Embracing Our Losses Embracing Our Losses

Grief & Loss

"A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." ---Chinese Proverb

Grief and Loss Companion

That which has been most precious to you has now been taken away. How are you able to deal with each moment of such deep pain and sorrow? You feel ever so lost and confused. How can you go on? Have you really lost your spouse, your partner, your health, your job, your marriage or something else so significant and sacred to you? Your heart is broken. How can you get through the day? The nights are so long and dreaded with little sleep to refresh you for yet another day. This feels like the darkest and most painful place you have ever been. You are afraid, you feel alone, you are disoriented, you are weary. You feel hopeless and life has lost its meaning. You have never felt like this before. What can you do to help and heal yourself? Where can you go for support?

First of all, you have taken a major step in reaching out. You have come to Embracing Our Losses, where you will find what are the common benchmarks of a normal grief journey. You will also find a certified grief companion, who will walk along side you through this time of unknown pain and mystery. You will be supported in all aspects of your grief and mourning and will be able to walk at your pace through the path, often referred to as the “dark night of the soul.” By setting your intention to heal and your willingness to go into the unknown, you will also be able to go from the dark into the light, from despair to hope and from fragmentation to healing and wholeness. You will integrate your loss into your life in order to once again find meaning, purpose and the ability to live and love life fully again.

At this point, this may all seem more than overwhelming. Thus, I have included what I consider to be three of the most helpful components of the grief and loss journey.

What are the ten touchstones of the grief journey?
What is grief companioning?
What criteria do I look for when hiring a grief companion?

Although I have trained with many teachers in the area of grief and loss and integrate many of their teachings into my services: overall, as a grief companion, I am following the basic philosophy and teachings of Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt , Director of the Center For Loss & Life Transition, Fort Collins, CO. It was at the Center For Loss that I became certified in Death and Grief Studies.

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"Attending to our unattended sorrow opens the way to new life." ---Stephen Levine

The Grief Journey

In his book Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart (2004), Dr. Wolfelt so eloquently describes the grief journey. Below you will find my synopsis of his ten touchstones or benchmarkers of the grief and loss process.

Whether you choose to work with me on a one on one basis or become a group member, this is the basic format or outline of topics that we will address on your journey of grief and loss. Although grief does not occur in a linear fashion, these are areas that will be of great benefit and comfort to you, as you so courageously embrace your losses and walk the unknown journey of darkness into the light.

The grief journey will explore the following 10 components. They are:

ONE: Open to the Presence of Your Loss
By setting a positive intention to take the journey of healing, you will also be making a commitment to gently embrace your pain. In so doing, you will honor and respect your grief and take actions that is self-enhancing and life-affirming for you.

TWO: Dispel the Misconceptions about Grief
By being educated about the grief journey, you will also be able to empower yourself on this difficult, yet necessary path. First of all, it is helpful to know that grief refers to your internal thoughts, feelings, meaning and the images your are experiencing with loss. Mourning is when you take your internal process and bring it out to the world with expressions such as words, movements, rituals or other means of communication. Other concepts that add strength to your healing process are knowing that grief does not occur in orderly stages, that crying is not a sign of weakness, that you must embrace your pain in order to heal and that you need to reach out for support and not walk this journey alone.

THREE: Embrace the Uniqueness of Your Grief
By recognizing your uniqueness, you will also explore many important factors. These include: your relationship with the person who has died or with your loss, the circumstances of the death or your loss, the ritual experience regarding the death or loss, how your own personality, your gender, your culture, religion or spiritual background affect your experience of grief and mourning, as well as other unique factors.

FOUR: Explore Your Feelings of Loss
You may be surprised just how many different emotions you experience as a result of the death or loss. Feelings may include the full range of emotions: numbness, disbelief, denial, disorganization, confusion, searching, longing, anxiety, fear, panic, anger, guilt, regret, deep sadness, relief and release.

FIVE: Recognizing You Are Not Crazy
In addition to the feelings mentioned above, you may also experience the following: time distortion, self-absorption, needing to tell and retell your story, sudden mood shifts, feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, grief outbursts, sobbing, identifying with the physical symptoms of the person who has died, various types of dreams, mystical experiences, as well as wondering if and how you can go on living.

SIX: Understand the Six Needs of Mourning
In addition to actually accepting the reality of the death or loss and allowing yourself to feel the pain, it will also be part of your grief journey to find a way to remember the person who has died or what you have lost. You will also need to create a new self-identity, find meaning and purpose for your life and allow others to support you, as you take the journey through grief and begin to move into the future.

SEVEN: Nurture Yourself
Since grief impacts you on a physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual level, it is imperative to find ways to practice self-care. It is essential to care for your physical self, to honor and express your emotions and to be aware of how grief affects your ability to think, make decisions and take in important information. Also by reaching out to others, you will gain new perspectives and feel a deeper sense of well-being and belonging.

EIGHT: Reach Out for Help
Whether you have been a person who has always been independent and able to do everything for yourself, now is the time to make a change in your behavior and find the courage to seek outside support. With the help of others, you will find an outlet to express your grief to others, have the opportunity to feel the comfort of being companioned, find validation for your suffering and ultimate hope for your future.

NINE: Seek Reconciliation, Not Resolution
Although you will never ‘get over’ the death of a loved one or a significant loss, you will learn to reconcile your loss. What this means is that you will be able to integrate the loss into your life and accept it as your new reality. By reconciliation, you will experience renewed energy and confidence in moving forward, your emotions will soften, and you will obtain a genuine sense of hope, meaning and purpose for living and embracing your future.

TEN: Appreciate Your Transformation
Having taken your journey through grief, your loss has forever changed who you are. You will find yourself to have grown deeper in wisdom, understanding and compassion. You will know yourself in new ways, including your values, your priorities and new insights. With your transformation also comes the opportunity to live and express your true potential and have a life of peace, joy and new meaning.

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If you have any questions or concerns, please phone 218-310-8821 or e-mail me.It would also be an honor to offer you a complimentary session and see if you would like to hire me as your grief companion for your journey through the unknown territory of grief and loss.

"Light is known to exist by virtue of darkness. One is the chair upon which the other sits." ---Anonymous.

Grief Companioning

The grief companioning model includes the following ten principles or tenets as set forth also by renowned teacher, author and grief counselor Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. The tenets are taken from Dr. Wolfelt’s two books Companioning the Bereaved (2006 and his latest book The Handbook for Companioning the Mourner (2009). By reading these books, you will also gain a more in depth explanation of each of the tenets.

Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.

Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.

Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.

Companioning is about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.

Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing the struggles.

Companioning is walking alongside; it is not about leading.

Companioning means discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it does not mean filling up every moment with words.

Companioning is about being still; it is not about frantic movement.

Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.

Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.

Companioning is about curiosity; it is not about expertise.

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For further questions, please feel free to phone me at 218-310-8821 or e-mail me. I look forward to hearing from you.

"One heals suffering only by experiencing it to the fullest." ---Marcel Proust.

Criteria for Effective Grief Companioning

Although this section may appear to be very comprehensive, I encourage you to take time to carefully read these 25 criteria as to what makes an effective grief companion, counselor or coach (used interchangeably). Based on the work of Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt’s book Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart (2004), I will summarize what factors he presents in helping individuals find the appropriate support care, during their journey of grief, mourning, healing and transformation. The criteria are as follow:

  1. What are my grief companion’s credentials?
  2. What specific training does my grief companion have to offer these services?
  3. What experience does my grief companion have in the area of grief and loss?
  4. What is my grief companion’s philosophy and approach in working with clients on the journey of healing?
  5. Does my grief companion have the skills of deep listening? Does she demonstrate a genuine desire to listen closely to my thoughts and feelings?
  6. Is my grief companion truly empathic and do I feel she really understands me?
  7. Will my grief companion be able to give me a clear idea of how she will support me with my grief process?
  8. Is my grief companion open to hearing my personal goals and is she able to tell me if I am being realistic?
  9. Is my grief companion able to convey to me that it may take several sessions to develop specific goals that will actually promote my healing process?
  10. Is my grief companion genuinely interested in my grief journey? Is she able to attend to what I am saying by giving me her full attention, a feeling of a deep connection, as well as being sensitive, alert and caring?
  11. Is my grief companion non-judgmental and do I resonate with what she says about grief and loss?
  12. Does my grief companion recognize me as the expert of my own grief journey and is she open to learning from me?
  13. Does my grief companion give me the opportunity to do most of the talking during the session?
  14. Is my grief companion able to help me explore my feelings, although they may be difficult for me to talk about, to think about and to embrace.
  15. Is my grief companion comfortable with the full range of human emotions and will she support me to do the difficult work of mourning in order to heal?
  16. Is my grief companion open and flexible? Does she appreciate perspectives that are different from her own?
  17. Is my grief companion open to helping me find additional support, such as group work, books or other resources?
  18. Is my grief companion focused on each session and invested in my progress on my grief journey?
  19. Has my grief companion done her own grief and loss work? Is she open to discussing her experiences if I would ask any questions?
  20. Does my grief companion ‘walk her talk’ and openly mourn when loss occurs?
  21. Is my grief companion interested in the significant people in my life and my interactions with them?
  22. Can my grief companion support me to integrate my loss into my life, recognize that I am forever changed and support me to find new meaning and purpose in living?
  23. Does my grief companion treat me as an equal and create and environment of respect, trust, safety, so I can effectively do my work of grief and mourning?
  24. Does my grief companion communicate to me a sense of hope for my healing, which is essential for me to integrate my loss into my life?
  25. Is my grief companion open to my feedback and willing to make appropriate adjustments, as she walks alongside me on my journey of grief and loss?

Thank-you for taking the time and energy to study the important facets of the journey through grief and loss. It is my hope and wish that you will honor yourself during this time of sorrow and reach out for the support that can enhance your painful experience and help you heal and transform your life.

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Please call me at 218-310-8821 or email me at susan@embracingourlosses.com to set up a complimentary session or to ask further questions about the process. I so look forward to supporting you and walking with you as your trusted grief companion.

Susan WolterstorffSusan Wolterstorff