Rowing with two oars

Rowing with two oars

Maybe you asked yourself: “what does this photo have to do with grief?”
This is a photo of a corner house in Amsterdam that I regularly cycle past.
When someone experiences loss, they might feel something like waves; sometimes processing the loss & and sometimes working on recovery; like the metaphor: “Grief is rowing with two oars.” This is taken from Stroebe en Schut’s dual process model.

It takes a lot of effort to keep a boat afloat, and balanced in order to move forwards . Sometimes you go round in circles, depending on which side demands more attention. The two oars each represent an aspect of the grief process.

If someone focuses only on the loss there is a chance that they will get stuck there. However if someone is only focused on recovery there is a risk that the grief is being suppressed. It is important to be able to ride the waves of grief. When grief is not experienced and is pushed to the background it can be triggered later on and re-appear.
This is the case for any kind of loss or change; death, divorce, illness or loss of a job.

If you are in a grieving process I hope that you’ll recognize something in this blog that gives you some insight into how you are steering your boat. This varies from person to person and from moment to moment.
If you recognise that you might feel stranded don’t forget that you can reach out for help.

What are you grateful for?

What are you grateful for?

2021 is almost over. It was a challenging year and after re-evaluating on several fronts, I now step confidently into the new year. How has the past year been for you and how will you go into the New Year?
 
For me it was the year where I finished my Dutch booklet ’11 Gouden tips bij verlies en rouw’, where I started walking with clients and expanded online counseling. The year where I facilitated my fourth Dutch bereavement support group and the year where I commenced the specialization ‘Frozen Grief’. I have also completed the 9 months Psychosocial Fundamentals (PSBK) training course, which means that from the 1st January, clients who have additional insurance can now claim a refund from their insurance provider. Writing all of this, I can say that I have achieved a lot and I am grateful for it. It feels good.
 
What do I want more of through my practice? 
I am grateful that I may listen to your story and be able to stand next to you in difficult times. On top of that there are also the added complications of the various lockdowns. Through my practice, I have heard many stories this year, some sad and even desperate, others full of loneliness and thrown back on yourself, but also stories of hope, confidence and full of love for the deceased. Clearly grief is the opposite of love, that’s why losing a loved one hurts so much.
 
What do I want different?
Less administration. Although I am good at it, it does take up too much time, which I prefer to spent in connection with others. Also during Corona times, I want to receive clients face to face again where possible and of course with all necessary precautions.
 
I hope that I can listen to many more personal stories in 2022, despite how heartbreaking some may be. That I can live by my own norms and values and that we keep searching to what connects us, even when our beliefs/positions are different. King Willem Alexander verbalized this very well in his Christmas speech.
 
Together with a colleague, we will run two English speaking bereavement peer groups in Amsterdam this year. We are very proud to supervise these groups and are looking forward with anticipation to the participants we are going to meet. We are grateful that we may be part of their process of recognition and acknowledgement and to laugh and cry together.
 
The new year starts again with a lockdown. Through your stories I know how much impact this has on interconnections and inner resilience. No matter what kind of circumstances you may find yourself in and whatever you believe, I wish that 2022 will bring days of gratitude, self-love and above all connection with one another again.
ArtZuid – Burdened by….

ArtZuid – Burdened by….

Erwin Wurm – Big Psycho X 2010

When I saw this sculpture I had to think of the saying: ‘burdened by or suffering from …’. As a bereavement counselor, what came to mind was somebody suffering from grief or burdened by guilt, shame or regret. And these latter feelings are very heavy, something I know all too well. Do you recognize this as well?

‘If only….”, is a question that keeps running through your head. It did with me after my boyfriend died. For sure in the beginning you often think, if I had done this or that, then it would have played out differently or it would not have happened at all. I called Paul (my boyfriend), from the office and the phone was already ringing as a colleague approached my desk with a question for me. I hung up the phone and thought I’ll call back later, not knowing that there would be no later! In hindsight Paul died around that time, so I always wonder whether I would have been just in time or just too late. I will never know…

You can feel guilty that you could have done something differently or have omitted to do something to prevent the loved one from dying. We may unrealistically blame ourselves for things over which we had no control. Know that feeling guilty doesn’t mean that you are guilty.

Those feelings may need some attention, and it is important to acknowledge them, but remember to look at the big picture. They are a part of a larger picture that may capture more aspects of the relationship. In case you have these feelings and you would like to talk about it, feel free to contact me directly or leave a message under this post.

ArtZuid – “A pot of tear-water tea”

ArtZuid – “A pot of tear-water tea”

Klaas Gubbels, Zijwaarts 2021

I saw this 3rd sculpture and immediately thought of “a pot of tear-water tea”, which I once read in a children’s book written by Arnold Lobel.

Everybody who knows me, knows that I love my tea and I regularly drink it with clients. After my partner Paul died and later during my bereavement study at ‘Land van Rouw’, I shed many tears. During this study I was touched by several topics, mostly because they brought about something that related to me, like attachment, loyalty, divorce and safety. I could show my vulnerability and work on my themes of loss. During my study I came across the book ‘Owl at home’ written by Arnold Lobel, which captured my imagination. Just beautiful how Owl fills the kettle on his lap with tears to make a salty tea and that all the tears stand for certain parts of his grief.

The story is written for children and very suitable to investigate with them how grief is and if you can taste it, share it, visualize, draw it……

Do you like tear-water tea? If you need some support with making a pot of tear-water tea then contact me for an appointment.

Below the fragment of the book
Owl took the kettle out of the cupboard.
“Tonight I will make tear-water tea,” he said. He put the kettle on his lap. “Now,” said Owl, “I will begin.” Owl sat very still. He began to think of things that were sad. “Chairs with broken legs,” said Owl. His eyes began to water. “Songs that cannot be sung,” said Owl, “because the words have been forgotten.” Owl began to cry. A large tear rolled down and dropped into the kettle.
“Spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again,” said Owl. More tears dropped down into the kettle. “Books that cannot be read,” said Owl, “because some of the pages have been torn out.” “Clocks that have stopped,” said Owl, “with on one near to wind them up.” Owl was crying. Many large tears dropped into the kettle. “Mornings nobody was because everybody was sleeping,” sobbed Owl. “Mashed potatoes left on a plate,” he cried, “because no one wanted to eat them. And pencils that are too short to use.” Owl thought about many other sad things. He cried and cried. Soon the kettle was filled up with tears. “There,” said Owl. “That does it!” Owl stopped crying. He put the kettle on the stove to boil for tea. Owl felt happy as he filled
his cup. “It tasted a little bit salty,” he said, “but tear-water tea is always pretty good.”

ArtSouth, The world upside down

ArtSouth, The world upside down

Ronald A. Westerhuis – Shine 2021

Part 2 of the ArtZuid series

This second sculpture reminds me of a world upside down. When grieving you can experience this, as due to a drastic loss your life has changed forever. Your world is quite literally upside down.

The American grieving expert William Worden distinguishes four grieving tasks, which you possibly might recognise. 

Task 1: Facing the reality of your loss
The loss feels so unreal, that our mind suppresses it in the first instance. Some denial can serve a purpose in that it allows you to slowly absorb the full weight of the loss. Mentally you know it, but the emotional awareness comes later. A friend once told me that when her father had passed away, she was angry at the world and the trees, as they went on living through the seasons and got new leaves. The world around her continues and her life stood still and felt upside down. After a while you will realise that the loss has occurred, which is the first step towards adapting and moving forward. 

Task 2: To work through the Pain of Grief
Acknowledging your feelings and working through a range of different emotions is important. Among others sadness, fear, loneliness, despair, hopelessness, anger, guilt, blame, shame and relief. Also physical pain can be a way to express your feelings.  These complex feelings can be confusing, tiring and also painful. 

Task 3: Adjust to an Environment without the Deceased
The permanency of being without what has been lost can be overwhelming. In the beginning everything will remind you of your loved one. With every song I heard, I could relate the lyrics to Paul, my partner who had died and I felt the absence. Interactions with others change as the environment reacts differently to a couple than to a single person. You may need to learn a wide array of new skills and tasks or outsource them. You miss the atmosphere you had together and also the future goals are not the same anymore. You have to adjust and adapt to the new normal, which entails reorienting and restructuring what you do without your loved one.

Task 4: To integrate the loss in your life.
This is about finding an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life. Your loved one will always be a part of your live, only physically your loved one is not there anymore. The connection will be shaped differently, they also call this the symbolic bond. Do you carry for example something symbolic, which reminds you of your loved one?
The grief will become less and doesn’t control your whole life anymore. Of course there will still be difficult days but you can begin to meaningfully engage in things that bring pleasure and open up to new relationships. 

There are many grief theories and none are proven to be the absolute truth. These are certainly helpful and relevant tasks, but if you do not feel like you have completed them that is not a reason to panic. It may mean you are still working through the process or it may mean that this is not the model that best reflects your own experience.  Grief is unique for all of us. In case you want help or would like to talk about it, feel free to contact me.