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Welcome to the Grief Club: 10 paths toward help, hope and healing

Welcome to the Grief Club

Welcome to the worst club you'll ever be forced to join.
I lost my beloved brother and entered the Grief Club
Photo by Chris May
I wanted to share with you a series of blog posts I wrote on Grief and Healing for the NBC blog site FamilyGoesStrong.com

Welcome to the worst club you could ever join. If you're grieving, if you've suffered a profound loss, you're in. Grief does not discriminate. You can be any age, race, any socioeconomic class. Broken hearted? You're in. So welcome. I'm sorry, genuinely sorry, that you are here, that we are all here. But we are. And one of the lousiest things about membership in the Grief Club is once you're in, you never get out. You will move in and out of forms of grief, of its phases, but whether you are angry, in shock, in denial, fogged up and disoriented, making deals with the sky spirits, whatever you're feeling, it's still grief.

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You can read how I entered the club when my beloved, beautiful younger brother and best friend, Joe, died after being misdiagnosed with a migraine that was a blood clot. The fact that I can write that sentence means I'm in the numb phase. I do most of my work and have most of my human interactions in foggy, griefy numbness. Or rage. I'm highly productive, but not so fun to be around, when fumingly in touch with my anger. Right after his death I kept seeing signs, which was so painful I just shut down again.

Grief is such a shape-shifty bastard. It inhabits your brain and tricks you. You can spend an entire day spitting venom at a well-deserving target, believing your brain that the surge of energy, adrenaline and sharpness come from that tingly alchemy that feels like righteous anger and seems deceptively like feeling alive.

Because after the trauma of acute and relentless grief, it's like your brain reorganizes, rewires and thinks differently. Like I imagine people who lose their sense of smell and taste. You must re-orient yourself to new perceptions and unconscious understandings of hunger and fullness and pleasure. That's how it is, for me anyway, living with an urgent, mind-altering grief that rolls over me every day, all day long. I wrote these posts as a way into and out of my grief. I cannot speak most of these images, memories, ideas or feelings. But I can write them. And so I do.

A reader wrote this comment on one of my grief-related posts that I can't seem to shake: "Thanks for this glimpse into your heart." It's strange because I feel so cut off from my heart when I write about grieving. But somehow it still comes through. Healing and grieving are so mysterious. I hope somehow my experiences speak to you and help you with your own healing.

Sadly, gratefully, we are not alone.

Thoughts on Grief and Healing:

•1.      The Hierarchy of Grief: Who hurts the most?

Do some losses win worst prize?

Died too young, too old, took so long, went so fast. Are some losses literally worse than others? Is some pain deeper than others? Why do people devalue their own grief in deference to mine? It just happened again. An old friend who recently lost her mother, who was in her 80s, reached out to say she was thinking of me and the loss of my brother. She said what so many people say: "I was thinking of you and how awful it's been for you and your family. Losing my mom was hard but it's different for you." Is it? Is there some empirically higher emotional cost attached to the loss a beloved younger brother that is not attached to losing a beloved older mother? Am I in more pain than she is in?

Read more: The Hierarchy of Grief: Who hurts the most?

•2.      Moving Mind and Body: Can exercise heal you?

Getting through grief one step at a time

My brother's death and the blanket of still, suffocating grief it left behind stole any thoughts of beginnings and starts. But something about Spring and the sun's warmth are pulling at me, like a muscle memory.

Read more: Moving Mind and Body: Can exercise heal your grief?

•3.      How do you live with grief and grieve while you live?

We had an all-girl Super Bowl party Sunday, except for my delicious nephew who, at 2 and a half, already knows why peoples' eyes well up when they see him. "My daddy died," he says. We tried, my sister-in-law, daughter and me. We tackled and tickled. We grunted when they punted. We yelled out words like 'interception' (my daughter wondered if that was like an 'interjection') and field goal. 'KICK IT KICK IT' we screamed. But it was all wrong.

Read more: Living with the Great Ache: No Dad on Superbowl Sunday

•4.      "When will Dick Cheney be too old for a heart transplant?" asks The Wall Street Journal

An organ donor's sister says that's the wrong question

When I saw the question posed in The Wall Street Journal asking "When will Dick Cheney be too old for a heart transplant?" I had to write this down, words I still cannot speak, that they are asking the wrong question. Mr. Cheney, if you were to receive somebody's brother's big, beautiful, socially just, loving, moral, generous, life-affirming heart, how would you live with it?  

Read more: Is Dick Cheney too old for a heart transplant? A donor's sister says that's the wrong question

•5.      Grief makes me cranky - Let's pick on Charlie Sheen

I'm cranky today and since there are no kids around to pick on, I look to my favorite sandbox full of whiny, spoiled, overindulged adolescents: Hollywood. And who better to spend a little time on than the half-man of the media milli-moment: Charlie Sheen.

Read more: Why does Charlie Sheen make $32 million a year and we don't?

•6.      Grief Concussion: This is your brain on grief

I thought I hated Charlie Sheen. Turns out it was a Grief Concussion

Apparently, I have entered the anger phase. I spent the day and most of the night raging and writing about raging about Charlie Sheen and his wackadoodle media meltdown mystery tour, But then deep into the night I finally fell asleep. And I didn't have the protection of rage anymore. My brain dropped the ball. And I didn't dream about Charlie Sheen. I dreampt about my brother, whose wonderful life and awful, shocking death have left me with this concussion of grief. So really, at bottom, what I'm fuming about is this: How is Charlie Sheen alive and my brother is not? Why is Charlie Sheen alive and my brother is not?

Read more: This is your brain on grief 

•7.      Who comforts you? Your husband or your dog?

Be honest: Whom do you nuzzle first?

According to The New York Times, a lot of women seek and receive more emotional support from their dogs than from their husbands. This got me wondering how much we actually ask of our partners. Did I even give him - the ex-husband not the dog - a chance?

Read more: Creature Comforts: Are pets more comforting than husbands?

•8.      The Rules of Grief: Don't say this...  

Here are a few tips on how to be a good friend to somebody in the early fog and pain of grief.

So please, do not say the following:  

"He would want you to......"

 "It was her time..."

"It's been a year; you should be over this by now."

Read more: How to help grieving friends

•9.      So, what DO you say to grieving friends?

Advice for helping (not harming) friends in pain

"Here's a veggie lasagna for the freezer."

"Any phone calls I can return for you or thank-you cards I can address?"

"It all sucks and I am so, so, so sorry."

Read more: So, what DO you say to grieving friends?

•10.   Unplanned Parenting: Bring back the unscheduled summer

What happens when you're too sad to be the cruise director of your kids' social lives? They discover their childhood! I was paralyzed by grief after the death of my amazing younger brother. Grief takes a lot with it. Last summer, it took me into exile. One of the many unintended consequences of grief was that my self-imposed time-out from human interaction last summer meant the end of my daughter's scheduled social life. When one is avoiding the human race, it's simply too hard to make or respond to requests for play dates, or to have the dedication to drop-offs and pick-ups and waiting outside the ballet studio with other moms who insist on making polite conversation that, sadly, burns like acid.

So I didn't.

Without a childhood cruise director, your kid has to fend for herself. When Mom's too broken to schedule and schlepp for a few months, kids revert back to an actual childhood.

 Read more: Unplanned Parenting: Bring back the unscheduled summer

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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