Why the Stages of Grief are so Appealing

Mirror Maze photo by Janice E LodatoJust when you think you’ve “moved on” and accepted your new normal, you notice someone who reminds you of your beloved. Or you reach into your closet and pull an old sweater to your face and your mind floods with images of the one you’ve lost. Or you sit on the edge of your bed to get dressed and remember how you sat there that day – stunned by feelings of loss and grief. How can it be? You’re right back where you were before.

If this sounds at all familiar to you in your journey with grief, you are not alone. While the stages of grief, as described by Kubler-Ross, are very appealing – especially in their linear nature, i.e., that we will achieve acceptance and be done – the reality of grief is much more varied. It is complicated, and, well, not stage like at all. Perhaps it’s more of a circle than a line that goes:

Denial –> Anger –> Bargaining –> Depression –> Acceptance

The human mind likes to understand things and categorize them. We’re constantly trying to make sense of our experiences and stages are very appealing. Definitely, there is a lot that makes sense in what Kubler-Ross described and it may mirror our experience.

However, I think a more fluid and less linear approach may be more helpful. For example, we might continue to operate with some form of denial even as we experience acceptance. Though they may sound contradictory, in our day-to-day experience they may operate together. For example, as I accept the death of a loved one, I still may experience, at times, shock or a sense of denial that she is not there when I turn to talk her or I may expect her witty comeback in a conversation.

I think this is where the beauty lies in using creative tools and resources as we journey with our grief. Generally, these tools are not linear and ask our logical brains to quiet down. When we’re in this creative space, we can touch on internal resources to sit with our grief and help us make meaning in a new way. We can explore where our grief or anger resides within our body and how that might help us to discover ways that we can feel better. Or we can create a new self-portrait that shows how the shattered pieces of our former lives are pieced back together in new ways.

These creative approaches to being with grief are at the core of the Creative Grief Studio’s program and woven throughout the work that I do as a grief coach. Please reach out if this sounds like it will be helpful to you. Also, know that the back and forth / highs and lows of grief are a normal part of this very circular and spiraling process.

Wishing you abundant peace!

Just Give Up: On Surrender, Acceptance, and Being Driven

Photo by Janice E Lodato“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

True confession: I’m a very driven person. When I set my mind to something I will find a way to get it done. Honestly, this has not always been the greatest trait for building interpersonal relationships. I truly believe, “When there is a will there is a way.” Sometimes that has meant a greater focus on achieving a goal than it has on supporting a relationship. Even with this driven nature, I’m not naive. I know even when we push, even when we plan perfectly, even when the stars align and everyone is on our side, sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want them to.

Which brings me to the topic of surrender — to maybe just giving up. What if we just stop trying so hard. What if we surrender to God, spirit, universe — whatever you call the higher power in your life — and let it go.  Let go, let God. Can we do this? What level of acceptance does this involve? And, what level of personal responsibility remains?

For me, this always leads to me still doing the work. Still making the plans. Still trying as hard as I can because fate rewards the doer — at least in my book. While I’m busy doing, can I surrender regarding the outcome of my actions? Can I accept that though I’ve planned, acted, and did my best, that the result might not be as I want? Does that make the doing any less important? What if I just gave up? What if I focused more on being and less on doing?  What’s the saying? “You’re a human being, not a human doing.” This always strikes me as an incredibly clever saying but it leaves me empty existentially. What does it mean to “just be”? Can someone please show me someone who is being and not doing? If we’re honest, I think they are inextricably connected. I would be delighted to hear contrary evidence, and please fill up the comments with your stories, because I’m really puzzling over this distinction.

Ironically, however, I do have evidence in my life of times, especially in work settings, when I stopped trying so hard — felt like I had given up and wasn’t an A+ worker — and yet suddenly the rewards for that workplace setting started coming to me. One time after an extended vacation and months of “just doing enough” I received a lavish raise and a significant promotion.  Really?!  Okay, higher power, explain that one to me.

This isn’t a post with answers.  This is something I’m exploring and probably a dance I’ll partake in until I can see things differently.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.  How do you balance acceptance and being driven in your life?


Should . . . Shoumd: Reflections on Non-Judgmental Awareness

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college I was delivering some papers to the counseling center at my university. One of the counselorsShould image by Janice E. Lodato met me in the waiting room and asked how things were going during those first few weeks of classes and settling back into the routine of college life.  I don’t recall what I said to her, but I do remember very clearly what she said to me, “Do you know how many times you just said, ‘should’?”  I was startled by her question, but startled in a good way. I left the counseling center a lot calmer, quieter and reflecting on how many times I say, “should.”

That was many years ago, but it is still a question and a practice that I use today to hone in on how I’m treating myself. It brings awareness to my self-talk and helps me to know if the judgmental voice in my head has taken over.

This month, I’ve been challenging myself, with a practice I call “Should . . . Shoumd.” Yes, I know, “shoumd” is not a word. For me it’s just a sound that reminds me to say to myself, “Does that really matter? What underlying values are bringing up that should-statement for you right now?” This practice is like the thought modification that you might do with a rubber band on your wrist. Each time you hear the thought in your mind, you snap the rubber band on your wrist. The same for each time I say to myself, “I should do . . .” or “I should have said . . .,” I then say to myself, “Should . . . Shoumd.”

This is a playful way for me to work with non-judgmental awareness in my day-to-day life because a lot of times the “shoulds” are outside pressures that don’t necessarily align with my values, don’t respect me as an individual, and were prescribed by someone else. The first time I went to Kripalu Center for a yoga workshop with Todd Norian, I remember his words to observe our bodies and minds — as we were in difficult poses or holding a pose for a long time — with non-judgmental awareness — just seeing what is.  I love the openness and acceptance of this practice. Granted, there are times in our day-to-day lives where this point of view is not possible and could be dangerous. I’m not advocating for no-judging. There are times when judging keeps us safe and helps us to take the right action that respects ourselves and others.  However, it is helpful to drop into this non-judgmental space and just observe what is.

My practice this month might go like this. Here’s my mental dialog on a Saturday morning: “I should do the laundry, wash the dishes, feed the dog, go running, clean the house, practice Reiki and yoga.” Say what?! “Should . . . Shoumd” What aligns here with my highest self? What really needs to be done now? Hmmm, maybe the laundry can wait. Ah, pause, hand on heart, empowerment symbol, ah, yes, sit on my zafu cushion, stare out the window, breathe, calm, align with the universe. Now . . . choose and go forward.  That’s my higher self, my less judged self.

“Should . . . Shoumd” is a practice for me to release some of the judgmentalness that I throw at myself. It’s a helpful tiny space.  Hope you find it helpful too.

Wishing you love, light, and the spaciousness of non-judgmental awareness.

Saying “no” without the guilt

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to say, “no” to a number of personal and business-related requests, invitations, and, probably nearly a millionNo sign after-school activities for my daughter. It seems mind-boggling sometimes to face the sheer volume of ways that we can use our time.

I have to say that I am somewhat addicted to busyness and can easily fall over a cliff of being so insanely busy, that, well, it makes me act insane. When I get this busy I lose the joy in the activity and in those around me. I lash out, I struggle, and I shutdown some of the areas that are vital to my existence, especially in the realms of relationships and creativity.

Saying “yes” to everything and “doing it all” is definitely toxic for me.  However, I often experience anxiety over saying no. What will other people think? If I’m not busy, what will I do with my time? (And I know I’ve jumped off the metaphorical cliff, when I land at a thought that can be comically summarized as, “If I’m not saving the world, who will?”)

Now imagine what happens when I have one of those unusual days where my schedule is not packed. I start to question my self-worth. If I’m not busy and being productive, what is my purpose for being? (If you’re following this mental condition, then you know that being sick is incredibly difficult for me.)

Being busy is highly valued by me (and by our society), so I often feel guilty about saying “no” and admitting, “I can’t do it all.” I can’t keep a perfectly clean house, work two jobs, balance the family budget, throw an awesome party, exercise until I look like a gym-rat, and keep all my relationships in tip-top shape. (Certainly there must be something I forgot on that list.)  And then there is the other painful realization that, “I don’t do everything well. There are many things that I’m plainly not good at.” Ah, the perfectionist trap!

Some people like to remind me that, I’m not a human doing, I’m a human being. Oh, I love that saying. It’s funny, isn’t it? When have you chatted lately about your beingness? For someone like me, how do I get in touch with my beingness? How do I disconnect from my to-do list and reconnect with my soul?  If you follow this blog, you know the importance of Reiki and nature in my life.  These are essential for me to switch from doing to being. After I’ve done that, I can be more present for my family and myself.

How do you say, “no” and disconnect from busyness and perfectionism? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Wishing you love, light, and the peace of knowing you’re enough exactly as you are!