By Jodi Vinnai
My name is Jodi and I am trying to spread HOPE and HEALING to parents who have lost a child as a result of cancer. I feel that my audience certainly does not have to meet this horrific criteria by any means—my purpose is to speak to all grievers. However, my journey is that of a bereaved parent.
My daughter, Sophia, died in 2014. She was 16 years old, and from that very moment I have been working so hard on my journey through this absolute, complete-out-of-order death of outliving my child.
I draw upon the incredible knowledge that I’ve gained from several authors, and speakers on grief and mourning. One in particular, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, truly helped me through many dark days. His book~ Healing a Parents Grieving Heart~100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies- truly spoke to me, especially in my fresh grief. It was easy to read and in some strange way made me feel not so alone.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending one of his seminars, which I look forward to doing again when I can. I like to draw upon his insight and knowledge that he has taught me. He has literally published a book for every loss that you can think of, speaking to parents, children, siblings, grandparents, friends, and for every audience. There are not only resources for adults but children and teens as well.
Addressing Myths Surrounding Grief
I’d like to address common myths surrounding grief. I will touch on 5 myths in particular. I will use Wolfelt’s guideposts throughout.I talk a lot about grief and mourning, and the difference between the two.
The first myth I’d like to discuss is that grief and mourning are the same experience. We know this to be untrue, but most people tend to use these words interchangeably. There is an important distinction between the two. We know that to move towards healing we do this by not only grieving, but mourning.
Grief or grieving is the internal thoughts and feelings that we feel when someone we love dies. Mourning takes these feelings of grief and expresses them outwardly. I use the expression ‘outwardly mourning’ often. I feel it is extremely important. The hard reality is that many people in our culture grieve, but they do not mourn. I will encourage you to outwardly mourn to express your grief outwardly.
I do see often see people outwardly morning on social media. For example, just the other day, I recently saw a friend of mine had posted a photo of her father and the caption read how much she misses her dad. This is a great expression of outwardly mourning; by doing this, she acknowledges her pain, and who knows, this could potentially prompt someone to reach out to her who might also be missing their dad and share a story or memory. This is healing in action.
The second myth is that there is a predictable and orderly progression with experiencing grief.
The stages of grief became popular in 1969 when psychiatrist, and author Elizabeth Kubler Ross published her work on death and dying and five stages of grief. She never, ever intended for people to interpret the stages literally in a liner order. Unfortunately, people did just that. A consequence of this misinterpretation is that people who are around a grieving person might think that they should be in a certain stage by now, and nothing could be further from the truth.
The stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler Ross published are —and remember not in this order—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kubler Ross’s theory was that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one. Again she never intended for people to assume this was the order.
Overtime, different sources have added other stages, one in particular that absolutely resonates and holds a lot of meaning for me is grief expert and author David Kessler’s addition of a six stage which is, finding meaning. Kessler worked with Kubler Ross before she passed away and writes how he absolutely feels that she would agree with this addition.
Beyond the stages of grief that most of us are familiar with, David Kessler’s book, Finding Meaning, can help transform grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience. I love his work and his outlook and how he gives readers a roadmap to remembering those who have died --with more love than pain. He shows us how to move forward in a way that honours our loved ones. His insight is both professional and intensely personal as he has gone through so much loss himself.
OK I need to reel myself in a little here. I could talk about these authors, their work and the impact they’ve had on my journey all day. I am most definitely not alone when I tell you it is an absolute myth that there is any structure whatsoever to grief, There are no numbered stages to work through, it is far from linear, you will experience these feelings all in your own unique and personal way.
The third myth is that tears expressing grief are only a sign of weakness. That’s just absolutely ridiculous! Crying on part of the mourner often makes those around us feel helpless, and naturally our friends and family try to comfort us and stop the tears.
I am a huge fan of crying. I know this sounds crazy. I recently wrote a post on my Instagram account — healing and hope —called Crying is OK Here, and believe me, I’ll be putting out an episode on this topic.
Often people that love us and see us in this pain simply want to take it away. Maybe they said something to evoke tears and feel responsible or even guilty for you crying. Yet, crying is nature's way of releasing internal tension in our body and allows the mourner to communicate — and maybe a need to be comforted.
Plain and simple crying makes people feel better emotionally and physically. Remember this: tears are not a sign of weakness, in fact crying is an indication of the grievers willingness to do the work of mourning or grief work, as I like to call it.
The fourth myth I will dispel, which I have a hard time even remotely thinking that people actually think this way, is that it is best to move away from grief and mourning instead of toward it.
Well you all know if you’ve listen to either of my last two podcast episodes or if you know me, this is so far from what I believe. Sadly, many grievers do not give themselves permission or receive permission from others to mourn. I was in this boat over a decade ago after my mother died. I knew so little about grief and mourning, so I didn’t give myself permission to grieve or mourn. I packed it all up and shoved it all the way.
I am here to tell you that this was so unhealthy for me. Grief can manifest in us physically, and it did just that to me. I now suffer from Crohn’s disease and I attribute this from the grief that I held in and truly never dealt with. When my daughter, Sophia, died in 2014, I knew that I needed to put this grief work in. I needed to do so to move towards healing. It has taken years and I am still on this journey and honestly will continue to be for the rest of my life.
This leads into the fifth and final myth that I will talk about today~ that your goal is to get over your grief. After everything that I just said, I don’t think that I need to speak much to this. We do not resolve or recover from our grief. These terms suggest a total return to normalcy and this simply is not the case. We are forever changed by the death of a loved one.
Please remember that whatever feelings you are having are OK. It’s OK to find moments of happiness and joy while we’re grieving. It’s OK to have deep, spiralling moments of heartache even if it’s been years since your loss. It is all OK.
I will leave with you with this: grief never ends. It changes. It ebbs and flows. It is not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith, it is the price of love.
Please Remember...stay hopeful and continue healing,
Jodi resides in SouthWestern Ontario, and has made helping others through their unique grief journey her mission and way of honouring her daughter, Sophia, who died in 2014 from cancer. She is the host to the Healing and Hope through Grief Podcast. You can find out more information through Instagram @healing_and_hope Or email her email@example.com.
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