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Dear Dougy

Drawing from over 30 years of stories and wisdom from grieving children, teens, and adults, the Dear Dougy Podcast is opening up the conversation about dying, death, and bereavement. As humans, we all experience loss during our lives, but often find ourselves lost and unsure when it comes to navigating the grief that follows. Whether you’re grieving a death, or wanting to support someone who is, the Dear Dougy Podcast can help explore your questions about grief. Produced by the staff of The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon, the Dear Dougy Podcast is a mostly-question-and-answer conversation, and occasionally includes other visitors in the field of dying, death, and bereavement. Have a question to ask? Send it our way at help@dougy.org, with the word ‘podcast’ somewhere in the subject line.
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Now displaying: Category: general
Mar 19, 2015

Seasons change, but what about my grief?

There can be a lot of emphasis on special occasions – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc. when it comes to events that influence grief. Seasons and other markers of time can exert a similar effect, but can be confusing for those who are grieving – and those who support them. With an anniversary or a birthday, there’s a specific day to connect with an uptick in distress, but with a season, it can be harder to pinpoint. In this episode we talk about seasonal influences on grief and things to think about when navigating those changes. We highlight the approach of spring and how it can be particularly challenging time for those who are grieving. We also share ideas for ways to cope with the shift of seasons. 

If you are grieving, it can be helpful to think through:

  • What are the associations you have with this season and the person who died? 
  • What role did the person who died play in your life during this season?
  • What traditions do you want to keep? What new ones do you want to make?

If you are in a support role, be aware of the events in each season that can be challenging for those who are grieving. 

Spring – 

  • In the frenzy of excitement and high energy enthusiasm, grieving people can feel left behind, not wanting to bring other people down. 
  • Being surrounded by the growth and change in the natural world can intensify a longing for grief to change. On the other hand, the march of time can be difficult as grievers worry they are leaving the person or their memory behind.  
  • Season of school graduations. 

Summer – 

  • Time of outdoor activities and family vacations. 
  • With children out of school it can be a stressful time for solo parents and children too.  
  • Tends to be the season of weddings. 

Fall – 

  • Darkening days, Halloween and all the imagery of death and ghosts.
  • The sounds and smells of the end of something. 
  • Thanksgiving. 

Winter – 

  • Winter holidays emphasis on family.  
  • Hunkering down in the weather can make it difficult to connect with others. 
  • Here in Portland, there can be solidarity in complaining about the weather and the ill effects of never seeing the sun. 

What helps?

  1. Sometimes just knowing this is a common experience can bring relief. 
  2. If you know someone who is grieving, ask them how the change of seasons is for them. Remember to avoid platitudes meant to reassure. 
  3. If you’re caring for a grieving child or teen, open up a conversation about seasonal memories. Are there events or trips or other special parts of the season that your child is worried about missing or wants to skip?
  4. Look over your calendar, take note of any dates associated with particular memories, and make a plan for what you want to do during the lead up or actual day/week. Often our bodies remember before our brains catch up, so can help decrease confusion by making it visible. 
  5. Connect with others who are grieving, solace in community.
  6. For kids/teens, the I Remember poem can be a good activity. Kids get to think of a memory or memories they have of the person in each season.  In the summer I remember… In the fall I remember… In the winter I remember… In the Spring I remember…
  7. Think of what you enjoyed in the past, or what you would like to explore that connects to each season. Gardening, hiking trip, book club, class…etc.
  8. Love music? Create a playlist for the approaching season. Can be something to turn to in times when you feel lost/untethered. 
  9. Take advantage of the thaw to move – not your house (unless that’s what is happening). Move your body. Can be anything from a quick walk, to biking, to running to playing Frisbee in the park. Physical exercise is vital to taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical self. 
Mar 5, 2015

Living with an advanced serious illness

 

All in all, even under the best circumstances where families have substantial financial resources and savings, great medical and life insurances, medical knowledge,  access to great health care and multiple caregivers, an articulated living will or end of life directives,  and emotional/spiritual support, it will be an extremely challenging and life altering experience.

 

Challenges and complexities

 

This is not an all inclusive list, but meant to highlight only a few of the challenges:

  • High Anxiety: Research has shown that children with an immediate family member who is dying have extremely high levels of anxiety and for good reason, death is ever present; Anxiety can be manifested in many forms; restlessness, “acting out,” anger, irritability, stomach aches,  nausea,  in-attention,  “on edge,” emotional distancing or clinginess to name a few.

  • High Stress: Family members may respond to the stress with big energy and little energy or varying between the two extremes. They will also be trying to cope with the stress in various ways, sometimes those ways will conflict with each other.

  • Exhaustion: There is usually complete emotional, physical, mental, social, and spiritual exhaustion.

  • Role Conflicts: The demands of the illness almost always creates role conflicts for each family member whether that is between  the role as a spouse or the role of a parent, spouse or caregiver, son/daughter pr caregiver, employee or family member;  teen/kid or child. This is one of the greatest contributors of stress.

  • Financial Setbacks: Loss of income and increased medical expenses & secondary care expenses usually confront most families.

  • Relationship Issues:  Life with an illness usually demands drastic changes in where one can spend time and invest energy. Maneuvering through social, professional, and familial relationship can be a challenge, even in a supportive environment.

  • Ethical Dilemmas: Most families will be confronted to make decisions that they never thought they would have to make, or having to decide between options that are not favorable or agreeable. There may be differences of opinion within the immediate family. In addition,  many others will offer unsolicited advice when those dilemmas arise.

So what can a family do?

 

  • Keep open, honest, and clear communication in all directions. This includes between adults but also between adult caregivers and children. Most often adults refrain from sharing the truth with children because of our own fears rather than because of their lack of ability to handle the truth. As long as we are sincere, open to answering questions, repeatedly at times, and  keep it to their age level, the long term benefits of sharing the truth far outweigh the immediate benefits of concealing information or misrepresenting the truth.  Never lie to a child.

  • Communicate often.  Share what you know as you know it, even if that means you need to share that you don’t know anything.  You build trust with children when you communicate often about what it is going on and what you do know.

  • Give children tasks and responsibilities to reduce feelings of helplessness. No one likes to feel helpless, even kids. Soliciting their help and offering choices to help care for the person with the illness can help foster a sense of empowerment.

  • Provide structure and routine. Children and adults both need routine, especially in the midst of chaos that so often ensues around medical issues. Provide as much structure as you can.

  • Leave room to be a kid/teen. The person who is dying is important, but they are one aspect of the child’s and/or teen’s life. Children need opportunities to play, have fun, be loud, and enjoy the company of other children. Teens also need opportunities for independence and socializing with other teens.

  • Role model being ok with not knowing. There will be a lot of unknowns.  Children need to see that it is ok not to know everything but still have confidence that something can be done, whatever that something may be.

  • Advocate for your child, your partner, and yourself. Unfortunately the medical system is not entirely person centered. Furthermore, our society doesn’t handle death, dying, and grief issues well. Therefore, you may have to step outside your comfort zone and speak up for what you and your family may need.

  • Acknowledge and validate emotions including guilt, fear, and anger. There will be many thoughts and emotions that each family member will experience at differing levels and at various times. All of them are normal and ok!

  • Forgive.  Families are not perfect. When we are in relationships with others, we are bound to disappoint and be disappointed. Acknowledging your human limitations and giving yourself permission to not just disappoint others  but also yourself at times, can address some of the guilt one might experience.  

  • Anticipate future needs/wants. If it is possible, this would include preserving conversations between the person who is dying and the surviving family member and keeping memorabilia.  If it is a parent who is dying this could include writing letters  of memories or videotaping advice for future milestones and events.

  • Finally, find allies and peers. This might mean finding new people or touching base with people you might otherwise may not know, but surrounding yourself and the children in your care with people who understand and empathize with your situation, can be the best medicine we can think of! If there was something else, we do be pursuing that.

What can somone else do who wants to support a family that has someone dying?

 

  • Be open.  Take a posture of listening without trying to fix, judge, rescue, minimize, advise, or silver line.  If one can do this, and do it well, it will go along way in changing a family’s experience.

  • Take your cue from the family; Each family is unique and each family member is unique and what works in one situation may not work in another. So what may have helped you may not help someone else, so be open to doing or being whatever the family might need at the time.

  • Only offer your advice/opinion if it is asked for. As much as we might want to share with the family our thoughts and opinions, that is not what most families need or want. We may be disappointed if they don’t ask us, but we should leave the opportunity to ask, rather than for us to share.

  • Offer to help with specific tasks. Offering to transport family members, mow the lawn, care give, or go out for a cup of coffee are great tangible ways to say I care.  

  • Don’t have any strings attached when you do offer support or communicate your care. Be flexible and patient. If you are not taken up on your offer or responded to, wait a few weeks and reach out again.  A simple “ I am thinking of you” communicates a lot without any added burden or pressure for the family to respond.

  • Provide opportunities of respite and normalcy. Restaurant gift cards, coffee breaks, watching a movie/ sports, etc… whatever the family interests were before the illness will be a challenge to do in the midst of the illness. Providing opportunities to reconnect back to those things, however creative it might have to be,  are generally appreciated.


For more information about our Pathways Program or how to support a family with an advanced serious illness, please contact us pathways@dougy.org

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