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8 Steps to Begin Living Again

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One of the questions people ask when they attend support groups is, How can I enjoy life again when I have just lost the most important thing in life?

As we continue this series on recovering from losses, we will address not only healing and recovery, but rebuilding.

Recovering from a significant loss is never easy. If you lost your spouse, child, parent or best friend, that loss takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view. You may have resumed the daily tasks of life but find no pleasure in them.

Recovery includes the need to not only accept and let go but think about your future. But where do you begin?

You can’t begin to imagine the possibility of happiness in the future without your loved one. You might have accepted, but you can’t envision anything positive to look forward to.

Reframing

If you were choosing a frame for a picture you had taken, you would experiment with different sizes and colors of frames and mats that would complement and highlight the main feature of that picture.

How we choose to frame our lives at any point in time can have the same effect. There are many snapshots of life that are special. Right now, the spotlight is on what you lost and it’s not very inviting. But if we expanded the frame and increased our view, we would see hope and possibility as well as sorrow and discouragement.

Reframing begins when you step back from despair and get a glimpse of what is available.

When your face is pressed against a stone wall, all you see is concrete, until you step away and notice the surrounding fields, trees and blooming flowers.

Reframing gives you the opportunity to step back from the stone wall of impossibility to see the possibilities of being happy again.

When faced with any loss or tragedy, our beliefs about what we think we can and cannot do are brought into focus. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate those assumptions and accommodate for change, even radical change. When we only see our limitations and negative evaluations, we don’t see a bigger picture of what the future might be.

Looking at your loss in a larger context allows you to step away from the stone walls of anger, stress, pain, sorrow and hopelessness. When you do, you begin to see blooming flowers and blue sky and know that life hasn’t ended. It allows you to grieve, but also rebuild.

Here are 8 steps to help you begin again:

8 Steps to Begin Living Again | FocusWithMarlene.com

1. Acknowledge and accept all aspects of your loss and all the feelings associated with it.

Make a list of emotions that keep you stuck. If you are feeling resentful, anxious, fearful, hopeless, or a never-ending sorrow, write it down. Don’t evaluate or put any value judgment on them right now. You are simply acknowledging that they are keeping you trapped in grief instead of healing.

2. Write beside each emotion the thoughts that preceded it.

For example, there is nothing to look forward to, or I should have done more, or why did he have to die? These thoughts reveal beliefs you hold about yourself and your situation. What are your thoughts telling you about your past that keeps you from believing in yourself?

3. Challenge thinking that looks backward instead of forward.

Thoughts that keep you focused only on your pain will continue to keep you feeling helpless and hopeless. We can recognize that life can be unfair without turning it into a bitter story. That will only make your grief worse.

4. What have you achieved in the past that took you through difficult times?

What strategies did you use? Maybe it was an attitude of, yes, I can. Maybe you said to yourself, I won’t quit. Maybe it was a fierce determination of, I will find a way. I can ask for help or go back to school, etc. Which strategies can you use again?

5. Make a list of your strengths, skills, talents and abilities.

Maybe you are someone who is decisive or reliable and trustworthy. You might feel a great compassion for others. These characteristics and traits are important to recognize. Is there an opportunity to improve or develop new skills that can increase your confidence? Explore all available options – no matter how small or trivial they may seem.

6. Practice mindfulness.

Resist ruminating on what you lost or what the future might bring. Focus your attention on what you are doing in the moment and what you can do in the future. No matter how seemingly insignificant, find one positive thing to work on every day.

7. Resist the urge to hang onto resentment associated with your loss.

Let it go. We can’t move forward until we let go of the past – all of it. Begin to look for those kernels of blessings and gratitude.

8. And finally, ask yourself, what benefits am I getting from remaining fixated on my loss?

What am I avoiding by remaining angry, bitter or resentful?

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Reframe to See More of Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

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From childhood on, we are creating beliefs about ourselves and our world based on the interpretations we make. We make assumptions and expectations that form a framework from which to appropriately respond to life. These frames of reference motivate and guide our thinking, our emotional responses, and our behavior.

How we frame our world creates meaning and helps us navigate the ups and downs of living.

Enlarging our frame of reference

If our frames of reference are small and limiting, our lives will be restrictive, negative and inflexible.

If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture and have a better understanding of occurrences that are causing pain and anxiety.

Reframing takes what life has handed us and gives us the opportunity to respond differently. It allows us not only to transcend difficult or traumatic life situations, but to find humor, purpose and joy within them.

Reframing and acceptance go hand-in-hand

Reframing requires acceptance; accepting what has happened in order to find new ways to see the world and respond to it.

Reframing and acceptance go hand in hand. With acceptance, we choose to look at our problems differently. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance and can become a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options and choices.

Reframing sheds more light on the problems we are facing and outlines what possible outcomes there might be.

What does that look like in real time?

Years ago, I helped a health organization write a nine-week class on chronic illness and pain. The program helped people accept their debilitating and chronic illness so they could work with it. Along with strategies that could be applied, our research for this project included true stories of people who had overcome enormous obstacles to carve out a new life.

Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing, by Arnold BeisserOne of those resources was a book written by Arnold Beisser, Flying Without Wings:  Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing.  

Arnold was an athlete and tennis champion who contracted polio after completing medical school to become a surgeon. Life was just unfolding when this tragedy struck. As he lay in his iron lung, unable to move, he struggled to find purpose for his life.

Gradually he began to reframe his circumstances. Even though I could not move, I could actively engage with whatever was around me through the play of senses.” 

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at his world in a new way. He defines the baby steps involved in changing how he looked at his new reality.

“I had moments of great pleasure and satisfaction when I became absorbed in observing minor details and becoming an active observer, rather than a passive one . . . Eventually, I could pass a very interesting time looking at the ceiling, noticing small details and changes.”

As time went on, he began to see his situation differently. I could be more than a helpless victim, and I could have a part in determining my life and what shape it took.”

He lived in an iron lung for three years before emerging as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair.

He did not allow his tragedy to disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, an administrator, an author, and fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

He lived – he did not remain a helpless victim. He took the pieces of his life, reframed them and learned to live again in a new world.

No matter what the setback or situation, there are many things we can do to reframe our circumstances turning it into something positive.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Accept Your Loss and Reclaim Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

Memorials are over – people have gone home – life goes on.

Or has it?

Life might have resumed for others who have gone home to their families and familiar routines. But your life has been drastically changed. Life doesn’t just “go on” for you.

Redefining life

No matter what tragedy or loss you have encountered, it has drastically disrupted your life. Before you can establish a new normal, you need to first let go of what was.

To let go, you need to stop struggling. There is a natural resistance to accepting the ending of something valuable and important. When you continue to resist, however, you risk getting stuck in sorrow, sadness and depression; and maybe anger and resentment.

Acceptance is where you stop fighting the reality that exists: my spouse has died, my child is dead, my teen is into drugs, my marriage has ended, and I may be out of work.

It is where you stop denying and resisting and start working with it. It may be painful. You might have lots of unanswered questions, uncertainty, hesitation and doubts. But if you run away from them, you won’t be able to work through them and create a new life that has meaning and significance.

Acceptance is not the end. It is the beginning.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIt is where you take the ashes of your loss and start over. Letting go does not diminish what you had, and acceptance doesn’t mean you are giving up or resigning yourself to no happiness in the future. It just frees you to consider options.

While grieving the death of my husband, I wrote in my journal, Acceptance this morning is not a promise of a new beginning. It is a bitter pill added to the string of losses I have been asked to accept: my husband, my home, my source of income, etc.”

But as I worked on the concept of acceptance, I was able to pick up the pieces of my life and construct a new beginning that had meaning, purpose and contentment.

Working through unpleasantness is never easy. You may want to withdraw and isolate yourself, so others won’t see your brokenness, fears and vulnerabilities. As you work through the tangles of thoughts and emotions, and decisions you need to make, you will discover you are stronger than you think, more flexible and resilient, and deep down have a desire to live again.

Reasons for not accepting

We don’t want to accept because we don’t want to feel the pain, loneliness, uncertainty, fear and anxiety caused by this loss.

Through acceptance, I can come to terms with my situation. I don’t blame anyone or myself. It isn’t saying that someone got all the breaks and I didn’t.

Acceptance simply acknowledges that life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and neither is anybody else.

Each of us will experience losses and unwanted changes that will require acceptance, letting go and starting again.

Life is a process – a dance.

Accept Your Loss and Reclaim Your Life

It is never static, never the same. It is constantly evolving and changing. It is movement – we are going somewhere. It requires flexibility and the ability to move through and beyond our losses. Rebuilding begins with acceptance, letting go, reframing what happened and making new choices.

Acceptance does not mean:

  • I have no worth. Instead, it enables me to discover it.
  • I am powerless. Instead, it helps me use my power more constructively.
  • I stay in this spot forever. Instead, it allows me to look for better options.
  • I have no rights. Instead, it allows me to use my rights in a productive way
  • I am a victim to whatever happens. Instead, it frees me to take charge.

Integrating our losses takes time. It may seem as though we are making no progress, but positive change is happening. We may be required to make that choice of acceptance more than once as we step out in faith.

Where are you right now in your grief process?

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Are you feeling stuck or are you ready to move forward?
  2. What part of your loss are you struggling with? Remember, your loved one is always with you in your memories.
  3. What doubts, uncertainties, anxieties, or fears are keeping you from moving forward.
  4. What decision is required of you right now? Make a list of potential problems you may be facing and prioritize. Take the number one priority and begin working with it.
  5. What specifically do you want to remember and take with you? Perhaps it is a special way of doing things that was shared with your loved one. You might want to return to favorite places or make that trip that wasn’t completed before. For me, it was responding more to the humorous side of life as my husband did.

Learning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Will I ever Experience Joy Again?

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Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

I asked a friend recently who attends a grief and loss support group, what one thing that people attending wanted – one thing they hoped for.

Her answer: to experience joy again.

For anyone who has lost a significant person in their life, that question is high on their list of doubts and uncertainties.

Will I ever be happy again? That person I lost had been an integral part of my life and my identity. When we were together, I felt whole and complete. It was where I found pleasure, joy and the most contentment and happiness.

If that person had been your spouse, your loss now included facing the trials of life without your loved one by your side. Your marriage didn’t always mean everything was rosy. You had your arguments and disagreements, but then you came together to consider options and plans for your future. Instinctually you knew that was what life was all about. It was that comfortable resting spot – you were not alone even when separated by work or travel. That familiarity complemented and completed both of you in some way.

If your loss was a beloved child, son or daughter, they were the reason you got up each morning. They gave purpose to your life, a reason to sacrifice and watch the wonder and surprise in their eyes as they explored their world. It was more than a love – it was a parent’s deepest satisfaction and motivation, to watch their child grow and develop.

Loss is not just the removal of someone who was important to us – it is the loss of everything associated with that person and the life created because of them.

I believe that in death we begin to identify and appreciate what life is all about. It’s the relationships we build, the values and principles we choose to live by. Death becomes a turning point to reflect and define what is truly important. As you work through your loss, accept and let go, you discover a strength you didn’t know you had and acquire the courage and confidence to rebuild.

So, can you ever experience happiness again?

Yes, you can. As you break out of the chains of loss and despair and allow yourself to be transformed, you will experience new hope for your future. Grieving is about letting go and shifting your focus from what was to create a new normal. It is here where you begin to live life again and experience joy and happiness.

Will I ever Experience Joy Again? FocusWithMarlene.com

Just as bare branches on trees sprout new leaves in the spring, so our lives can sprout new ways to live again. You may only see dead branches right now, but there is life deep inside you waiting to sprout new growth.

This is the time to prepare for that growth; a time to remember all the things you have accomplished in the past and know that you can do it again. It is taking all the things you are learning through this change and applying them in reconstruction.

Does it dishonor your loved one to enjoy life again?

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIt might seem sacrilegious to suggest that we could enjoy life again because somehow it might dishonor our loved one or minimize their importance. It doesn’t. In fact, it does the opposite. I believe they would want us to move forward and find happiness. We never lose our loved ones – they are with us forever in our memories and we can continue to draw strength and appreciation from the relationships we had.

Whatever your loss, there are elements that can make the grieving process more difficult, such as coming to terms with tragedies that make no sense, understanding acceptance and letting go, reconciling and forgiving, taking charge of difficult emotions such as anger, guilt and shame, developing an internal positive dialogue, and writing letters of goodbye.

Coming Next

Next week, we’ll talk about acceptance and reframing. What does acceptance mean and how can it help me take back my life?

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

A New Structure for My Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

We think of losses as something we quickly address and then dismiss. But the more significant the loss, the more the impact it has on every area of our life: social, financial, personal, family, friendships, and our past as well as our future.

Loss asks the question, where do I go from here?

There are many books on the market that speak to that early universal pain. We can experience a multitude of emotions: shock, anger, fear, anxiety, relief, shame, guilt, etc. Our pain will gradually recede as life demands we engage again to pay the bills and feed our families. But little information is offered to help us create a new roadmap moving forward.

My newly released book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, addresses that need.

Losses are not just mourning the death of someone or some aspect of your life.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comWith all endings, a transition is required to leave one reality behind before moving to another. In that process, reflection is required, goals need redefining, and we need to answer the question, who am I now?

I knew who I was yesterday, but who am I today?

Will I be required to move, or will I need a new job that can bring in new revenue?

What resources are available for me to get the information I need?

It is a time for careful thought and clarification as we review our life moving forward.

After a certain amount of time for grief, people have assumed we are healed, and life has resumed as usual. We are left on our own to struggle with the next part of grieving which is putting the pieces back together again in a workable and meaningful fashion. Trying to find a new normal takes time and we might hurry through some important decision considerations and decisions we need to make.

As I mentioned above, major losses affect every aspect of our life – some more harshly and extensively than others. It can trigger old losses from our childhood and our relationships within social circles begin to change. We lose confidence and begin to doubt ourselves and our abilities. Depending on age and circumstances, the amount of restructuring required of our lives can be greater than we anticipated.

Grieving a loss is more than just acceptance and letting go. It is about building a new reality within all areas of our life.

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. Learning to Live Again in a New World offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Continue to follow my blog posts in the upcoming weeks as I share more about the exercises and methods to help you create a new norm for your life.

The Afterglow of Christmas

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“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose,

for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

-Helen Keller

Christmas: a shining star – a break from the tedious schedules we find ourselves in.

But Christmas is more than a nice diversion – a blip on the radar screen of our hectic lives.

  • For a moment in time, we escaped the drudgery, the pressures, anxiety, and uncertainties.
  • For a moment in time, we celebrated with one another and shared gifts.
  • For a moment in time, we humbly knelt before the Christ Child whose birthday we celebrate.
  • For a moment in time, we laid down our heavy burdens of doubt and fear and unanswered questions.

And now Christmas is over for another year: the torn wrappings stuffed in bags ready for the garbage pickup, bows packed away to use again next year. Families have returned home, and we collapse in an easy chair, take a deep sigh and try to relax.

We are left with an afterglow of loving moments, age-old songs that brought joy to our hearts and rituals that filled our hearts with special remembrances.

An afterglow that brings hope into our hearts – that life doesn’t have to return to the way it was before – the same grind, same routines, same stresses. It is an afterglow that maintains the magical remembrance of those extra-ordinary Christmas moments.

As I pick up the gifts I was given – love, joy and peace – I find another one waiting for me; that final gift of Christmas: hope.

Hope: the glow that began at Christmas and extends beyond.

Hope

The Afterglow of Christmas | focuswithmarlene.com

Hope takes those early tentacles of despair and hopelessness and reminds us there is a tomorrow and gives us the willpower to try one more time, or two or three or how many times it takes to reach our goals.

Hope faces the uncertainty of tomorrow and replaces it with an optimism that things will improve.

Hope allows us to stop running in circles, identify the problems we face and start looking for realistic, long term solutions.

Hope engages the spirit so we will put new plans of action in place.

Hope reminds us we are more than past efforts. We are the abilities not yet discovered or explored; the possibilities untried.

Hope reaches out and asks God to give us the strength and courage to go beyond defeat.

Perhaps, like me, you will be committed to take what we deeply enjoyed and cherished from this Christmas and apply it daily until it becomes a part of who we are.

Marlene Anderson


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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

Peace

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Earlier this month, the Skagit Valley Chorale gave two performances at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon, WA. Joining with our 100+ singing group was a band that complemented so many of the pieces we sang.

It isn’t just the audience who enjoys our performances, but those of us who are a part of this chorale and who love the opportunity to sing under the direction of our talented and gifted director, Dr. Adam Burdick.

It is the tradition that at the end of our Christmas concerts the members of the chorale go down into the aisles of the audience to sing our closing number, “Peace, Peace.” It is a moving experience for both singers and those in attendance.

A friend of mine who came for the first time to one of our concerts told me afterwards that when we sang “Peace, Peace” in the aisles surrounding them on all sides, it was like having an “invisible blanket of peace wrapped around me.”

Peace | focuswithmarlene.com

Wow – what a tribute to the power of song and the words that were sung. It is always a moving experience for the singers as well as the audience because the words hold within them the longing we all have.

Peace. Who can totally describe or understand it? It is a tranquility of heart and soul that calms our fears and removes anxiety; it reflects freedom from conflicts and disagreements and hostilities and removes the desire for violence. It is a personal thing – yet something we share and requires sharing.

What if we could give away more of this “invisible blanket of peace” during our everyday activities rather than just a few minutes at the end of a concert? And what would it take to create this same comforting “blanket” that is offered from one heart to another?

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 4:6-7

I have experienced this “peace that passes all understanding” many times from an awesome God who is always there and surrounds us with His incredible love. And while I am not the creator of such peace, I can be an instrument for God’s love and peace that I pass on to another.

Perhaps with a kind word and extending a hand up we can let others know that they are not alone and that they can make it regardless of the losses and challenges that they are facing.

  • We can take a few minutes and wrap our arms around our children and tell them how much we love them even when they are naughty.
  • We can take that extra moment and listen to a friend who is struggling.
  • We can sacrifice some of our time to work with the unfortunate or simply call on a friend who is recovering in the hospital or is spending their last days in a nursing home.
  • We can share a hug as well as words of encouragement and hope.

And in the process, I believe we will also be blessed with peace and a quiet joy of thanksgiving. That we can share God’s love in so many little ways and along with it share His peace.

Marlene Anderson


If you enjoyed this blog post, share with your friends.

Sign up today to receive the entire series: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

The Gift of Christmas

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No matter where we are in our grief journey, or how long ago our loved one died, when holidays come, we are reminded of how special they were in our lives.

How can we possibly celebrate the holidays without them?

To help understand what it means to celebrate our loved ones, let me share a personal story.

When my husband and I moved to Washington, it was because we wanted to spend our retirement years enjoying boating in the San Juan Islands. We moved into a community where others also loved cruising, joined their yacht club and spent many happy hours with people who became good friends.

When my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, without a moment’s hesitation, a friend started a list of people who would be willing to take him to his radiation treatments 5 days a week. In less than a week, that list grew to a hundred volunteers. I was overwhelmed with such love and caring. They were there for me after my husband’s death as well, helping me make that difficult transition.

A year after his death, I wanted to find a way to thank and honor both our friends and my husband. I decided to invite those friends over for a dinner celebration. As we offered toasts to him and shared humorous and meaningful stories, we laughed and cried together. It was a powerful healing time for everyone.

What I learned that night was that even in our sadness and grief we need to celebrate our loved ones, whether at holidays or special occasions of any kind. Share remembrances when appropriate. Or simply hold them in a sweet spot in your memories. It doesn’t mean you persistently bring them up in conversations but are comfortable talking about them.

The Gift of Christmas | Focuswithmarlene.com

Working with individuals going through grief, I offered similar suggestions to them. One lady who lost her husband was going on an annual cruise with friends and she wondered how she would make it without him, especially at mealtimes. I suggested she set a place for him at the table, and before they started eating, she would ask everyone to join her in a toast to her husband. She then asked them to share some of their stories of the happy times they all had together.

On her return, she told me how successful it had been and how it allowed people to share what they were feeling without fear of adding to her discomfort. Having the place setting started the conversation that ended with a celebration.

However you introduce the process, whether you have a place setting or not, what is important is that you feel comfortable talking about your loved ones and encourage the sharing of stories, especially in those early months and years. It opens the door for others to share their memories and the love they had for a friend. When you are open to discussion, you offer the opportunity for others to share as well.

Celebrating is remembering the good times.

It is recognizing and acknowledging all we are thankful for. Celebrating is showing appreciation in some way for the wonderful things we have been given. As we do, we feel less distress and more peace.

Holidays give us an opportunity to reflect on all those blessings we have received. Your loved one was one of those blessings.

Make a list of all the things you are thankful for and keep them in front of you as a reminder. Here are some of mine.

  • It is the balm that covers disappointments, shortcomings and failures. It allows us to see that problems are not the end of the world. There are solutions; we can accept what we cannot change. There are many things over which we have no control. It takes the sting out of grief and helps turn losses into comforting memories.
  • What would we do if we couldn’t plan, work and achieve? Work gives us purpose and meaning and brings satisfaction and happiness. Find ways to make boring jobs more interesting. Help others who are less fortunate. Share what you are good at with others and encourage them to discover their skills and talents.
  • Every day I choose how I respond to life. What a great gift! It is in the challenges of life that I have the opportunity to grow and become a more genuine person. I can accept, let go and look for options. I can choose to solve my problems or allow them to become obstacles in my life. I can accept my shortcomings as well as my strengths.
  • Friends, family and relationships. I am thankful for the life I shared with my husband. I am thankful for the son I lost to cancer. I am thankful for all the friends and relationships I have had and continue to have. While death has taken people I loved, God has given me new relationships; and old relationships grow in depth, meaning and love.
  • The ability to create. Every day we have the chance to create something new – a new way of doing things, a new way to use our talents and abilities. When I stop comparing myself to others, I can develop the aptitudes I have been given and help others discover and develop theirs.

May you enjoy the joy and peace that passes all understanding this Christmas.

Marlene Anderson


If you enjoyed this blog post, share with your friends.

Sign up today to receive the entire series: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

What We Learn from Pain

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 5:3 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

I was asked once if I thought the only way we would discover God was through pain or loss.

I’ve thought a lot about that. Surely it doesn’t take tragedies to experience God. And yet, I think it does. Maybe it’s only when we are overwhelmed, broken, and “poor in spirit” – when we cannot find the resources within ourselves – that we are ready to acknowledge our need for God.

We are physically born in pain. And perhaps that is the only way we can be born spiritually as well.

Pain wears many faces: the pain of sorrow and loss, emptiness, and disillusion; the pain of guilt and shame, rejection and abandonment. Within all forms of emotional pain, we find ourselves struggling to find the answers and resources we need to satisfy our yearning.

We search for meaning in academic institutions and the wisdom of philosophers. We believe we will be happy when we have reached a certain level of success or have acquired enough wealth. We make plans, work hard to achieve them and believe we are good people because we attend church and believe in the golden rule.

And yet, in all our searching for happiness and contentment, we are left with a sense of being incomplete. The answers we thought we wanted don’t seem to be enough. Something seems to be missing and we keep looking for it. And then a tragedy, death or loss challenges our thinking and beliefs even more.

We look for answers to all our problems in science, technology and the internet. Medical research is providing us remedies for diseases and all forms of health and medical problems. While throwing the need for God out the window, we unconsciously keep looking for a God substitute that can provide answers of the spirit and soul.

What is my pain teaching me?

Pain, like everything else, can teach us. I have found it is precisely when I am in emotional or physical pain that I am challenged to stop and reflect on what is working and what is not.  When I remain in its presence, I begin to accept my vulnerabilities, break down the protective barriers I have built and allow myself to be strengthened. It is in pain where I find the opportunity to grow, spiritually and mentally and become genuine and real.

Nobody likes pain and we try to avoid it whenever possible. Yet, without pain we would not know when something was wrong or when we have injured ourselves.

Acute pain is the body’s first line of defense against danger: move away, get help, do something.

People born without pain receptors are at high risk of physically injuring themselves. Pain is important for our survival.

We typically describe physical pain as throbbing, burning or some other one of a thousand descriptions.

But what about emotional pain?

What We Learn from Pain | FocusWithMarlene.com

How do you describe it? It is just as acute, but without physical signs of bruising or bleeding. And it usually brings out the worst in us. We become irritable, cranky and moody and lose patience and dump those feelings on anyone who happens to be around.

But, if we are willing, pain can bring out the best in us. We learn patience and develop fortitude and more effective coping skills. Our spiritual and psychological muscles are strengthened, and life takes on a deeper, more spiritual meaning.

Grief, Loss and God

We are not only challenged to come to terms with our loss but are confronted with the necessity to consider what life really means. We think happiness is all about career achievement, financial security and education.

While these things are important, they in and of themselves do not necessarily make us happy. When a loved one’s life is cut short, we recognize the importance of relationships, giving and sharing, and self-sacrifice.

When faced with pain or loss, we cry out to God for help.

There is scientific and medical evidence that prayers make a difference in healing from surgeries and injuries, regardless of whether the recipient knows they are being prayed for or not.

Prayer is an integral part of my life and I am very aware of prayers heard and answered according to God’s time frame and wisdom. And I have learned to formulate my prayers to meet the needs of the moment.

I believe we will only find the remedies we want and need when we are open to coming to God for answers to the questions we have difficulty formulating. When our well-laid plans have been destroyed and we are stripped of wealth, good intentions and well-designed lives, we find ourselves re-thinking God and our need for something beyond ourselves, our culture and technology.

This can be an enriching moment in time. Yes, it is painful and yes, if you could, you would avoid having to go through such times. But it can be a major turning point in your life.

Marlene Anderson


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What is Grieving, Anyway?

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When we have lost something of great importance, our lives are forever changed.

With most unwanted changes, we make an adjustment and move on; life resumes and basically remains the same. It is when something of great significance and deep emotional attachment has been taken away, that our life becomes radically changed.

Losses are personal.

Nobody but you can determine how important a loss is. A child who has just lost a beloved pet or toy experiences sadness at a deeper level than we might think. Their attachment to that pet and toy was extremely important to them.

It is essential that we respect a child’s grief and help them through it instead of dismissing it.

What does it mean to grieve?

We know we will experience intense emotions of sorrow and sadness. Our emotions can range from despair to moments of solace, from anger to guilt, from joy in our remembrances to a blanket of depression that settles over us like a fog.

I associate the complexity of emotions to being on a roller coaster – up one minute and down another or somewhere in-between. In mourning, we give expression to our grief in some way.

I associate the complexity of emotions to being on a roller coaster - up one minute and down another or somewhere in-between. In mourning, we give expression to our grief in some way.

The greater the loss, the deeper the grief.

Working with individuals who have suffered major losses, I am humbled by the depth of grief they are working through. The typical words used to define this grief process have a different meaning to each person.

We don’t get “over it,” and, as one person indicated to me, the term “closure” has no comfort attached, either.

We will always have that empty spot in our lives, that hole in our heart, that love we no longer can give to the person we lost, that possibility or potential that will never be realized. But we can create a new reality, a new way of life that holds meaning, love and purpose once more.

Everyone grieves in their personal way that will have different time frames and different outcomes. We choose different methods to process our grief that fits who we are.

  • One person I met completed a 200+ mile walk called El Camino de Santiago in Spain walked by people as part of their healing process.
  • Others have found walking and praying a maze helpful.
  • Art therapy is extremely beneficial in the healing process, taking the broken shards of our life and turning them into a visual memory of recognition, reconciliation and celebration.

Don’t bury your loss.

When we have lost a loved one, we are usually given little time off before returning to work and are faced with working through our grief in bits and pieces. It is important to find time to grieve so our grief doesn’t become buried.

Working through a current loss often triggers old losses that were not processed, going way back into childhood. We feel the emotions attached to that earlier loss even when we are unable to put all the actual pieces of the event together in a cohesive pattern.

Find that time to grieve.

Grieving or mourning isn’t some sad time we spend feeling sorry for ourselves. It is active work that enables us to put our loss to rest. Here are some things to consider:

Grieving is:

  • Coming to terms with what has happened – making sense of it all
  • Working through the tangles of roller coaster emotions and thoughts
  • Working through the questions until you can let go and accept with or without answers
  • Finding a way to express what you are experiencing. Journaling, sharing with others, creating an art project, quiet time reflecting, writing a letter of goodbye are all some ways to help the healing process.
  • Validating your journey – give yourself permission to grieve. Emotional wounds require healing time just as physical wounds. Working through that grief is important to heal and integrate and not just contain.
  • Working through the layers of loss. There are many components that are a part of any loss that need consideration.
  • Answering the question, “Who am I after this loss? I knew who I was, but who am I now?” It is where we begin to establish that new identity and plan for tomorrow.
  • Stepping out and finding ways to make life meaningful again.

Grieving is not:

  • Feeling sorry for yourself. When we feel sorry for ourselves, we want to nurse our hurt feelings. When we are grieving, we want to share our pain so we can let go of it and heal.
  • Trying to “get over” it. Life will not be the same. Grieving is healing, integrating and replacing.
  • Doing things one particular way. We are all different. Take from the examples and suggestions offered and apply the ones that will work for you.
  • Going through predictable stages or time frame. While we may experience similar things, grief is never predictable. Each loss has its own unique necessities. There is no time limit when we “should” be better.
  • Retreating into solitude. While we need those times alone to sort things out, we also need the support of others. Retreating can at some point leave you isolated, lonely and depressed.

The lists above reflect some of the things we deal with in grief associated with the death of a loved one. However, when we lose our jobs, our financial stability, our ability to earn a living, or lose an expectation such as a marriage, or a long sought-after dream, these losses also need to be grieved.

Marlene Anderson


If you enjoyed this blog post, share with your friends.

Sign up today to receive the entire series: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.