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 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

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


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