Antoinetta – Things that help when struggling

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Antoinetta – Things that help when struggling

Antoinetta talks about the first time she learned that it was ok that she was grieving and how to unpack all her feelings

Learning from Grief

By Noelle Bailey

Grief is weird. Odd start, I know, but that was the sentence I used a lot whenever someone asked me how I was. It was never a constant feeling; it changed day to day. And still does. It’s the full gambit of emotions from sadness to anger to guilt and, though dark, even humour found its way in.

In December of 2019, I lost my father. His health had been declining for several months, and we had started the process to diagnose and begin treatment for what we knew was probably cancer. At his first appointment with his oncologist, he was immediately admitted to the ER. By the next day he was on a ventilator, and within twelve days they came to tell me that the cancer had spread everywhere. We had lost a fight we hadn’t even really begun. In March of 2022, my mother passed away after a 14 year fight with MS. It was a much different process to lose her by degrees over those 14 years, witnessing her own body turn against her while powerless to do anything to stop it.

Those are my two experiences with the strangeness of grief. They were vastly different experiences, but also similar in that they cut me in two and changed my life.

The two biggest things I’ve taken from my grieving process are these:

1. I will, for the rest of my life, miss the conversations we will never have. There are books I’ve read since they left that I would love to talk to my mom about. My dad never got to hear about my new job, and he would have loved it. Pictures people have brought me that I can never ask them about, stories I missed out on hearing. The moments of my life, big and small, that they won’t be here for is the part that takes me under every time.

2. I can grieve however I need to. It doesn’t need to look a certain way or be anything other than what I need. I struggled a lot after losing my mom with the idea that I wasn’t sad enough or broken enough because after watching her long hard battle there was a certain peace lacing itself through the pain. When we laid my parents to rest in the cemetery next to my grandparents, we played “The Rainbow Connection” sung by Kermit the Frog because that’s what my mom had always said she wanted to play to say goodbye. Then my husband, Cale, and I did a shot of Jack, like my dad and Cale did when they went out for my dad’s 60th.

I’ve never been very good at setting boundaries in my life, but I tried very hard to make sure I set them surrounding my grief. To let myself do whatever I needed to process the loss of my parents and not to let anyone tell me I should be acting or feeling a certain way. I laughed at things they would have laughed at, and when I needed to, I cried. I am slowly learning how to live in a world without my parents, and know that I will be for the rest of my life.

a birthday cake has fallen alone with it's cake stand. It's broken on the counter. There is a party hat in the shadows on the table behind it.

Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Other Special Days

Rachel Herrington – Social Service Worker Graduate, Third Year Psychology Student, Equal Rights and Community Advocate

It has been 10 years since my grandmother passed away and it never fails, every year leading up to her birthday I spend weeks with a pit of sadness and remorse in my stomach. I spend my days feeling this way and not understanding why then something makes the date catch my eye and it hits – It’s her birthday.

When we are grieving, some days are more difficult than others. Grief comes in waves like the sea and can feel like an intertwining labyrinth of emotions. Birthdays, anniversaries, and special dates that are associated with our loved one who has died can contribute to more emotionally intense days which can be worsened through the anticipation and “what ifs” of the upcoming day. These difficult days can leave us feeling defeated and it can almost feel like we’ve taken two steps backward in our grieving process, but grief does not have a timeline, and these feelings of setbacks are opportunities for healing.

Before the Day:
Communicate and set boundaries with others – think about how you want to approach the day and share your wants, needs, and desires with others. Clearly communicating your wants and needs with others will allow the opportunity for you to set the expectation for the day which can help relieve the intense feelings of anticipation.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to celebrate special days – It is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no written code or rule on how these special days are to be approached. However you decide to approach the day is the right way.

On the Day:
Allow yourself the opportunity for space from others – it is important to allow there to be an opportunity for you to step away and have a safe space to feel your emotions if you need to. If you are attending someone else’s home for the occasion plan a way that you can step away or leave with ease if you need to.

Find something that grounds you when intense emotions arise – if intense emotions are arising it can be helpful to find something to help ground you in the moment. This could be a physical item such as a small trinket in your pocket that you can hold, squeeze, and focus on in your hand, or it can be through positive mental imagery, deep breathing, and/or stress relieving acupressure, etc.

Take deep breaths – practicing deep breathing can help reduce stress and can increase resiliency during highly emotional or stressful situations.

If things don’t go as planned, that is okay – grief is a process with no timelines or set of rules, and sometimes things do not always go the way we plan and that is okay. Allow yourself time, patience, and understanding while you adapt to living with your unique grief experience.

a lilac is stuck in the sand of the beach at a memorial.

What I know about grief

Post by Alyssa Warmland, artist, activist, well-practiced griever.

I earned my “grief card” at 15, when I lost my mother. Since then, I’ve experienced other instances of loss and have become a well-practiced griever. Most recently, I lost a friend in a tragic way. She was deeply connected within our rural Ontario community and as I grieve her loss, I’m watching many other people around me grieve. Some, like me, are experienced in grief. Others are newer to the experience.

The following are some things I know to be true about grief for me, based on my lived experience. Some of them may resonate with you as well. Grief is unique to the people experiencing it in each moment, so please take whatever makes sense to you from this share and leave whatever doesn’t.

– Give yourself space to just feel the waves. Sometimes it feels like it’s not quite so intense, and then sometimes it feels like you’ve just been punched in the stomach. And it’ll cycle around. And it won’t feel this way forever.

– You’re totally allowed to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Last night, while I spoke with sobbing friends on the phone, I was absolutely furious. Today, it’s that gut-punch feeling. it’ll cycle around. And it won’t be this way forever.

– Sharing stories can be helpful. Celebrate the reasons you loved whoever you’re grieving. Look at the pictures. Watch the videos. Sing the songs.

– Be patient with yourself, but keep going through the motions of what you know you need to do to maintain your wellness while you grieve. Eat something, even if you’re not hungry. Sleep or lay down, even if you feel like you’ll never fall asleep (podcasts can help make it less overwhelming). Drink water. Go for a walk outside. Write about it. Work, if you want to work (and plan for some extensions on stuff if you can, so you can work a bit more slowly than usual if you need to)

– Your brain may take a little longer to process things. Your memory may not work as well. You may feel irritable or overwhelmed. It’s okay.

– If the death part itself was hard, try to avoid focusing on the end, and instead think about the person you loved and who they were when they were well.

– Connect with other people who are grieving, it may be easier to know you’re not alone.

To learn more about collective grief, please read Maureen’s post on the topic.

Helping Others Help You Through Grief

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

When you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, one of the most difficult things you will go through is trying to find out what helps you adjust to the loss. This can be compounded when others around you don’t understand what you’re going through, and don’t know how to help you. Although you may not have much energy, and you may be reluctant to become a teacher, it may be just what your family and friends need to help you through your grief.

The concept of “pocket phrases” can be quite useful in helping others learn what you need as you grieve. These are statements that you practice ahead of time so that they come to you effortlessly in the moments when you are upset but still need to ask for someone’s help or understanding.

“That’s not helpful.” Usually, our friends and family are trying to help, however their actions may have the opposite effect. With practice, you can develop the ability to say this in a calm, confident voice that halts comments or behaviour that you find hurtful.

“Grief isn’t easy, but it is necessary.” Well-meaning people sometimes want us to move through grief quickly when that is just not possible. You can remind them that it’s normal to feel a full range of feelings after a loss and you don’t need to ‘cheer up’.

“I’m adapting. It takes time to adjust.” When someone in your circle of acquaintances asks how you’re doing, you can use this phrase to remind them that grief is a process. You can ask them directly to have patience with your intense feelings, the changes in your routines and at the same time let them know you’ll never be quite the same again.

“I’m not strong. I’m just doing what I must.” This phrase can be helpful when people praise your ability to function in routine tasks and situations. You may want them to understand that although you may look well on the outside, there’s still a whirlwind of emotion and distress raging unpredictably inside you.

“I like it when you say their name and we talk about them.” You can let people know they don’t have to be afraid to mention your loved one. If you want to share stories, and hear stories from others, you may need to give permission with a clear, direct statement such as this so that people aren’t afraid they will hurt you more by talking about them.

These sample statements can be a good starting point for developing your own useful “pocket phrases” to help teach the people in your life how to help you as you grieve. Remember that the more you practice the things you wish you could say, the easier it will become to pull them out in a peaceful and positive way when needed.