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Rising from the Ashes of Grief

by Joanne Jozefowski, Ph.D. author of The Phoenix Phenomenon

The Phoenix is a mythical bird who, when burned to ashes, rose again in a more powerful, beautiful form. Phoenix Grievers are those, who after tragedy strikes, eventually become stronger and better human beings. The road through grief can lead to personal transformation.

Phoenix Grievers are people who have suffered the loss of a loved one or loved ones and have experienced the full spectrum of grief. They offer the benefits of their hindsight with recommendations for other grievers.

The initial phase, Impact, follows immediately after the death of a loved one. Phoenix Grievers recommend:

  • Establish an eating, sleeping and resting routine as soon as possible.

  • Do only what you have to do during the immediate days after the death.

  • Focus on one thing at a time.

  • Reach out for support from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers.

  • Get help with decisions such as funeral arrangements, legal and other matters.

  • Call your physician to schedule a "touch-base" appointment.

  • Take time off to grieve and to rest and replenish yourself.

  • Expect to feel stunned. Be easy on yourself.

  • Express your feelings to trusted others. Tell your story over and over. Do not feel guilty for taking up their time and attention.

  • Help dependent others with their grief (children, elderly). Get help with this, if necessary.

  • Use self-talk to encourage yourself and lessen your fears.

  • Consider seeing a grief counselor/therapist for information and guidance.

  • Know that you will make it through. Never let go of hope!

Once the numbness, disbelief and "emotional Novocain" begin to dissipate, grievers enter a distressful period called Chaos, which has repercussions throughout the mind, body and spirit. Phoenix Grievers recommend:

  • Continue nurturing your baseline needs.

  • Be aware of the normal feelings of grief. Knowledge is power.

  • Acknowledge and accept what you are feeling.

  • Find support to safely express your emotions.

  • Use reflective and expressive techniques:
    Reflective: Expressive:
    meditationcrying, screaming, sobbing, singing
    journal recording (written or audio)talking with others
    musicphysical activities; housework, etc.
    yogahitting/kicking a punching bag
    self-talk (calming and encouraging)walking, running

  • Gather a support team; family, friends, clergy, therapist and/or group.

  • Search for role models who have been through your specific loss situation.

  • Keep it simple; eliminate anything unnecessary from daily life.

  • Recognize that this pain will not last forever. "This too shall pass."

  • As the trauma of loss travels through the body, Phoenix Grievers offer the following suggestions:

  • Learn what grief does to the body and mind and realize you are vulnerable.

  • Encourage yourself to eat, rest, sleep and exercise. Ask someone to check-up on you.

  • Monitor yourself in order to detect symptoms of change.

  • Use your support team. Do not isolate yourself.

  • Be sure to see your primary care physician. Follow his/her advice.

  • Continue using techniques from the previous chapter.

  • Set aside a time to grieve. Life's hectic pace may leave little time to feel and express grief's emotions.

  • Be aware of the health of dependent grievers; children and the elderly.

  • Eliminate unnecessary obligations. Keep it simple.

  • You will make it through. Never let go of hope!

  • Remember that those who have been there are the greatest experts!

There is no universal answer as to why we suffer tragedies. There is no meaning to senseless loss. The only meaning can be the one we create: How can I use the pain of my grief toward the betterment of mankind?" Individually and collectively we must bring forth the answers so that the nation's sacrifices and suffering have not been in vain. The great heroism and patriotism exhibited by our fellow human beings demonstrates the best of our qualities. We are proud of who we are and must now be proud of who we are becoming.

Creating meaning during this time is one of our greatest freedoms. The freedom to respond in a way that enhances human life and dignity. Spiritual alchemy is a way to transform something harmful into something beneficial. There are many ways of doing this:

Contribution: doing something or giving something (time, money resources) to those in need.

Connection: resisting isolation; getting out there to participate in humanitarian events. Being part of the community at large.

Communication: listening to others pain and fear. Being communicators of positive themes and messages of hope.

Caring: being aware of who needs help and doing what we can.

Compassion: understanding, tolerating and accepting others differences. This does not mean tolerating cruelty or injustice.

Ceremony: creating and participating in rituals, memorials religious and other services that honor the lives and deaths of our loved ones.

Commitment: pledging and demonstrating our commitment to peace and brotherhood.

Together, we can become a Phoenix nation. We will eventually become stronger and better. The road through our grief can lead to personal, national, even international transformation.

Joanne Jozefowski, Ph.D., C.S., R.N. is the author of The Phoenix Phenomenon, and founder of Counseling Affiliates. JOZEFOWSKI@aol.com

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