Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

What Ambiguous Grief Teaches Us About The Lingering Effects Of Loss July 3, 2016

Filed under: Grief and Ambiguity — chocophile @ 12:30 pm
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“I don’t like to use the word acceptance, but I think we can be comfortable with what we cannot solve.”

Pauline Boss, Ph.D.



Psychologist and family therapist Pauline Boss talks about “ambiguous loss” and the futility of thinking about closure with deep grief. There is no closure, she argues, when you can’t really put a period at the end of the sentence. When you lose someone through a senseless tragedy like 9/11 where there is no body to recover and bury. More prosaically, when you lose someone through divorce, addiction, or estrangement and they are still alive but disconnected from you. In these situations it is common to experience protracted grief and a sense of loss that seems pervasive and on-going.


What makes that particular kind of grieving even harder to bear is our society’s tendency to sweep sad and unpleasant things under the rug with the harsh and inherently blaming comment, “Aren’t you over that already?” No one fully recovers or gets closure if their child commits suicide, or their husband is MIA, both ambiguous losses. They are able to go on because they find meaning in life.


As a society we could all help each other by recognizing the lingering effects of grief, all grief, not just the ambiguous kind, and stop pathologizing anyone who still grieves years after a divorce or death. Healing happens, but its trajectory is different for each one of us.


Certain connections are so deep, like that between a parent and child, that there is no way to fully heal after they are torn apart through death, Alzheimers, divorce, estrangement, or uncertainty (those cases where someone is MIA or a body is never recovered). The least we can offer people dealing with loss is compassion and the refrain, “I am so sorry you’re going through this.” There is nothing you can say to make it better. All you can give is sincere caring, your presence, a hand to hold, or a hug.


One of the best ways to go forward if you are dealing with grief is to acknowledge that sadness may always be a part of you; yet, you can still find meaning in life. How you do that depends on your proclivities. It might be crocheting blankets for newborns if you had a miscarriage, participating in one of the many walks or runs for different diseases, sending care packages to men and women deployed overseas, or anything that feels useful to you.


Another path to greater peace is through mindfulness. Pay attention to whatever is happening now, whether you are drinking a cup of tea or folding laundry. This deliberate focus can imbue each minute with purpose and meaning. Noticing beauty in the natural world, a painting, music, or someone’s smile is another way of reconnecting with life. In her book Love 2.0, author Barbara Fredrickson says these micro moments of connection can be powerfully felt as love, even among strangers. The smallest positive interaction can infuse your day with a sense of warmth that lifts your spirits and satisfies your need for connection. The trick is to cultivate more of those moments by looking for them and being grateful when they occur.


Whatever you feel, the most important thing to do is allow all your emotions and let them carry you into unchartered territory. Then, they can flow through you, as opposed to being stuck inside festering. You might even find yourself understanding the term “sweet grief,” as fully experiencing your grief can feel sweet. It’s still heart rending, but in its depth there is a tiny sense of fulfillment. Perhaps, that unexpected sweetness comes from realizing you loved someone so much and felt so incredibly connected that you are capable of mourning so completely. That ability, to give yourself over to all your emotions, can be amazingly healing. Be brave, your body, mind, and spirit were created to handle all life’s vicissitudes, including great loss.




Suggested reading:

Pauline Boss: Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning

Barbara Fredrickson: Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection

John Kabat Zinn: Wherever You Go There You Are

Pena Chodron: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang






Calming the Emotional Chaos of Grief January 31, 2012

A death, divorce, illness, sudden unemployment, or any major loss, creates chaos in your life. This emotional fracturing, as well as the practical aftershocks of dealing with estates, lawyers, housing, finances, doctors, etc., often yields intense feelings that can be overwhelming.

When you think you simply can’t assimilate another thing, it’s crucial to just stop. Even if you have never meditated, simply sitting or lying down and paying attention to your breath will calm your nervous system and give you the literal breather you need.

Sometimes, it’s too hard to stay still, so take a walk; but, it is imperative you give yourself a break from the internal chatter, and incessant activities that may be consuming every waking moment. When you think you don’t have a minute to sit, lie down, or walk, that’s when you desperately need the break. Take it and watch the world continue to spin on its axis.

A big part of healing through grief is connecting with yourself while putting all the parts back together in a new way that makes you feel safe and whole.

As you know, this process of reconnecting all the emotional, physical, and spiritual dots can be an exhausting and chaotic ride. One minute, there’s a sense of control and growing mastery, and the next, you’re surfing a sea of feelings.

Part of the immediate task is showing up with what yogis call Beginner’s Mind and Witness Consciousness. Beginner’s mind means cultivating an attitude of openness when approaching something new, without preconceived notions, just as a beginner would. This particular grief experience is terra incognita; you haven’t had it before. By abandoning all your ideas about how you “should” feel, or behave, you allow yourself to safely feel what is true in this moment. That cosmic permission slip, coupled with open awareness, allows you to fully experience this moment, and all it entails emotionally. While you may want to run from it as if it’s a hungry tiger, the only way out is through. Avoidance may provide short term relief, but often brings long term pain.

Witness consciousness means retraining your mind to detach enough so you can have some objectivity. It is practicing watching something with a neutral perspective, and not identifying with it. Both of these yogic techniques encourage you to leave your ego outside the door. You will never totally succeed in completely detaching from your ego, but these practices allow you to experience the freedom and joy of not taking everything personally, while enhancing your chances for greater inner peace.

Beginner’s mind, witness consciousness, and self-compassion are the trifecta for healing from almost anything. They shore you up, increase your perspective, and allow for enough detachment to see things more clearly.

Just as in yoga, where each visit to the mat reveals something new, the process of unraveling the threads of grief is fresh every minute. Whether it’s a crying spell, a fit of anger, guilt, or deep sadness, recognizing how each one is unique keeps you open to the process of change and transformation.

The chaos of grief is caused, in part, by the old issues it triggers, like abandonment and post-traumatic stress. During times of acute emotional turmoil, being exquisitely gentle with yourself can ease the pain. Recognizing unhelpful thought patterns, and challenging them as vociferously as possible, will also make you feel better and more in control.

The chaotic emotional fallout of grief can also be assuaged by establishing simple routines, like having a tea break at the same time every day, getting some exercise, listening to soothing music (see the chapter on book, CD, and DVD recommendations for ideas), meditating, calling someone supportive, eating at regular intervals, watching the sky, spending time with your pet, or anything else that’s readily available. The simpler, and more easily available the activity, the greater the chance you will make it a habit and it can reliably calm the chaos.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Grieving and Pre-grieving April 2, 2010

As you navigate loss through the long-term illness of a loved one, or years of growing detachment and sorrow before a divorce, you may think you have done most of your letting go. No doubt, you surrendered into the abyss of grief many times. But grief is a sneaky little demon, and will come back to bite you when you least expect it. Even though you successfully relinquish the relationship more with each passing day, grief is waiting in the wings. While you may have devoted a fair amount of energy to moving forward, it is rare to have done all your grief work before someone is truly gone, or the ink is dry on your divorce papers.

The essence of healing is that everyone’s path is different. Comparing how long it takes you to let go with how long it took someone else, is not only a thankless task, it adds to your suffering. You may never fully let go. If you were in a relationship for decades, that person is part of you. You may not like it, but decades spent with a partner attaches you. So, even if you have grieved long and heartily, when the finality hits you may find yourself steeped in sadness.

Lamenting can take many forms: avoiding company, crying, addictive distractions (like overeating, smoking, gambling, promiscuity, compulsive shopping, drinking, drug use, workaholism, over-medicating with prescriptions, over-exercising, etc.), surrounding yourself with people 24/7, vowing to never love again, etc. Some of these strategies are benign and some can be quite toxic. If you are veering off a healthy path, gently and lovingly bring yourself back to positive self-talk (see Affirmations), a regular schedule of meals and sleep (see Nutrition and Insomnia), and a good balance between work, play, company and solitude. If that is impossible right now, give yourself a cosmic permission slip to say, “OK, I want more food, work, exercise, etc. right now to buffer the tsunami of emotions I am feeling. At some point, I will get past this and feel vital and optimistic. I can let myself take all the time I need to grieve in whatever way feels right to me.” Obviously, if you are shooting heroin, popping OxyContin, or gambling away all your money, get some help. You don’t have to shoulder this alone. Twelve Step groups not only offer tried and true methods for overcoming addiction, they provide you with a community of like minded people all seeking peace, healing, and new ways to embrace life. Working one-on-one with a therapist provides a different kind of insight, direction, and support. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Whether you mentally said good-bye years ago; or, in the case of divorce, led parallel lives for as long as you can remember, your feelings will be different from the finality you experience when the casket is lowered or the divorce decree is granted. Expect raw emotions. Don’t be surprised if you burst into tears during a sentimental movie, when hugging your children, or hearing a certain song. Stifling your feelings is never a good option. Your job is to allow everything that comes up, whatever its intensity or duration. It won’t last.

If you still adhere to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, please know her theory has been updated. Therapists, chaplains, and medical personnel realize grief is unique. There is no map for mourning. Yes, friends and family want you to feel better and let go of your anger, sadness, or negativity. You will, when you are ready. In the meantime, you may want to feign feeling better than you do (see Fake It ‘Til You Make It). It’s only an exercise. You are simply trying on a new thought or feeling to see how well it fits; and, it can provide a little relief while getting people off your case. Especially, the ones who say, “Aren’t you over that already?” (See Responses to: Get over it already.)

The main thing is recognizing the pervasiveness of grief. No matter what loses and sorrows you faced before a death or divorce decree, there are likely to be bouts of deep sadness, existential emptiness, and reverberations of shock that come unbidden. As Rumi said in The Guest House:

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honorably.
They may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

I believe they are clearing you out for some new delight. Moreover, if you try to rush the process, and I have watched many people jump into new relationships before they have sufficiently grieved, you will carry that unfinished business with you until some new crisis re-activates it. You don’t need to dwell on your sadness, just allow it some space in your heart-mind. You may not always notice the difference, because it’s subtle, but every day your grief recedes and you feel more comfortable with your new life.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Grief October 3, 2008

Filed under: GRIEF — chocophile @ 4:04 pm
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Grief is the most protean of emotions, constantly shifting from one feeling to another.  One minute you’re depressed, the next you’re angry.  Later you find yourself bargaining with life, and then you’re in the ozone of denial.  Acceptance comes, but only after you’ve faced your demons.


The thing to remember about grief is that it’s a transformative process. If you allow all its permutations, you will come out on the other side, just as the phoenix rose from the ashes.  


Grieving is healing.  Even if you are 100% sure this divorce is the best decision you could have made, you are leaving someone.  All your hopes and dreams for a future with that person are suddenly lost.   Acknowledging that loss, surrendering to it, and giving yourself time to adjust are crucial steps in moving forward.  Grief is the mosaic of feelings accompanying this process.  


Breakthrough grief, a term I coined to describe those times when you are suddenly overtaken with anger, existential angst, loneliness, despair, etc., is to be expected.  Welcome it.  I know it can rock you to your core, but remember it’s like an inner fire blazing through a forrest of psychic material that needs to burn down to the ground to make way for new growth.  This is a bittersweet process: crucial for your ultimate metamorphosis, but like a cosmic hazing in the moment. 


Here’s something to think about if you are tempted to rush through your grief.  Let’s pretend you see a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.  It’s almost out of its cocoon, but you think you’ll help so you tear open the last little bit.  The almost-ready butterfly emerges but can’t fly. Why not? Because it needed to develop its muscles further by using them to open that last little bit of cocoon.  


Nature knows what its doing.  We are designed with self-healing body-minds.  However, if we interfere with our process we may never really fly.


Make it safe to feel all your feelings.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


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