Make room for all feelings when someone dies

Never speak ill of the dead

I must admit, there’ve been times when I wondered if I was at the right funeral, as the deceased was eulogized into sainthood.

I grew up in the tradition of “never speak ill of the dead.” I had many losses in my early life, and was confused to hear the adults pretend everything had been sunshine and roses with the deceased, when I knew it wasn’t so.

The dead were always spoken of in the most glowing of terms. It seemed they were canonized into sainthood once they’d passed, yet it was confusing for me as I remembered the complaints against them before their passing.

Then I learned there was a rule: Nil nisi bonum or speak no ill of the dead. The custom of never speaking ill of the dead has been with us for centuries.

It seemed, to lay claim to the right to grieve, one must forget the negative or challenging aspects of being human. And, so I learned to pretend, just like everyone else seemed to.

It seemed, to be loved, someone had to be perfect, devoid of real human foibles and tendencies. I felt alone and unable to process the complex feelings that often accompany the loss of someone close to me, especially if the relationship had difficulties.

Being unable to reconcile the good parts of my relationship with a person with the challenging parts, left me stuck in my ability to grieve.

Why do we tend to want to avoid the complicated parts of people we’ve loved and lost? Let’s face it, there’re difficulties and complexities in every relationship, we all have quirks and foibles, and they don’t suddenly vanish because we die.

According to grief experts John W. James and Russel Friedman, the tendency to enshrine deceased loved-ones isn’t helpful in our journey with grief. According to James and Friedman: “It’s impossible to complete the pain caused by death, divorce, or other significant emotional loss without looking at everything about the relationship, not just the positive.”

In my many journeys with the dying and bereaved, I’ve found making room for all of the feelings and experiences inherent in a relationship helps people heal on their journey with grief.

For one friend, the greatest healing came from being able to share, openly and honestly, the brutal and violent characteristics of his father. To the outer world, he was such a good guy, beloved by all. Behind closed doors, it was another story. He was a violent and angry man who often terrorized his family.

With wisdom, the minister created space for the family to share the challenges along with the good. This helped my friend reconcile the good with the bad and offered the family to an opportunity to heal.

As a person who works with the dying and the bereaved, I find it’s important to make space for the not so wonderful to be shared and accepted. It’s not that I recommend defaming the life and character of one who has passed, but there is value in making space for sharing the wonderful as well as the challenging, recognizing the complexities of the human condition.

As humans, we all have flaws and make mistakes and we can be loved anyway.

Dealing with the loss of a baby

A pain so great

Maybe if we don’t talk about it, we can pretend it didn’t happen.

It’s common to use this tactic when there’s nothing we can say to make a painful situation better, but it’s not helpful. It doesn’t mean the pain will go away.

October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s time for us to break the silence, acknowledge, and turn toward a pain so great we’d rather pretend it didn’t happen; the unimaginable pain of miscarriage, stillbirth, and loss of an infant child.

Infant loss still happens, and far too often. It’s so common that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada estimates 15% to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. Some estimate infant loss to be one-in-four, from conception to the end of an infant’s first year.

Parents and families are often isolated in their grief. Well-meaning people never mention it or the baby’s name, leaving parents to believe their baby is forgotten. We’re drawn to offer empty platitudes, intended to soothe or give an answer, just to have something to say. This only increases the pain and isolation of grief.

I was surprised, many years ago, when a dear, long-time friend told me she’d suffered the stillbirth of her first child, a perfect full-term baby girl. I had no idea despite our close friendship. She’d been taught not to talk about it because it made people uncomfortable.

The wee girl my friend lost would be in her teens at the time she shared this with me. She’d carried this pain alone for far too many years. Every birth/death day was silently remembered, wondering what she’d be doing now and what she’d look like. Her baby—her child—lost but never forgotten.

I wish I’d known then what I know now about grief and loss. I don’t remember what I said but I remember listening as my friend shared the joy and anticipation of having their first child, the nursery was prepared and plans made, only to return home devastated. She was expected to accept it just wasn’t meant to be and forget it, yet this only magnified the pain.

As a society, we can do better to support people experiencing such horrendous loss. As we increase our understanding of the magnitude of the personal tragedy, we can better meet the needs of bereaved parents.

Shattered hopes and dreams, the pain of pregnancy-loss or death of a child is true and it lasts. Pretending it never happened doesn’t take the pain away and only serves to further isolate people in their time of great need.

It’s too common to stay away, believing they just need time alone, when it’s often our own discomfort of not knowing what to say or do to help them that keeps us away. There are no magic things we can say, but loving presence can be a gift.

To help, it’s imperative we reach out and recognize the trauma parents have experienced. This is the perfect time to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s sage advice to “just show up and shut up.” Be present and listen. They may want to talk, or not, but find out what would be helpful and then do that.

Cooking a meal, showing up to provide company and learning to be a compassionate presence helps parents know they are loved and not alone. Acknowledging the existence of the infant by mentioning their names helps parents know the babe is not forgotten.

A world-wide wave of light is planned for Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. as a way to remember these wee ones. People, in different time zones, will be lighting candles of remembrance, thus creating a wave of light around the world.

There are walks and ceremonies being planned in different cities (http://www.october15.ca/).

As a society, we can do better to support others during their time of great need. I know we can do this.

Kimberly, I will never forget.

The perils of being a perfectionist

Paralyzed by perfection

I was part of a growing number of people with high-functioning anxiety for a long time, and didn’t even know it.

For many years, I admired others I viewed as perfectionists. They seemed to do everything so well. While having high-standards is a good thing, it isn’t the same as being a perfectionist.

I wore perfectionism as both a badge of honour and suit of armour. If everything looked perfect and I paid great attention to detail and worked harder, I felt safe. If I did things perfectly there was nothing for anyone to criticize and I felt I had value.

I was like a duck, appearing to float smoothly along the surface, but underneath I was paddling like crazy just to stay afloat. It all looked good on the outside but inside it felt crappy, and it felt like anything but perfect.

Perfectionism worked for quite a long time, until it didn’t. It led me to an epic burnout when my mind and body said “stop!”

I didn’t recognize or understand my own tendency toward striving for perfection for many years.

I thought my new co-worker was crazy when she handed me a paper listing the qualities of a perfectionist during my first week of orientation at the university. I didn’t get it. I surely didn’t feel like I had a right to claim the moniker, until I read it.

Others saw my perfectionism and it was encouraged and rewarded by many. My work was always done with painstaking attention to detail. My family was proud of my fabulous GPA, my house was perfectly clean and in order and every task was done with great attention to detail.

I work with many people who are suffering because of their drive for perfection. Researchers report the tendency of perfectionism is rising in society today, especially among young people.

Perfectionism doesn’t always look or feel like perfection. It has some surprising faces.

Hallmarks of perfectionism may appear like:

• Never feeling like you’re enough

• Inability to slow down

• Over-thinking (analysis paralysis)

• Procrastination

• Feeling paralyzed to take action

• Fear of making decisions

• Being hyper-critical of self and/or others

• Sensitivity to criticism

• Feeling anxious and/or depressed

• People-pleasing, having poor boundaries or inability to say no

• Being more focussed on what’s wrong instead of what’s going well

I avoided things I couldn’t do perfectly. Important things got put on the back-burner, which was a cause for inner shame.

I had analysis-paralysis when faced with big decisions, and got so caught up with insignificant details that other, more important things got missed. I held challenging emotions close to my chest, not wanting others to see my vulnerability.

Anxiety and perfectionism were bad bedmates and they robbed me of sleep. I was exhausted yet driven and couldn’t stop.

Perfectionism isn’t one-size-fits-all, as there are different types of perfectionism. You can take an online test to determine the source of your perfectionism but receiving the help of a wise professional is invaluable.

For me, perfectionist traits were a buffer for feelings of vulnerability, and made it hard to bounce back from challenge. I was terrified to make mistakes, and if I did, I ruminated on them to the point of distraction.

Mindfulness and gaining awareness into my own tendencies was, and continues to be, essential.

Becoming aware of my negative self-talk was shocking. I’d never speak to another person the way I spoke to myself. Learning to challenge my all-or-nothing mentality was powerful, as was finding out the world wouldn’t end if everything wasn’t perfect.

Learning to drop the very critical lens I had of myself, and hold my quirks and foibles with self-compassion and a good amount of humour, has allowed me to relax and chill. Vulnerability has now become one of my greatest strengths. Brene Brown was right about The Gifts of Imperfection.

While I still have to remain aware and alert to my tendency toward perfectionism, it doesn’t limit and destroy my happiness like it once did.

Understanding perfectionism, gaining insight into myself, and learning a new way of being was instrumental in recovering from burnout and a life of striving for what was unattainable.

I still like to do things well, but giving up striving for what’s not real has allowed me to relax, enjoy life more, and feel happier and more resilient. I sleep much better at night.

Sometimes good enough is enough.


A better attitude helps you and those around you

Attitude is everything

Be aware, your attitude is showing.

Our attitude creates the feeling nature people respond to. Attitude emits a presence and is like an atmosphere that surrounds us. It colours the things we do and affects happiness and success.

Have you ever been in a room full of people when one person walks in and the energy of the whole room changes, either for the positive or the negative? I sure have.

Our presence is felt by people, and is either an attractive or a repulsive force.

Most of us have people we love to be around, and those we choose to avoid. When we think about it, it’s their attitude and presence we’re responding to. No one enjoys hanging out with a Negative Nellie, Sacrificing Simon, or a Manuel the Martyr.

When it comes to human relationships, it’s not so much about what we know or say, it’s about how we make people feel.

We may not even be consciously aware of why we’re attracted to or repelled by another. It might just be that somethin’-somethin’ in our spidey senses that tells us to move closer or to back away. These senses are worth listening to.

Someone may be absolutely brilliant, full of facts and knowledge, but if they’ve got a negative way-of-being, their brilliance may never be revealed because people back away.

I know people who try to do all the right things to make themselves attractive and remain confused when people back away and their success is limited. It’s not so much about what we do, but ‘how we be’ that matters the most.

Every human interaction is painted with the color of our attitude. It’s the way we interact with the world.

Attitudes become a way of being. We can either fill-people up, or be a drain with our prevailing nature. The choice is ours and a negative attitude can always be changed.

Recently, I became aware I needed an attitude adjustment.

I’d fallen into that old mental trap of looking at the opportunities in my life as obligations instead of remembering I’m always at a point of choice. It’s a subtle, but expensive shift from, “I get to…” to “I have to…” and that easily turns everything into just another chore.

I can feel in my body when I’ve made the switch because living life from an attitude of “I have to” versus “I get to” makes a huge difference to my experience of life and the way I show up.

The stories we tell ourselves about what we do determine our experience of life.

I’ve learned the truth behind author and spiritual teacher, Wayne Dyer’s comment, “when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”

One of my key strategies to adjust my attitude is to remember back to when I really wanted what I already have. In this, I remember the value and the reason things are in my life. I reflect on the meaning behind what I’m doing, instead of the task at hand.

As I pause and remember the “why” or the real reason behind what I do, I bring a better attitude. Difficult tasks become easy and joyful, because I’m no longer subtly resisting and resenting what I’m doing. My day is easier, and so is everyone else’s around me.

Life presents challenges and is often painful. Bad stuff happens. We often can’t control these things. But we can control our attitude, and reduce our own suffering.

Our being, or attitude, is what enhances or takes away from all that we do. It’s our attitude that people feel and we, ourselves, reap the blessing or the burden of how we choose to show up.

It’s not so much what’s happened to us in life that matters the most, it’s what we do with it and how we show up.

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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