17 Years Later….A Mother in Mourning

David Kessler once said, “The greatest loss you will ever experience is your own.” As a grief counselor and educator I use that quote to validate a person’s experience and reiterate the fact that grief is unique to each individual. This past week I have reflected greatly upon the death of my own son and I hope that my grief experience provides some insight and a sense of community in your own grief journey.

My son, Aiden, was born in 2004 with a large tumor in his chest cavity. After a couple surgeries and a bunch of disappointments, we were faced with the most difficult decision to take him off life support. The day that he died was the first time that I was allowed to hold him. The moment that he was placed in my arms, he opened his eyes. I held him for hours as hot tears streamed down my face. After he died, I had the privilege of bathing him before the funeral home arrived. It was the darkest and yet, one of the most meaningful moments I have ever experienced. I remember the first few years feeling full of despair. Although I would go on to have more children, I grappled with the feeling as though I would never genuinely smile again. As we mourned, our family found ways to connect to Aiden. A family friend sketched a beautiful family portrait with Aiden in it, we always celebrated his birthday, we hung his stocking and kept his picture on our mantle. Someone once said to me in a grief group, “Grief doesn’t get easier, but we tend to get better at doing it.” I am here to say that after 17 years, there are moments of meaning, genuine joy and authentic compassion for others that are on this grief journey with me.

Aiden died on the 18th of January and was buried on the 21st. My new year begins after that time every year. I give myself time to reflect, to cry, and mourn him during those dates. I slow down and give myself a pass to get a little more sleep and work little less. My heart will always ache for him, and I have adapted to living with that pain. It is now used to provide empathy for those that carry the same heartache. If you have experienced a loss last year or 20 years ago, your love does not end for the person who died. I want to encourage you to find a few people that can hold space for your grief. The act of mourning needs to be a witnessed experience. Find those that will stand in the trenches with you. I will never forget Aiden, the lessons that he taught me, and the ongoing insight that my own grief gives me everyday. My hope is that you will find the same meaning in the midst of your pain.

Written By:

Kristen Ernst, MA, LPC

Owner and Operator of the Center for Hope and Healing in St. Charles, MO

By | 2021-01-25T08:19:15-06:00 January 25th, 2021|Uncategorized|3 Comments

“Not the Same New Year Resolutions”

There was not an official poll taken for this article, but most people that I speak with in private practice, grief groups, and professional and personal social circles are happy to say goodbye to the year 2020.  It has been a difficult year for so many.  Many have lost jobs, businesses and many have lost loved ones.  2020 has been a year of collective grief with no place to have intermittent moments of joy or distraction.  Without the ability to gather, many have had to sit with difficult emotions.  Many have had to dig deeper and find other methods of self- care and more creative ways to nurture each other.  A new year always brings much hope and a sense of broadening the horizon.  Many are looking forward to a return to normalcy and safety with a promising vaccine; however, this type of collective grief that we have all experienced changes us.  After a loss, grief educators explain the need for those in mourning to find a new normal.  The new normal suggests that we will never be the same.  The event has forever changed our situation, our mindset, and our way of life.

Mental health professionals know that the isolation has created an abundance of depression and anxiety for all ages.  There are many ways to boost the happy hormones produced in the brain.  Mindfulness and movement are two of the most effective ways to improve overall mental health.  Mindfulness can help improve sleep, lower blood pressure and relieve stress.  Mindfulness is slowing down and paying attention to the sights and sounds around you.  For instance, as you pour a cup of coffee in the morning, listen to the sounds as it hits your favorite mug, smell the strong aroma, observe as you pour creamer or sugar in the coffee and see the color change, and feel the warmth in your hands.  Taking a deep breath and observing these moments are just one example of how mindfulness can be created throughout your day.  Creating intentional movement in your day can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.  Taking a walk around the block, stretching in between virtual appointments, and paying attention to your breath can boost your mood in a small amount of time.  Physical exertion and mindfulness can help manage difficult emotions and can also improve memory and decreases stress.

As this difficult and tumultuous year comes to an end, Baue Funeral Homes hopes that you can take some time to practice some self-care.  New year’s resolutions are common to discuss this time of year. The staff at Baue hopes that you can take some time to slow down, be attentive to the simple things around you, and create some pockets of time for mindful movement in the new year.  After such a difficult year of collective grief, prioritizing your mental health and committing to healthier coping skills will create sense of meaning and tranquility.  Committing to improving mental health will assist in creating a new normal after the year we will never forget.

 

Written By:

Kristen Ernst, MA, LPC

Owner and Operator of the Center for Hope and Healing in St. Charles, MO

By | 2020-12-21T12:42:05-06:00 December 21st, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Creating New Traditions out of Necessity…and Trying to Make the Best of a Difficult Year

The holiday season is looking different this year amidst the pandemic.  Some families are choosing to meet outside under space heaters, or they are making gatherings smaller than usual.  People are abandoning regular traditions and inventing new ones to keep everyone as safe as possible.  Although gatherings appear to different, there are some things that never change during the holiday season.  This season tends to emote an expression of gratitude.  Whether you start a gratitude journal, say a prayer of thanksgiving, or write a card of appreciation to a loved one, these are practices that can be carried out year after year.  Practicing gratitude allows us to be mindful of those we love and helps us connect to self.  Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can even alleviate anxiety and make us feel more connected to others.  This is an important practice when everyone feels so physically isolated.

Although physical connection is limited, our meaningful relationships with others can be fostered in creative ways to boost the holiday time.  Use technology platforms to connect separate households during dinner or sing a carol or two with each other.  Donate to your family’s favorite charity to promote a common good during an especially needy time of year.  There are even online games available for a family scavenger hunt or silly sing along.

This year may not seem like years past but expressing memories to each other will nurture connection and fondness of previous years.  Start an email feed of sharing favorite recipes and memories of being together.  Create a tree decorating contest among households.  Contribute old pictures of family and friends gathering from previous years to a text thread.  Or make a favorite playlist of music for the entire family to enjoy. These activities may provide a glimmer of hope for you and your friends and family.  Although these are substitutes for gathering, the traditions may stick for years to come.

 

Written By:

Kristen Ernst, MA, LPC

Owner and Operator of the Center for Hope and Healing in St. Charles, MO

By | 2020-12-01T08:39:09-06:00 December 1st, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Fostering Continued Bonds: An Important Element of the Grief Process

It has been said that great love equates to great grief.  Mitch Albom, stated in Tuesdays with Morrie, “Death ends a life, not a relationship” When a loved one dies, there is a gaping hole felt in the mourner’s life.  Grief does not end.  It is a journey that has many unexpected turns and valleys.  The unpredictability of emotions can be quite unsettling to those that have had a loved one die.  One common thread amongst mourners is the reluctancy to “let go” of the loved one.  The concept of continued bonds challenges that school of thought and allows the bereaved to hold on to the memories, cherish the loved one, and accept that grief will become a part of life.

Continued bonds are the recognition that the love for the deceased does not end in death.  Because the grief is on-going, there are ways to actively mourn a loved one and foster that connection with those that have died.  In my years of grief work, many bereaved talk to their loved one, or carry a trinket that stirs a beautiful memory.  Fostering that connection is an important part of the grief process.  Many that are mourning notice a butterfly, a cardinal, or a rainbow that will remind them of their loved one’s life.  These beautiful connections to nature are a small reminder of the people we miss and bring a sense of comfort during an emotionally difficult time.  Many that are outside the mourner’s circle may discourage these continued bonds and see it as an unhealthy way to grieve.  But those that are advocates of healthy grief would attest that mourners are able to renew their hope by finding ways to connect.

Looking through old photos, planting a garden, or wearing a piece of treasured jewelry are all examples of fostering the continued bond of a loved one who has died.  Normalizing and validating this behavior is an important part of the grief process.  Recognizing that a loved one’s imprint will remain on your heart forever helps with the realizing that “letting go” does not have to be a necessity.  To explore how to foster those continued bonds or understand more about your grieving journey, please check out the Center for Hope and Healing’s grief support groups or book an individual appointment with one of our licensed professional counselors.

 

 

Written by Kristen Ernst, LPC

Owner and Operator of Center for Hope and Healing

By | 2020-09-29T12:33:14-05:00 September 29th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Suicide Prevention Awareness in September

During the past few months of the pandemic and community quarantine, it has become abundantly clear that there has been an overall decline in the country’s mental health.  Depression and anxiety are increasing.  The combination of a downturn in the economy, people losing jobs, and the lack of interaction with others, has created many feelings of hopelessness and isolation.   According to USA Today, the United States has seen a 25% increase in the suicide rate.   In order to combat these daunting statistics, there a few things that can boost the “happy” chemicals in the brain.  It is now more important than ever, to create an environment that fosters a feeling safety and security within our bodies and our own homes.

Completing a task or celebrating a small win for the day can produce higher levels of dopamine in the brain. Hugging your family and playing with a pet will boost your oxytocin.  Serotonin is a mood stabilizer, which can be produced through sun exposure and meditation.  Endorphins increase with exercise or by watching a funny movie.  These chemicals combat feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.  Practicing healthy self-care habits are crucial to your mental stability as an individual.  Being mindful to put these habits in practice daily can make a big difference to one’s overall mental health.

As we look ahead, September is suicide awareness month.  Mental health professionals continue to collaborate and cooperate to support the community’s mental health crisis through this pandemic.  Organizations are creating programs that enhance the feeling of support while remaining socially distanced.  Online support programs, 24-hour hotline, and online counseling are in high demand for those needing a lifeline.  So many times, when feelings are expressed and witnessed, the ability to heal from those emotions become possible.  Joining an online group may combat the feelings loneliness and normalize the grief journey.  You can find more information abut these groups on Center for Hope and Healing website.

Creating a “happy brain” within and reaching out to each other is a great way to reduce the loneliness in the community.  If you are having thoughts of suicide, it is always best to call the national hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the nearest emergency room.  As we look to prevent suicide, we must educate ourselves and others on how to address thoughts of suicide and lessen the stigma that it carries.

By | 2020-09-01T07:11:06-05:00 September 1st, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Meeting Children’s Needs During Difficult Times

As the weather changes and kids return to school, 2020 has presented some unprecedented challenges for those that are trying to adopt a “new normal.”  Even in St. Charles County, school districts have not been unison in action.  Some districts have decided to return to school for 5 days a week, some have adopted a hybrid model of online learning and in person learning, and some have postponed the beginning of school another few weeks.  No matter what your area school has decided, many parents, caregivers, guardians, and educators are apprehensive about the projected year.  If the adults are intimidated and hesitant in anticipation of the school year, can you imagine how children and young adults are feeling?

Most full-time students in our area have experienced the longest spring break known to this generation.  Returning to studies and keeping their attention will be a struggle.  There have been some opposing thoughts and beliefs about the logistics concerning returning to school, but it is important to be universal in how we support children during this time, regardless of our role in their lives.

Emotional attunement is critical as children are talking to you about their day.  It is important to lead with empathy, kindness, and understanding.   Wearing a mask and eating lunch alone are difficult parts of this adjustment.  As a caregiver, it is essential to not lead with logic.  Emotions are never wrong.  Validate what your child or student is feeling.  It is also imperative to realize that we may not be able to fix the situation for them.  Instead of trying to fix the problem, create a safe place for the child to vent and emote.  Socialization may be at a minimum school, so they will need a place to talk and express the parts of their day.  Mindful movement will also be key during this time of adjustment.  If your child or student seems anxious or agitated, take a walk or create a dance party list within your home where everyone can dance out the negative energy.

Educators, administration, and parents are also trying to adjust to this new normal, so modeling healthy coping skills will be important.  Make sure that you are setting healthy boundaries and taking care of your physical and mental health.  If you have nervous energy in the home, children can easily pick up on that.  Create a place of peace by being authentic in your own emotions.  Everyone is adjusting to a new set of rules.  Allowing the space for people to be genuine will be a healthy way for children to express what they need at the time.

Whenever there is a sense of change in our lives, we grieve the past.  We grieve what we wanted to happen.  We grieve the anticipation of the future.  Recognizing that our families are dealing with significant grief is part of being true to ourselves and others. It is important to recognize that it ok to not be ok.  But once we are authentic in our emotions, and we express them in a safe place; we have developed a sense of community.  My hope is that within this chaos, you find your safe place, your sense of community.  Through this refuge, you will combat the feelings of isolation, and move towards a sense of safety and belonging for you, your families, and the people that you care about.

By | 2020-08-31T10:45:45-05:00 August 31st, 2020|Counseling, Grief Support|0 Comments