves open to self blame? Sort of like: "I guess I deserved this pain."
Russell Friedman: David, if we have no better choices, we'll latch onto anything that seems to makes sense. But, if you attach to self-blame, I'd bet that self blame is a "habit." And if you'll recall, earlier I said that in a crisis we go back to old behavior - old behavior is a habit. When you acquire better skills you can replace the old, ineffective ones.
pmr: I don't seem to have any problem dealing with final losses, such as death, but I'd like to know: What is the most helpful way to deal with losses that are left open-ended, like with victims of abuse who are no longer able to maintain contact with even their children, because of the results of the abuse in the family. I have difficulty accepting totally losing all my children to this.
Russell Friedman: pmr - I'm glad you brought this up. It points out just how essential it is that we learn better ways of dealing with loss. I, myself, have lost contact with a child who I was very close with because of a falling out with her mother. My heart is broken, but I must deal with it so that my life is not limited any further. As to the abuse issues, the tragedy is exponential: when anyone has been abused sexually, physically, emotionally, etc. It is horrible enough that the abuse happened, but the tragedy compounds when the victim's memory recreates the pain over-and-over and creates an almost impossibility for loving and safe relationships. Grief Recovery is very helpful in limiting the ongoing impact of things that happened a long time ago.
David: Here's an audience comment:
kaligt: I feel pretty much like you do Russell, but I do not want to go on. I want to be with her.
David: "Acceptance" is one of the hardest parts of the grieving process.
Russell Friedman: David, acceptance, from a grief recovery point of view, is different than other uses of that word. For us, acceptance is the result of the actions of completing what is emotionally unfinished.
kaligt - I hear you - loud and clear. It is not uncommon for broken hearted people to feel that way. One of the tragedies is that people get scared and tell you that you shouldn't feel that way. I'd rather allow that your feelings are normal, but any action on those feelings would not be. Therefore, it becomes important for you to learn better ways to deal with the feelings you have. You wouldn't want to live in that kind of pain for a long time.
kaligt: I am not thinking about suicide, but I am ill, and whatever happens, happens. That is how I look at it now -much differently than I did before my daughter died. I know I have to accept it. I am still in shock but have now found the courage to be able to accept death as I didn't have that before.
MicroLion: Why does the pain of grief and depression seem to keep coming in "waves?"
Russell Friedman: Microlion, in our book we use the phrase "roller coaster of emotions" to describe, in a general way, how grievers feel. In part, it is because our bodies have a kind of thermostat, so when we are emotionally overwhelmed it kind of shuts us down. On another front, the factor of how many reminders or stimuli to remember the person or relationship vary.
rwilky: Mr. Friedman, do the feelings/stages that are described by Kubler-Ross in "On Death and Dying" apply to the stages that we might go through with the loss of our loved one, our marriage if it fails, or a pet that dies? I hope that's not a silly question.
Russell Friedman: rwilky, in our book we gently remove ourselves from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's work, which was not about grief. The stages she defined were about what you might go through if you were told you had a terminal illness. Therefore, although I have talked to more than 50,000 people who are dealing with loss, I have never met one who was in denial that a loss had occurred.
The first thing they say to me is, "my mom died" or "my husband left me."
Del25: In the early stage of heavy grief, is it normal to want to be alone and not have to interact with other people right away?
Russell Friedman: del25, if you have been here for the whole chat, you might recall that a few times I alluded to "in a crisis we go back to old behavior." That might be one issue. A second might be that the level of safety one feels about showing others the raw emotions you are feeling might cause you to avoid contact. And thirdly, you get to be YOU, and whatever you do is okay and normal, because it is you reacting to your own loss. Nobody gets to judge you for that.
jmitchell: Is there any advice you can offer mother's that are grieving over the loss of a stillborn baby?
This mother that lost her daughter has been running constantly and does not know how to slow down. This is fitting into your discussion about doing the real grief work.
Russell Friedman: jmitchell, all loss is about relationships. Society often harms grieving moms and dads by implying that since they didn't get to know the baby, there wasn't really much of a loss, but that is not true. From the moment a woman becomes pregnant she begins a relationship with the baby inside of her. When that relationship is altered by the death of the baby, it is devastating. The moms (and dads) must grieve and complete those relationships just as they would others of longer duration.
ict4evr2: I understand everyone here is here for the same reason. For the first time in my life, I have lost someone special in a violent way. I am learning this is a lengthy process. Does anyone ever really get past a death that was so violent and unexpected?
Russell Friedman: ict4evr2, without wishing to seem simplistic or insensitive, let me suggest that length of time is not the essential issue, rather it is the actions taken within time that can lead to a diminution of the horrific pain caused by loss. Also, please recognize that the "violence" is only one aspect of the loss. A question we always ask, though it might sound crude, is: "Would you miss them any less had they died some other way?" There is only one correct answer to that question. It is the fact that they died, not how, which is the key element of grief.
And this is the link to the Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death Divorce, and Other Losses.
pantera: I have had many losses throughout my life, mostly in childhood. I tend to close myself off to future relationships for fear of further loss which would cause too much pain. Any suggestions?
Russell Friedman: Pantera, again, it would almost be illogical for you to do anything else, at this point. If your heart is full of the pain from prior losses, it is almost a definition of being "emotionally unavailabe" or "not being able to make a commitment." The essential task is to go back and complete what was unfinished in prior relationships, otherwise your only choice is to protect your heart from future hurt. That is not really a choice.
David: Thank you, Mr. Friedman, for being our guest tonight and for sharing this information with us. And to those in the audience, thank you for coming and participating. I hope you found it helpful. We have a very large and active community here at HealthyPlace.com. You will always find people interacting with various sites.
Also, if you found our site beneficial, I hope you'll pass our URL around to your friends, mail list buddies, and others. http://www.healthyplace.com
David: Thank you, again, Russell.
Russell Friedman: I appreciate you inviting me and I hope I was helpful to those of you who came tonight. Thanks.
David: Good night, everyone.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Last Updated: 31 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD