By Sally Bartolameolli & Kim Siongco,
When my daughter was four years old, her father and I separated. We had an amicable child exchange pattern, and I was committed to keeping our failed relationship separate from my daughter, Hannah’s, relationship with him. That belonged to them. However, I noticed that she would often be agitated and act out upon returning from visiting him.
When she returned after a weekend with her dad, I greeted her at the door and told her I had a snack waiting. With a scowl on her face, she followed me to her little table and sat down.
“How was your visit with your dad?” I asked as she took one of her toys to the small table and banged it on the top.
“Did you have a good weekend? What did you do?” I asked again.
She lifted her arm while clutching her toy and threw it across our small living space. The loud echoing against the wood floor reassembled a child’s wild cry that only a mother’s instinct could recognize.
“We don’t throw things in our family, Hannah. Do you have some words to describe how you are feeling?”
As the creator of a Grieving, Growth, & Gratitude™ E-Course (http://www.sallybartolameolli.com/e-courses/), I recognized the signs of unresolved grief, anger that gets misplaced, and pain that seems too overwhelming to feel. I leaned in.
Hannah folded her arms and continued to scowl. I sat down at the child-sized chair next to her and asked, “Are you missing your dad?”
She burst into tears, and our reflective listening* session began.
“Yes,” she cried, “I miss my dad.”
“Oh, you miss your dad. I understand.”
“And when I am over at his house, I miss you.”
“Oh, and when you are over at his house, you miss me,” I repeated.
“And I’m trying to figure out how we can all be together and I don’t know how to do that.” Sobs overcame her small body. I took a deep breath, continued to intentionally detach, and silently held the space for her grief.
“And you are trying to figure out how we can all be together and you don’t know how to do that.”
I sat still, eyes on her, and watched her nod her head as her natural curls bounced along. All of my maternal strength kept me from reaching for her, offering words of comfort, or interrupting her natural process of grief. A few moments later, my four-year-old daughter wiped her running nose with her sleeve, lifted her shoulders, and with a big inhale of breath, she sighed, looked at me, and smiled.
“Can we go outside and play?” she asked.
“Let’s go.” We walked, holding hands to the neighborhood park and had a lovely afternoon.
I’m not suggesting that the impact of a divorce, tragedy, or change of any kind can be handled in one good cry in one short afternoon. Hannah and I had other conversations after that, and it takes what it takes.
I am suggesting that healing from loss is possible and navigating change of any kind requires facing certain obstacles head-on while leveraging certain practices to move through it. The honest acknowledgment of our grief or loss, is the beginning. Next, seeking the presence of emotionally available reflective listeners is the next step.
Not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Here are some possible obstacles in handling grief or change and options for addressing them:
Obstacle: Denial. Pretending that it is business as usual, without addressing our current situation’s reality, may promote isolation.
Option: Practice reflective listening with co-workers. Listen to how the pandemic and these unprecedented changes in our world and our lives have impacted them. Acknowledge when you need the same support and seek personal or professional resources that break through a sense of isolation.
Obstacle: Trying to force a solution by blaming or shaming. Often when we experience feeling out of control in one area of our lives, we may unconsciously attempt to control another area by misdirecting our fear into blaming or shaming ourselves or others.
Option: Lean into uncertainty. Breathe deeply. Practice healthy self-care behaviors such as meditation, physical movements of any kind, and spiritual practices that inspire and comfort.
Obstacle: Developing unhealthy habits around eating, staying busy to avoid the feelings of discomfort or loss, or over-focusing on “helping” others. We can find many ways to take the attention off of our own emotional and physical well-being. Balance is the key.
Option: Begin a journaling habit to honestly document what is going on inside without judging or editing it. Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool for switching the energy of blame, shame, negative self-talk, or other ways to use our time in avoidant or unproductive ways. Research suggests that practicing gratitude contributes to well-being.
This paper presents a new model of gratitude incorporating not only the gratitude that arises following help from others but also a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life”, incorporating not only the gratitude that arises following help from others, but also a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life.
When grief is held and honored in a non-judgmental way, first within ourselves, and then as we reach out to others, we develop resilience and foster connection. As we care well for our body, mind, environment, finances, and emotions, we begin to deepen the trust in our most significant relationship; the relationship with ourselves. Grief will assist us in growing and finding gratitude in the midst of uncertainty.
At LORA Bridges, we empower transformation for the purpose of building bridges.