The Gift of Grief

In our society, you are revered when you ‘don’t let your emotions get the best of you.”  Grief is rarely talked about openly and is considered taboo. The average bereavement time a person receives after the loss of a family member is around 3 days and that might be generous. Three days is just enough time to attend the funeral/memorial services but not enough to mourn, yet we are expected to return to our jobs and lives without missing a beat and be fully functional. The loss of a family member is a devastating experience that alters a person for the remainder of their lives.  Grief can encompass many losses in your life such as divorce, loss of a job, house or a stage of life.   Even with good changes, there is still a feeling of sadness and loss of what was.  Grief is relative.  Some people say that divorce is like a death, and it is in the aspect that your hopes and expectations die, such as of growing old with your partner and being a support to one another.  However, with the change and death of a relationship, you still have a choice on how you want your Ex to be a part of your life going forward. When you lose a family member to actual death, you have no choice.  You have no choice on burying the hatchet in the future, sharing time or a conversation with each other, or co-parenting.  These are all choices that you still have, whether you choose to exercise them or not.

We don’t talk about grief, unless it comes in the form of a divorce or loss of a job, things we know we can replace.  Your grief will unknowingly make people uncomfortable.  It’s easier for people to digest the loss of a job, house or relationship because they often come with inspirational sayings such as, ‘when one door closes another one opens,’ or ‘you’ll get a better job, there’s someone better suited for you out there’ and on and on.  But, when you lose someone to death, the people around you won’t know what to say or what to do, some may even disappear from your life.  As you attempt to step outside of your grief for a brief moment and into your old routine seeking some normalcy or respite from your new reality, people may wonder ‘how can they do (that),’ ‘why aren’t they at home grieving,’ ‘there’s no way I could do that?’  This will  have little to do with you, and more to do with the person’s difficulty and inability in dealing with the enormity of the situation and sometimes their own emotions. The secondary experience of grief may feel too intimate, too real for someone in your orbit.  I don’t necessarily think this is a fault, it is just a response, some people just can’t be present to another person’s pain or because they can’t take your pain away and fix it.  Grief can make the people around you take stock in their own lives, questioning what is real and worthy in their own lives and this is uncomfortable for most everyone regardless of the circumstances that precipitated it.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has identified the 5 stages of grief, but know there is no right or wrong way to grieve there is only your way. The stages of grief are fluid.  You might stay in one stage much longer than other stages, you may go back and forth between the stages and right when you think and feel you’re at the tail end to acceptance, you might circle right back to the beginning stage during your grief. Because of this, grief can feel like it’s The Never-ending Story or Groundhog Day the movie only not a fantasy nor funny. Grief isn’t linear and if you think it is, you are being a disservice to yourself and others.


One thing for sure is that grief will change you in some may. One never really heals from the loss, instead you accept the circumstance.  To ‘heal’ would suggest that you are the same as before the loss, that you will never feel the pain or think of the loss.  You may be able to organize the loss in such a way that it ‘makes sense’ to you, but you can’t really go back to who you were prior to losing someone close to you.  The term, “Time Heals All Wounds’ really isn’t true.  What Time gives you is the opportunity to accept the reality of the loss and get comfortable with not seeing, hearing, speaking to or sharing milestones with your loved one.

The loss of a loved one can set the stage for self-examination and can be an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to you.  What you value may become crystal clear to you and others.  This is the biggest gift because the loss may propel you to live as authentic and honest as you want. Forget about living via the constructed expectations of society, family, friends, or self.

Loss will change you, even when you think it hasn’t.  The experience of losing someone you love is traumatic and therefore will alter you in some way. You will be changed regardless of how much you want to be yourself prior to the loss. Loss is experienced viscerally in the depths of your nervous system. The bigger the shock the bigger the trauma. Put it in simpler terms, shock gets experienced by your body (nervous system) and becomes registered in your long-term memory. Once an overwhelming experience becomes locked in your long-term memory, you register it as trauma. Because this trauma is recorded in the limbic system, your behavior may change based on subconscious experience.  For instance, abandonment and trust issues may be amplified.  Such as, ‘I don’t (subconsciously) trust you to be here for me, you will leave me, I can’t rely on you.’  Have compassion for yourself.




The loss of a family member is devastating, even when a loved one has lived a long life. To lose a parent is tantamount to losing the foundation beneath you. You are having to grapple with the loss of your life-long and unconditional support/love and not being ‘taken care of’ any longer even though you’ve been self-sustaining for years and also have your own family. To lose a child, well, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  To lose a sibling is like losing your childhood, your camaraderie.

For myself, the loss of my brother in my teens changed me and family. It is no wonder that I became fascinated with psychology with ‘what makes people tick’ and spirituality with ‘what does all of this mean?’ in a search to answer my own internal questions.  Since the loss, what I value most is Time, family and real, honest conversations.  I value the time that I have and others take to spend together, however mundane.  I also value deeper conversations with others, so I have little interest in the superfluous conversations.  Money, things, jobs I can always replace, but I can never get back Time to spend with my brother.


What or whom have you lost?

What do you value most now?


Know that:

You will laugh again, for real.

You will feel joy again.

Your life may change to exemplify what is truly important to you.

Your empathy may increase.

Remember to:  Be patient with yourself. To love yourself. To have compassion for yourself.


The ‘Secret’ to a long lasting relationship



Here’s the secret to a long lasting relationship.

  1. Love
  2. Co-dependency
  3. Acceptance

I know there are many articles about what makes a long-lasting or a more intimate relationship.  I could go into the ‘need’ for intimacy building, communication, having things in common, being on the same page with external aspects such as disciplining and raising your children, money matters, or sex etc, but I’m not.   I could also go into the attachment theory and write how attachment styles (secure, avoidant, anxious, disorganized) contributes to relationship dynamics and how one partner can do XYZ to calm her partner or support his partner.  But I’m not going to, because they don’t matter. That’s right, they don’t matter.   Blasphemy in the therapy world.  Instead, I’m taking a very bare bones realistic view at what it ‘takes’ to make a relationship long-lasting, and by long-lasting I’m talking about ’til death do us part.  I am sharing with you from my own experience in working with couples directly and indirectly as well as personally observing others that are still together after decades.

First, let’s look at a couple of fundamental truths:

Everybody has a deep unexplained fear of being abandoned, rejected or left by someone they love or by someone they’ve invested in emotionally.  And I do mean Errbody.   It’s a very human element to want to be accepted, loved and adored by others, especially someone you’re interested in. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you didn’t say how you really felt or what you really thought because you wanted to be accepted.

Many, most, all of us have a pervasive thought or belief that we picked from some experience(s) that say a) I don’t matter or b) I’m not lovable as I am, which leads to all sorts of interesting behavior.  I know some may say that confident people don’t have a belief like this, I beg to differ.  Some people are more adept in masking and marketing themselves than others.

These two fundamental truths will lead you in attempting to cover up and put on a certain face, but that face begins to exhibit cracks around the 3-6 month mark in relationship and the face all but gets dismantled by the 1 1/2 year mark when you REALLY see each other in all of your wonderful, beautiful, ugly and chaotic glory.  Everyone does this too.  Errbody.


We can study and do clinical trials of techniques to help relationships, but do they really work? Yes, of course, when both partners are invested in the relationship, couples counseling is great for helping during tough periods in your relationship.   But, behavior doesn’t change overnight, and most likely, you and your partner will revert back to the same or similar behavior (i.e. communication, intimacy patterns) at some point in your relationship.   In my realistic view, here are the qualities to a long-lasting relationship.

  1. LOVE.  Love is such a wonderful feeling that when you fall in love you’re literally high off feel good chemicals that flood your brain (Central Nervous System).  You feel good all the time, excited and walking on clouds.  This high begins to calm down around the 6th month mark, where you’re still excited but less likely to leave work early to see your partner.  Love is like Elmer’s Glue, but unlike Captain and Tenille’s song, Love doesn’t keep you together.  Love can bind people, make you want to pair up, but love is also so fragile that it can dissipate as quickly as it was created.
  2. Co-DEPENDENCY.  You might be thinking WTF???  Yep. I said it.  First, let me say that I’ve worked in the field of addiction, and at most if not all treatment centers you’re basically taught as a counselor and patient that co-dependency is bad. No Exceptions. Co-dependency isn’t all bad.  Co-dependency is like Cement Glue. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “why does she/he stay?” or “Why do I stay with him/her?’ or ‘Why do I keep going back?” what you’re witnessing or experiencing is probably more co-dependency than love.  We may call it love but co-dependency binds together and it’s tough or damn near impossible to take apart.  You may stay in the relationship out of love, fear (of being alone), want, need (for the kids, financial reasons), belief, cultural and family obligation, maybe you don’t want to be seen as the ‘bad guy’ or you may stay out of a sense of duty.  This is co-dependency.  There are many reasons for it and it’s different for everyone.  Co-Dependency is also about taking care of your partner, tending to their needs and well-being before yours if needed.  This is the make it or break it part of the relationship. Here is when you decide whether to stay through your partners Sh!t, or he stays with you. This is also where you decide if you can live with her Sh!t for the rest of your life and stay or put the pedal to the metal and leave.  Co-dependency becomes troublesome when you lose your sense of self, stop taking care of you to the detriment of your (and your children’s) emotional, mental and physical well-being.  Abusive relationships, being with a partner who is an active addict, refusing to take medication for her mental illness, having multiple affairs etc can pummel anyone’s spirit over time.  I do not advocate staying in these relationships unless the partner receives help and stops the behavior, but it’s not my decision to make.
  3. ACCEPTANCE.  This is another no-brainer, but how often do you think or want to change something about your partner? How often do you criticize or suggest to your partner a certain way of doing things?  How often do you wish your partner communicated more with you on an intimate level and not just about schedules with the kids?  What if she was never really big on intimate communication?  What if he’s big on keeping the house super organized to almost OCD levels?  Working with couples, usually one partner wants the other partner to change without changing themselves.  What I’ve noticed with couples in long-term relationships is that they (at some point) accepted their partner as is, the good and the bad without trying to change them.  It could be after decades together, arguing with so many years of trying to change their partner with no success, they just surrender.  He may realize that she may not be the best communicator but she’s committed and they take care of each other.  She may realize his need for a super organized household is his expression of his anxiety and his way to feel calm.  Do you see what happens with acceptance? It becomes about not taking your partners behavior as a personal affront.  Her lack of communication isn’t about him, just as his behavior isn’t about her. When you accept your partner as they are, behaviors that bothered you or you argued about stop being so irritating.

This is why communication, having things in common etc are icing on the cake.  They may make the relationship ‘better’ at times,  but they don’t have to make or break the relationship.  In any relationship, you have to decide what you can and will accept in relationship, what behaviors and qualities are important to you, and what are your absolute deal breakers.  Absolute deal breakers = behaviors that will cause you to walk away from the relationship. My personal deal breakers are active addiction, substance abuse, physical, verbal or emotional abuse, or an affair(s). An affair may be negotiable, but the issue would be my willingness or ability to trust again.  One last example albeit an extreme one, but I see this often.  Let’s say you fall in love, and you fall in love with someone who is a narcissist or has narcissistic characteristics but you still want to be in the relationship (this would be co-dependency).  To remain in the relationship, you have to accept certain behaviors from your partner such as not having your voice and emotional needs heard or possibly met, abuse, criticisms, affairs, substance use/abuse, inability to see your side, lack of empathy or emotional support. BTW, I’m not making these behaviors up, they come with a narcissist.   You will have to accept that these behaviors from your partner won’t change despite what you do.  So, if you can accept these behaviors without getting your spirit pummeled and you’re ok with your decision, then I say go for it. If you can’t accept it, or the price of you changing yourself to please your partner has become too much, then you might decide to leave.  Otherwise, you will have the same argument year after year.  Your partner may or may not change because of the relationship, but you, yourself can’t change your partner.

Try to go into a relationship without thinking and hoping your partner will change, instead ask yourself, “Can I live with this (behavior) for the rest of my life?”

Here are the Cliff Notes:  You Love. If you decide to Stay. You accept.