In Honor of Grievers

Losing someone you love is both unnatural and traumatic because we weren’t created to die. Unfortunately, this side of heaven we must struggle with the loss and absence of those we love. Losing a child, a spouse, a parent or a sibling is horrific.

There are Biblical reasons for the intense loss of a spouse. Scripture indicates that when we wed in Christ, we become ONE Flesh. In a strong and loving marriage, the surviving spouse feels the strong severing of that spiritual One Flesh. They must find a new identity without that person after living day in and day out with them, knowing them intimately, accustomed to waking every morning to their constant presence. The morning coffee on the back porch, the TV programs you watched together, the restaurants you frequented as a couple, can often become places and things you now avoid. How do you carry on? You have to find new places, new hobbies to orient yourself to new meaning and a new place in a lonely world. Often widows and widowers are marginalized in society. People say, “There are many church programs for widows,” but that is largely untrue. Very few of such programs exist, though the Bible clearly instructs believers to “plead for the widow and the orphan.”

The loss of a child, too, is overwhelmingly traumatic because, in my perception, the umbilical cord is not just physical. It is also spiritual, connecting us to our children long after their birth. It is also out of order for parents to bury their child; it does not follow the natural cycle of life.

Losing a beloved parent is equally as hard. A loving parent is one who helped you feel safe in the world, who guided you, taught you values and principles…. Losing a parent at any age is difficult but in the crucial years it can be overwhelming and debilitating – in the teen years and for young adults launching into adulthood with all its uncertainties.

Every type of loss needs to be fully grieved and validated by others.

Norm Wright calls the loss of a sibling “Disenfranchised grief” because people naturally tend to comfort parents or spouses; however, the sibling is often overlooked and left on the sidelines. People tend to view sibling grief as less extreme than other forms of loss, but it can be just as debilitating for some, depending on the closeness of the relationship prior to death or guilt over the lack of one.

It’s unfair to rate or compartmentalize grief or to imply the necessity of an end date for the griever. Comments like, “it’s time to move on”, or “you’ve grieved long enough” are shallow, nebulous words. Such callous, unsolicited remarks from others are unfortunately common in loss. It’s best to surround yourself with those who have also suffered deep loss and understand the ebb and flow of grief as well as the grief ambushes that seemingly come out of nowhere and momentarily cripple us.

The grief community is the most precious segment of the population. They see life on a deeper, stripped-bare level; they are vulnerable, yet strong. If you are grieving loss, reach out to those who have grieved. They get it.

Watch for signs of suicide in a griever: isolating, withdrawing from people and regular activities, fear of leaving the house or lack of desire to leave home, lack of motivation, unable to experience pleasure (anhedonia), etc. It is important to monitor these signs in a griever, to notify and mobilize their support system, and to suicide-proof their environment. Take the individual to the nearest hospital emergency room if symptoms persist and become extreme or contact emergency authorities if necessary.

Please take every measure to protect and care for the grievers you come into contact with. Grief is trauma.

My own grief counseling practices focus on newer models of grief counseling (such as Robert E. Neimeyer’s). Such newer models assist the griever in finding a new identity and a new meaning without the deceased. Newer models also emphasize maintaining a relationship with the deceased, in spirit, though “absent in the body.” Grief is not linear; Therefore, I do not use medical models such as Kubler Ross’ older theory that suggests we move through stages–anger, acceptance etc– in a clearly defined manner.

The truth is we cycle back and forth many times through the emotions of grief. Grief never ends because “love never ends.” 1 Corinthian 13:8 (ESV) Grief is messy and in no way linear, but we can learn to navigate and manage it through Christ’s Word, an understanding support system, and if necessary, a skilled mental health clinician.

“Two pillars of Christian belief support this: One is the blessed hope that we will see Jesus again (Titus 2:13); The other assurance is that our present bodies will be raised from the dead immortal (1 Corinthians 15: 12-57) These two pillars provide a basis for believing we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. After all, if we can recognize the Lord Jesus, possessing the perfectly restored and glorified bodies to do so, it follows that we will recognize other believers, including our loved ones.” (Daniel R. Lockwood, Christianity Today, 2007)

I would be happy to help you through this difficult and unsettling process; I will work with you to find new meaning and establish a ‘new normal’ so you can embark on a fresh and peaceful beginning.

Bullying

I grew up with two opposing messages—“shower them with kindness” and “stand up and defend yourself”. Both parental mantras were the products of their environment— both Mom and Dad grew up on the South side of Chicago in the 40s in a tough neighborhood.

Needless to say, it took me a very long time to reconcile the dichotomy they raised me with; but in the long run, I came to find both served me well.  A victim of bullying myself, I had to pin my hair in an up-do daily in Junior High because girls threatened to cut my long brown mane off. This experience and other circumstances instilled a PTSD in me that I still wrestle with to this day. My years in Erikson’s Trust vs Mistrust stage seemed unending, well beyond the one year- old demarcation.

Consequently, I grew up with a keen sensitivity and deep empathy for bully victims.  As a result, a fiercely protective side had been birthed in me. I frequently protected more vulnerable kids. Later, as an adult, when my kids were in elementary school, I embarrassed them by stopping the car many times to break up kids fighting in the neighborhood.

Still later, I had the privilege of teaching anti-bully classes to primary grades as an itinerant school counselor. I interjected lots of humor and theatrics to drive the point home.

How do we define a bully? Of course there is the dictionary definition, but how do you personally define a bully? Our own definitions come through the lens of our personal early experiences with bullying and often pave the way to how we cope with bullies throughout our lifetime—in the workforce and elsewhere.

My personal definition of a bully is: one who derives great pleasure from inflicting pain, mental or physical, on a vulnerable person and watching them suffer. It doesn’t matter the reasons and psychology behind the bullying when it comes to apprehending it. What matters is that it is stopped at the first indication because of the longstanding impact and trauma it has on the individual psyche.

Counseling children for over 15 years in both schools and agencies made me privy to many forms of bullying. Unfortunately, the adults I observed who were supposed to be supervising in classrooms and playgrounds, were ill-informed and ill-equipped to properly intervene. I drew the conclusion that some were even downright apathetic and merciless to allow such trauma to persist. Whether this was due to their own embedded personality disorders was not the issue here. The issue was, and is, mandating greater intervention in the area of bullying, in schools, sports and every facet of children’s lives; especially now, as it permeates campuses in the form of violence and haunts children in cyberspace, resulting in suicide in one-too-many cases.

Seth’s Law, AB-9, is current legislation that requires schools in California to have anti-bullying programs in place and to protect those who are bullied. This law has to be expanded as it appears to have its main focus on sexual orientation bullying. Bullying knows no limits and does not restrict its victims to one class or gender. There’s the pale child with thick glasses, the little Russian child with the strange accent, or the pretty girl who dare not be prettier than the rest or she will have her tires slashed by the homecoming court.

It snakes through every walk of life, every color and every creed; and it needs to be addressed and apprehended on behalf of the timid young female just as much as the gay high schooler.

I do believe that change will not take place until there is legislation that penalizes the adults that are overlooking bully victims and brushing things under the proverbial carpet. Those who turn a blind eye need to be fined/and or subject to sentencing terms. This may seem drastic, but until there is a threat of serous reprimand, many educators and adults won’t bother to intervene. Also, many parents fail to place parental controls and limits on social media, general media, video games and computers.

Parents need to police their child’s social media involvement for those under the age of 17. Keep the lines of communication open. Start your children communicating openly and disclosing uncomfortable experiences early on.

Seems extreme? Not at all. What IS extreme are the needless suicides committed in reaction to extreme bullying, whether it takes place on campus or on social media. Social media creators should also be penalized for not maintaining and upholding stricter standards for minor use– restrictions that can circumvent silent bullying that eventually kills. What are we waiting for— for suicide statistics for victims of bullying to skyrocket even further?

I can’t bear to stomach the apathy of educators and other adults I’ve witnessed over the years, constantly turning a blind eye to this atrocity.

Schools and Educators, get your priorities straight. First, tend to the victims. Second, counsel the bullies. (In that order) Parents: seek out anti-bullying literature, videos and media to educate your children at home, because you can’t depend solely on the schools to do it. Teach them how to effectively cope with bullying. One point I emphasized with children in my anti-bullying classes was to keep reporting to adult after adult until one listens, takes you seriously and takes action. If one adult doesn’t intervene, go to the next, and the next and the next… until one does.

Years ago, a renowned Christian psychologist said, “You can’t teach a child to ‘turn the other cheek’ on the playground because the playground is a brutal place.”  Appropriate self-defense and anger management are two vital skills that need to be taught in the schools and in the home if we want to see our children make it out alive and through their teens. We, as a society, can no longer afford to take the topic of bullying lightly.

 

Resources (These are a few. There are many more on this topic):

A Volcano in My Tummy, Helping Children to Handle Anger, by Elaine Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney. (Teaches children such terms as “Clean anger” and “Dirty anger”. The tenets of this book can be adapted to a school-wide approach.)

Little Girls Can Be Mean, Four Steps to Bully-Proof  Girls in the Early Grades, by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D., and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D.

The Juice Box Bully, by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy.

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun, Having the Courage to Be Who You are, by Maria Dismondy.

Christ Actualization

Looking back on my middle school years, I always felt a bit different. Sometimes I would retreat from social groups. Other times, I’d readily engage in them. I wasn’t an introvert or an extrovert, so I aimlessly floated in a fog of self- questioning. Who was I then? Was I abnormal?

Fortunately, I discovered the term “ambivert” in my late teens and thus found a word that described me.  Ambivert is the word to describe that middle ground between an introvert and an extrovert. I learned there was a continuum for personality types and not everyone fell neatly into the opposite ends of the spectrum.  I can relate to many personality types due to being in that middle, and consequently, have keen insight for discerning individual clients’ needs.

A huge part of healing takes place through self- acceptance and what better tool and toolmaker to help you on that journey than Christ and His Word? Christ, the carpenter, provides us with a huge box of tools (in His Word) to ensure that we are adequately equipped to build our lives in Him. Be careful, however. If He isn’t the main contractor in our lives, every screw and bolt will come undone.

Later, in my newfound quest as an ambivert, I happened to sit through a sermon that shed further light on the topic of self-esteem. The wise pastor said that the term “self-esteem” needed to be reframed to “Christ-Esteem”.  Our esteems and identities are found in Him. All else is sinking sand. That liberated me in a profound way. Not only was I normal in my ambivert status, I also didn’t have to rely on myself to construct a positive self- esteem—a seemingly insurmountable task.  What a relief to find that my esteem was found in Christ and His completed work on the cross. The burden was off me, and oh, what freedom I felt. Christ intimately guides  each of us differently  on our  journey. Self –actualization (an older psychology term) is overrated. Christ actualization is life-changing.

In our self-discovery, or better phrased, Christ- within- us, discovery—we learn to love ourselves and others as Christ loves us. “Love Thy neighbor as thyself.”  We were wonderfully fashioned in the womb and no two of us were fashioned the same. We don’t have to be packed into sandwich stereotypes, Sloppy- Joe style.  Two thirds of people are ambiverts, in that sacred middle where we learn how to love all differences in others; and learn to be patient with their individual growth processes and life paths. We learn that everyone is not like us and they don’t have to be. Vive La Difference!

The process of knowing yourself in Christ, Christ actualization, is a sweet adventure. It’s all part of our sanctification process. Enjoy the journey in Him.