Friday, May 16, 2014

Can counseling really help a broken heart?

“Well, no, I don’t specialize in grief specifically but with my many years of experience I’m confident I can help you,” said the counselor on the other end of the phone. It had been eighteen months since we lost our teenage daughter in a car accident, and my husband and I were caught in the black abyss of sadness and hopelessness. We were finally ready to wave the white flag and seek help.
Many well-meaning family and friends urged us to get counselling immediately after the accident, but I adamantly refused. I bristled at the very idea that someone would tell me how to grieve the loss of my beloved child. Worse, there was no way I wanted to be trapped in a group of crying mothers stuck in their own horrible grief. No, I would rather do it myself, for I didn’t want to be part of that club in the first place.
But over the coming months as reality sank in and the nightmare became permanent, we found ourselves on autopilot, barely staying afloat on the outside and dead on the inside. By design, men and women are wired differently. So as husband and wife, we were each caught in our own despair. We had nothing left to give each other, little alone our marriage.
By the time we realized we needed help processing our grief, we had fallen so deep into the black abyss that the simple task of finding a counselor, any counselor, felt utterly overwhelming. So I dug deep to muster what energy I could to google local counselors, and called the first number I saw.
And thus began an eighteen-month relationship with a counselor who knew absolutely nothing about grief. She was a lovely woman, and in looking back I’m sure she learned a great deal from us as her clients. But much to our dismay, we gained nothing from our appointments. At least we hadn’t gone backwards, I told myself, but the idea of trying to find a better counselor was simply too overwhelming. So we stayed where we were week after week for eighteen months.
And then tragedy struck once again.
Three years after losing our daughter, my forty-six year-old husband suffered a major stroke. He went from being a highly intelligent, well respected, vibrant man who managed multi-million dollar projects to an invalid wearing a hospital gown in the intensive care unit. He couldn’t walk, talk, read, or write. My beloved soul mate, my dear sweet husband, suffered a major embolic stroke in the left frontal lobe. Paralyzing the entire right side of his body, the damage also destroyed the Broca's region of his brain, the center of communication. He understood those around him, but he couldn’t speak at all. Nor could he read, write, or comprehend letters and numbers. Strangely enough, Brocas is his legal middle name.
We found ourselves facing a fresh, new black abyss, and we hadn’t even found our way out of the first one.
And then help arrived in the form of a neuropsychologist who made daily hospital rounds to the stroke unit. His specialty was supporting patients facing significant disabilities and helping them adapt to a new way of life. Now that my husband was trapped in a hospital bed, he could no longer bury his grief in eighty-hour work weeks. The neuropsychologist found himself doubly tasked with not only helping us adjust to our new life left in the wake of my husband's stroke, but assisting us in processing the profound, unresolved grief left in the wake of our daughter's death.
Dr. Ford was in his early fifties, about the same age as our prior counselor. He was tall and fit, and his short hair yielded to a stubborn childhood cowlick he never outgrew. His face was kind, his voice calm yet intelligent. My husband and I liked him immediately. And, to our collective surprise, Dr. Ford's specialty of helping stroke patients face a new life with severe disabilities wasn’t all that different from helping the bereaved face a new life without their loved one. And thus began a professional relationship in which we finally found the help needed to process our double sorrow.
It has now been over three years since my husband’s life-changing stroke, and six years since our daughter’s passing. Because of the plasticity of the human brain and its ability to rewire around dead tissue, my husband continues to improve beyond medical expectation. Through intense inpatient and then dedicated outpatient rehabilitation, he learned to walk again and use his right hand though he still can’t feel anything on his right side. His speech remains challenged, and he fatigues quite easily, preventing him from returning to gainful employment, and our family from returning to our former life.
We continue to see the neuropsychologist though the frequency changes depending upon our needs. As far as I see it, the life-changing stroke was actually a lifeline in disguise, for it brought a compassionate, intuitive, and highly skilled practitioner through the door of my husband’s hospital room and into our lives. And although Dr. Ford came because of the devastating stroke, his counseling proved to be the help we desperately needed to navigate our daughter's death.
I am not angry we spent eighteen months with a counselor who was unable to meet our needs. Actually, I admire her for taking us on in the first place. She didn’t harm us, and she did try her best to help us, and I am forever thankful. But I wish I had acknowledged sooner just how critically important it is to find the right care in our darkest hours.
When one suffers a heart attack, they call in a cardiologist. When one has a broken leg, they call in an orthopedist. So when one faces profound loss, a highly skilled and qualified practitioner to help navigate the way through, and eventually out of, the deep abyss of overwhelming grief is just as crucial.
With over 168,000 counselors available in the U.S. alone, there is no shortage from which to choose. If your counselor is unable to help you navigate a life-changing loss or challenge, don't be afraid to find another. Just as grief isn't one size fits all, neither is support.
Can a heart attack patient survive without a cardiologist? Yes, but the chances of surviving are much greater when under the care of a proper practitioner. And this is never more true than with the most critical of all wounds….that of a broken heart. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Good Grief Talk Show with Lynda Cheldelin Fell & Angie Cartwright featuring special guests Christine Bastone & Brooke Ninni Matthews

Here I am, one hour to show time, and I'm normally going a million miles an hour right about now.  But instead, I find myself sitting quietly, reflecting upon tonight's sensitive and very painful topics.  

The first topic we will be discussing is the powerful and life-shattering impact on those
left behind in the wake of suicide.  While grief is grief, some deaths carry additional dynamics not found everywhere.  And suicide is definitely one of these.  Earlier today I saw a video clip of Katie Couric interviewing singer Marie Osmond regarding the pain she faces daily since her 18 year-old son jumped to his death in 2010.  While the video clip was only a few minutes long, it was more powerful than any 90-minute movie and I was impressed with how important it is to openly discuss suicide.  And though I know it will be painful for tonight's guest Christine Bastone to share her own tragic story about losing her sister to suicide, I find comfort knowing it will help others some how, some way.    

Our second guest tonight, Brooke Ninni Matthews, walks a different journey though no less painful.  She lost two loved ones in a short time span, and joins us tonight to share her special story as well.  

I'm in complete awe of these ladies for taking time out of their busy lives to talk with us tonight about such painful subjects.  I hope you can join us too, and if you know of someone in need of comfort, please share our show with them....you never know who you might end up saving.   

Much love,
Lynda

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why we need National Grief Awareness Day

Recently while doing some research, I came across the term “Complicated Grief.”  Of course this prompted me to wonder whether I suffered from “complicated grief,” after all it’s been almost five years since Aly, our teenage daughter died, and many days I still certainly suffer profound grief.  But what is “complicated grief” and did I have it?  Why was that term created, and how do they define it?

It’s true that not all grief is alike.  When your beloved cat dies, you experience sadness, loss and, well, grief.  When you suddenly or unexpectedly lose a job, you may experience grief feelings too.  But both of these examples are clearly a different grief from when we lose a child, or a partner, sibling or parent before their time. 

So who, exactly, experiences “complicated grief”?  I plugged the term into my search browser and was rewarded with a plethora of answers….nearly 11 million answers in less than three seconds, to be exact.  I scanned the search results and selected one near the top by Harvard Health Publications.  According to The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, “During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief.  However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over a few months, those of complicated grief linger or get worse.”  Harvard went on to say “….it can take intense forms that surprise a bereaved person, including forms that in other circumstances would be called a psychiatric disorder.”  And, “But if it's been several months or more since your loss and your emotions remain so intense or debilitating that you have trouble going about your normal routine, talk to your health care provider.”

As a parent who has experienced what I call profound grief, I respectfully question the term “complicated grief.”  And here is why.

When Aly died, I found myself in a fog of shock and horror so thick, I was completely blinded by it for the first three years.  I cried daily, and wailed most nights.  And only now, nearly five years later….not months, but years….has the fog of pain began to lift enough to allow me to start to assemble the jagged pieces of my life that is left in the wake of my broken heart.  Was this abnormal?  It didn’t seem so.  After all, I was a mother who lost my child, not my goldfish.  Yet the signs and symptoms listed by Harvard’s article clearly define me as having “complicated” grief.

I think back to my beloved maternal grandmother, a short, white-haired, bespectacled lady who had an ample bosom always ready for a warm hug.  As a young mother, she not only lost an 8 month-old daughter but a short time later, while pregnant with her fifth child, she lost her young husband.  Despite the agony of her sorrow in the face of widowhood with five small children, my dear sweet grandmother forged on.  It would be terribly shallow to assume she did so unaffected, yet because of how we still view grief in today’s world, I’m almost certain my grandmother experienced the overwhelming anguish in near total silence, the shatter-my-world anguish that only another griever can understand.  Yes, most likely in total silence.  And most probably with a seemingly heartless smile on her trembling lips.  And, I imagine, it was because true grief, noisy grief, was likely viewed as a “nervous breakdown,” a psychiatric disorder….a label that carried with it the threat of removing children from the home.  She had to suffer in silence, for their very existence depended upon it.

Fast forward seventy years later, and people now openly discuss once-taboo subjects with so much more understanding and acceptance than ever.  Except grief.  Grief is still unspoken, it’s deep impact still in the dark ages.  And, with any grief lasting longer than a few months being deemed a possible psychiatric issue, it’s no wonder why.

Friends, my grief is not complicated.  It is profound and raw, but not complicated.  My grief carriers with it signs and symptoms mirroring that of most people who have found themselves in the grips of profound loss.  There is nothing complicated about it.  Misunderstood?  Yes.  But complicated?  In my mind it is painfully simple.  My loved one isn’t here any longer.  And for the rest of my days, I shall painfully miss her.

Honorable Badge of Grief
Profound grief….noisy grief….”complicated” grief is exactly why we are asking National Grief Awareness Day to be legally declared.  Why we have created not our own awareness ribbon but an awareness badge….the Honorable Badge of Grief.  Why we have created a radio talk show about grief.  It’s simple and clear:  the time has come to bring grief out of the dark.  To help us all better understand it.  To honor it instead of shunning it.  Why?  So the path of all future grievers will be better understood.  So their emotions will be honored and handled with tender loving care and dignity, not shame of weakness.  Or a psychiatric label for those grieving longer than three months. 

Thanks to generations of misunderstandings about grief, and new labels applied to the old misunderstandings, the time for grief to come out of the dark ages…to be better understood and maybe even embraced….has finally arrived. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Am I "cheating" on my grief when I dance with joy?

Dear friends,
I want to share something weighing on my heart.  As producer of the Good GRIEF Talk Show, I was inspired to launch a second radio show that would allow us to unabashedly discuss the authentic side of womanhood.  Called the Wisdom of Women Talk Show, last night was our inaugural episode.  Our guest was a well established Passion Party consultant and our topic was how to bring fun back into our intimate lives.  

The hour flew by quickly, and the broadcast was over before we knew it.  Afterwards, I reflected on how many times I had to mute my microphone so I could giggle like a schoolgirl at the delicate discussion in which I was a willing participant.  But truth be told, as a grieving mother, I felt like I was "cheating" on my grief by allowing
myself to have fun for the hour.  After all, my daily endeavors are all about helping to raise grief awareness.  So was I doing us all a disservice by spending the hour enjoying myself?  Would others think I'm "healed" or I've "moved on" when they hear a hearty laugh coming from the same woman who is a member of the Wailing Tent?  Shame on me for having fun after losing my beloved child!  Or not....    

The truth is, we are not "cheating" on our grief when we feel something other than sorrow.  Allowing ourselves to feel joy helps to balance the sadness and recharge our batteries.  And last night's inaugural episode of the Wisdom of Women Show featuring....ahem....passion enhancement products, was absolutely divine and it felt GOOD to laugh again.  And it gave me hope for the future.  Yes, I "cheated" on my grief last night and had a one-night stand with joy. And I plan to do it again every Thursday.  

This August marks the fifth anniversary of losing our daughter Aly in a car accident, and I'm finally making baby steps that go forward rather than backwards.  Along with this milestone comes the hot flashes and ever deepening wrinkles that announce to the world that I'm no longer a spring chicken, and more like an aged hen.  Yet, I shutter to think of the years that lay ahead unless I allow myself to balance the profound sorrow with joy and laughter.  It doesn't truly matter in what form I find the joy, as long as I partake in it.

So from one griever to another, I wholeheartedly invite you to join me in taking a respite from our grief every Thursday evening on the WoW Talk Show.  Yes our grief unites us, but so does being a woman.  We don't need to roar, we just need to recharge our batteries a little to help us balance the sadness.  And if a sassy new talk show helps us do that, then I'm more than ready.  

Join us every Thursday evening at 7 pm PDT on the Wisdom of Women Talk Show.  Listen live at www.alybluemedia.com/wowshow, or better yet call in to join our sisters in the conversation.  Much light and love to you all.  -Lynda   

Saturday, February 1, 2014

GoodGRIEF Talk Show

A few weeks ago, different tragedies brought three new members to the grieving mothers club in my very own community.  My heart wept for them, knowing the darkness that lay ahead.  I was traveling when the devastating news reached me, stuck in an airport waiting for my delayed flight home.  A thousand miles away, there was nothing I could do to comfort these mothers as they faced a hell we know well.  Instead, I poured my heart out to them in a welcome letter of sorts, a blog entry I titled, The Wailing Tent.
Join us at www.goodgriefww.com

The Wailing Tent touched a tender nerve in many, and I received kind notes from women around the world.  Although we may be strangers from different countries or cultures, inside the tent we all speak the language of an irreplaceable sorrow that others simply do not understand. 

While no one would argue that life is full of loss in many forms, the dynamics of losing a child are unique, setting us distinctively apart from all other grievers.  One need to spend only a moment on the numerous Facebook groups to grasp the depths of sadness that torments every part of our body, mind, and spirit.

Yet there is only so much that can be shared through written blogs and Facebook posts.  Furthermore, reading and writing are one-way dialogues in which many nuances get lost, thus increasing the challenge faced by friends and family as they try to understand.  Is there a way we can help them appreciate the never-ending shadows we tackle daily?  A way that would also allow us to support each other outside the wailing tent?  My brain began to weave through a tapestry of possibilities in search of an answer.

And then it dawned on me.  Yes, there is another way to collectively offer each other comfort while helping to raise grief awareness.  And I was already doing it, albeit in another form.  Recently I began hosting a local radio show as the voice of the small town I lived in.  I was learning about the new world of digital media, and…dare I say….enjoying myself.  But could I create a radio show, a voice, for grieving mothers?  A radio show that would reach all who speak the language of our sisterhood, while helping others to understand our journey?  Doubt permeated my thoughts, for who am I but one shattered mother?  A permanent griever who puts pen to paper to share my heart’s sorrows with the world on occasion.  But the idea of a radio show nagged me, beckoned me, and I continued to wonder “….what if….?”

And then this morning I received yet another heartfelt response to The Wailing Tent, and my thoughts conjured up Albert Einstein, the famed physicist who once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”  And my doubt lessened as my determination for my sorrow to be of value grew.

Though the heartfelt language shared within the tent will never be fully understood by those standing outside, sharing our conversation on a public platform will help others better understand our unique journey, why the sadness permeates every facet of our life.  And by doing so, we help to raise grief awareness for not just those around us, but for everyone.  Who better to help the world understand that grief doesn’t follow a tidy little timeline than those of us who speak the language of the wailing tent?  If we offer each other a soft shoulder and warm ear, and work together to raise grief awareness through a radio show, then wouldn’t that be of value to us all?

Please join grieving mothers everywhere for the inaugural episode of GoodGRIEF Talk Show on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 7 pm PDT.  Angie Cartwright, founder of National Grief Awareness Day will share her story and then take live calls.  For more information, or to listen to the show, please visit www.goodgriefww.com

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Wailing Tent

Dear grieving mother,

Welcome to the sisterhood of the wailing tent.  Although with profound condolences, I know this greeting will soon be forgotten, for your heart and soul have sustained a terrible blow.  The shock known as "the fog" will accompany you for some time, greatly impacting your memory.  So I offer you this written welcome to refer to when your recollection falters.  

The wailing tent is an honored place where only mothers with a broken spirit can enter. Admittance is gained not with an ID card bearing your name, but with the profound sorrow freshly etched on your heart.  Membership is free, for you have already paid the unfathomable price.  The directions to the wailing tent are secret, available only to mothers who speak our language of everlasting grief.  No rules are posted, no hours are noted.  There is no hierarchy, no governing body.  Your membership has no expiration date, it is lifelong.  The refuge offered within its walls does not judge members based on age, religious belief, or social status.  You can hang your camouflages and mask outside, and if you can't make it past the door, we will surround you with love right where you lay.

The wailing tent is a shelter where mothers shed anguished tears among her newfound sisters.  A haven where all forms of wailing are honored, understood, and accepted.  In the beginning, you will be very afraid, and will hate the wailing tent and everything it stands for.  You will flail, thrash about, and spew vile words in protest.  You will fight to be free of the walls, wishing desperately to offer a plea bargain for a different tent, learn a different language.  Those emotions will last for some time. 

Your family and friends cannot accompany you here.  The needs of the wailing tent are invisible to them and, though they will try, they simply cannot comprehend the language nor fathom the disembodied, guttural howls heard within.

In the beginning, your stays here will seem endless.  Over time, the need for your visits will change and eventually you will observe some mothers talking, even smiling, rather than wailing.  Those are the mothers who have learned to balance profound anguish with moments of peace, though they still need to seek refuge among us from time to time.  Do not judge those mothers as callused or strong, for they have endured profound heartache to attain the peace they have found.  Their visits here are greatly valued, for their hard earned wisdom offers hope that we too will learn to balance the sadness in our hearts. 

Lastly, you need not flash your ID card or introduce yourself each time you visit, for we know who you are.  You are one of us, an honorary lifelong sister of the wailing tent.  Welcome, my wailing sister.

Fondly,

The Sisterhood of the Wailing Tent