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Thinking Differently


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In this insightful article, bereaved mother and author Sandy Goodman observes that since we react according to the way we feel, we intentionally can make adjustments in our thinking that will point us in a more positive direction as we proceed on our own grief journey. She challenges us to stop, to become aware of our thoughts and feelings, and to make a conscious effort to think differently – before we speak and before we act.

Thinking Differently

I have two jobs. Well actually, I have one job . . . and one passion. My job rewards me with a paycheck every two weeks for providing supervision, structure, and guidance to at-risk adolescents. My passion rewards me with insight and inspiration every time I learn something, or teach something, about death or loss. Somehow, these two very separate paths have crossed recently, and what I have learned while wearing my “puts food on the table” hat, has come into play while wearing my “what really matters” hat. I am pretty amazed by it . . . I hope I can share it in a way that will at least cause you to pause and ponder.

In my work as a Resident Manager, I have learned and tested many methods of behavior modification. The one procedure that seems to work (when used consistently and with commitment) is a simple one-step process: Consciously change the way you THINK – BEFORE you act.

Two things will happen if you can do this. I know, I know. You already know that your reaction will change. However, something else happens before that. Your FEELINGS will adjust first. And, because we react according to what we feel, our actions (or reactions) then change. Very simple, but what does that have to do with grief? Let me explain.

It has been nearly ten years since my son died. A decade has passed, and my journey has taken me from ground zero to the stratosphere and then back to somewhere in between. The only place I have not visited was the point I left when I was abruptly deposited at the trailhead. There were breaks to simply breathe, stops to change direction, and interludes to ponder where I had been. There was time to reflect, time to miss Jason, and time to find him again. At some point during the last few years, there was a place in the path where I needed to listen to those who were new to the mystery of grief.

The marker I am referring to on my metaphorical grief journey recently led me to The Compassionate Friends (TCF) Chat Room. Every night of the week, a group of 10-30 bereaved parents meet and talk about their pain, their memories, and their healing. I began logging in nearly a year ago and I feel as if I know each one of the moms and dads who spend an hour or two every night sharing their child’s life, and their own.

Even though a conversation in a chat room is not too different from a face-to-face discussion, seeing the words in black and white (or purple and pink if you are talented) was like hearing them for the first time. As I sat and “listened” to the dialogue, I became aware that we, meaning we who grieve, have an almost ...well...dysfunctional way of “talking.” It is almost as if we say things, think things, and feel things, to justify our pain. I think the only way to clarify what I am attempting to put out there is to give you some examples.

Joe: What was your son’s name?

Frank: His name was Billy.

Sue: Tommy was so loving. He was a wonderful big brother to his little sister.

Now, I am guessing that most of us believe that our loved ones who have died still exist, in some form. Perhaps you believe that they are in another place and will meet you again when you die. Perhaps you believe they are angels, living with God or Jesus. Maybe you think of them as souls, or as some type of energy ...or perhaps you consider them to be always in your heart. Some of you think they are still here with us in this life, but are just not visible. It does not matter what your idea of the afterlife is, as long as you believe there is one. (If you do not agree with such a belief, that is okay, too, but this article probably will not really interest you.)

So back to the example – WHY do we use past tenses? Does Billy no longer have a name? Is Tommy no longer capable of loving? What if Frank stopped to THINK, I know he is still here, still a part of my life . . . instead of . . . I miss him so much, and I cannot live without him. I think he would FEEL hope, and might react by saying, “His name IS Billy, and he is named after his dad.”

Another example:

Annie: My daughter passed away ... I just cannot say the “D” word ... she passed away a year ago last Monday. Why do we insist on giving death so much power? Do you believe that death can snuff out a soul and destroy the love between you and your loved one? I don’t, and I will not give the “D” word any more power than the “L” word. Death is nothing at all. The only thing death does is stops a physical body from progressing. When Jason died, his body stopped growing and was of no further use to him. What if Annie would have stopped and THOUGHT – I know that death does not destroy a soul. It is only a change in form. She would probably feel less fear, and more serenity. She might react by saying, “My daughter died last year. But we know she is still only a thought away.”

One more example and then I promise to wrap this up.

Alice: I know that Sherry is in heaven. She is in a better place.

Bob: Yes, you are lucky to have such faith.

Alice: I just don’t understand why God took her. What did we do wrong?

Do you see the irony there, folks? Sherry is in heaven, in a better place (sounds like a good thing) but yet Alice feels punished, not rewarded. What if Alice were to THINK – I am not sure where Sherry is, but I know that we are connected by love. I also know that she lived 100 years of joy in the 16 years she was here. She would FEEL love and gratitude and would probably reply with something like, “I know there is more than what I can now understand. I am willing to keep learning.”

All of this rambling was intended to simply suggest to you that you be aware of your thoughts, your feelings, and the words you choose. Learn to adjust them, to lean toward the positive, to come from love and not fear.

I am not proposing that you “fake it ‘til you make it.” I have always said that the only way to the other side of grief is right through the middle, and I still say that. You have to feel that pain, that hopelessness, that horror, until it changes. When you reach that part of the journey, and you have to pick yourself up, take your loved one’s hand, and say, “Okay, come on. We are moving forward, one step at a time,” your ability to change the way you think will be a welcome item in your pack.

Expect Miracles,



© Sandy Goodman, 2006

Source: Living with Loss Magazine, Fall 2006

Reprinted and used with permission of the author.

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