grief during the holidays claire bidwell smith

Coping with Grief During the Holidays

grief during the holidays claire bidwell smith
Today I want to talk about grief during the holidays. The holidays are upon us and it can be a loaded time if you are grieving—or even if it's been a long time since you've lost someone, but they were a significant person in your life. The holidays can bring up so much, like sadness and reflection and other big feelings.

I know this is a time of year when my clients want to talk about the holidays. The actual day is hard, but sometimes the whole season can be hard. Even just the anticipation of the holidays can bring on a certain feeling of anxiety and sadness. The holidays can also be very sweet, with lots of great memories associated. So this is a time when things can be confusing and big feelings can come up.

In my podcast episode below, I share my own experience on coping with the holidays and offer you actionable tips to help you cope this holiday season. In this podcast, I share:

  • My own recent experience with the holidays
  • How to be kind to yourself this holiday season
  • A list of things you can do to get through the holidays this year
  • And a way to honor your person during this holiday season

 


resilient grieving claire bidwell smith

10 Helpful Tips for Resilient Grieving

resilient grieving claire bidwell smith
Resilient grieving is the idea that we can take active measures and steps to find strength and learn coping tools in the face of loss, even when the pain seems unbearable.

An evolving field of research has recently acknowledged our capacity for resiliency, the natural human ability to face trauma and loss by finding ways to thrive, become more in tune with our lives, and create new ways to make meaning out of our experiences.

As someone who has been through my own share of grief, and who has seen hundreds of others move through the process, I know that resilient grieving isn’t for everyone. I believe there are certain personalities and circumstances that more readily lend themselves to this philosophy. But I also believe that there are tools and ideas within resilient grieving that all of us can use. More importantly, many of these techniques can reduce anxiety.

Resilient grieving is about being proactive in your grief process. It’s about letting yourself cry and mourn, but also taking a look at your coping methods and earnestly beginning to reshape your life. It’s about not letting your world fall irrevocably apart as a result of this loss. For some people this may feel out of tune with your natural grief process – some people feel that dusting themselves off and getting on with their lives means letting go of their loved one, but that’s not what resiliency is about.

There are ways to stay connected to your loved one and also begin to live a new life without them, as painful as that may initially sound. I really do believe there is a way to balance the mourning process with resilience, and that building resilience will serve to reduce your anxiety and leave you feeling less overwhelmed.

So how do we go about doing this? Here are some basic ideas about resilient grieving that you can begin to employ in your life right now.

Re-establish Routines

Returning to a regular schedule and routine, despite the changes that you have incurred, immediately soothes the brain and lets our unconscious know that we are safe again. This has a calming effect on the body and central nervous system, leading us away from some of those bodily responses that can easily trigger a panic attack.

When my mother died I took a year-long hiatus from college. I had no sense of routine – I stayed up late, traveled on a whim, did nothing predictable. At the time this felt like what I wanted – my mother was gone; nothing should be the same. But in retrospect, I think it would have perhaps been more beneficial for me to remain in school and continue as planned, while still grieving. Being unmoored like that, out in the world, increased my anxiety and my sense that there was nothing to rely upon.

Examine What is Working

Dr. Hone encourages grievers to ask themselves if their behavior is “helping or harming.” This means paying attention to the thoughts you are focusing on. Are you obsessing on feelings of guilt, continually running through a list of “what ifs”, or replaying traumatic images?

These are all normal responses to loss. It’s as though our mind wants to turn the experience over in our heads like a Rubix cube, trying to make sense of it, trying to line up the events in order to reach a different outcome. Again, this is normal and expected, but after a certain period of time we must begin to release these thoughts and move away from them.

If you find yourself continually replaying certain thoughts stop and ask yourself if they are actually helping in some way. If they are not, then it is time to let go of these thoughts. We’ll cover more strategies for “retraining” your brain in Chapter Eight.

Ask for Help

This one may seem obvious but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered who shrink from this in the face of grief. Either they assume that no one around them will be able to truly help, or they are afraid to ask for help. Letting the people around you know what you need – whether that’s household help, financial planning assistance, or simply someone to listen – can ease the burden you are carrying. I think you’ll be surprised by how ready your community is to help you once they have an understanding of how.

Nurture Your Physical Body

This is often the first thing to go out the window. When we are grieving it is common to experience a lack of appetite, lethargy, sleeplessness. Being proactive about your health during this time is vital. Healthy foods, exercise, and rest will greatly reduce your stress and anxiety levels.

Seek Positives

When we are grieving there is the tendency to look at the whole world through gloom-colored glasses. In the initial grieving process, or if you have let things stagnate for too long, we can become mired in seeing negativity everywhere.

For years I could only look at my life through the lens of having lost my parents. I saw only what I didn’t have, and all the ways in which my life was ruined as a result of their deaths. Finally I began to actively work to acknowledge the positive aspects of my life and doing this turned everything around for me.

This isn’t always an easy process – it requires diligence and focus. Sitting down and making gratitude lists, reminding yourself to bask in positive moments and experiences, and remembering that embracing life again doesn’t mean letting go of your loved one.

Distractions

The habit of dwelling on negative thoughts, or what psychologists calls rumination, can become exactly that – a habit. Actively working to break this cycle by distracting yourself with positive activities can help break this pattern. Go to the movies, take up gardening or some other hobby, beginning to socialize with people who make you feel comfortable, can have a profound effect on reducing negative cycles of thoughts that cause anxiety.

Create Rituals

Find ways that feel good to you to bring your loved one into your life. Our inner selves crave connection with our loved ones. Don’t deny this impulse. Create your own ways to continue that bond. Make their favorite meals, light a candle every night, tell stories about them, start a project in their honor or find a way to be of service for a cause that they cared about.

Connect with Others

Sometimes being around people can be difficult after a major loss. Finding the right people to share company with can make all the difference. Take a look at the people in your life and put distance between yourself and anyone that makes you uncomfortable right now.

Also, seek out people who understand what you’re going through. Join a support group, reach out to a friend who is also familiar with loss. Finding ways to feel a little less alone in your grief will be incredibly soothing.

Make Meaning

Finding ways to make meaning of the loss is invaluable to your sense of peace. This doesn’t mean making sense of why that person died now, but rather, finding ways to make their loss and your grief meaningful.

Did your loved have a cause they were passionate about? Continue the work in their honor. Has your pain made you more compassionate? Find ways to use that in ways to help others.

Accept the Loss

A lot of resilience work involves truly accepting the loss. For many of us this means simply facing our grief, opening ourselves up to the changes in our world, and working to genuinely step into the pain as a way of moving through it. This can feel incredibly frightening but doing this work is never as scary as we think it’s going to be.

*This is an excerpt from Chapter Five of my new book, Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. To read more, order your copy here today!*


loved ones claire bidwell smith

Can Our Loved Ones See Us from the Other Side?


Finding ways to feel connected to our loved ones is a vital part of the healing process. Seeing a psychic medium is one way to feel that connection, but is it real? How does it work? And what is it like to really work with a psychic medium?

I’m excited to introduce you to my friend and favorite psychic medium, Fleur. I first met Fleur a few years ago when I was working on my book, After This. At this point, I thought I was done seeing psychic mediums. But around this time that I was working on my book, one of my best friends died. My friend Abby was 38 years old and a mom of two small kids and we had been friends for almost twenty years. Losing her was really, really hard. We met when we were both waitresses working in NYC in our twenties—and we saw each other through a lot of big, adult moments: moving to LA together,  getting married, having babies and forging our career paths. And she got breast cancer. Saying goodbye to her and watching her family say goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I’ve been through in my life. I really ached for her family and her children.

Six weeks after she died, I got an email from her husband one morning. And he said he’d gotten an email from a mom at his children’s school. She said she’d been to a big group reading with a psychic medium named Fleur—and that Abby had come through really strongly.

I was so curious about this medium, so I booked an appointment with Fleur. And the only open spot she had available was the morning after Abby’s memorial service.

In my podcast episode below, I share why my session with Medium Fleur was life-changing and we also have a deep conversation about life on the other side. Fleur answers the questions we all have about connecting with our loved ones who have passed on and so much more in this candid interview.

I hope this serves you as much as it has for me.

Love,

Claire


anxiety and grief claire bidwell smith

My Story of Anxiety and Grief

anxiety and grief claire bidwell smith
Today I want to share my own experience that you may be able to relate with. This is an excerpt from the introduction of my upcoming book, 
Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, which will be released next week.

I wrote this book to help as many people as possible to understand what anxiety is, how it’s related to grief and the process of digging deeper to move through the feelings that are causing the anxiety.

To get a better understanding of the whole picture, how anxiety and grief work together, I’d like to share with some of my own experience with anxiety and grief:

I was fourteen when both of my parents got cancer at the same time. I was an only child, and the prospect of losing my family was something that loomed over me throughout adolescence. While my father’s prostate cancer was treated easily and he quickly went into remission, my mother’s late-stage colon cancer took us on a rollercoaster of hospitals and doctors and seemingly endless treatments.

My parents were wonderful people. They’d met and married late in life, both of them each other’s third marriages. My father was an engineer and a WWII POW. My mother was a glamorous artist living in Manhattan. She was forty and he was fifty-seven when I was born, and even though my father had three grown children from his first marriage, my mother had always wanted one of her own. I was born in 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia and for a long time our lives were good.

But by the time I headed off to college my father was in his seventies and my mother’s cancer had begun to win the five-year battle she’d been fighting. She died midway through my freshman year at a small liberal arts school in Vermont. I didn’t make it in time to be by her side during her final moments.

My mother’s death rocked me. I was absolutely floored by it. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Not the five years we’d spent helping her combat her illness, not the talks my father had with me about her potential demise, not the school guidance counselor’s sessions. The truth was I never believed she would actually die. Because: Mothers don’t die. Bad things don’t actually happen.

I now understand that these beliefs were at the root of my anxiety. When my mother’s death disproved the two things I’d so fervently held onto, the whole floor dropped out. If my mother could die, anything, absolutely anything could happen.

I took a hiatus from school and moved back home to Georgia to help my father pack up the house. I got a job as a waitress and I struggled to relate to my old friends from high school who came around to check on me. No one I knew had experienced so significant a loss. Everyone was sympathetic but nonetheless, I felt very alone in my grief.

The anxiety attacks continued to surface. I lived in fear of having them, and I navigated a constant undercurrent of panic. I worried that my father was going to die at any moment. I worried that I would die. And less concrete than those fears, I simply felt a yawing dizziness at the idea that life was completely out of my control.

I turned to alcohol to quell the anxiety, and I attached myself to a young man who had recently lost a family member and who was deep in the throes of his own grief. Together we made our way to New York City, and it was there, in a college psychology class, where I realized for the first time, that what had happened all those years ago on the road trip with my high school boyfriend: I’d had a panic attack.

Understanding this was the first step in my healing process. Recognizing that I had anxiety as a result of my mother’s death actually helped me to better face the loss and enter into my grief. Losing someone we love is so deeply painful that we often turn away from the feelings, rather than letting them course through us. But when we choose to push away difficult emotions they don’t just disappear, they simply fester beneath the surface causing anger, frustration, and anxiety.

Find out more and pre-order Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief today!

Love,

Claire


support grief claire bidwell smith

Why I Support Others with Grief

Claire Bidwell Smith | Therapy Services
Yesterday was a big day of loss for so many in our country. In honor of this time of remembrance, I wanted to share a bit about my own journey with loss and grief—and how I’ve dedicated my life to offering support and helping others get through their own loss.

I was fourteen when both of my parents got cancer at the same time. My mother died when I was eighteen and my father died when I was twenty-five. Life was hard after that. Being an only child, I felt that I had truly lost my whole family. I felt very alone in the world and unsure of my purpose.

I experienced debilitating anxiety, coupled with bouts of deep depression. For a while I drowned myself in alcohol and unhealthy relationships. But through it all I wrote -- writing had always been my outlet and eventually it became my salvation. From rock bottom to a yoga and meditation practice that finally cleared enough space in my head and heart to allow myself to really grieve for the first time, instead of running away.

And after that all I wanted to do was help others get through what had been so difficult for me. I got a masters in clinical psychology, trained in hospice, became a therapist specializing in grief, and wrote a of couple books.

Along the way I also got married and had two beautiful daughters. That marriage fell apart five years ago and I experienced grief all over again at the dissolution of my little family.

But even through the hardest weeks and months of that time, I held on to what I've learned to be true: that life is much longer and winding than we think and if we let the most painful moments break us wide open, we get to transform into something better than before.

So here I am at today at forty, in love and married again, unexpectedly pregnant with baby number three, and putting out my third book, Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, in a few short weeks. These days I find myself grateful for everything hard that's ever happened, and humbled by the life I've been able to live as a result. As scary as it feels some days I now love and live on a level that once seemed impossible.

I hope by sharing my story with you it will help inspire you to finding the other side of grief in your own life. 

If you or someone you love is grieving right now, I have a few resources I’d love to share to help you:

I hope this helps you. Please share this with someone who is grieving. We’re all in this together and it’s important to reach out to others during times of loss.

Love,

Claire


grief claire bidwell smith

What I Know About Grief

grief claire bidwell smith
Twenty years after the death of my mother and ten years after becoming a grief therapist, there's a lot I know about grief. I've lived it personally and I've also held the hands of hundreds of others as they navigate their own process of mourning. After all this time and all this experience, there are a few things I know for sure.

1. Your grief is uniquely yours
There is no single book or person who can tell you what your grief should look like. The grief process is as unique as the relationship you had with your person. How long it takes, the emotions you experience, and how you honor the relationship you had with that person is entirely up to you. Look to various grief resources and authorities as guideposts, but don't let them dictate how you think you should be grieving. That said, if you feel you're stuck in one area or struggling to cope with some of the heavier emotions definitely reach out for help.

2. There are more than 5 stages of grief
As much as we wish there were some kind of easy formula to follow, there just isn't. The five stages are a wonderful starting point, but they aren't the whole of the process. The truth is that grief is much more fluid and dynamic than most people think. We can experience multiple emotions at one time, feeling both angry and sad for instance. Or we can skip over some stages and linger in others longer than we anticipated. There are even stages that are only beginning to be recognized in the grief community, like anxiety.

3. There is no exact timeline
Our culture currently allows time to grieve for a few short days and weeks immediately after the death of a loved one, but grief actually lasts far longer than that and often the hardest and most painful parts of the bereavement process don't occur right away. Often in the very beginning we are in shock, and it is usually weeks and months later that the deep pain of loss comes. Unfortunately, this is usually the time when most of the people in your life have resumed normalcy and assumed that you have too. The fact is that some grief takes years to process, and often the work we need to do to understand the larger ramifications and life changes that come with significant loss come much later. Go easy on yourself and adjust your expectations for how long you will grieve.

4. Find a community
Grieving can be very lonely. Often it can feel like we are all alone in our grief and this can make it even harder to heal. Create space in your life for your grief, educate your loved ones about your process so they can be supportive, reach out to people who have been where you are, and take time to find a community in which you can grieve. There are in-person support groups, one-on-one therapy, and online communities available in abundance.

5. There is another side to grief 
The truth is that you will never get over your loss. And you don't have to. When we lose someone we love we will always miss them and wish they were still here. But two things can be true at once: you can miss your person and also strive to create a meaningful life in their absence. Sometimes people feel that by healing and moving forward in life it means they are letting go of their person, but instead if you can find ways to stay connected to your loved one and enrich your life at the same time you will find the greatest healing and peace.

I'd like to encourage you to share this blog with someone you know who is grieving.

Love,
Claire

grief afterlife claire bidwell smith

How Exploring the Afterlife Affects the Grief Process

Recent studies show that people who are either grounded in spiritual or religious practices, or the opposite - atheists, have less anxiety about death and the afterlife than people who have no firm beliefs.

I know this was the case for me. After my mother died I floundered for years to find a framework with which to understand her death. Why did she die at age 58? Would I ever see her again? Could she see me? I had no answers, and looking for them seemed even harder than not. So for a long time I just didn't believe anything.

But after my first daughter was born I was consumed with anxiety all over again. What would happen to her if I died? What would happen to me if she died? I felt compelled to search for answers. I talked to rabbis, priests, psychic mediums, shamans…you name it. I made time for anyone I thought could tell me the answer.

What I realized after a while was that I was really searching for was faith. For a way to believe in something bigger than me. Bigger than her. And each time I found glimpses of it I felt a little less anxious.

I still have yet to find a definitive answer, but what I have found is that letting myself be open about it, letting myself wonder about it, has had a profound effect on my sense of peace about the people I've lost.

When was the last time you really pondered what you think happens when we die? Have you ever? Do you have a belief about the afterlife? And if so, does it help you feel connected to your lost loved ones? If not, doing a little exploring and opening yourself up different ideas and ways you might still be connected, can bring great healing.

In my podcast interview with renowned psychic medium Fleur, we explore all of these things and so much more. It was a fascinating conversation and I hope you’ll check it out! You can listen here (it’s episode #4) on iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

Love,

Claire


claire bidwell smith

Finding Meaning After Loss

meaning after loss claire bidwell smith
I recently turned 40 and I spent the morning sitting on my patio writing in my journal and reflecting on the last year. Birthdays are always hard for me. No matter how festive or sweet or quiet or loud, something always feels to be missing. I always feel a strange sort of embarrassment or shame or melancholy, and I know that all of this has to do with no longer having the two people who brought me into this world.

Some years are harder than others, and this morning I was thinking about why. I realized that the years in which I didn't feel melancholy were the years in which I spent my birthday in service of some kind. This realization led me to think about the bigger concept of being in service.

It was a couple of years after my father died when I found myself working in helping capacities – first at a nonprofit supporting underserved school kids, then at an organization that helped homeless people find jobs, after that in hospice, and now in private practice as a grief counselor. Every single day now I talk to people who are hurting, people who are lost, and people who feel alone. Every single day I work to step out of my way and give something of myself to the community around me.

This is the number one thing that has led me out of my grief and pain. Finding a way to feel useful and purposeful in the world, making meaning out of tragedy, and giving what I can of myself, has changed my life. If you are grieving right now, or even just in pain of some kind, I recommend spending an hour or two, or even more, doing things for other people. I promise that those couple of hours will be the ones during your week that glow with peace and love. 

There are no quick fixes to grief. It's a long process with ups and downs, but the things that I know that actually provide relief from the suffering are meditation, finding ways to be of service, and journaling.

If you’d like guidance on your grief process, my online grief program, A Safe Place to Grieve is now available in a self-guided version. Learn more here.

If you're grieving right now and you haven't tried these things, give them a shot. I promise they'll ease some of your pain. 

Love,

Claire


losing places claire bidwell smith

In Losing Someone We Love We Often Lose So Much More


This past summer, while on vacation for a couple of weeks, I spent some time at my aunt's home on Cape Cod, the only place in the world that's held any continuity for me. While I was there I thought a lot about how when we lose a person we don't just lose them, but often so much more.

We lose routines and rituals and a sense of belonging, but sometimes we also lose places.

After my mother died, my father and I packed up the home we'd lived in as a family and we moved into temporary housing, before eventually scattering to opposite sides of the country. I would never again walk through the rooms I'd shared with my mother, never again get to lay down on her bed with the oak tree outside the windows and the sun that slanted across the hardwood floors, and I would never again stand at the stove where she taught me how to make her tangy tomato sauce. I've carted so many of her belongings around with me over the last twenty years, and even though those trinkets and paintings and even a few plants occupy every room of my house today, it's not the same as getting to stand somewhere I once stood with her.

The other week I walked the beach on Cape Cod where I walked with her every summer. This summer I walked it with my daughters, and I picked up shells and I turned over dead horseshoe crabs, just as she had done with me. The girls squealed at the waves, and they held my hands, and we picked over the rocks and seaweed together, and I basked in the sense of my mother that this place brought with it. 

Where are the places where you feel connected to your loved ones? When was the last time you went there? Doing so can bring back a beautiful sense of connection. Even if you can’t physically get there sometimes just going there in your mind can bring you back.

Close your eyes tonight in bed and instead of falling asleep thinking about all you have to do tomorrow, walk through the rooms of an old house, or through a childhood field you played in. Feel your loved ones there with you and know that we are never truly apart.

Love,

Claire


father's day claire bidwell smith

Missing Your Dad on Father's Day

It's that time of year again - Father's Day is here. Card displays and lawnmower commercials serve as a constant reminder to celebrate our dads. But for those of us whose fathers are no longer with us, these reminders can be incredibly painful. While everyone around us is gathering to spend time with their fathers, it's a lonely day for others who are missing their dads.

I know your pain on this day. It's been 15 years since my father died and not a year goes by when I don't wish I could surprise him with breakfast and a necktie he'll never wear. For years I ignored the day, scanned the celebratory Facebook posts with empty eyes, and tried to find a balm for the twinges of envy and resentment I felt for those who still had their fathers.

Over the years something softened for me. Perhaps it was simply time but partly it had to do with finding a community of other people who were missing their dads too. Even though this isn't a club we wish to be a part of, we're not alone. This year if the relentless Father's Day messages are feeling like lemon juice in a paper cut, here are a few things you can do to ease this holiday:

  • Seek the company of those who understand. The Fatherless Daughters Project Community is a great place to start. The Beyond Fatherless Conference is another good opportunity to connect with others who get it.
  • Decide how you want to spend the day. You could swing between deciding to stay home with take-out and bury yourself in Netflix all day or to do the opposite and embrace the day by honoring your dad and doing something that reminds you of him. (Note that each year may feel different depending on what's going on in your life.)
  • Avoid social media for the few days surrounding Father's Day if it's triggering too much for you.
  • Let a few friends or family know that this day is difficult for you and let them support you during this time.
  • Allow for a multitude of emotions. Anger, resentment, jealousy, frustration, anxiety, and sadness are all normal.
  • Journal your feelings so that you do not get pent up.
  • Make an extra appointment with your therapist just to give yourself some extra emotional padding.
  • Do something in honor of your dad - volunteer or donate to a charity, write him a letter, visit his favorite place or restaurant.

Overall, know that you are not alone in facing difficult feelings on Father's Day, no matter how long it's been since you lost your dad. Be gentle with yourself and find the support you need.

Love,

Claire