Thursday, December 1, 2016

Grief Recovery Group starts Jan 8, 2017

There's a new Grief Recovery Group starting on January 8 at 4PM at Spring Creek Church of Christ.

The group is free.  The book is $15.

Our Grief Support Groups provide a safe environment for you to look at your old beliefs about dealing with loss, which losses have affected your life, and take actions that will lead you to complete unresolved emotions that may still be causing you pain.

We take a series of small correct steps to understand our own beliefs about grief.  Then we explore our lifetime of grief experiences and choose one to work on specifically.  We seek to eliminate the pain associated with loss.

Join us!

Lance Decker

To register, you can go to https://www.meetup.com/Houston-Area-Grief-Recovery/events/234863819/

or http://lancedecker.com

or call me at 832-534-0730

or email me at lance@lancedecker.com

Monday, November 21, 2016

Grief is the NORMAL and NATURAL reaction to loss

My wonderful sister-in-law sent me a link to an article in The Atlantic magazine that I found quite interesting partially because it confirmed many things I already knew about grief, and partially because of its main premise. The key question is "is grief a disease?"  Now before we get too started here, let me give you the link to the original article which was taken from Mosaic Science.  Note the title is "How Should You Grieve?" unlike The Atlantic's title, "Is Grief a Disease?"

https://mosaicscience.com/story/complicated-grief-bereavement-death-loss-CBT
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/when-grief-never-ends/507752/?utm_source=eb

That completed now, let's talk about the elephant in the room with this article.  Is grief normal?  I think we would all say that grief is normal.  Is grief complicated?  Again, having been through it several times, I find some grief periods more complicated than others.  The most complicated is the death of my 29 year old son four summers ago.  Is having grief for an extended period of time that includes the inability to cope a disease? Well, we certainly know that grief can cause disease, like most extremely stressful and life altering events.  We don't gulp down Tums for nothing in corporate America.  But can grief really be classified as a disease, a mental illness, a sickness with distinct symptoms like the flu?

On the one hand, I am glad the question exists because many people do not seek help for grief events because grief is not technically an illness therefore the insurance companies will not pay for services from grief counselors or grief groups.  I would be more than happy if grief could be seen in a light that helped people into recovery programs through insurance payments.

On the other however, grief is completely natural and normal.  Normal does not equal disease.  Grief is the measure of love we had for the lost relationship (or whatever was lost - there are over 40 losses that can create a grief experience).  What is even more interesting is that every grief experience is unique.  That is because every relationship is unique.  If they are all unique, then they all have unique symptoms.  Some of those symptoms are learned behaviors based upon what was modeled to us as we watched others experience grief, and some are because of the nature of the relationship itself.  Two siblings that lose a parent will process the loss differently, have different "symptomatology" and grieve differently.

Grief is so very misunderstood by the common person.  I often hear from my clients "no one understands me", or "people expect me to be over this by now."  I have even heard people tell me that they cannot cry amongst the family because it make everyone "uncomfortable."  We are trained by this mixed up society to say the most harsh things to grievers. "At least you have two other children." or "Don't feel bad, at least you are young enough to marry again."  I wish it were required reading by all high schools in America and beyond to read the Grief Recovery Handbook in an attempt to retrain Americans for grief experiences.

As for the rest of the article, I found the research findings, in many cases, in tune with The Grief Recovery Institute.  Some of those findings are that people who go for extended periods in grief without help lose direction, lose hope, and lose their own way.  I was one of those people.  I also liked the idea of confronting grief head on and not shrinking away from it.  We do not like pain and we typically avoid situations that cause it.  I too avoided the hospitals my son was in. For grief, however, we need to lean into it much like walking into hurricane force winds.  We need to go on the journey set before us, even though it hurts and was thrust on us.  Grief is supposed to hurt.  As a friend of a friend Mar Feder says "Every loss deserves to be honored with grief."

I liked that the researchers didn't agree with Dr. Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross' 5 stages of grief when it comes to the griever, and that there are no defined stages that every person goes through.  I liked some of the methods that were developed for confronting grief.  These steps remind me of the steps in the programs of GRI where we examine our belief about grief, then we take small distinct steps towards an understanding of what is unsaid, undone, incomplete, and lost though the death or loss of a relationship.  A person needs to have two things to accomplish grief recovery, the will to do it (not everyone wants to get better), and the right steps/program.

I do appreciate the research done with grieving people and the efforts of wonderful people to find ways to help people in grief.  While this was a long article, it was quite interesting.  Is grief a disease?  No, it is natural.  Do grieving people need help?  Yes, many do and should seek it.  Are there existing programs that address many of the aspects of the research findings? Yes, please see the links above.  Is everyone worthy of help?  By all means.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Are You Strong enough to be Weak?

Image result for crying man
As I work with grievers, I consistently realize that the subjects of strength and grief recovery are very confused.  In grief recovery, it is weakness that heals the broken heart, not strength.  It is the weakness that shows a person's strength, stamina, and courage.  I speak with people that fear weakness and loss of composure.  "I don't want to open that wound'" or "It hurts too much to go there," or even "I don't want to rehash the past" are common responses from those that fear weakness.

Recently I had rotator cuff surgery on my right (and dominate) shoulder.  I am still in those first weeks where I have been told not to use my right shoulder (hand, arm, elbow) at all.  My wonderful wife lovingly does so much for me.  I have to be weak, so my shoulder will heal properly.  Not only this, but twice a day, my wife exercises my shoulder to gain range of motion.  During these times the pain is unspeakable.  We both know the pain is necessary, although neither of us like to do this task. Again, I have to be weak and endure periods of pain for the proper healing to occur.

Recovering from loss is similar, even though society tells us otherwise.  Society tells us to "be strong" and "pull yourself together," but society has it all wrong.  I don't know when things changed, but grief was once acceptable.  Widows wore black for long periods.  Within the family circle, we surrounded our grieving loved ones, not just for a week, but for years.  I guess times were simpler then.  Now if you lose your spouse or child, your work might allow you to be away for three whole days.

Society these days does well when we are happy, but falls very short when sadness is overwhelming us.  Even back around 1900 it was a problem so Ella Wheeler Wilcox penned her famous lines in the poem Solitude:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;

I would suggest you read the whole poem also at Solitude.  It is so sad that grief is not publically acceptable with in many cultures.

When a griever is told that their behavior is unacceptable, what choices do they have?  The two most common responses are faking recovery (e.g. acting strong even though they are crushed inside) or withdrawal.  One of my favorite books on the subject calls the first Academy Award Recovery.  The problem here is that we never recover and that lack of recovery saps our strength and sucks away our joy for life.  Our heart remains broken and our lives are skewed away from happiness.  Those that withdraw are lost in their own misery with feelings of hopelessness.  Neither of these responses sound that great to me...

There is a third option for grievers; a path rarely taken.  This path is to allow those feelings, those deep emotions, to well up anyway, even in public... even at work.  At first, reactions will be mixed. You might even hear that you are not "handling it well."  Explain to those around you that these episodes will pass in time.  Explain to your coworkers that it is normal, natural and healing.  Explain that their support during these times establishes an atmosphere that you need to ultimately feel better.

In a way, these "grieving moments" are like physical therapy for my shoulder.  We exercise emotions and muscles that need healing.  They hurt.  In my case I moan and grunt during exercise: for the griever, they weep and sob.  After my exercises I use ice to help.  After a grief moment, a hug helps.

Don't stop here though, seek a great program like the Grief Recovery Method.  Get focused on recovery.  Allow yourself to open up to others.  Explore the source of the pain and treat it using a proven method of small correct steps.  Like my shoulder will need physical therapy, a broken heart need emotional therapy.

So, as with my shoulder recovery, it isn't the strength of your demeanor that has the most value in grief recovery, it is the willingness to be weak, the boldness to not conform, the courage to go to those soft and very painful places seeking healing.  Your weakness is your strength.  Are you strong enough to be weak?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

This Is Us - challenge

My wife and I watched the first episode of the new show on NBC called "This Is Us" on demand today.  The show seems very good from the pilot, and I was especially touched by a particular scene when a Dr tells a young man that his wife delivered two healthy children, however, the third was stillborn.  The scene is on youtube.



The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as "the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior."  This character has just lost a child, but gained two others. Talk about conflicting emotions!  Joy and grief mingling in the heart.  A heart that is swelling with pride, yet completely broken.  But this isn't the reason I'm writing today.

The good doctor sits down and tells his own personal grief story, not to wallow in sorrow with the young man, but to help him seek some good from an awful situation.  I was so touched by the way this was presented.  I'll let you see what happened in the show.

Challenge - (v) to summon to a contest of skill, strength, special effort, etc.; invite; arouse; stimulate. (adapted from Dictionary.com).  Challenges can also represent an awakening to a person.  A chance to open your broken-hearted eyes to new possibilities.  To expose your own suffering to let others know it's okay and that grief is normal.  To come alongside a person in deep pain and be broken with them. A challenge helped me, and I have written about it before in earlier blogs.

Can challenges like this really help in grief recovery?  Is this just TV drama or does it work?  Is it therapeutic for me to work with grievers?  I would like to hear your story.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Four Years... and Counting

Throughout our culture we celebrate special days constantly.  Some days like Christmas and Valentines Day have been hijacked by corporate greed, but still, many of us still look forward to time with family and friends.  We love to renew old relationships and find out the latest from our loved ones.

Some days, however, represent grief and loss.  These days are approached with pain and longing for special people and relationships we have lost.  We see the day approaching, and, as hard as we try to hold them off, they come anyway and invade us with deep memories of sometimes awful situations.

Yesterday my wife and I recognized... celebrated...  well, perhaps just "got through" the four year anniversary of the loss of our 29 year old son.  We did have the chance to think of fond memories and joys with Lance Jr.  We called him Lanny.  My mother called him LJ.  He was a loving person who didn't fit the mold of society.  He struggled in so many ways, yet had joy for life and people in his life.

Four years ago we lived through the great tragedy of turning off life support on our son and donating his kidneys to strangers.  We searched for meaning on that day and found a little comfort that his death would bring life to others.  It was an intellectual decision for my family of broken hearts.

The journey of a million miles started that day with a single step towards the exit of the hospital.  The depth of grief was so deep and overwhelming.  I was confused, disoriented, and lost.  Grief was so completely overwhelming, and I had never understood the depths that it could take me.

Four years later, I miss him dearly, and I see the same in my wife's eyes.

So, what lessons have I learned in four years?  What has this experience done to me?  Where has God used my grief to help others?  What was gained through this loss?  The last question is so strange, but I have learned that people are re-formed through trials.  Some are made into people that are better somehow and others are made worse.

One day shortly after my son's death, I called an acquaintance that had not heard about Lanny's death. He told me something that still sticks with me, and I have tried to achieve.  He told me that having known me for only a short time, he knew I would be in a position, someday, to help others because of what happened to my son.  I remember how amazed I was at this statement when it was said.

If you were to read some of my oldest blogs, you can see a bit of a progression.  At one point I ask something like, "It's been 18 months, why does it still hurt so badly."  Of course, I thought time would take care of the pain.  We know that is a myth.

The lessons of this are still coming slowly as I travel this road.  One thing I learned is that most everyone suffers, in their own way, grief for a lost loved one, relationship, pet, or whatever.  Another thing very closely related to this is that people very seldom tell anyone else about their pain.  When I introduce the subject of grief to others and tell my own story, there's usually an outpouring of emotion that has been kept inside under lock and key, now opened and flowing freely.  People want to feel better.  They want to be heard. However, they seldom feel safe enough with others to expose the deep feelings of their broken heart.

I have learned to be a better listener... a heart with ears.  I am surprised that sometimes that all it takes to help others.  Listen, nod, cry, laugh, and listen more.  For the person that finally feels at ease to tell their deep feelings, this is like pouring gasoline on a fire.  Feelings are the important thing for healing a broken heart, not facts.

As already alluded to, safety is a key also.  Knowing that there is confidential communication that won't be repeated around the water cooler is vital for the griever.  In my grief support groups, this is repeatedly noted as an important factor in being able to "release the dogs" of emotions.

As for helping others, this one eluded me for some time.  First, I knew that I needed help myself.  How could I help others when I was so broken?  I read some books and even taught a grief support group with a religious ties, but in the end, I still hurt.  I needed a program that had steps, that had an outcome.  I needed a program with an end.  About six or seven months ago, when I read about the Grief Recovery Institute, I was pretty excited and convinced my wife that I needed to do this program and become a certified teacher of it.  Until this program, the terms "grief" and "recovery" really didn't make sense to me.  I was told that the loss of a child is impossible to recover from... another myth.

Since that time, I have been able to help a number of people formally and many others informally by just listening and providing a free book to them.  Often on airplanes as a I travel, I find someone dealing with loss and give them a card.  I gain great personal joy in listening as people feel comfortable enough with me to let their emotions flow.  I encourage people often to read the Grief Recovery Handbook and participate in a program.  I enjoy giving hope to people that feel that there's no recovery from loss.

So, after four years, you might ask if it still hurts.  The answer is yes.  But the pain is just from missing someone that I held so dear.  I miss Lanny and that leaves a hole.  Still others may ask if I'm better now.  The answer is also yes.  I have worked through my relationship with Lanny and resolved many incomplete hopes, dreams and expectations.  I get better also through helping others.  You may be asking about anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and how we deal with them.  The best answer I can give you is that we approach each as it is.  We cry, we talk, we remember.  We are always shocked with the speed in which time flies by.  It seems like just yesterday.  We try not to distract.  We seek to memorialize in some small way the life now gone.

Let me know if this helps.  Please reply to the post or send me a message.  I would love to hear from you.

Lance Decker
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist
http://lancedecker.com


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Anniversaries

Today, I feel a bit melancholy about the loss of my mother-in-law one year ago today.  Her name was Dorothy and she was part of our daily lives for seven years prior to her death.  My wife, being the youngest of seven children, was chosen to "take care of mom" by her older siblings, but we really didn't mind because for the most part, she was a lovely woman.

When she came to live with us she was mobile (could walk) and would even cook for us on occasion. She was self sufficient except for a few minor things.  As the years passed her health deteriorated and she had many setbacks, as is common for a person in the ninth decade of life.  For the most part, my wife became her nurse although there was limited help from Medicare.  The burden of care became quite heavy on my wife and to a lesser extent for me as I attempted to do what I could to help Dorothy and to support my wife.

In the early Spring of last year, we had to move to a new home almost four hours south near Houston so I could take a new job.  We arranged medical transport for Dorothy and did our best to make the trip comfortable for her.  It was expensive, yet needed.  The transition seemed to go quite well expect for some motion sickness on the way.  Her doctor suggested that during the transition we transfer her to Hospice care.  This was an inevitable transition, but still hard to do.  The hospice people were great caregivers and helped us in so many ways.

In late May, Dorothy started to take a turn for the worst and things ramped up a bit for her care.  New meds were introduced and more attention was provided by visiting nurses.  My sweet wife was on guard 24x7 for her mother at this point.  In early July we called in the family and mid morning on July 7, 2015, Dorothy took her last breath of sweet air surrounded by most of her children.

What followed was odd for my wife and me.  We were familiar with grief having lost our 29 year old son just three years prior.  The grief was (and is) still heavy on our hearts.  In this case however, we were flush with relief and sadness all at the same time.  We had full scale "mixed emotions" as the result of losing Dorothy.  Our lives were suddenly simpler, yet there was an emptiness - a missing part of our hearts.  We both commented that losing mom was quite different than losing our son.  It didn't seem to eclipse the pain we still felt for our son.

Yet today, I sit in front of the keyboard reflecting on Dorothy and how she added to our home.  Her laugh, her love for chocolate covered cherries (really anything chocolate), and her love for the birds outside her window all flood into my mind today.  Life is different for us now.  On the one hand we embrace the freedom we have now, while on the other we miss her presence in our life.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Fake It To Make It

As I do grief recovery work, I am amazed at the willingness of some people to talk about their loss and to say that they really would like to get help in dealing with it.  Some of these people are the most "put together" people I thought I knew.  All to often, we succumb to societal pressure to "act recovered" even though we are not.  We put on our public face and march off into the world just faking recovery.

It seems so prevalent that it is expected and normal to lead two (or more) lives.  This isn't just a grief problem, but a societal problem.  Our society says, "If you are going to be happy and have a smile, come on in."  However, the counterpoint is also true, "If you are going to be sad, do that at home, alone."

Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote the poem "Solitude" in the early 1900's which starts out with "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone."  A full version of this poem is at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45937.  This illustrates my point well.  Who really says, "we had a great evening crying together?"  Society tells us to get in line, straighten up and "put on our happy face."  We have "Happy Meals," "Good Vibrations," and of course James Brown's "I Feel Good!"

When is is proper to be sad in public?  Well, funerals are a safe place to be unhappy in public, but society pretty much immediately says in just a few days, "aren't you over that yet?"  So try this, walk though a busy mall or store with a big cheesy smile on your face and watch the reaction of those around you.  They almost immediately smile back at you.  Now do the same and allow your sad face to be evident, even tears.  What do people do?  Certainly there will be those lovely souls that stop to help, God bless them.  But for the most part, people look away.  They disconnect.  They surmise and judge.

So, what can you we do about this.  Well, probably nothing in the grander scale of societal change.  However, we can choose to live just one life with one face.  A face that shows how we really feel.  Be genuine and loving.  Allow yourself to be loved by those sweet people that love you or those ones in the mall that don't.  Emotions are natural, they require very little coaxing to come out.  It is much more work to hold them inside.

There's an analogy in grief recovery of a tea pot full of water and on a fire.  In normal operation the cover of the spout has a lid that contains a whistle.  When the water boils, the whistle sounds and we know the water is hot.  This is much like our emotions.  During the normal day, we are simmering, but things happen, memories hit us unexpectedly, and suddenly the fire is turned up.  Like the tea pot, if we let the whistle sound, people will know we need some support and come help.  The moment will pass and things move along.

However, if we choose to hold back that whistle, what happens?  It is like we stick a cork in the spout and the pressure starts to build.  We put on our fake face and pretend we are okay, while inside we are boiling.  We prevent the emotions from coming to the surface and hope they will subside without a scene.  Sometimes the emotions pass and fire goes back down, but the pressure in the pot remains.  This happens over and over until we have a huge disproportional outburst.  Our teapot blows up and we are left with a mess.  Sometimes those messes are an emotional meltdown, but other times they are lashing out at people we really love.  It can cause many more problems than we would have ordinarily had is we let the whistle sound.

I know people that are embarrassed by the public display of sadness.  They apologise when emotions happen that are sad.  To tell the truth, I am one of those people.  However, I say, "let it flow and be in the moment."  Don't worry about public response.  Let the whistle sound.  You may be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you get.

We don't need to "put on our happy face" if our sad one is there.  Be one.  One person with one face showing the emotions that are really present in the moment.  God gave us emotions as part of our make up.  They make us human.

For more information about grief recovery, check out the Grief Recovery Institute or my website.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Grief on "The Big Bang Theory"

Maybe I watch too much TV, or maybe I just never noticed before my training with the Grief Recovery Institute, but it seems like I see grief being played out constantly on the "small screen."  One of my favorite shows is "The Big Bang Theory."  I am a total nerd when it comes to technology so I love to see the disfunction of those nerdier than I am.  I was watching Episode 19 on the DVR this morning and I noticed some things I would like to discuss in the blog today.

First... ***Spoiler Alert*** if you haven't watched Episode 19 of this season, bookmark this page, watch it and then come back ***End Spoiler Alert***

In this episode, one of the story lines is that Sheldon's computer dies and Amy is there to support him.  Most people would simply say, "its just a computer, what's the big deal?"  For Sheldon, however, even a broken computer with a failing video card, audio card and three bad keys on the keyboard are still not enough for him to replace it.  Sheldon, like us, get attached to things, physical things without any real existence of their own except a shaped or formed piece of plastic, metal, ceramic, etc.  Some things have sentimental value to us because of how we got it or how it was involved with other people.  Sheldon is no different.  He had attached himself emotionally to a laptop.

At some point in the show, the laptop breathes its last breath, the screen goes dark, and Sheldon is obviously moved with grief.  He ceremoniously plays "Taps" on his smart phone and covers the computer with a black cloth.  He's sad, well, as sad as the character can be, it is Sheldon afterall.  When moved with grief, we are predominately sad and struggle to make sense of it in our minds.  Our minds and our hearts are suddenly in "disconnect mode" and confusion and disorientation begin.  Ceremonies are a way of dealing with loss to some degree and Sheldon immediately exhibits these grief symptoms.

I thought the writers did a good job not trying to recreate the "stages of grief" in the show.  As we know, the stages of grief were not discovered for those that remain after a loss, but for those that learn that they have terminal illnesses. The writers also did a good job having Amy be supportive for the most part from an emotional standpoint.

One interesting thing that Amy did is to go out and buy a replacement computer.  Amy was replacing the loss for Sheldon.  A dear friend of mine tells a story of losing his dog only for a well meaning relative to buy a new dog and "surprise" him.  The new dog was not the same as his old one.  The relationship could never be the same.  One is always comparing the old with the new, trying to have the new behave like the old.  We need to complete the relationship with the former before we can love the new one completely and without the encumbrance of the previous incomplete relationship. We call this "baggage" and we tend to carry our baggage from one relationship to another.  This is also true of Sheldon in the show.  Amy did a good job technically buying a very nice replacement, but Sheldon objected wildly initially.

Amy starts to discuss the disposition of the old computer and Sheldon makes a startling admission by taking Amy to a storage locker where everything he had ever owned was stored.  Every book, every computer, every T-shirt, etc.  Sheldon had an attachment to everything and could not say "goodbye" to anything.  Sheldon knew that this was odd, but he was so attached, so incomplete with previous relationships with things, he couldn't bear to throw them away.  He tries to make a step towards recovery, to completion, with a golf ball thrown at him by his brother by throwing it away outside the locker.  Amy is pleased with his progress in throwing away just one thing, however as Sheldon closes the locker, you see the golf ball rolling in the gathering darkness of the storage locker.  Sheldon had thrown away an empty box.  He had made a false step toward completeness.

Sheldon is a lot like me in a way here.  When my son died, we packaged up his things and periodically pull out a box and try to throw things away.  It is hard sometimes to unhook ourselves from the pain and the stuff associated with it.  I'm thankful to the Grief Recovery Method for helping resolve that connection and for providing tools for dealing with things like this.  I'm thankful that there is a book like "The Grief Recovery Handbook" to walk me through a series of small correct choices for completing my grief.

While just a TV show, the grief experienced even by small things is real and we need a path for completing those losses.  I appreciate the writers and actors on this show for not shying away from exposing real issues, even though shown through eccentric characters.  I spoke with Russell Friedman  at the Grief Recovery Institute recently and he told me that I would "find grievers under every rock."  I guess that is true.  We all experience grief to some degree and and in varying intensities throughout our lives.  Thanks to the writers of "The Big Bang Theory" for a compelling and wonderfully eccentric exhibition of grief.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dancing with the Grieving Stars?

Last night, my wife and I watched "Dancing with the Stars" and I was struck by the number of times grief came up in the show.  The theme of the night was "Your most memorable year," so many remembered highlights of great years.  Some however remembered loss.  Doug Flute, a former NFL quarterback remembered the loss of his parents.  His situation was quite different in that his father died and while kissing him goodbye, his mother passed away. This all happened within an hour.  See more here:  http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/25380287/ex-nfl-qb-doug-flutie-loses-both-parents-on-same-day-an-hour-apart.

Doug made a very valuable statement during the show.  He said something to the effect that he had the chance to tell his father how much he meant to him shortly before he died, but he didn't have that chance with his mother.  This all happened in November of last year and you could visibly see his demeanor change during the discussion of his mother.  Obviously Doug had unfinished business with his mother.  He wished he could deliver some communication of love and appreciation to her, but he did not have the chance.

Jodie Sweetin, a beloved child star from Full House and now Fuller House, talked about her loss and grief when the original Full House show ended.  She said she did not "know how to grieve" about this loss.  She was five year old when it started and an early teen when it ended.  She did not know anything but working with this family and suddenly it was all lost.  Jodie turned to various short term energy relieving behaviors like drugs and alcohol.  She spent many years in that place until she looked for and found help five years ago.

Paige VanZandt stated that she was bullied in school and had trouble fitting in.  She didn't say it exactly, but she was hurting from the abuse of other children.  In not knowing how to deal with it, she turned to fighting.  She is now a championship contending UFC fighter.  She funnelled all of the anger she kept inside into fighting in the ring, unleashing the inner hurt on her opponents.

What is most interesting to me is that all three of these public figures struggle with grief just the way we do.  They seek comfort from the grief in sometimes healthy and sometimes unhealthy ways.  They are victims of no knowledge of how to grieve in a healthy way or how to complete the relationships. They do not know how to deal with lost hopes, dreams and expectations associated to their losses.  They have messages they want to be delivered that were not.  They explore how they could have done things differently, better, or more.

I wanted to reach out to these three stars and introduce the Grief Recovery Method to them from the Grief Recovery Institute.  Both Jodie and Paige's parents could have learned much from "How Children Grieve" and all three could benefit now from the "Grief Recovery Method."

I am so happy to be able to help people through this program as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist.  Paige, Jodie, and Doug, please give me a call so we can set up an appointment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What DO You Say to a Griever?

There are a lot of myths about grief and a lot of misunderstanding about what grievers need during the early periods of grief.  Naturally, those who don't have a recent loss are confused about what to say to someone in the depths of grief.  So, what do you say?  What do grievers really need?  What comfort can friends and family provide that communicates love and care for the griever?

The Grief Recovery Institute has done a great job of explaining what things unintentionally hurt grievers.  Appeals to intellect are not what the person needs.  In grief, the person is swimming in emotions, many times deeply conflicting.  Occasionally they have to "surface" and operate in the intellectual world for short periods of time to deal with funeral details or financial things, but this is a deeply emotional time for the griever.

In the TV cop shows we hear them say "I'm sorry for your loss."  Having lost my son almost four years ago, I learned to hate this statement.  It communicated a lack of concern to me, a lack of forethought for what I needed.  I didn't judge the person that said it.  Frankly, it was said by so many people, I cannot tell you exactly who said it.  I was in a fog.  This statement hurt.

Things like, "they're in a better place" or "they are watching from heaven"  all seemed quite bizarre to me.  How did they know?  These statements while intellectually interesting were also not helpful.

I'm watching the OJ Simpson miniseries on my DVR.  I'm a little behind.  Last night there was a scene where Marcia Clark is talking to Ron Goldman's father and she said, "I know how you feel."  As the words poured from her mouth, I was already objecting.  Mr. Goldman handled it the way most grievers would with pure anger and doubt.  It was quite a good example of what not to say to a griever.

So, what do you say?  Well, my first thought is, if you know the person that you are talking to is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  Reach out your arms, hold them, cry with them.  It is emotional, so be emotional (that includes men also).  Nothing made me feel better than the love exhibited through those lovely hugs, caring tear filled eyes, knowing looks, and no words.

Since being certified with GRI, I also learned that words that appeal to the emotions are best.  One such statement is "I have no idea what you are feeling."  This statement is almost always followed by a description of the griever about how they are feeling.  It is also very true.  Every relationship is uniquely unique.  My relationship with my mother is different than that of my brother, therefore our reactions to that loss will be different.  So when you say this, you are telling the truth, explaining your feelings, and giving an opening to the person to talk, cry, hug, etc. etc. etc.

"I don't know what to say," can also be a nice start to a conversation.  I would always hug the person, because frankly, it is another truth.  It is not a contrived response.

In our family, when we wanted to sum up the volume of emotions in the whole situation, we said, "This sucks!" which was code for "I feel so bad I can't even express it, and I need some hugs right now!"  For us, this worked, albeit a little crude.

One final idea is instead of saying something, do something.  Grievers are not good at eating, sleeping, cooking, shopping, functioning, etc.  You might simply ask if you can mow the lawn for them on Tuesday (be specific on the day) or come to the house and clean the bathrooms the day after the funeral (usually the family is heading out and the griever is left with laundry and a bit of a mess).  Tell them that you plan to go to the grocery store today or tomorrow and can pick up what they need or invite them to go with you.  By all of this, I do not mean that you should plant a tree or do something symbolic.  Do something of service for the person.

All in all, grief is emotional, so communications need to appeal to emotion.  Not your emotions necessarily, but theirs.  They need to be heard without judgment or criticism.  There are no quick fixes for grief, so don't try to fix them.  Be emotional, be genuine, be loving.  Hugs speak volumes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fear of Feeling Better

In grief, especially long term grief, I think that perhaps people may feel fear and apprehension of feeling better.  That tension in your chest, that empty feeling in your heart, or that loss of power seems to become a place of comfort rather than a move to action.

In my limited time of working with grieving people, I tend to find those that desperately want to get better and those that don't.  It makes me wonder why.

In my own grief struggle, I was searching for answers.  I wanted to know why I felt so bad for so long.  I was aggressively seeking a solution.  When I found the Grief Recovery Institute, the program spoke to me.  The book spoke to me.  I felt deep within me that I had finally found an answer to lifting my soul up from the hurt.  When I went through the course, I poured myself thoroughly into it with every ounce of energy.  When completed with the loss of my son, I felt oddly different.  It took a few hours to sink in.  I noticed that I viewed other situations and difficulties that were adjacent to my loss much differently.  I noticed a missing feeling in my chest.  I searched for it, but I couldn't find it.  It was a familiar feeling of pain, not terrible pain, just a consistent reminder of the loss I had experienced.  Now, that was missing and I felt quite odd for a few weeks.

So, why delay stepping on the path to being you again?

I would like to know your thoughts.

Is it possible that familiar feeling of pain is something associated to the memory of the loved one?

Is there fear that the loss of the pain will cause us to forget our lost loved one?

Is there a fear to enter the depth of the pain and stir up those really deep painful feelings and relive that terrible day?

Is the person's identity so entangled with the loss that they fear losing who they really are?

Please give me your thoughts.

Lance

Monday, March 21, 2016

New Grief Recovery Group starts April 10th in Tomball

Do you want to join the next Grief Recovery Group?

We are planning to start a new group on April 10th at the Spring Creek Church of Christ at 14847 Brown Rd, Tomball, TX 77377 from 4 - 6PM.

We will meet each Sunday for two hours.

If you want to feel better, please go to http://lancedecker.com and send me your information.

I'm looking forward to meeting you!

Lance Decker
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist

Beginnings...

Grief Recovery

I have had the most amazing experience over the past few months and it has come because of my training and certification with the Grief Recovery Institute.  If you are a reader of my blog, you know that my wife and I lost our 29 year old son over three and a half years ago.  Since then, I have been trying to learn more about grief and how to help others.  Really, I just wanted to feel better and help others to feel better.

After a lot of research and questions, I signed up and attended training to be able to deliver the Grief Recovery Method training and recovery groups.  What an amazing course!  What a great instructor (Laura Jack - see www.laurajack.com).  And best of all, I really feel so much better.  It is impossible to explain, but I will try.  Since Lance Jr. died, I have had a tightness in my chest, a heaviness of heart, a drain of my being.  After the class, frankly, I wondered where it went and I searched for that familiar feeling, but it was gone.  I also had an ability to look at other instances around my son's death with new light and forgiveness.

I've made it known to a few of my friends and my local church that I have this training.  This past weekend we held a balloon event I planned several months ago which helped to launch the training class at my church.  As word spreads, I have more and more people coming to me with questions and interest in being in a grief recovery group.

I bought a domain and made a website (www.lancedecker.com) and have ordered some business cards.  I'm trying to figure out how much time I can spend on this and keep my regular job.  I've started teaching a dear friend of mine the material and, I plan to start a recovery group in April at the Spring Creek church of Christ in Tomball. (www.springcreekchurchofchrist.org).

I find grievers are very interested in getting better, they just don't know how.  Conventional wisdom is to not do anything about grief and to live with the pain.  Some develop bad habits or illnesses.  Some turn to substances for relief.  Like a broken leg requires a familiar, sometimes painful, series of steps, so does grief recovery.

I feel like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16 - "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"  In my case, I want people to know that there is relief from the pain of grief, that recovery is possible, and that you can be yourself again.  None of this means that we forget our loved one or that, at times, we are sad about what happened.  It does mean the incomplete business of our losses can be completed and the pain associated with them can stop.

I am excited what the next few months and years hold for me and this work.  I am finally free of the pain and look forward to helping others do the same.

Lance Decker
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist

Friday, March 18, 2016

Grief in the Workplace

Grief in the Workplace

By Lance Decker, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist

Lately, I have noticed some interesting behaviors at my workplace.  Let me first set the stage for you with the conditions surrounding this.  I live and work in the Houston, TX area and my company has been adversely affected by the recent drop in oil prices.  We realize most of our income through the supply of steel products directly to drillers.  When the drilling slows or stops, so does our business.  To illustrate this, when I started with this company back in December of 2014, there were approximately 1920 drilling rigs working in North America.  Today there are less than 500.  As you can imagine the business has suffered greatly.  Fortunately, the company has good cash reserves and does not seem to be in any financial difficulty. That said, however, the company is smart about manpower and costs during an “oil bust” time period and has started a series of mill closures and reduced capacity to match the current demand.  As this occurs, the company also is reducing overhead employees, many with seniority.

So, you may ask, “Why would you be bothered? You still have a job.”  This is exactly the question in my mind as I feel my morale, and that of the other employees left behind, decline.  First, inside even large companies, there is a building of community.  It is natural for people to get to know others and invest feeling and emotions in others within the workplace.  There’s a funny description of men and women within the workplace that become close called an “office wife” or “office husband.”  While quite odd, I have had this odd relationship occur within my own work experience.  Regardless, people build bonds within the workplace.  Unfortunately, in difficult times, companies reassess the usefulness of every position and every person filling them. People (real people, not numbers) are laid off and relationships are lost or reduced by those leaving as well as those left behind.  The familiarity of the workplace changes.  There’s an empty desk.  Familiar patterns of coffee or water cooler talk are disrupted.  This is nearly the text book definition of grief.  “The conflicting feelings cause by the end of (or change of) a familiar pattern of behavior.”  It is conflicting because, well, I retained my job, but my friend lost his or hers. 

I see symptoms of grief everywhere.  People are distracted for days following a layoff.  There is a fear, a discomfort, that perhaps this round of layoffs are not quite over.  People gather in small groups and compare the lists of who was let go.  In addition others take on the work of those no longer employed and try to figure out what they were doing and what priorities were most important for that departed person.  There is a fear of what the future holds and a bit of paralysis before work begins slowly to return to a new normal.

In addition to the lost relationships of a layoff, as the company continues to evaluate the future, there is an expectation of new layoffs.  Tensions grow and production decreases.  Having been distracted by the stress of the situation, employees are more prone to accidents.  The hopes and dreams of people are jeopardized.  The expectations of raises and promotions are vanishing.  The security for which we all work is undermined.  In response, people who are still working are distracted, cannot sleep, and have steeper highs and lows of activity.  I observe demoralization in some and scrambling in others.  I see political rivals pressing for position and recognition.

So, what can we do in the workplace to relieve this stress, to recover from loss, and get back on task?  Perhaps the first step is to recognize that there is grief for those still working.  Managers have to allow employees to move through grief by being a listening ear, by being human beings, and by giving accurate information.  It is my experience that managers feel the same way during these periods.  If a manager can relate his own feelings of loss and fear about the future, then the employee can see his or her manager in a new light.  Managers naturally receive more detail about the business and future plans, so, when appropriate, a manager can give hints of safety or the lack thereof so employees can plan for the immediate future.  Understanding where we stand can help us find a level of understanding of our individual situation and give new hope either within the current job or in searching for a new one.


Grief does in fact expand in businesses that are shrinking.  It is vital to companies in this position to recognize the symptoms and humanize the experience that all too often is a numbers game.  Employees that remain need not only time and space to process the loss of friends and security, but they need caring managers that open up with their own feelings and listen to those of their employees left behind after a layoff.