The importance of self-care while grieving
Even though grief is a full spectrum experience that affects us on multiple levels, the emotional impact tends to get the most press, with descriptions of people experiencing sadness, anger, and isolation. The physical, cognitive, and behavioral effects can often come as a shock, leaving people confused and overwhelmed by reactions that aren’t as well known. For many people, grief interrupts their sleep, appetite, ability to concentrate, and physical health. This is why it’s so important to cultivate care and support that addresses each of these realms. At The Dougy Center, we provide children and teens with a variety of outlets for expression including music, art, dramatic play, and physical activity. If you are grieving, or know someone who is, it can be helpful to think through how to best nurture the body and mind.
A Personal Note on Ambiguous Loss
By Tony M. Grace, M.A., C.T.
Chief Program Officer, The Dougy Center
In these sunshine-filled summer days of adventure and hiking, I find myself thinking about my friend, Yi-Jien Hwa, who would love the Pacific Northwest. A little over five years ago he went hiking by himself in Glacier National Park as this was one of his last opportunities to explore such rugged and beautiful terrain before returning home. He was an experienced hiker, the weather was perfect, and he had planned the hike’s route very well. At some point early on his journey, he disappeared without a trace. No one saw him come or go. After a day went by when he was supposed to return, his wife started getting concerned. She called the park rangers and soon, a large search and rescue was underway. The search made national headlines and captured our small community’s breath, hopes, and prayers. A few days into the search his car was found, but not in the place where his itinerary said it would be. It would be three years later that another hiker would stumble upon his remains. It is believed that he fell off a cliff along the trail and died shortly after. I share this personal story as an example of a type of loss that typically captures the media’s attention and yet the grief of their families and friends is seldom talked about.
Living with Tragedy
The headlines over these past few summer months have been filled with tragedy: a beloved lion in Africa killed, pieces of a missing airplane found on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, members of a faith community murdered because of their race in South Carolina, and at the time of this writing, a number of wildfires torching their way through the western United States. This month also marks the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. If we live long enough, we will come to intimately know tragedy in many forms. But for children, whom we instinctively wish to protect, we often find ourselves at a loss about what to say and do. How do we reconcile a world filled with pain and tragedy with the innocence, wonder, and hope that children represent? How do we foster the optimism of youth with the wisdom of age that not everything goes according to plans?
The importance of saying goodbye
The end of the school year is traditionally a time when many participants in our program close from their groups. At The Dougy Center, children and teens get to decide when they are ready to stop attending, a choice that provides them with a sense of power and control in their lives. When a participant closes, we do a special rock ceremony that enables group members to say goodbye and appreciate the child, teen, or adult for what they contributed during their time at The Dougy Center. The participant who is closing picks four rocks: three that are smooth and one that is rough. These rocks are a metaphor for process of grief - when rough rocks toss together in a tumbler, they come out smooth. Similarly, when grieving families gather in group to talk, laugh, cry, and play, their grief stories come together, smoothing out some of the rough edges. In the closing ceremony, the three smooth rocks represent the parts of grief that have grown easier while the rough one is a reminder that no matter how much time passes, there can still be moments when our hearts hurt for the person who died.