For Your Heart Peace

A Word from Heart & Peace Counselor Solimar Marin

Take Care of Yourself During the Christmas Season

Christmas as we know it, is full of preparations, celebrations, decorations, friends and family gatherings, and lots of shopping.  Although all of it might sound festive, fun and exciting, this busyness can also create high levels of stress and anxiety for many people.  If you are feeling already stressed, anxious, and exhausted, pause for a minute.  I want you to consider, how do you wish to approach the remaining days of the holidays. 

Grab pen and paper and let’s write down a brief self-care holiday plan.  Here are some things to ponder that will help you to cope better as Christmas rushes by.  

Identify your holiday’s stressors.

Make a list of people, places, or situations that can be triggering or cause a high level of discomfort.  You can rank them in order of intensity from the highest to the lowest.  Include as many as you need to.

Examples:

  1. Memories from lost loved ones. 
  2. Budgeting for Christmas expenses. 
  3. Having people staying over for an extended period of time.
  4. Office dinner party.
  5. Traveling abroad to visit relatives.
  6. Going to the mall during peak hours.

Set up some boundaries/limits to minimize the impact of your holiday stressors.  

Think of boundaries as imaginary lines that help define what is “yours” and what belong to “others”.  Boundaries create safe interpersonal space.  They help us acknowledge and respect our needs and that of others.  Boundaries work in two ways:  

1) By preventing us not to overextend our resources, capacities, and energy. 

2) By letting other people know what you are willing to accept/participate in and what not.   

Identify your safe people and places.

Make a list of people that are trustworthy and really “get you”.  Do not be shy of reaching out for help if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.  Additionally, identify safe places (support groups; counseling) and emergency hotlines where you can go for more support if needed.

List the things that rejuvenate your physical strength and fill up your emotional tank.

Examples:

  • Sleep.
  • Eat well.
  • Exercise.
  • Pray.
  • Practice thankfulness.
  • Serve alongside others in your church and community.
  • Give back.
  • Practice forgiveness and acceptance.
  • Love your neighbor.
  • Watching the sunset.

Make time to wrap your thoughts around the Why for the season.

It is so easy to get caught up with the “hustle and bustle” of these days that we can easily forget what Christmas is about.  Be intentional about creating personal meaning during these next days.  Be still.  Meditate in God’s word.  Revisit the story of the manger.  Follow the Magi on their way to worship baby Jesus.  Contemplate and marvel about the meaning of the Incarnation.  

Then, celebrate that the promised child was born: Immanuel, “God with us”, what a beautiful Savior!

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  - Isaiah 9:6, NIV


The Ebbing and Flowing of Loss and Grief, Part 3


“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled […].  Jesus wept.”
           John 11:33-35, NIV
 

We all know the story: Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, has just died.  Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Marta, and other loved ones were trying to make sense of this loss.  They were heartbroken.  They have all come together to mourn his beloved brother.  Jesus was on his way to meet them when he caught a clear glimpse of the scene.  What was Jesus response to his friend’s death?  What did he do when faced with the hurt he saw in those who loved Lazarus?  Well, Jesus wept.  Plain and simple.  He just wept with them.  

Really?  The Way, The Truth, The Life, and the Resurrection, wept?  Yes, he did.  The Scripture tells us that he was “deeply moved and troubled.”  Every time I read this story, it brings tears to my eyes.  Joy tears, comfort tears, trust tears… It also brings me hope.  All I can think of is this: Jesus really gets us!

Through this story of loss, pain and sorrow we see a beautiful depiction of Jesus’ humanity.   Jesus the man, the friend, the brother, the carpenter, the neighbor, the teacher, did not shy away from showing his own pain and sorrow.  In doing so, he taught us that day, and continues to teach us today, the right way of experiencing our own suffering and the right way of being with others who are hurting and grieving.  

Let’s take a brief look at how Jesus responded to his friends’ loss and grief:

1. Jesus saw the pain.

Jesus did not look away from his friends’ pain.  He looked right into it.  I like to imagine the moment in which His eyes looked into Maria’s and Marta’s eyes.  He saw their tears… a visible token of unspeakable pain.  He heard their lament.  Their souls were hurting. Jesus looked at them with acceptance.  They felt fully known.  No shame.  No need to pretend being strong or to hide their suffering.  Unlike us, Jesus was not uncomfortable around suffering.  He was acquainted with it.

I think, sometimes, we look away from other people’s pain and suffering, or even our own, because we don’t know what to do or say when faced with the fragility and vulnerability of our human condition.  We feel compelled to hide our brokenness.  But Jesus teaches us to look and see.  To make room for grief.  To acknowledge that pain and suffering are part of the human experience.   Jesus made their experience visible.  He disrupted any possibility of hiding or pretending.  After all, He is the God who sees.

2. Jesus identified with them in their suffering.

After Jesus saw his friends’ pain, his heart was stirred and moved to compassion.  In other words, he let their pain and suffering find a way into his heart.  Their pain turned into his pain.  The Scripture tells us that he was “deeply moved in his spirit and troubled”.  Some bible versions even say that he “groaned” in his spirit.  Jesus’ emotions were so deep and intensely felt that a “snort-like” cry came out of his spirit.  When I looked into the original word used to describe Jesus’ emotions, I found that it conveys a sense of anger and indignation.  Jesus was angry at the seemingly power of death and at the suffering it brought to his beloved.  Even when he himself defeated death and would eventually resurrect Lazarus from his tomb, he made room for anger.  

Jesus connected with the mourners at a human level.   He validated their loss, pain, indignation and disappointment.   When we identify with others in their pain by entering in their suffering and giving them space to express their wide range of emotions, we are holding sacred space.

In doing that we become holders of hope.  Hope that we are not alone.  Hope that our suffering is legitimate, sacred and holy.  Hope that in the darkest hours of life we can be together.   Hope that death does not have the last word.  Jesus does.  Sometimes people who are grieving are asked to suppress their emotions- even more if they are Christians- They are asked to “let their suffering at the door”, “to get over it” or “let go”, “to have closure.” These unfair expectations are hurtful and render the person grieving into isolation.  Not Jesus.  He enters our pain and sits with us there.  No rush.  He sees and understands.  We can experience and express deep pain alongside Jesus.

3. Jesus wept.

Jesus saw and connected with the people’s pain.  At that moment, he was fully human… a man that wept.  He did not hide his humanity.  Notice, he did not offer them any words or any platitudes.  He let the language of his soul fill the space.  

I feel this narrative begs but one question.  Jesus knew Lazarus would be resurrected. Why would he cry, then?  Well, I think he cried because he loved.  He loved Lazarus and he loved Marta and he loved Maria and he loved all the other people that were hurting for Lazarus.  So, he wept with them.  See, loss, pain, suffering and love are forever connected in profound ways.   The cross bears witness to this sacred mystery: his suffering revealed his unparalleled love for us.

Yes, Jesus wept.  He showed us that there is room for mourning.  Creating that space is a sacred act of worship.  We can lament in that space because He sees, understands and weeps with us.   As a church, we could benefit from holding that space together.

If you have a friend who is grieving, what about practicing Jesus way?  We all experience some apprehension about what to do or say when people are suffering.  That’s ok.  Let us dare practice entering people’s pain with an open heart willing to cry with those who are crying.  Jesus call us to just be present not to do it perfectly.  


The Ebbing and Flowing of Loss and Grief, Part 2

Where do I go? How do I heal from the death I died with him?
I can’t run far enough.
There is no place the pain is not...
The ache is so deep it wells up in my soul and crowds out all reason.
I seek You, Lord
From the depths of my despair and uncertainty.
Are You there?
Do You really care about my pain?

A Widow’s Lamentation, Patti McCarthy Broderick

Dr. Patti Broderick was my Clinical Supervisor during my last year of graduate school.  She lost her husband Mark, an F-16 pilot for the Air Force, during a training mission when his plane crashed.  At the time of his death, both were in their early 30’s, had three small children (5, 3, and 1 years of age) and a life full of dreams and hopes together.  In her book, “He Said, ‘Press’: Hearing God Through Grief”, Dr. Broderick, shares her journey through loss and grief with honesty and raw transparency.  Her words are poignant giving us an inside look to the heart of grief: deep sorrow. 

Pain and sorrow: the common thread in the human experience of loss.  Even though loss and grief are so common, as society, we still wrestle with the notion of what it means to grieve.  Moreover, this culture often ignores grief in an attempt to avoid facing the reality that it is painful.  Along the years, many have described grief in terms of stages, phases or tasks.  Their efforts have provided a helpful roadmap.  Still, grief is elusive, and it resists any attempt to be reduced to narrow definitions.  The best we can do is outline some characteristics of grief to serve us as guideposts of the process.

 

  1. Grief has many layers to it.

Grief is like an onion: multilayered.  The onion metaphor provides a useful way of understanding the way in which grief shows up.  Layer after layer: grief is an unraveling process.  Each layer represents the interplay between our emotional life, the way we think about ourselves, the world, and other people.  They also account for our relationships, spirituality and biology.

We can expect grief’s expression to change over time.  Take the example of an 8-year-old girl who loses her mother.  The event of loss might have occurred when she was 8 years of age.  However, the process of grief (her response to the loss) would most likely last for her entire lifetime.  The girl will re-grieve this profound loss over and over as she grows older and is able to think about the world in more mature and complex ways.  She will experience the loss in different ways at different stages of her life.  Some people talk about “having closure” or “letting go” as the final goal or resolution point of loss and grief.   However, when it comes to grieving, there is no such thing as closure:

"Grief changes and morphs over time. We get stronger as we carry it, the edges of it round and dull, and with time it begins to take up less space in our lives. It doesn’t simply disappear… We move forward with life, embracing the fullness of it, even as our loss becomes part of who we now are.” (Long, 2015)

 

  1. Grief is personal.

Grief does not lend itself to “cookie-cutter” definitions.   Every person grieves in their own unique way.  There is not a right or wrong way to go about grieving.  We have to make room for people to express their pain and suffering following their own path and timeline.  It has been said that grief is “the price we pay for love.”  Well, we all have different love languages.  In the same fashion, we can expect people to have different grief languages.   

Grief can be affected by factors such as: gender, culture, personality and temperament.  Differences in grieving styles have been described as intuitive and instrumental grief.  In a nutshell, an intuitive style of grieving is associated with an open expression of feelings that can be described as coming in waves of powerful emotions.  For these individuals moving forward in their healing journey involves being able to express and explore their feelings.  Whereas, people that grieve instrumentally, present a more quiet and inward-oriented style of managing their emotions.  They usually express their grief by doing something.  Again, these are just different styles of expression; not fixed patterns.  One person can move from one expression to another in different stages of their journey.

 

  1. Grief is not a straight-line process.

Grief is messy. It does not follow a 1-2-3 step formula.  Yes, it can show up in stages of denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.  These stages serve the purpose of bringing a sense of order and understanding to a chaotic process.  However, these proposed stages should not be taken as a one size fits all prescription. 

Grieving people do not go through these stages in a fixed order.   Depending on what is happening in our lives, for instance, significant moments like holidays, anniversaries and birthdays, we might feel a coming wave of loneliness and isolation or depression.  Or, we might experience a beautiful sunrise, and feel a wave of acceptance and gratitude.  Even a glimmer of hope. 

In all likeness, grieving will find each of us without a clue of what is coming next.  Just when you thought you were coming out of the woods; pain comes back stronger.

 

  1. Grief can be isolating.

The pain and suffering that come with loss and grief can render anyone speechless.  Without words to express what the soul feels, grief, can distance us from others.  We might feel as if time has frozen and the world has stopped.  We might feel numb, detached, or even angry at other people going about their everyday lives when ours has just been shattered.  These are normal reactions to loss, and we need to face them with self-compassion and acceptance.  Some people need time alone to freely express their emotions and find some solace.  Those around should honor that need and be willing to provide a safe space of privacy while remaining a loving presence for the grieving person.  The power of community is essential to break feelings of loneliness and isolation.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, first I want to say, no words are enough to comfort your broken heart.  Second, I want you to know there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  You are free to feel the pain and hurt of your loss.  Know that you are loved.

***
If you or someone you know need help dealing with grief or managing a loss, seek the support of a trusted friend, visit a grief support group or consult with a mental health professional.


The Ebb and Flow of Loss and Grief, Part 1

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
                                                                       C.S. Lewis

Loss and grief.  How can these two short words carry such a profound emotional, physiological and psychological weight?  I invite you to stay connected as we navigate through the waters of loss and grief in this series of posts.  Are you on board?

When you have not been acquainted with loss, usually the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word is the thought of losing someone dear to your heart.  Perhaps because that which we most treasure is what we are most afraid of losing.  However, when you have experienced heart-wrenching loss, hearing the word could evoke waves of pain, anger, loneliness, emptiness, a deep longing … so strong they threaten to swipe you into the oceans deep of your soul.  A huge gaping hole in the heart that finds no closure.

Any attempt to put into words what a grieving heart feels will be insufficient.  I only know that whatever a heart shattered by loss and grief feels needs to be honored and respected.  Now, loss not only happens by dying but also by virtue of living.  Loss is quotidian.  Mostly inevitable.  Usually disruptive.  Definitely painful.  Big or small, loss hurts, and we don’t like it.   Society in general has trained us to despise losing.  No one likes to be thought of as a “loser” or to be in the company of one regarded as such.  The irony is that being alive in this broken world means that we all, at some point or another, will become “losers”.  Life is made up of relationships to people, things, hopes, dreams, and expectations- all of which are at risk of being lost or shattered.  In this sense, all of us are experiencing, have experienced or are in the way to experience some kind of loss. 

Norman Wright, a Christian psychologist, says: “any event that destroys a person’s understanding of the meaning of life is felt as a loss”.   Some events in life can be easily identified as losses- the death of a loved one, a divorce, when you are robbed, financial loss, the loss of a house due to bankruptcy, your car being stolen-.  However, Wright explains, most of life losses go “unrecognized” and “unaddressed”.

Let’s consider some of those subtler losses: a moving family, kids changing schools, a student going off to college, a rejection letter from your dream college, a pet that dies, an empty-nester mom/dad, infertility, miscarriage, abortion, a denied promotion, a long awaited raise, the loss of health to chronic illness, the loss of youth, dreams that never materialized, unmet expectations and hopes, loss of identity, church divisions, a broken relationship with a friend, a child that grows up in an abusive home, the elder left alone to care for him/herself.  And the list goes on.

Sadly, the subtlety of some of these losses leaves us unaware of the cry in our souls.  This lack of awareness prevents a necessary process of grief.  See, loss and grief are interwoven, like light and shadow.  If we think of loss as an event, grief can be understood as the emotional response to it.  And right there, in the depth of our souls lies its complexity.  Some have described grief as “a pain so deep that it can’t be spoken … a pain that goes on and on.” (https://www.loveliveson.com/thank-you-a-grief-definition-that-gets-it/). 

Although there is not a single definition of grief, we can understand it as an expected and natural emotional response to loss or change of any kind.  Grief can cause deep sorrow and keen mental distress.  The following are some important points that describe the process of grief broadly.  I will only mention them now but will be discussing each in my next post.

  1. Grief is multilayered.
  2. Grief is very personal and unique to each individual.
  3. Grief is a process and it takes time- it is not linear
  4. Grief can be isolating.
  5. Grief can be transformative.

The sobering human reality of loss and grief begs for acceptance of a shared vulnerability.  An understanding that embraces its rawness, messiness and unpredictability.  It would do us good -even though it won’t make it easier - to look at loss and grief as a unifying thread in the narrative of our lives.  Our humanity so embraced and welcomed that it opens the door to togetherness in the pain and closes it to denial and shame. 

***
If you or someone you know need help dealing with grief or managing a loss, seek the support of a trusted friend, visit a grief support group or consult with a mental health professional.


To schedule an appointment with Solimar, call her at 407-360-7086 for a 10 minute free consultation.

For more information about Solimar and the Heart Peace Counseling Center, click here.