Carer Conversations

Carer Conversations 002 - The Journey of Grief

Episode Summary

Patty Kikos interviews guest speaker, Rose Rowlson, a clinical counsellor, consultant and trainer, and discusses the journey of grief. Rose will talk listeners through the huge voyage of transformation, healing and discovery. Sometimes as carers we grieve the people who are still here but will never be the same, because they've either suffered a stroke, a heart attack, a mental illness or they’ve developed dementia or Parkinson's disease. They also discuss the five stages of grief and how you can traverse it with greater ease.

Episode Transcription

Rose:

And the other thing to me, which is one of the most important things. And I share this constantly with people, and with carers.

Is this word ‘and’. And I'd love to take the credit for it. But it's actually something that someone else has written. I'm sure there's a book about it. The word AND

And that's because there is always grief, and..

---

Billy:

From the Carer Gateway at the Benevolent Society, we welcome you to, Carer Conversations with your host Patty Kikos.

The Care Gateway is the Australian Government national care hub and provides reliable services, support and advice especially for carers.

This podcast is where we share interviews with guests that have specialized knowledge to help support carers to look after their emotional, mental and physical well-being.

We are recording on Aboriginal country, on lands which were never ceded. We acknowledge the traditional custodians and cultural knowledge holders of these lands and waters. We pay our respects to Aboriginal elders, past and present.

Always was, always will be.

Patty:

Today's episode will take us on an expedition that in many ways is a huge and oftentimes painful voyage of transformation, healing, and discovery.

I'd like to start off by sharing a trigger warning to those that have recently lost a loved one.

Because today we will be talking about the journey of grief. Our intention here at the Carer Gateway podcast is to share stories, tips and inspiration for our carers.

But if this is a wound that's a little too fresh for you, then maybe you can come back and join us when it's not as painful 

For many of us that are carers, this is an emotion that is embodied in many different ways.

Sometimes we grieve someone we've lost, or sometimes we grieve a dynamic in a relationship that will never be the same again.

Philosopher Paulo Coelho has often said that “we never lose our loved ones; they still accompany us. They don't disappear from our lives; we are merely in different rooms”.

A few years ago, when a friend passed away, I was so sad that I could no longer see her and at the same time thrilled that she was free from the Earth and now had her wings.

It wasn't an accident or cancer, or any illness for that matter. She was actually two months shy of turning 100 years old.

Mostly I miss how I felt around her and how much she inspired me with her stories and advise, that she shared so openly and so generously with me.

Just like Maya Angelou is famous for reminding us that you won't always remember what people said or what they did necessarily, but you'll always remember how they made you feel.

I miss feeling her love. I miss feeling so good and almost invincible after each of her pep talks and wise words of advice.

Sometimes as carers we grieve the people who are still here but will never be the same, because they've either suffered a stroke, a heart attack, a mental illness or they have developed dementia or Parkinson's disease.

Someone I spoke with recently shared that his mum had died in a tragic drowning accident when he was 18. Now, even though he grieved for her at the time, it wasn't until he was in his late 20s, after he'd broken up with his girlfriend of 2years, that he was able to grieve properly for his mum. 

Somehow, the end of that relationship opened a portal for him to be able to mourn his mum, at a deeper level than he'd been able to access before.

Different cultures also have distinctive traditions when it comes to displaying one’s grief. I think there's something profound about the visibility of showcasing your grief because it's like a cloak that tells the world, to back off a little bit because you're not up for anything that could potentially stretch your bandwidth, or your energy or your resilience. 

But this can also mean that we struggle to process our grief when we haven't been given the tools to mourn and to heal it.

One last thing I want to share before I introduce today's guest is that many of us are moving through so much invisible grief, much like an invisible illness such as adrenal fatigue or depression or anxiety.

And sometimes, the person we grieve is the same person that is staring back at us when we look in the mirror. And we mourn an identity that we no longer embody. 

This comes in so many forms, like when a mother is no longer a maiden, or when a commanding officer realises that he can no longer physically lead his team competently, or even when we're no longer somebody’s husband or wife.

As children whose parents are ageing, we also mourn the loss of that archetype of being the child, as our relationship morphs and we become varying aspects of a carer, as our parents regress back to being a child.

If you've been connected to Carer Gateway for a while, you might have joined our online workshops, or even attended some of our retreats where you might have crossed paths with Rose Rowlson.

A carer herself for many years, Rose has provided workshops to The Benevolent Society for over 10 years and recently for 2years at the Carer Gateway. She also runs support services for carers, such as support groups.

Rose has a background in counselling, NLP or as it's also known, neurolinguistic programming, training and assessments and pastoral care and ministry.

She is the author of the Brains Retraining Program and has ongoing qualifications in dementia. Her online home is https://www.roserowlson.com.au, which I'll share again with you at the end of our episode.

Patty:

When it comes to understanding loss and grief, is there a difference between grief and mourning?

Rose:

Yes there is. One is a feeling, and one is an action. Let me explain that. 

Grief is the pain that we feel when we lose something. It might be a person, a relationship, the death of a loved one.. It's what we experience in that loss. It's that feeling.

Mourning is the processing of that grief. It's an action, it's something we must work on.

It starts with accepting the loss, and then being prepared to push through the pain of it, and then find out who we are in that space.

It's like finding our identity in the space of that loss. You know there's an old saying, and you've probably heard it before. It says that “time heals all wounds”.

But actually it's what you do with the time that heals the wounds, not just sitting, waiting for the time to go past, it's an action we need to work through that that grief that mourning.

Patty:

I would agree with your addition What are the 5 stages of grief?

Rose:

The 5 stages of grief is a is a concept that was developed by Elizabeth Kuebler Ross many years ago and it was a way of expressing all the different things that we go through in grief and so.

I'll just go through the different stages. The 1st one is denial.

And that's that the person refuses to hear the reality that someone has died. Shock and numbness usually go with denial, but it helps people get through that initial shock. It helps us to survive the initial part of that loss. 

The 2ndstage is anger, and it's often directed at ourselves or those who try to help. You know it's a necessary stage of grieving.

Patty:

And sometimes we're angry at the person that left, or passed away.

Rose:

Yes, absolutely we are, you know, and it can extend to the people that have passed away. Why did they leave us? We get really angry because they left us. It can extend to our friends. It can extend to family to the doctor to ourself, to God. A lot of people get really angry with God for taking that person away and then underneath the anger is pain.

Patty:

And is it also associated with the blaming aspect?

Rose:

Yes, yeah, absolutely blame takes a big part of that anger.  And we go from that to stage 3, which is called bargaining. And it's a way that we can bargain a way to postpone the loss, if you like

Patty:

 Or process our pain.

Rose:

Yes, yeah, we could be seeking endless second options. You know, if only, what if I would do anything to get it back to how it was, you know.. “God, can you give them back to me and give me a second chance?”

We want the previous life returned,  because basically we don't like change do we? 

Patty:

Not unless we instigate it..And is it also associated with “if only I had done this, this wouldn't have happened.” 

Rose:

Yes yes, and lets face it, we're very good at blaming ourselves, aren't we?

Stage 4 is depression.

And that's often the stage where we are trying to face that loss, and that's usually accompanied by empty feelings and intense sadness.

It feels like it will last forever, and often we see that people withdraw from life during this stage.

Patty: 

And I think it's a necessary rite of passage, because sometimes we need to be alone in our pain in order to be able to process, without being overcome with other people's ideas or concepts or notions.

Rose:

Yes, yes yes absolutely absolutely.

And the last stage is acceptance, and it comes with accepting the reality of the loss, and life returns to normal. So normal sleep, friendships interests.. those kinds of things and everything has changed. 

It's forever different.

But it's a process of adjustment that happens with that acceptance.

Patty:

It's a constant creative adjustment, because we don't tend to get over things. We just get used to being things being the way.

Rose:

Yes, yes, and that's a time thing.

It takes time for us to come through those stages and come to accept that it has happened.

Patty:

Are there any misconceptions about the 5 stages of grief?

Rose:

Oh absolutely there's a lot of misconceptions. The the biggest misconception is that the stages are linear. You know people think we go through each one, one after the other.

Patty:

No, grief is messy.

Rose:

But it is, it is! Very much so. You know, we go from stage 1, and then we go to stage 5.

And then we might go back to stage 2 and then we go back to stage 1 again. The reason is, as you say, grief is very messy. Losing something is very, very messy, and so you know we don't always feel each thing systematically, like that.

And the other thing too, is that not everybody feels every stage.

We all go through things differently, and it has a lot to do with who the person is that we've lost, to depict the kind of way that we go through those grieving processes.

Patty:

And what stage of our life we are also in, right?

Rose:

Absolutely, you know one of the things if I might share, you know some of you would know that my mum recently passed away.

And so, I haven't experienced any anger with that. There was no anger stage from me in that. I was actually relieved in many respects that she had passed. She had late stage dementia and she was finally at peace. She was no longer suffering.

She was bed bound, that beautiful lovely, intense sweet lady that she was, was not there anymore. And so for me, there was no anger in losing her. So hopefully that will show you that we don't always experience all of the different stages of that.

And I think there's other stages that we do experience as well in certain circles, that don't necessarily fit part of those five stages. 

Patty:

You know, Rose, there are some subcultures within our society that have different levels of acceptance when it comes to grief.

For example, some cultures wear black for a certain period of time, some traditionally wear black forever if they're female.

Can you give our carers, some tips on how they can personalise their grief, even when they're struggling to express it in a community that doesn't necessarily understand it.

Rose:

Sure. Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience, and it depends on many factors. It depends on the personality of the person, the coping style of the person, life experience, our history of how we've dealt with grief in the past has a huge impact on our grieving experience at this particular time. 

Our faith people faith will depict how they will go through a grieving process, and also the nature of the loss has a lot to do with it as well, and we need to express that grief in a way that's right for us.

Not just because someone tells us, this is how you need to grieve. People don't know how we need to grieve. It needs to be a personal approach, and for some of us, it might be observing such rituals such as wearing black or lighting a candle every day. To making a shrine or some sort of an altar, or talking to a photo, to journaling, writing a letter to the loved one, or having conversations with them. 

All these things help us to retain connection with the loved one, and help us to process our grief in ways that is individual to us. You know, whatever helps the care or feel a sense of connection with the person who's passed away. 

I'm really big on having a continued relationship with the person who's passed away. For years they used to say, you know they've died, get over it. But how do you get over someone that you've had a relationship with for so many years? You can't do that. 

And so, I encourage people. How can you continue to have a relationship with that person? It might be that you put their photo in a room in the house, for example, and every day you go, and you talk to them, because you might be talking to that person every day when they were alive, so you can continue that same thing when they've passed away.

Patty:

And for some people, it's symbolism I know. A friend thinks it's her mom coming to visit her every time she sees a butterfly and for another carer that I spoke to the other day, it's a sequence of numbers, because his mum loved 123, so when he see it on his clock, or when he sees it on a number plate it reminds him of his mum.

Rose:

Yeah, and we can't let people tell us what is normal. There's no such thing as ‘normal grief’. Everybody experiences things differently and we have to allow people the opportunity to work through their grief the way they need to do it.

Patty:

It needs to be sustainable but also personalised, doesn't it?

Rose:

Yeah, absolutely absolutely.

Patty: 

Now you talk a lot about the seasons of grief. Can you share what they are with our carriers? 

Rose:

Yes. So the seasons of grief. It comes from that concept of our seasons. You know, summer, autumn, winter, spring. It's a beautiful way of expressing what we experience through our grief and actually through our life. Our life is filled with seasons, not just grief.

Patty:

Our life pillars actually transcend seasons. Sometimes, we're in a summer, whereas other aspects of our life or in a winter.

Rose:

Yes, yeah absolutely so in grief particularly if we think of autumn, that acknowledges the reality of the change. Because autumn is about change. Isn't it? And autumn reminds us that our world is constantly changing.

Patty:

It's synonymous with endings, isn't it?

Rose:

Yes! And we can't cling to the past or the present. It's this time of passage. From light and warmth through that dark and cold.

Patty:

And just like the leaves fall from the trees, we need to let go of things that no longer serve us all that we've outgrown.

Rose:

Yes, yes, absolutely. And so, if we think about winter, we learn about possible reactions to change and loss, and how each person experiences them differently. So, winter speaks about hibernation and cold and sleep and rest.

We want to draw inwards and it can actually be a challenging time. But it also, as you say, holds that potential for new life by the rest that we experienced in that place.

Patty:

And the death there's obviously something that we need to let go of, something within us that needs to die so that there is enough space that is created for something new to blossom, and we're not that great at being taught about endings in society.

We're not that great at learning to let go when we have outgrown a particular relationship. Or a perspective that we had, or an archetypal identity that we no longer embody.

Rose:

Yes, yes that’s right! So it's all about that change, isn't it? And so if we think of spring.

You know spring is a time when we develop skills to assist that process of grief, and when we think of spring, we think of new birth and new beginnings.

And it's a sign of hope, and I think we need hope, in order to move forward. You know, to be able to see that there is hope in the future, and that there's something for us to move towards.

Patty:

And I think it's important for us to be aware of our energy levels, because yes, we have that renewed sense of inspiration in spring, which we don't have in autumn when things are ending well, yes, we don't have in winter when we are mourning a loss or a death.

Rose:

Yes, yes! And if we think of summer and again relating it back to grief, you know in summer we explore ways of letting go and moving forward towards that hope. And summer reminds us of a freedom and nature reaching new heights.

Patty:

Summer is, like a peak, isn't it? It's when we're vital and revitalised and inspired.

Rose:

Yes it is. Yeah, and  I love the fact that if you look at the seasons collectively, they teach us that no season lasts forever. I think this is really important when we look at grief.

Because there is hope, grief is not gonna last forever this season that we are in, and each season has a good part to it and a unique part. And it's important for our personal growth to go through all of those different signals.

Patty:

It's a necessary rite of passage, isn't it?

Rose:

It is, it is, and we also need to understand that people are affected differently by the seasons. We don't all go through them the same way, and each season has its own story. There's easy and difficult days. 

And seasons have their own unpredictability, if you like that, in that there's no normal, and seasons often change silently or gradually. The experience of seasons is different depending on where you are, who you are and where you live.

All of those things.

It's unique to us as we are unique. Each one of us, our grief, will be unique as well.

Patty:

I use a similar seasonal template when I work with my clients and my carers as well. And often we find that when many of our key life pillars are in a winter, it feels very much like a rock bottom.

And then sometimes there are scenarios in our life where we can feel like we're moving from a late winter to a spring and then back to a late winter and then back to an early spring, and we oscillate between, which is when we're in a bit of a rut where we don't go through the full season.

And it's important to know that sometimes, while no season will last forever. But it's also important to know that, if you're feeling down and uninspired to do anything new, it might be because many key life pillars are in a winter. It's not the time to start something new this time to rest. To re calibrate, to rejuvenate yourself and your energy.

Rose, why do you think some people fail to grieve? And do you think rituals are helpful?

Rose:

I think there's a lot of reasons why people fail to grieve, and I think the the first major reason is the type of loss. 

Suicide trauma, accidents have shock value absolutely. You know people don't realise the shock that comes with those kinds of losses.

And that's very different experience for people if they have cancer or there's a long-term illness like dementia where we kind of expect it, there's this anticipatory grief attached to that.

So it's not saying that the the loss is any less felt, but there's a shock that's attached to that, so people will find it difficult to grieve under those circumstances.

I think also the type of relationship that you have with the loss has an impact on how people grieve.

It's dependent on the relationship of the person who has with the lost person. If we're talking people or if it's an object, the role. It might be their wife, their parents.

Losing a child is so different from losing a friend or losing a job. So all of these things depict very different ways that we might work through that grief. 

Historical factors are another thing. People may be experiencing complicated past grief, which is affecting their present grief such as how they've dealt with grief in the past. You know if there's been multiple deaths in the past, or it might be a second suicide or another person in the family who's died with cancer or something tragic. 

So, all those historical facts will impact why somebody may not be able to deal with that grief. Especially if they haven't healed from that trauma.

And let's face it, you know, we don't want to go through pain and heartache, do we?  And so, as humans, we can shut down and some people are very good at shutting down completely. It's a protective mechanism. We don't want to go through that, so we protect ourselves. 

Personality is another thing that some people are unable to grieve because they can't tolerate extreme emotions, for example, so they're able to shut down those things completely.

One thing that I think does make an impact too, is the social factors. If it's socially unspeakable or unacceptable, for example, for people to grieve, you don't often hear people grieving for miscarriages.

Or suicide, even some families still consider that taboo, or even abortion. I have in the past worked with people with severe depression. And you know other issues like that and finding out that years ago they had an abortion.

Yeah, and they weren't able to talk about it and they never had an opportunity to grieve for that loss because it's still a loss. Even if it's a choice, it's still a loss, so there's all these factors. I think that stops people being able to grieve.

Patty:

And I imagine that your physical capacity in terms of your health and well-being would also have a massive impact on this as well, because if you're already rundown and depleted and exhausted, it's almost like there's no energy there to grieve.

Rose:

That's right, yeah, yeah, and particularly if we're looking at carers, there is so much anticipatory grief, which is a big thing with caring and it's this constant loss and you think you reach a place where it's like, “h here's another thing and another disappointment, another thing I have to mourn another personality trait that's disappeared.”

And so we do get worn down, and we lose that capacity to be able to go through  those grieving moments? Grief fatigue is real.

And so, rituals that we spoke about earlier are helpful to assist people. And again people need to find their own rituals. Not to be said by someone else outside the situation such as “this is what you need to do”, but we need to find what's going to work for us.

Whether you write a story about your grief or a journal, or write or talk to that person, or light a candle, all of those things help you as an individual to work through what you're going through.

Patty:

And I think a big part of it would be how connected you are to a subculture that's either going to support your grieving process or alienate you from it. 

Rose:

Yes, yes, and I think one of the saddest things I've ever heard, and I I've heard this a number of times, is that people say oh he's been gone for such and such amount of time, “Get over it” and I think you know people just don't understand where people are in their situation and in their grief. How dare you say that to somebody?

Patty:

Yeah comparison grief. “Oh, you only lost your child at 3months. Well, my neighbour lost her child at 18 years.”

Rose:

Yes, yes, and yet so many people do it. So many people compare. Every loss, is a loss to that individual person, and we should never ever compare whose loss is worse, from one person or another.

Patty:

Certainly, do you have any strategies when it comes to readjusting to life after loss, especially when it comes to self care. You know things like managing your boundaries and expectations of people or yourself even, and how one can build or even rebuild their resilience?

Rose:

You know, I think that adversity happens to all of us, and sadly, death, loss and illness don't discriminate,  do they look? It's something that makes up all our lives.

However, there's many ways that we can cope with loss and ongoing loss.

And I've talked to a lot of carers, as I've been working with carers for a long time. And I think carers particularly have this innate resilience inside of us, from our years of caring.

We need to use that resilience to keep on going, and we need to do things our own way. In our own time.

Patty:

That's very good advice.

Rose:

Yeah, so don't let other others tell us what to do, how long will that we need to do it, or how to do it. I think that's the 1st most important thing. That's a really strong boundary.

Take time to laugh, and cry, and to remember. Allow yourself to have those emotions, without other people telling you when and how.

And one of the most powerful things we can do is to step establish an ongoing relationship with the loved one. As I was saying, I think this is the most important thing, of how we can have that relationship. Because say for example it's your partner, and every day of your lives together, you'd get up and you'd ask questions, and you discuss your daily things. 

And I think if you've got their photo in a room you can go up and go “OK, Sam. This is what I'm doing today. What do you think about it? Should I do this? Should I do that?” and it brings some sort of sense of normality and it's a continuing relationship.

And that's so important because it helps people have that resilience to keep going, because a lot of times we have to keep going. We can't just stop our lives. We have to keep going and you can't just get over it.

And the other thing to me, which is one of the most important things, and I share this constantly with carers:

Is this word AND. And I'd love to take the credit for it, but it's actually something that someone else has written. I'm sure there's a book about it.

The word AND. And that's because there is always grief, and...

We have grief AND we have joy. We have grief AND we have memories. We have grief AND we have happiness. You know. Life walks hand in hand together and there is always AND.

That's actually a perfect place to leave it for today. Rose and I'd like to do a rapid fire wrap up with you, but before I do, I'd like everyone to remember that roses online home is https://www.roserowlson.com.au/

Ok Rose, let's do a rapid fire wrap up.

I know that roses are your favorite flower, but what is your favorite colour?

Rose:

I love purple, and if you ever get to meet me in person, you see purple in my hair.

Patty:

Oh exciting, now Rose. What was your first job?

Rose:

My first job was as a chef. I'm actually an accredited chef. I love cooking!

Patty:

No way.

Rose:

Yep, I love cooking and creating all these different recipes and things myself.

Patty:

Oh my goodness, your family are so lucky to have you! So the rock star married the chef?

Rose:

Haha, yep!

Patty:

I love you it. Now, if there was one thing you wish everyone knew about grief, what would it be?

Rose:

The most important thing, if you love life, there will always be grief. It's an unavoidable thing. Establish ongoing relationship with the person, as we've just said. You just can't stop having a relationship. 

And also, people think that time heals grief. I think that time changes the way we feel about grief. It's always present, it's just different. It's the process, not how much it heals.

Patty:

Next question. Dog or cat?

Rose:

Dog, definitely.

Patty:

Pants or dress?

Rose:

Pants. 

Patty:

I would say coffee or tea, but I already know that you are an avid coffee lover and drinker. So, high heels or flats?

Rose:

Oh I love high heels with sparkles.

{Both giggle}

Ah, now folks Anne Lamott said it beautifully when she said:

“You will lose someone that you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken. And the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved.

But this is also the good news.

They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up and you will get through it. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly, but still hurts when the weather gets cold. But you learn to dance without limp.”

If you found this podcast helpful, we’d so appreciated it if you helped us share the love, by leaving us a 5 star review, and subscribing on your favourite platform.

Till we cross paths again, take good care. And be well.

Billy:

If you are caring for a relative or a friend who has a disability, a mental health condition, a life limiting health or medical condition.

Or they are frail because they're getting older. Please contact us at Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737, or look us up on www.gateway.gov.au

And if you are a carer, you're allowed to take time to look after yourself. You are just as important as the person you take care of.