Tag: death

How to handle grief  . . .

How to handle grief . . .

. . . during holidays such as Christmas, Halloween or an anniversary

Each year we hear of the pressure’s families feel during December – stress from overspending, unrealistic expectations, and often, violence due to alcohol and other drugs.

Pressures like these are multiplied when we’re grieving.

Decisions about a Christmas tree or it to send cards need to be made. Yes? No? Maybe? Will the children want to hang stockings as usual? Will we continue with family traditions or make new ones? Talking about these issues helps not only our decisions but also helps both our grief and our mourning.

Just to be clearer, grief is about our feelings, while mourning is about the actions and rituals we do around a death. Both need our attention.

I’ve not found one right or wrong way of working through grief: just ways that helped me and others I’ve supported during my years as a counsellor – and especially when I was working full time as a bereavement counsellor. I also know the anticipation was always worse than the actual occasion whether that was Christmas, birthday or another anniversary. So, like Christmas, or another anniversary approaches, do what feels right for you – gut instinct worked well for me.

Strange as it may seem, while being necessary, grief is also a privilege: it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn’t end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral. Sometimes our grief is more painful as the weeks and months pass.

It can be more intense on birthdays; on the birthday of the person who died as well as our own, and, especially for children of the deceased, reaching the age of the loved one who suicided can be critical. Holidays, special family dates and anniversaries all alter the intensity of our grief. These dates may not adversely affect all the family, although the first experience of each event is usually traumatic. The first anniversary of a death can be especially painful as we relive the events of a year ago

So, how will you cope? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find simple advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed even at the last minute. For instance, you decide to be on your own then find you want company – if this happens don’t berate yourself for the change, after all, it’s impossible to plan how we will feel in the future so live in the present time, in the ‘now’. I hope these tips will help you, and help your friends, understand grief.

Be as gentle, compassionate, and loving to yourself as you would to a grieving friend. Memories are yours to keep so talking, laughing, and crying over them means you are growing through your grief. By the time the first anniversary arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although sometimes, or often, it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person as they assume that when you cry ‘they have made you feel bad’ – as if their talk could increase our pain – we know how painful it is and know their talk cannot intensify it. I believe it’s because they feel uncomfortable with our tears and not their concern for us that stops them from talking about the person. It’s difficult to explain to them that our crying is beneficial. No-one ever says they had a bad cry, it’s always ‘I had a good cry.’

At Christmas, some of us choose to change our routine and be away from our usual surroundings. The choice is yours. Don’t do what you think you ‘should’ do – those ‘shoulds’ are rarely helpful.

Friends and family may urge you to ‘keep active’, ‘get on with life’, ‘you have to let her go’ and other non-helpful advice such as ‘he wouldn’t want to you keep crying’. I am sure you have heard all these and other such homilies. One I hated was ‘you’re lucky to have other children’ – as if our children were interchangeable.

Keeping busy will not heal grief. Experience shows that increases stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. ‘Time heals’ the vague ‘they’ also say. Not true. It’s what we do with the time that does the healing: ask anyone who used medication to dull the pain – when the pills stopped the pain was still there, just waiting to be dealt with. As a past colleague said, ‘time doesn’t heal; it doesn’t get better, what happens is things get different.’

Eat healthy, natural foods or have vitamin supplements if your health practitioner recommends them. Rest is important and exercise, such as walking, can be of immense value. Walking is good at any time but especially now if you are feeling tired or not sleeping well: others prefer a good workout at the gym, run, or cycle. I don’t.

Special dates often, in fact usually, have no significance to anyone else, so be prepared to take what you need. Your grief is your right and I encourage you to claim it. Don’t allow others to damage it because of their ignorance.

If you haven’t tried journal writing now is a good time to see if it helps you – many love their notebook that listens to everything and makes no judgment.

The Canterbury Bereaved by Suicide Society (who I worked for) wrote the following for one of their pamphlets and newsletter – and these ideas apply to all deaths whether heart attack of cot-death, road accident or cancer

    • Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.
    • Use your loved one’s name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday memories.
    • Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others expectations.
    • Involve your children in your discussions and planning…it will help their grief too.
    • Do what is right for you and your family, don’t be pressured into doing things that aren’t OK
    • Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.
    • Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations…grief is tiring!
    • Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.
    • Remember the worst has already happened!
    • Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.
    • Anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.
    • Buy a special gift and give it to a charity in your loved one’s name
    • Burn a candle over Xmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.
    • Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Xmas is without them.
    • Change holiday habits: Xmas breakfast instead of dinner, restaurant instead of at home.
    • Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.
    • Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.
    • Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.
    • Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.
    • Tie a remembrance ribbon on the Xmas tree – your tree, or the town one.
    • Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.
    • Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.
    • Make a list of things you found helpful to share with others – and keep for next year as grief, although it reduces, continues.

I have learnt to live around the hole in my heart – and you can too.

Heather Hapeta (photographer, author, travel writer)

My Amazon Author page is here

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The King is dead – Thai people will be mourning their much-loved leader

Hearing of the overnight death of Thailand’s 88 year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, makes me think of the day, in Bangkok, that I was invited to become part a ceremony which was celebrating the King’s 79th birthday, and when 79 men became monks in his honour.

He was the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died after 70 years as head of state. My condolences go to all the Thai people, who I’ve met over many years, who absolutely loved him.

 

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will be the new monarch, the Thai Prime Minister has said.

Under the gaze of a photo of their King these men gather to be ordained as monks.

 

I too take a snip of hair from each man

Elvis – memories of Graceland on the aniversary of his death

(Extract from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad. Available from Amazon and all other e-book sites, for Kobo, Nook, Kindle and others   – if you have read it, I would  really value a small review  (on Amazon, Goodreads etc) so others know whether to buy a copy – seems many only buy on reviews)

. . . The sixties were an important time for me too, flower power or blooming idiots we were called. Idealistic, the first of the baby-boomers, we wanted to change the world – the American civil rights movement and television was the catalyst for many. For me they started in 1960 when South Africa demanded that no Māori could be in the All Blacks rugby tour to South Africa. ‘No Maori. No tour’ was the call from many New Zealanders and it became my first political stance. I was at high school; Vietnam and women’s issues followed and this museum brings it flooding back. Feeling drained, I eventually leave and return to the hostel and go to bed early. Tomorrow will be la crème de la crème – I’m off to Graceland.

Local buses take me the 16 kilometres (10 miles) to my goal. I’m wondering if I’ve missed the stop when I see ‘his’ aeroplanes and ring the bell; it’s time to get off. Heart pounding, I walk to the ornate wrought-iron gates – I’m going to Elvis’s home: it’s right in front of me, perched on the top of a little rise and smaller than I’d visualised. A guard stands at the gate.

elvis 20140816_094026

‘Sorry Ma’am, you can’t come in this way. You need to get a ticket over the road’ and points at what looks like an Elvis Disneyland. Although frustrated in my plans I ask him to photograph me at the gates, then cross the road.

Despite my initial distaste, I’m swept up into the atmosphere as I wander through a few shops then buy the expensive ticket that will allow me back over the road – a short wait then I’m invited into a mini bus.

‘Welcome to Graceland. This is a great time to come to Graceland. The house has just been decorated for Christmas just as Elvis did. He loved Christmas and we try to keep things just as he would,’ our guide tells us. We drive to the road, wait for the lights to change, cross the busy road then through the gates I’d been turned way from. Within two minutes we pull up in front of the doors my hero went in and out: I’m here, I’m breathless and it’s not the mansion I’d expected. I’m welcomed again and given a hand-held audio cassette player to guide me around the house.

The dining room first: I’m surprised the small room as it’s so formal and made even smaller with people milling around the table, set for a traditional Christmas dinner.

‘What a ghastly colour scheme.’ A woman says as she looks around the living room frozen in time – the 1970s colours of orange and black. I want to explain that HE would have changed it had he been alive, that this was the fashionable decor of the time but I bite my tongue.  I want to sit and absorb the atmosphere; rest on HIS couch; soak in HIS presence, imagine HIM jamming with friends. It’s not possible so continue slowly through the house.

Gazing up the stairs that lead to the out-of-bounds bedroom: I imagine how I’d have slept there if he had married me – like my youthful dreams visualised.

A thick peanut butter sandwich awaits the King and I’m pinching myself. Am I really here? Right where HE ate? Exactly where HE sat? I push the rewind button and listen to his voice repeatedly.

Continuing on to the stables, through the collection of records and clothes in the trophy room, I spend ages reading the plaques and gazing at the small paddock where he rode his horse, trying to visualise him there and eventually I’m at his grave in the Meditation Garden.

I was driving to work in the early morning light when I heard he’d died and was appalled most of the staff didn’t see his death as a moment of import. In the following days I played and replayed his records: crying. No more new music, no films – he’ll never marry me now I sobbed; my kids thought I was mad – perhaps they were right.

I’m horrified I didn’t think to bring flowers for his grave. I take photos around the Elvis-pilgrims who are spoiling the moment for me and soon I’m back in the mini-bus to return over the road – wishing the others would shut up, stop contaminating my mood with their noise.

Walking slowly around the museum I sit and watch film excerpts, climb into the planes, gaze at the powder pink Cadillac, the Harley Davidson golf-cart and then ring New Zealand – my daughter’s out of her office.

I leave a message on the answer-phone. ‘Guess where I am! I’m at Gracelands! I’m at Gracelands!’ I gloat. I buy tapes, a book then reluctantly leave. If only he waited for me – such are the dreams of a 50-year-old-woman-going-on-16.

I leave a message on the answer-phone. ‘Guess where I am! I’m at Gracelands! I’m at Graceland!’ I gloat. I buy tapes, a book then reluctantly leave. If only he waited for me – such are the dreams of a 50-year-old-woman-going-on-16.

The King of Cambodia and me

Excerpt from Naked in Budapest: travels with a  passionate nomad to mark the death of the Cambodian king –  King Norodom Sihanouk

The King of Cambodia moments before he greeted me

“The King and I

Leaving Seam Reap by bus I have to buy a ticket to Phnom Penh despite plans to only go halfway – just another inexplicable rule that travelling identifies.

The army is repairing patches of the road; rice is being planted and at a toilet-stop a young man has a T-shirt proclaiming Stop trafficking in women and children and a shop beside the bus stop has a poster that declares ‘Corruption breeds poverty.’

In the little non-tourist town of Kompong Thom I get off and find a room – it’s a relief to be away from the nagging stallholders of Seam Reap. I stay three days, visiting a drum making family and exploring the area: drums of many sizes play a big part in ceremonies and are used to summon energy from the four corners of the globe. I also explain to a stallholder, who is positive I’m rich, it’s impossible for me to take her 10-year-old daughter to New Zealand. While I’m walking along the river bank children keep calling me. ‘Hello-what’s-your-name’: when I answer them, they respond with the same one word phrase – they don’t know what it means – just something they hear foreigners say.

Continuing to Phnom Penh on a local mini-bus, none of my fellow-passengers speaks English. A young woman prepares her fix of a mouth-numbing, ear-warming narcotic. She spreads limestone ash on a betel leaf, puts the small fruit from the areca palm into the centre of the, now white, leaf and folds it into a little parcel which she pops into her mouth. As she chews she smiles at me: her rotten teeth and scarlet lips show this isn’t the first time she’s done this. Luckily she’s sitting by the window as blood-red gobs of saliva fly from her mouth onto the road in a regular stream. I wish I’d photographed her and the huge barbequed spiders I’m offered when we stop to drop off a couple of passengers.

My bed is in a low, wooden, building perched on the edge of a lake, hanging over the water and while I’m eating, fishermen are setting their nets and clumps of water-plants float by. As I photograph the setting sun, a group of young men beside me are planning a trip to an old army camp where they will use machine guns and hand grenades – the artillery menu sounds obscene.

Kings guards outside the Palace walls

Tomorrow I am heading towards Laos on the Mekong River but today I’m off to the Royal Palace and the much-acclaimed Silver Pagoda. It will be good to get out of this backpacker-ghetto where it seems everyone is smoking dope and travelling in pairs, groups or are living here – eking out a living teaching English with false qualifications bought on Khao San Road in Bangkok. It makes me angry to hear people who speak basic, heavily accented English, teaching it.

Phnom Penh has had its streets cleaned so everything’s at its best: even the sky is a clear bright blue and, controversially, beggars and other street people have been sent out of town: presenting a good face for last weeks ASEAN Conference. Now President Thabo Mbeki from South Africa and Kim Suk Soo the Prime Minister of Korea are visiting.

The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda overlook the river and are surrounded by a high, pale gold and white fence – from outside all I can see are the vividly coloured multi-tiered roofs that are finished with wonderful naga, (snakes) spires and tinkling bells.

The pagoda is about 40 years old, each silver floor tile weighs a kilogram and contrasting with all the silver, an emerald Buddha sits among the numerous gold Buddha of different sizes. When I leave I’ve spent most of my time relaxing in the peaceful grounds, writing postcards, content with my own company and I’m one of the last to leave.

Outside the walls, huge numbers of school children in navy and white uniforms have appeared – some are carrying small, paper, Cambodian flags, others have the Republic of South Africa flag so I sit on the grass, watch and wait. I photograph army and navy men as well as a man sweeping the long red carpet with a small reed switch. An hour later I move closer to the podium.

‘Can I stand here?’ I ask one of the AK-47-wielding policemen. He looks at me blankly. ‘C’est possible pour moi . . . ‘I run out of French, ‘. . . stand here?’ I point to the ground. ‘Oui madam, c’est possible. Non problem.’ I sit but five minutes later I am being hustled further away – it seems my prime spot is no longer possible.

A man with a huge bunch of helium-filled balloons hands them to groups of girls; another arrives with more flags and I’m given a Cambodian one so apparently I’m now an official member of the welcoming party. Tanks, troops and the air force are lining up along the back of the dais; the road and footpath have been sealed off.

We’re waiting patiently. Gunshots explode – we all gasp – but quickly realise it’s merely a bouquet of balloons colliding with a prickly bush and the girl culprits giggle from behind their hands. At last a long shiny car comes through the palace gates. It drives slowly around the grassy park-like area and pulls up near the stage. Two people emerge. I assume they’re the president, Mr Hun Sen and his wife: they mount the stage and he makes a speech – I have no idea what it’s about. Minutes later they walk down the stairs to inspect the guard of honour and I try to photograph them under the ceremonial, gold parasols that are being held above them. Continue reading “The King of Cambodia and me”

New (not travel) book by Heather Hapeta – suicide grief

A new booklet (21,000 words) about suicide deaths 

Surviving Suicide: a mother’s story is available on Amazon for e-readers ( also on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc)

Print copies available directly from the author