How Social Media And Texting Actually Help The Grief Process

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By Bob Livingstone

womanI have been one of the fiercest critics of America’s fixation with electronic devices. In an age where adults and children of all walks of life have their heads buried in the latest phone or tablet; face to face communication is at an all time low. Matter of fact, many children are very uncomfortable with direct communication, preferring to text or Facebook their friends.

However, I feel that when someone loses a loved one through death, social media and texting can be helpful tools in the grieving process. The bereaved at one time had to rely on friends or other family members to inform everyone about this devastating and sometimes abrupt loss.

Now the person in mourning can send a group text or a Facebook message to announce the death and to inform what the funeral plans will be. If you have lost a lover, close friend or family member, contacting all the folks who would want to know about the death could be an overwhelming job.

Now through a few clicks, all will be informed. The bereaved can also write down his initial feelings about the loss setting the tone for other’s responses. For example, If John’s wife died after a long battle with cancer, he may write a short profound note or he may share more details about his feelings. His friends can then decide to write a brief response or a longer one.

It is common for friends and family of those who lost a loved one not to know how to approach folks in a traumatic state. There is a school of thought that you shouldn’t bring up anything that will remind your friend of the recent death. There is another belief that those in grieving need to talk so it is fine to bring up issues regarding the death.

The reality is that everyone has different needs. There is no cookie cutter approach that is useful here. However, if you text your friend, “I really miss Emily. Her smile always light up the room.” Your friend may or may not respond. His reply may be one that expresses deep appreciation for your memory or he may be too overwhelmed to answer you. He will have the text on his phone to refer to when he’s ready to face painful memories. You must be prepared that he may not immediately reply and you shouldn’t take it personally.

smartphoneIt is possible to have written conversation with your friend about her loss through electronic devices that may be too painful to have face to face. Lots of folks are too distraught to have much face to face discussion immediately after the death of a loved one. They are reluctant to show their vulnerability to anyone outside their closest circle. They particularly don’t want to cry in front of others because in American society, tears are seen as a sign of weakness. This is an unfortunate myth that is upheld daily.

Therefore it may be easier for your friend to convey her feelings through a text message because the impersonal aspects of indirect communication provide a level of safety for her at this point of her loss.

You may be wanting to reach out to your friend whose mother died. Instead of waiting to get together and losing the momentum of what you want to express, you can text or Facebook him. Social media while reinforcing those who are impulsive, also provides a forum for those who want to pass on a thought or feeling immediately. These thoughts and feelings can be powerful words that provide healing for those in despair. A group discussion can then connect several folks who are hurting and they can find strength and solace together.

Social media and texting don’t take the place of direct, face to face communication. They can be tools for preparing and setting the stage for looking into your friend’s eyes and hearts. You cannot hug your friend through social media. You cannot see their tears and they cannot fully experience your compassion in cyberspace.

Bob Livingstone is the author the critically acclaimed Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist, Norlights Press 2011, The Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise, Pegasus Books, 2007 and Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy, Booklocker 2002. He is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in The San Francisco Bay Area and has nearly twenty five years experience working with adults, adolescents and children.

Facing Grief And Loss during The Holidays

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By Bob Livingstone

stressI am currently surrounded by friends who have lost love ones recently. During the best of times, it is very challenging to have someone close to you die. It is totally overwhelming to find yourself grieving during the holiday season. My mother died in December eight years ago and I remember how trying that experience was. My usual methods for self-protection were not working and the natural guardian of my heart system decided to take a vacation.

The holiday season which unofficially begins somewhere in early November and ends after New Year’s Day can be devastating for those who are grieving. This is a time of year where there is lots of hustle and bustle, socializing with family and shopping. We are all supposed to be in a good mood and festive. If we are fortunate to have a job, some of us are on vacation during this time.

On Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, lots of normal activities shut down and you can find yourself alone with you thoughts and memories of your lost loved one. The pain that derives from this is unbearable and totally at odds with the celebratory spirit encompassing you. During the holidays there are many quiet moments that leave space for the raw power of your loss. It is felt in all parts of your being and result in deep, heaving sobs.

You may be reluctant to ask for help during usual times and feel that it would be selfish to ask for a shoulder to cry on during Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. This only serves to increase your sense of isolation and the fear that you are all alone in your mourning. This may cause you to panic and momentarily feel like the grief you are feeling will last forever.

The grief experience is complex and without real stages despite what you have heard. We all go through our own individual process that may, but not necessarily include sadness, anger, resentment, longing, numbness, lack of concentration, inability to attend, loss of appetite, problems sleeping, spinning the same thoughts and memories over and over again, not believing that your loved one is really gone, anxiety and hopelessness.

These feelings can be exacerbated during the holidays because the normal daily activities have given way to parties, gift giving and other celebrations. The regular activities provide an essential and normal distraction from your internal pain. You don’t have to be in agony all the time to work through your grief; it is OK to take a break from this heart ache.

If your loss is a close family member, memories of her attendance at past holiday extravaganzas will loom large in your memory bank. You will have moments of realization that this person will never be joining you again and the pain will be unbearable, but it will slowly lessen as time moves on.

seniorwoman2In the quiet of a winter holiday afternoon, you may see someone walking down the street who has a strong resemblance to your deceased loved one. It will catch you off balance and you will be blindsided by the pain. This is something you cannot prepare for; you can only be aware that it will occur.

During this initial grieving period that unfortunately is happening in the middle of the holidays, you will think you want to be alone one moment and a short period of time later, you will crave company. Your mood will change more radically than before your loss. Unpredictability is the only predictable constant here.

Tips for dealing with grief and loss during the Holidays

* Expect that you will feel extra vulnerable at this time.

* Expect that your mood will swing erratically.

* Expect that you social needs will change from one minute to the next.

* Expect that your sleeping and eating habits will not be consistent.

* Expect that those around you will try to cheer you up or leave you to deal with the grief in your own space. Don’t be afraid to share what your needs are with your support network.

* Allow yourself to cry if you feel the tears coming on.

* Realize that you will be feeling many emotions and thoughts including being angry at your loved one for leaving you.

* Don’t be afraid to opt out of holiday festivities because you do not feel like celebrating. You are not obligated to participate.

* Exercise as much as possible as a means for facing and healthily distracting yourself from the loss.

* Reach out to others when you need to talk about your feelings about the loss.

* Know that while you have periodic bursts of intense sadness, you will feel better over time.

Bob Livingstone is the author the critically acclaimed Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist, Norlights Press 2011, The Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise, Pegasus Books, 2007 and Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy, Booklocker 2002. He is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in The San Francisco Bay Area and has nearly twenty five years experience working with adults, adolescents and children.