Someone Died. What Do I Do?

 

My person died. What do I do? I get this message all the time, from clients, from friends and family members, and on social media.

My mother died last week - what do I do?? My girlfriend just lost her father and she doesn't know what to do. I lost a friend this month and I don't know what to do. 

What are we supposed to do when someone dies? I wish I had a simple answer. And in some ways, I do. There is nothing you can do except ride the waves of grief. Loss is so unexpected, even when it is expected. We cannot fathom what it will feel like to lose someone close to us. There is no comparison to the experience of deep grief.

I understand why people ask me what they should do. The feelings of grief can be so overwhelming and consuming and confusing that you just want to know what to do. You want a formula, a plan, a prescription for how to move through it. You want to know that you will survive the pain. You want to know that you will be okay.

You will be okay. You will never be the same, but nor should you want to be the same. Your life will be forever transformed because of your loss.

Other people may not understand this all the time. Other people will say dumb things sometimes. Other people will fail to show up in the ways you most need. But you will be okay. In fact, if you give yourself over to the grief process you will be transformed into someone who is wiser, attuned and compassionate than you were before.

But before that happens you must allow yourself to move through the motions of grief. This looks different for each person. Our grief is as unique as the relationship we had with the person we lost. We cannot know what we need to do or feel until we listen to what grief is asking of us. And that is what I tell people to do. Listen to your grief, allow yourself to feel your pain. It won't be easy, so seek support during the process. But there is nothing to do except to be in it. Only when we can allow ourselves to fully grieve, can we allow ourselves to fully heal.

If you have lost someone you love, either recently, or decades ago, ask yourself - have you fully grieved?

Are there ways in which you still need to feel sad or angry? Are there aspects of the loss that you have yet to face? Do you need to seek forgiveness with yourself or others? Are you finding ways to make meaning out of your loss? Are you finding ways to connect with your loved one? Are you finding ways to connect with yourself?

Grief is never easy and unfortunately, there is no simple answer for how to move through it. But by allowing yourself to really feel it, you will find relief and healing.


Mother loss

Q&A: Understanding Mother Loss

Mother loss

 

My Understanding Mother Loss 6-week live online program starts March 4th! Get the details on the course here. Below I've added my responses to some of the questions sent in ahead of my recent live call on mother loss.

Question: I would love to know how to enjoy life moving on and not feeling guilty for living. I struggle with that big time.

Answer: My answer to this question is always the same: When we are grieving we need to remember that two things can be true at the same time. We can deeply miss our person and we can also live a meaningful life. Often people feel stuck in their grief because they are afraid that if they start to live a meaningful life again it means that they are moving on and letting go of their person. But the two are not mutually exclusive. We will never "get over" the loss of a loved one. We will always miss them and wish they were here. But we can also go on to enjoy our lives and create meaning and move forward. My advice to you is to actively carve out space and time to honor and mourn for your mother, while at the same time taking steps to build up your life again.

Question: When just when will I be able to let go so to say? It’s been 18 yrs and the pain never eases up. I want to be whole and not sure I can. I feel so empty without her. 

Answer: The truth is that you may never let go and that's okay. You may never feel whole without your mother. And that's okay too. Finding ways to bolster support in your life, to give yourself the sense of being nurtured, and to create meaning from your life choices is what is important. Losing a mother is a profound experience that will follow us all of our years. It will never be okay that we lost our mothers too soon. Accepting that is the key to moving forward. And moving forward does not mean letting go. I do think that we need to find ways to mother ourselves though. For a long time after my mother died I thought the answer to not having a mother was to not need a mother. And eventually I realized that the opposite was true - I did need a mother and since she isn't here anymore I realized I needed to learn how to mother myself. Ask yourself what that might look like for you. For me, mothering myself meant taking better care of myself both psychologically and physically. It also meant showing myself the same kind of compassion and forgiveness my mother would have shown me. Figuring these things out for yourself will help you to feel whole again.

Question: I am approaching my birthday and will be turning the age my mother was when she passed. Do you have any tips on how I can cope with what I anticipate to be a very emotional day? 

Answer: Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, calls these "neon numbers." Those overlapping ages and dates and anniversaries and milestones that line up with our mothers. You are not alone in feeling big emotions and anxiety around these dates. I've found that often the lead-up to the date is more intense than the actual day itself. The biggest one I've hit so far was the year I turned 36 - this birthday for me marked half of my life that my mother had been gone and I knew that every day after that birthday I would have been alive longer without her than with her. Thinking about it like that caused a huge swell of grief to rise up within me and as the birthday approached I experienced many feelings of sadness and anxiety. It helped me to write about it and to talk about it with other motherless daughters. Knowing I wasn't alone and hearing how other women had coped eased my anxiety. I know I will face this again when my daughters turn 18, the age I was when my mother died, and also when I turn 58, the age she was when she died. It's completely normal to experience intensity around these milestones. Find ways to bolster your support system and also find compassion for yourself as you go through these markers.

 

Don't forget to sign up for the live call and enter the giveaway if you're interested!

 

Love,
Claire

How to release your fear of death

Death anxiety is more common than you might think. Most people have unconscious fears and questions around death. Yet most of us don't talk about it. But that wondering (even when unconscious) about what happens when we die has a profound impact on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The fear is often so great and so painful that we protect ourselves by repressing the full realization of death and dying.

In order to overcome that fear and to manage anxiety, we need to both face death and also reimagine it. There are many ways to begin to think about death in a positive way. I have found that personally facing death and my fears about it have eased my anxiety in significant ways. When I first began to work in the field of death and dying my anxiety increased as I was forced to stare head-on into the reality of it all, but then after a short time of really having to face it, I realized that I was growing more comfortable and that my fears were dissipating. I've since been able to find many beautiful ways to look at death, one of them being the comparison to birth.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual inclinations, what is like to think about if birth and death are really the same thing? What if birth is simply the death of something that came before? Just as babies are born from the world of the womb into the arms of a mother, maybe the same happens upon death. And maybe if we listen closely enough during this lifetime we’ll hear the heartbeat of something bigger than we think we know now. Fear of death is really just fear of what comes next. But what if that death is really just another birth?

Last fall I gave birth for the third time in my life, an experience so singular and primal that I can only ever liken it to deaths I've witnessed. As I labored that evening I thought about my father and my mother, I thought about friends I've lost, and I thought about patients I've seen through their final moments of life. It is not easy to leave this world, nor is it easy to come into it. I do believe there's an in-between place, because I've felt it in these brief moments of becoming a mother, and I've seen it in the people I've lost.

We are not these bodies. We are so much more. But we come in as these people and are here for a short time to live and to love.

Are there ways in which you can better face the idea of death? Are there ways in which you can even bring yourself to see the beauty in it? Face your fears in order to overcome them. You can start today by simply having conversations about death with trusted friends or therapists. There are also many other ways to think about tackling your fears that I outline in Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. I promise that it doesn’t have to be as scary as you think it will be.


holidays claire bidwell smith

Support with Grief During Holidays

holidays claire bidwell smith
The holidays can be a complicated 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. Today I want to share some options for support and resources that may be helpful to you this holiday season.

Support

NEW and limited time! A Safe Place to Grieve: Release Your Anxiety (Live 6-week guided experience + Online Course with lifetime access)—Starting January 7th, I’ll be guiding participants live through my online course step-by-step, tuning in to interact with you every week, plus giving special attention to how anxiety can manifest after loss and how to find peace and progress with this challenge. I use this approach every day with my grief therapy clients. You'll be able to gain access to these tools and support from anywhere at any time. If you are looking for extra support with your anxiety and grief this holiday season, starting this program is a powerful place to begin.

One-Time Personal Consultation—I'm offering one-time consultations at this time. I'm currently based in Los Angeles and have been working with clients from around the globe over the past ten years. This might help you process a particular aspect of your loss or trouble-shoot bigger picture issues. I provide tips, tools, resources, and overall symptom management strategies.

Resources

Coping with Grief During the Holidays—In this podcast episode, I share my own experience on coping with the holidays and offer you actionable tips to help you cope this holiday season.

64 Tips for Coping with Grief During the Holidays—This is a very helpful list of tips and suggestions for coping with grief during the holidays.

Holiday Survival Strategies for Coping with Grief—A wonderful article on specific strategies you can implement this holiday season to help you with your grief during this time.

Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief—In my latest book, I break down anxiety, giving readers a concrete foundation of understanding in order to help them heal the anxiety caused by loss.

10 Helpful Tips for Resilient Grieving—In this blog post, I explore resilient grieving, which 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.

Honoring Holidays, Anniversaries, & Birthdays for Loved Ones—There are so many difficult dates after you lose someone you love. In this blog post, I offer my thoughts on how to honor your loved ones during the holidays and other significant days throughout the year.

I hope this list is helpful for you. If you have any suggestions you'd like to share, please add them to the comments below.

Wishing you peace this holiday season. Remember, you are not alone.

Love,

Claire


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!*


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