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:

  • Listen to my live call recording with Author and Master Life Coach, Dr. Karin Luise, where we discuss Father Loss and how to move forward after losing your Father.
  • 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


regret guilt grief claire bidwell smith

Dealing with Regret in Grief

regret guilt grief claire bidwell smith

 

Today I want to explore grief and regret with you. To date I have never had a client who did not experience some form of regret following the loss of a loved one. Something left unsaid, a decision made near the end that they wish they could change, or a situation unresolved. After a loss these regrets can haunt us endlessly.

For several years after my mother died I obsessed about various things I did and didn't do towards the end of her life. It had been so hard to see her sick, so scary to see her turn into someone I didn't recognize, that I often withdrew from her, something that caused me great pain in reflection.

But by far, the hardest one was the night she died. I had left college and was on my way to the hospital, seven hours away. Halfway there I stopped to see a boy I had a crush on and decided to stay the night. Some of this decision came from avoidance and denial. But a lot of it was just my teenage naiveté. Nonetheless, my father called in the middle of the night to tell me that I had not made it in time, and that she was gone. 

The remorse I carried over this ate me up for years. I couldn't believe that I had failed my mother in such selfish ways. I turned that fateful night over in my head like a Rubix cube, trying desperately to change the outcome. I cried and cried, and I wrote my dead mother endless letters telling her how sorry I was. 

Eventually, years down the road, I was able to forgive myself. After I became a counselor I saw just how many people feel regret following a loss. And I was finally able to see myself in the context of so many others: as a human being, fallible and fragile, and full of love and fear and humanity.

We cannot change our past, but we can forgive ourselves. And we can recognize that we feel this pain because we loved someone so much. And that there is endless beauty in that. 

If you find yourself consumed with regret following a loss know that working through these feelings is your path to healing and eventual peace. Find a therapist to talk through the emotions with. Write letters to your lost loved one. Forgive yourself.

You are not alone.

Love,
Claire


mother's day claire bidwell smith

Mother’s Day Without Your Mom

mother's day claire bidwell smith
This week I’m thinking nonstop about everyone out there who is facing Mother’s Day without their mom here. It’s really one of the hardest holidays to get through when you’re missing your mama.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. And there are more resources than ever to help you feel supported. No matter how you choose to actually spend the day - in bed with Netflix or out with friends and family - take a moment to connect inwardly with your mom, and also to connect with the sisterhood of women all around you who are missing their moms too.

Resource:

How to Get Support on Mother's Day

A Place for Motherless Daughters on Mother's Day Weekend

An Open Letter to Motherless Daughters on Mother's Day

Free Mother’s Day Call with me and Hope Edelman:

Sign Up Here

List of blogs:

After Loss: Rediscovering my Mom in Motherhood

How to Spend Mother’s Day After Loss

Healing from the Loss of a Mother

 


claire bidwell smith

Mother's Day Conference Call: Hope Edelman and Claire Bidwell Smith


I know first hand how hard Mother's Day can be for those of us who have lost our moms.

For Mother's Day 2018—a weekend that can bring up difficult feelings for women who have lost their mothers—author Hope Edelman and I hosted a free, 30-minute call to offer words of comfort and support. If you would like to listen in to a recording of the call, follow the link below.

Also please read my tips for coping with Mother's Day and visit Hope Edelman's site for more advice and a list of 2018 Motherless Daughters support around Mother's Day.

Click here to listen!


After Loss: Rediscovering my Mom in Motherhood

Mom Loss Motherhood

In what ways do you feel connected to your mom?

One of my favorite memories of my mother probably isn’t one she would want me sharing as often as I do, but it so perfectly sums her up that I can’t help but revisit it.

In the memory, I’m about thirteen years old. We’re living in Destin, Florida and we’re headed to the mall. I am an only child and my mother and I are close. Things I love to do with her: hang out in the kitchen while she cooks, hang out in the bathroom while she gets ready for an evening out, and go shopping with her.

All of those are pretty basic mom-daughter activities, I know, except my mom wasn’t your basic mom. She was messy and creative, uncommonly beautiful, and stylish in an utterly head-turning way. She was also incredibly outgoing and quick-witted, and she brought so much wild beauty into the lives of my father and myself that it’s a wonder we weren’t blinded by it all.

Oh, and did I mention impulsive? She was that too.

So, this one afternoon we’re driving around the mall parking lot, looking for the perfect spot. My mom had this thing about finding a perfect spot. And suddenly it happened: a car started pulling out of this tiny stretch of coveted spaces right in front of the entrance.

My mom yanks the wheel, turning us into the one-way parking aisle, and snaps on her blinker. Then she turns and gives me this smile of wonder and pride. But as the exiting car backs out towards us, another car suddenly zips into the parking aisle from the wrong direction and puts on its blinker too.

I watch my mother’s eyes widen. “That woman is NOT going to steal my space,” she mutters. She then makes some desperate hand-waving gesture at the other driver, receiving only a catty shrug in return. We watch together as the original car backs out of its space and then as the other waiting car pulls in before we have a chance to.

My mother’s jaw drops. Her grip visibly tightens on the wheel, and her mouth closes into a hard line. She pulls up behind the newly-parked car and lowers her window. I am pensive in my seat, scared but also excited by this unfolding of events. A woman emerges from the car and begins to walk towards us.

“You just stole our parking space,” my mother says tersely, “and this is a one-way.”

“Yeah, well too bad,” the woman replies. She flips her hair over one shoulder and walks right past our idling car.

My mother is so stunned that she just sits there for a moment. And then she throws the car into gear and drives quickly to an open parking spot near the back of the lot. “Come on,” she says through her teeth, practically yanking me from the car, and we fast-walk towards the mall.

Inside the doors my mother heads straight for a candy shop that sits adjacent to the food court.

“Mom,” I plead, “what are we doing?”

But she doesn’t answer. All she does is depress the lever on a large dispenser of gumballs, and I watch as the colorful orbs pop out and into a plastic bag she holds open. She is hardly finished paying for them before she thrusts several into my hand.

“Chew,” she instructs, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the entrance of the mall again.

As we walk, I slide the gumballs over my tongue, my mouth instantly smarting with their sweet flavor. In less than a minute we are outside in the parking lot again, the intense Florida heat shimmering off the cars around us. I follow my mother to the car that now sits in our coveted space, and I stand beside her, both of us furiously chewing our gum. I stare at our reflection in the window, my lanky adolescent figure timid next to her glamorous and stately one. In that moment I know that I will say yes to anything she will ever ask me to do.

“Okay, now smear,” she says, grinning at me, light dancing in her eyes.

Carefully I remove the giant wad of gum from my mouth, holding it between my thumb and index finger, and I watch my mother do the same. Then, working quickly, we spread them out across the windshield and driver’s side window. Within seconds we are done and walking away, leaving the gum to bake in the hot, afternoon sun. I let out a breath I hadn’t known as I was holding, and my mother does the same, except hers sounds more like a giggle.

Several months later my mother is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, and five years later she is dead.

It’s now been over twenty years since I’ve held her hand or heard her voice. In that time I’ve grown into a woman. I’ve traveled the world, gotten married, and become a writer. But all these years, through everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve gone, there’s been the sense that something is missing. There’s always been this little (and sometimes not so little) space inside my heart.

But then nine years ago my daughter Veronica was born. And three years after that my second daughter Juliette was born.

And in the moments and days and hours and months that have occurred since their births, I have become a mother.

And in this wildly unexpected way, I feel as though I have been given my mother back. Time and time again I hear her voice in mine, I feel her hand in mine. She is there with me when I’m teaching Vera how to bake cookies, or when I’m up in the middle of the night, tending to my smallest.

It’s not even that I feel like she’s been given back to me, but that my mother has been given to me anew. I understand her in a way I never did before. I see her in a way I never did. When I tuck my girls into bed at night, when I smooth Vera’s hair away from her forehead when she has a fever, or scoop Juliette into my arms after a tumble, my heart spilling over for them, I often find myself breathless with the realization of just how much my mother loved me.

They will never know her the way I did. They will never call her grandma or experience any of her mischievous adventures. They will never get care packages in the mail from her or cook with her in the kitchen as I did. But they will know her in the way that I love them, in the way that I see them and hear them and name them.

It’s funny the stories that stay with us. To this day I refuse to look for the perfect spot in any parking lot, always preferring to park in the back, no matter how far the walk. And in all these years, no matter how much I have tried to emulate her, I have not become my mother. I would never dream of smearing gum across a stranger’s windshield, no matter their misdeed against me. I am also not nearly as messy, nor as beautiful, as my mother was.

But she lives within me somewhere in a very real way. And I know that each of these moments and days works to create a world in which my girls will carry me within themselves as they move forward in their lives, no matter what lies ahead.

Love,
Claire

P.S. If you'd like to know when my 6-week online grief program opens registration again, sign up here.


How to Spend Mother’s Day After Loss

Mother's Day Loss

Today I want to talk about Mother's Day. This holiday can be an incredibly painful one for those of us who have lost our mothers. The constant ads, social media posts, and gift and card offerings in every shop are a constant reminder that our mothers are no longer with us. It can all strike a nerve even if you never cared about it much before losing your mother—I've heard from plenty of clients and friends that they feel quite tortured by all the prolific Mother's Day declarations after loss.

So here are a few things I want you to keep in mind as you head into this year's Mother's Day.

  1. Know that you are not alone. There are so many of us out here who are grieving our mothers during this holiday right alongside you. There are Motherless Daughters support groups in most major cities and many of them hold gatherings around Mother's Day. It can be very healing to be with a group of women who understand you. Check this list of events on Hope Edelman's page and see if there is something nearby.
  2. Be intentional about how you want to spend the day. If it feels good to ignore the day altogether and go to the movies, do that. If you would like to celebrate the day then you should feel free to embrace that as well. Either way, be gentle with yourself.
  3. Just because your mom is not here anymore doesn't mean you can't honor her. Buy a bouquet of her favorite flowers. Go to her favorite brunch spot, or cook something she liked. Post a photo of her on social media and write a remembrance of her.
  4. Write your mother a letter telling her how much you love her and fill her in on your life since she's been gone.
  5. Talk to friends and loved ones about your mom. Share your own stories or ask them to share some with you.
  6. Remember that every year feels different. If this year is particularly hard for you it doesn't mean it will always feel this way.

Our mothers will always be part of us, whether they are physically here or not. Let yourself connect with your mom this year on Mother's Day, and remember that you are not the only one out there who is feeling a multitude of emotions on this holiday. This Mother’s Day I will be honoring my mom and be spending lots of time with my girls.

In addition, I am now offering a self-guided online course, A Safe Place to Grieve and One-time Grief ConsultationsIf you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at contact@clairebidwellsmith.com

Love,
Claire