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


online grief program claire bidwell smith

My Online Grief Program is now available anytime!

Although registration is closed for the live May 2018 session, I have developed a self-guided version of the course and it's available now!

First, I want to tell you more about where my motivation to take this path and create this program deepened.

I can tell you that when I was a little girl, the idea of growing up to become a grief counselor was not on my list of things to be. But I can also tell you that I am nothing but grateful for the work I do today. A decade of professional experience, working one on one with clients who are grieving, along with my own personal two decades of loss, has given me such a breadth of knowledge.

It is all of this experience and knowledge that I relied upon to design this program and create the content. For ten years I have worked in the field—first in hospice and now in private practice. I have walked alongside hundreds of individuals going through their own deep grief process and in doing so, I have learned so much—not only about grief itself but about how loss shapes us and enables us to see the world in ways we would never have otherwise.

More about my online program: A Safe Place to Grieve | An online course for overcoming the difficult emotions of grief

Over the course of this self-guided program, I help you tap into the aspects of grieving that I have found essential to healing and growing after losing someone you love. I'm with you every step of the way, thinking about my own personal hardships and triumphs and also about each and every client I have worked with. These individuals have truly taught me everything I know today.

Get the full details here

Love,
Claire


online grief program claire bidwell smith

A Safe Place to Grieve (Self-Guided Online Grief Program)

Dear Friends,

When my parents died twenty years ago I didn’t know where to turn for grief support. I felt so isolated from my peers, and the grief process I endured was incredibly lonely. I so wish there had been a program like the one I am now launching. And that’s exactly why I’ve created it.

I’ve been wanting to offer this to you for years. And now that dream has come true. A Safe Place to Grieve (previously called Growing and Thriving Through Loss) allows me to serve so many more individuals than I could possibly work with one-on-one. Now, anyone, anywhere, anytime can receive support, community, and guidance as they walk their path with loss.

During the live program sessions, participants also have access to our private Facebook group and direct interaction with me. This is one of the most healing parts of this opportunity for those who want to connect with others who have experienced loss and can deeply understand their what they've been through. 

Of course, the online program experience is different than talk therapy, but I use the same tools and approaches to grief work over the course of these six weeks that I use in my individual sessions.

A Safe Place to Grieve self-guided program includes:

  • Weekly videos (plus transcripts)
  • Printable weekly workbooks
  • Weekly audio meditations
  • Printable journaling workbook
  • Access to the program website
  • Private Facebook group for sharing this journey with fellow participants and receiving my support
  • Daily emails to guide you every step of the way

Throughout the course we move through the following topics in-depth, bringing healing and peace to all the different areas in which you are currently struggling.

Week One: What does it really mean to grieve? We explore the process and your own individual path.

Week Two: We dive into the deep stuff like guilt, anger, and anything left unresolved following your loss.

Week Three: All about anxiety. How it relates to your loss, how to manage it, and how to overcome it.

Week Four: What does it mean to find resilience within your grief process? We take inventory of your life and where the big shifts need to happen.

Week Five: Staying connected. The key to alleviating much of your pain is learning how to stay connected (or reconnect) with your loved one. There are more ways than you think.

Week Six: Moving forward doesn’t mean letting go. Embracing your new normal and learning how to make meaning and find purpose.  

I hope to have the chance to share this program experience with you. I promise it won’t be scary or overwhelming. I’ve walked this path myself and I’ve walked it alongside so many others. There is another side to grief. Let me help you get there.

Sign up here to be the first to know when the next session is open for registration.

Love,
Claire


birthdays holidays anniversaries loved ones claire bidwell smith

Honoring Holidays, Anniversaries & Birthdays for Loved Ones


There are so many difficult dates after you lose someone you love. Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays - there seems to be one around every bend, and each one brings on its own set of emotions. In the twenty years since my parents died I've experienced a multitude of reactions to these dates and some years are more painful than others. I can never be quite sure which dates will hold big emotions for me, and which ones will float under the surface quietly. But what I do know is that it helps me to do something to honor my parents on the dates that hold intense feelings for me.

For my father's ten year death anniversary I took a private flight lesson in a tiny Cessna. My father had been a pilot in the war and flying was a great love of his. For me, piloting this little airplane over the coast of Los Angeles ten years after his death, helped me feel closer to him than I had in years. I knew he would have loved the way my heart pounded as we ascended into the clouds and that he would have been proud of all the strength and resilience I'd found in the years since he'd been gone.

And after my daughters were born I began a ritual of making a cake with them each year on my mother's birthday. We use my mom's old mixer and measuring cups and spoons, and as we bake I tell them stories about how I used to bake with her. The whole act invokes her presence, not just for me, but for my daughters who never knew her in real life. After we're done we even light candles and sing to her, and hearing my mother's name on the lips of my daughters' never fails to fill my heart.

There are so many ways to ritualize and honor our passed loved ones. When we find ways to do so it creates healing and a sense of connection that is otherwise missing. Cook something they loved or make a reservation at their favorite restaurant. Plant flowers or indulge in a hobby they enjoyed. Watch their old favorite movie, gather friends or family for a meal and to share memories, or simply light a candle by their photo and say hello. (Check out Allison Gilbert's book Passed and Present for even more ideas.)

Additionally, I offer a self-guided online grief program: A Safe Place to Grieve. The program is based on the process I use every day with my grief therapy clients. You are guided through six sections using my meditations and videos, workbook, journal, emails and more.

Our hearts yearn to stay connected to the people we have lost. Honor that yearning, honor your relationship, and honor the love that you will always have for them.

Love,
Claire


kids grief claire bidwell smith

How to Help Kids with Grief and Loss

kids grief claire bidwell smith

Today I want to talk about kids and grief. Our children will inevitably experience loss. Sometimes it is directly – the loss of a friend or family member, and sometimes it is peripheral – witnessing a classmate lose someone or becoming aware of a national tragedy. Death is a complicated concept for children to comprehend. They feel it on a visceral, emotional level, but they are not quite able to understand it on a cognitive level.

When we experience loss as adults we not only feel it deeply, but we take in the big picture in such a way that it makes the pain even sharper. Often children cannot even comprehend that they will truly never see the deceased person again. They are not able to foresee all that their lives will look like as a result of the loss, and cannot imagine the important milestones and life moments a deceased person will miss. Instead, children and adolescents are very much in the moment. What does it look like right now to have the person gone? What does it feel like in this moment?

The best thing you can do is meet them exactly where they are. Talking about the loss with them in very simple and direct terms is helpful. Taking time to answer their questions, even if sometimes you have to say, "I don't know" as a response is important. Use clear language and allow them the time to come and go from their own thoughts. Simply providing space for them to process it in whatever way they do is vital. Giving them permission to feel everything they feel and providing a non-judgemental space in which they can explore their thoughts will benefit them greatly.

Lastly, teaching them about ritual or helping them find ways to memorialize the person is incredibly helpful. Check out Allison Gilbert’s Passed and Present for creative ideas on memorializing objects belonging to loved ones.

And here is a list of some of my favorite children’s books that really help open up conversation and understanding around death:

The Elephant in the Room

Meet Me at the Moon

What's Heaven?

Where are you?

Lifetimes

The Invisible String

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

I know it can be intimidating to talk with your kids about grief. For some it can open up your own grief in ways you’re not ready to confront. For others it can be scary to not have all the answers. But again, simply providing space for them to process their own thoughts and fears provides enormous healing.

Love,

Claire


How Being Prepared for Death can Alleviate Anxiety

preparing for death

Today I want to introduce you to Amy Pickard and her company Good To Go. But before I tell you about her, let me tell you about what led me to her.

Experiencing so much loss in my life caused me a lot of anxiety about death (my forthcoming book is titled Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief), something that ramped up in particular after my first child was born. In the early days of my daughter's life I suddenly found myself fretting endlessly about what would happen if I died early, just as my mother had, leaving Vera without a mom. I thought about it obsessively to the point where I felt miserable. I didn’t want to think about death all the time; I had just had a baby, one of the most joyous experiences of my life! Eventually, I began to search for ways to alleviate this awful state I’d found myself in.

I knew that in order to do this I needed to face my anxiety head-on, which really meant facing death head-on. I asked myself the question: What if I do die early just like my mom? What could I put in place that would make me feel better? From writing letters to my daughters, to making some of my wishes known to friends, and taking out a life insurance policy, I literally started getting my affairs in order.

But what about all the other stuff? 

When I heard about Amy Pickard and Good to Go I knew I had my answer. Following the loss of her own mother, and having to sift through the logistical mess her mother left behind, Amy started her company. Her wish was that everyone leaves this world prepared, not just for themselves, but for the loved ones they’re leaving behind as well. In a Good to Go party Amy will actually come to your house and sit down with you and your family or friends and help walk you through everything you need to do to be prepared to leave your loved ones behind. And she does it with humor, booze, and a rock 'n' roll soundtrack to boot. Last summer I hosted a Good to Go party with Amy at my house. I invited about a dozen friends and was pleasantly surprised with how all of them took me up on the invite. The evening was informative, heartwarming, and ultimately healing.

Amy provides a Good to Go folder and packet that she walks you through and that you continue working on at your own pace. From computer passwords to medical wishes, favorite memories, and on who’s wrist you want your favorite watch to land, the packet covers everything you want your loved ones to know in your absence.

Even though I plan on living to be a grandmother, I feel so much less anxious knowing that even if I don't, my loved ones will be taken care of. Check out Amy and all she does at Good to Go.

Here are some questions for you to begin thinking about on your own. Take your time with them. Create your own Departure File, or reach out to a company like Amy’s who can assist you in this task.

In the Event of Your Own Death

  1. Do you have a will or advance directives?
  2. Do your loved ones know your funeral/memorial wishes?
  3. Do they know your burial/cremation wishes?
  4. Do you have a list of all of your accounts and passwords?
  5. Do your loved ones know where to find your legal documents (will, advance directives, birth certificate, marriage certificate, car, home or life insurance)?
  6. Have you assigned someone to manage your assets or be a co-signer on your bank accounts?
  7. Have you taken measures to protect your dependents financially?
  8. Is there anyone particular you would like notified about your death?
  9. Have you thought about what you would like to happen to your pets?
  10.  Are there personal belongings you wish to go to specific people?
  11.  Are there memories or advice you wish to pass to your loved ones?
  12.  Are there things you would like destroyed (i.e. journals and diaries)?
  13.  Is there anything comforting you can provide to your loved ones? For example, a letter telling them what you hope for them after you are gone.

Love,
Claire