Dealing with pet loss

— How to help a grieving pet parent

Pet parents often say that losing their animal companions is as hard as, if not harder than, losing a human family member, experts say

By Marlene Cimons

Since 2012, Dana Topousis has lost four dogs — all young Dobermans — to illness.

Galen died of heart disease; the others, Homer, Romeo and Ruthie, succumbed to different cancers. So, she knows grief, which she calls “a lonely thing.”

“I live by myself, and my animals are my family, so it takes me a long time to recover,” said Topousis, of Davis, Calif., head of marketing and communications for the University of California at Davis. “Also, because my dogs were young, there’s unexpressed love — you think about all the things you won’t get to do with your dog.”

Pet parents often say that losing their animal companions can sometimes be as hard as, if not harder than, losing a human family member, experts said.

“Your pets follow you into bathroom. They sleep with you. They are your shadow. Human family members don’t do that,” said Leigh Ann Gerk, a pet loss grief counselor in Loveland, Colo., and founder of Mourning to Light Pet Loss. “Humans don’t go crazy with joy when you come back inside after getting the mail. Human relationships, while important, can be difficult. Our relationship with our pets is simple. They love us just as we are.”

People want to help, but often don’t know how. Sometimes their comments can hurt.

“Greater society doesn’t recognize the intensity of this loss and the grieving that comes with it,” said Jessica Kwerel, a D.C. psychotherapist who specializes in pet loss.

How to support grieving pet parents

We spoke with pet loss grief experts about how people can support grieving pet parents. Here is their advice:

Avoid euphemisms and platitudes. Don’t say, “They are in a better place,” since “the only place you want your pet is in your home,” Gerk said. Other things not to say: “They’re running free,” “They’re not in pain anymore,” “They’re with your other dogs now,” “They’ve gained their wings” or “Everything happens for a reason.”

While some people might find these phrases healing, others may see them as dismissive, Kwerel said. “That’s trying to apply logic to an emotional experience,” she said.

Members of one social media dog rescue group told Topousis that one day she would see Romeo — who lost a leg to osteosarcoma — running again on all four legs. She cringed. “I know they meant to comfort me, but it was a painful thought,” she said.

Never say an animal has been “put to sleep,” when explaining a pet’s death to a young child. They may fear going to sleep at night. “Instead, you can say: ‘We helped him along in his dying process,’” Kwerel said.

Be careful with Rainbow Bridge imagery. The Rainbow Bridge is a mythical overpass where grieving pet parents are said to reunite forever with their departed animals.

“That’s not a belief system for some people,” Gerk said. “I’ve had clients say they want to believe in the Rainbow Bridge, but they don’t know if they do. I remind them: if it brings them comfort to believe in it, then believe in it.”

Provide validation with facts, if possible. I lost one of my dogs, Raylan, recently to splenic hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive and fatal cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy, Raylan enjoyed five terrific months before the cancer returned.

A stranger wrote this to me via a Facebook dog rescue group: “I am a human pathologist. This kind of cancer is essentially incurable in both people and dogs. Five months of quality time after first diagnosis is fantastic. You did the right thing, no matter how hard. Don’t second guess yourself. Further efforts would have just prolonged suffering.”

Guilt often goes along with mourning, and his comments eased both for me.

Share your pet grief story. It can help the grieving pet parent to know you’ve been through it, too, but don’t make it about yourself.

“Don’t compare grief situations,” said Michele Pich, assistant director of the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy program at Rowan University. “That won’t help. You can say: ‘I understand how painful this can be,’ but keep the focus on this current experience.”

If you knew the pet, share your memories. It’s helpful for pet owners “to know their animal has made an impact on other people’s lives as well as their own,” Pich said. And use the pet’s name rather than saying, “your dog” or “your cat,” Gerk suggested.

Rituals are wonderful. Make a donation to a rescue group or plant a tree in that animal’s honor. Write a poem about the pet, or even an obituary. Topousis’s co-workers used photos of Romeo from her Facebook page to commission a painting of him that now hangs in her living room.

Complete Article HERE!

More and More, I Talk to the Dead

By Margaret Renkl

After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!

Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.

Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.

After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.

Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.

Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone. Can it properly be called grieving if the person who died is someone I never met? Probably not. But when I remember that John Prine will never write another song, it feels exactly like grief.

In any life, loss piles on loss in all its manifestations, and I find myself thinking often of the last lines of “Elegy for Jane,” Theodore Roethke’s poem about a student killed when she was thrown from a horse: “Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love: / I, with no rights in this matter, / Neither father nor lover.”

Why, when we grieve, can it feel so urgent to make others understand the depth of our loss, even when we have no rights in the matter? I think it must be because people so often fail to honor grief at all. We talk of “processing” loss, of reckoning with it and moving on, as though bright life could not possibly include an unvanquishable darkness. Our culture persists in treating mourning as an unpleasant process we are obliged to endure while waiting for real life to restore itself.

But God help anyone who appears to move on too quickly, or too slowly, for the grief police will be coming for them. They may be accused of giving their late spouse’s clothes away too soon, or of mourning excessively a relationship that seems too far down the grief ladder to justify such a response. People have opinions about how others should manage loss.

Just before my mother died, I heard her say to a stranger, “My husband died nine years ago, and every night I tell God I’m ready to see him again.” Four days later, she got her wish.

I’m in no hurry to join my beloved dead, but like my mother before me, I am spending more and more of my days in their company. As my father was dying, and taking so long to die, I feared that the memories of his brutal last years would overwhelm four decades of happy times. I worried that the father who followed me into my own old age would be the fretful, pain-wracked old man and not the loving optimist who had always been my surest source of strength in an indifferent world.

It didn’t turn out that way. Next month he will have been gone for 20 years, but he is as real to me today as he was on any day of the 41 years we shared on this side of the veil.

I read a newspaper article reporting that NASA will be dismantling the Saturn rocket that rises above the Alabama welcome center on I-65 South, and I remember the model Saturn rocket, taller than my 10-year-old self, that Dad and I built together from chicken wire and papier-mâché. I hear a Cole Porter song on the radio, and I remember my parents dancing in the living room. I see a blue jay perched in the pine tree just outside our family room, and I recall how often I was told that “blue jay” is the first bird I learned to call by name. There were so many blue jays in so many pine trees back in those days when I was still a cherished late-born child, and my parents were still explaining the world to me.

It’s the same with all my lost beloveds. Reminders take every possible form — the feel of pine needles underfoot, the scent of a passing woman’s perfume, the tail end of a song on a coffee shop radio, a letter tumbling out of a long-unopened book, the taste of boiled peanuts, salty and warm. The reminders loop between past and present, between one lost loved one and another, a buzzing sweep of sensations and memories and time. I keep searching for the right metaphor to convey what I mean. Is it like a braid? A web? A shroud?

Finally the word comes to me: It’s a conversation. Every day, all day long, everyone I’ve ever loved is gathered around the same table, talking.

Ten years on, I rarely dream about my mother anymore, but in the dreams where she does appear, it’s the same as before — the ordinariness of life, the rush of relief I feel, her blithe unawareness of my suffering. I walk in the door, and there she is, there they all are, no happier to see me than they would be if I’d only walked in from another room in the same house. In my dreams, as in my waking life, the dead are still here, still talking to me.

Complete Article HERE!

How different cultures deal with grief and mourning

A group of colourfully dressed women mourning a death in India.

By

Grief is a universal emotion. It’s something we all feel, no matter where we come from or what we’ve been through. Grief comes for us all and as humans who form close relationships with other people, it’s hard to avoid.

Studies of grieving brains – be it scans of the brain regions which process grief, or measures of the stress hormone cortisol that is released in grief – show no differences in relation to race, age or religion. People of all cultures grieve; we all feel sorrow, loss, and despair. We just do it – and show it – in different ways.

James Averill, a US professor of psychology, has compared this to sexual feelings which, like grief, are biologically driven but expressed in elaborately different social contexts.

Here are several examples that demonstrate how grief and mourning can look very different depending on where you live and come from.

1. Collective grief is common

When it comes to grieving in the west, the focus is often placed on the individual. People talk about their personal grief, and counselling is usually arranged for just one person – even support groups are attended by individual members. But the reality is that the family – or for many Indigenous people, the tribe – grieves collectively, and in some cultures this is more pronounced than others.

In Hindu families in India, for example, relatives and friends come together to support the immediate family in an elaborate 13-day ritual. A widow ceases to be the head of the household and her place is taken by the wife of her oldest son.

Typical of Native American culture, the Lakota tribe elders use the phrase “mitakuye oyasin”, meaning “we are all related”. The death of anyone in the tribe is felt by all.

Scrolls with names in Chinese script to honour dead relatives.
Scrolls with names in Chinese script to honour dead relatives.

In Tibet, the Buddhist mourning period following a funeral lasts 49 days. During this time the family gathers to make clay figures and prayer flags, allowing for a collective expression of grief.

Collective grief is also the norm in traditional Chinese culture, but here the family also makes collective decisions – which sometimes exclude the dying person. This was seen in the 2019 film The Farewell, which was based on director and writer Lulu Wong’s real life. In the film, a Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short time left to live and decides to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding in order to gather before she dies.

2. Grieving times vary by culture

After a bereavement, a steady return to normal functioning can typically take two or more years. Experts no longer talk of “moving on”, but instead see grief as a way of adapting to loss while forming a continuing bond with the lost loved one. But again, this varies from culture to culture.

In Bali, Indonesia, mourning is brief and tearfulness is discouraged. If family members do cry, tears must not fall on the body as this is thought to give the person a bad place in heaven. To cry for too long is thought to invoke malevolent spirits and encumber the dead person’s soul with unhappiness.

People walking along road in colourful clothing.
Traditional funeral and cremation ceremony in Ubud in Bali, Indonesia.

In Egypt, tearfully grieving after seven years would still be seen as healthy and normal – whereas in the US this would be considered a disorder. Indeed, in the west, intense grief exceeding 12 months is labelled “prolonged grief disorder”.

3. People like to visit the body

The way people interact with the dead body also differs culturally. For example, between the death and the funeral, the Toraja people on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, treat their relative as if they were ill rather than dead, by bringing them food and keeping them company.

Women Catholic devotees wearing traditional mourning dress
Women Catholic devotees wearing traditional mourning dress.

Europe has its own customs. In the UK until the mid-20th century, along the Yorkshire coast, the lying-out of the body was done by women of the village. Friends and family would come to view the deceased, pay their respects, and recall memories of the person. This practice continues in some countries.

In Italy, for example, a temporary refrigerated coffin is delivered to the family home so people can bring flowers and pay their respects in the immediate aftermath of the death.

4. Signs from above

In the UK, some people believe that white feathers are a message from heaven, though this is often dismissed as childlike magical thinking. But in many African societies, spiritual connection to the deceased is considered normal and very real.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional belief is that the dead become spirits but remain in the living world on Earth. They are thought of as the living dead. The spirit may appear in dreams in their human form.

Voodoo altars representing the spirits of the dead people.
Voodoo altars representing the spirits of the dead people in Benin, West Africa.

5. Sending on the spirit

The Māori people indigenous to New Zealand set aside time to grieve and mourn. They perform rites for the dead in a process called “tangihanga”. First, rituals send on the spirit, then the body is prepared by an undertaker, often helped by family members. The body returns to the family home for the family to reminisce in celebration.

Mourners with wreaths on their heads.
Throughout the tangihanga, mourners dress in black and wreath their heads in kawakawa leaves.

Elaborate rituals follow, including dances and songs and finally a farewell speech. Traditional artefacts including clothes, weapons and jewellery are displayed. After the funeral, there is a ritual cleansing of the deceased’s house and feasting, before an eventual unveiling of the headstone.

Complete Article HERE!

Can You Imagine How a Grieving Person Feels?

— Grieving people need to tell their stories. How friends and family members can truly offer support.

by Amy Florian

An icy road. A no-fault car collision. In the blink of an eye, I became a 25-year-old widow with a 7-month-old baby boy. When John died, I was utterly devastated. And despite being surrounded by a multitude of loving, very well-intentioned people, none of them had a clue what to say or how to act around me. I felt isolated and alone.

Supporting a grieving friend. Next Avenue, what to say to someone who is grieving
Whenever you inquire about someone’s experience of grief, follow their lead in what they are willing to tell you. They will let you know pretty quickly if they don’t want to talk.

Since that time, I’ve completed advanced education and certifications in Thanatology (the study of loss, grief and transition) and I’ve worked with over 2000 grieving people. I’ve heard and seen firsthand that wrenchingly difficult losses like mine happen all the time – there is a suicide, a child dies, a home burns to the ground, or other tragedies strike. As was the case for me, when these awful events occur, the survivors often hear a chorus of would-be comforters say, “I can’t imagine how you feel!”

I’ve learned that “I can’t imagine” still leaves a lot to be desired. When tragedy strikes in the life of someone you care about, you could do so much better.

I used to join so many others in teaching people that this is a good phrase to use, because it’s not immediately hurtful like “I know how you feel.” (Never say that, by the way. Even if you’ve had a similar loss, you never know how the other person feels.) Yet by listening to so many grievers, I’ve learned that “I can’t imagine” still leaves a lot to be desired. When tragedy strikes in the life of someone you care about, you could do so much better.

The Isolation of Grief

The truth is: We have very active imaginations. We actually CAN imagine what they’re going through. We just don’t want to. We recoil at the idea of envisioning ourselves in their shoes. So we tell them, and ourselves, that we can’t imagine it, and it keeps the pain at a distance. It allows us to offer pity or even sympathy, but not empathy and companionship.

That distance is palpable to the grieving person as well. When one comforter after another keeps saying, “I can’t imagine how you feel,” they begin to feel like a lonely outcast, thinking there must not be anyone else who has ever felt like this.

And if there isn’t a single person who can imagine what this might be like, then there isn’t a single person capable of accompanying them through it. Since no one cares enough to be in the pain with them, they’d better keep it to themselves. It’s a very isolating experience.

Follow Their Lead

I offer two alternatives that are more helpful and supportive. As always, whenever you inquire about someone’s experience of grief, you follow their lead in what they are willing to tell you. They will let you know pretty quickly if they don’t want to talk, and that may be the case for a wide range of reasons.

Open the door and invite them to talk, but always allow them to shut the door and decline the invitation.

Perhaps they’ve been crying all morning and just found a moment of respite, so they don’t want to go there. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable enough with you with talk about it yet. Perhaps they are exhausted and don’t have the energy into try verbalizing their feelings right now. So, open the door and invite them to talk, but always allow them to shut the door and decline the invitation.

In the vast majority of cases, though, their story will pour out to anyone courageous and caring enough to ask. The grieving person needs to tell their story in order to make it real, comprehend what happened to them, and begin processing the experience. It’s incredibly helpful when they find someone who is willing to listen.

You may be more comfortable with one or the other of these options. They both generate the same information, and both are totally invitational and non-intrusive.

Complete Article HERE!

8 Caring Sympathy Messages

— What To Say When There Are No Words

Words of kindness can have a powerful impact.

By Samantha Maron

When it comes to death and grief, finding the right words to express the deepest sympathy can be difficult. Loss is a natural part of life, but it often leaves us feeling adrift, unsure, and afraid of saying the wrong thing to a person going through an immensely difficult time. The truth is that every person responds to loss differently. While some grieve in private, others prefer the physical presence of friends and loved ones. Whatever the case, sending a sympathy card (even if the words aren’t perfect) to let them know they’re on your mind is important. Below are sympathy messages and words of comfort to offer in a time of need. 

Condolence Messages To Write in a Sympathy Card

There are several important things to keep in mind when writing a sympathy note. Two of these are the recipient and the circumstances. For some, the right approach is a message that will make them smile (or even laugh), and provide a brief respite from their grieving process. For others, a spiritual quote or condolence can show solidarity at a sad time that’s often accompanied by loneliness and isolation. Personalization is important, so be sure to customize your sympathy card messages for a family member or close friend according to their situation and your relationship to them. Here are ideas to get you started.

1. I’m So Sorry for Your Loss

When you’re just not sure what to say, don’t be afraid to say something simple, like “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m thinking of you in this heartbreaking time.” Writing this in your sympathy card is the clearest way to show love and support. Don’t avoid sending condolences because you’re worried about coming up with the perfect words. (Really, the only words to avoid are “I know how you feel,” which centers you instead of focusing all attention and support on the grieving person.) “I’m so sorry for your loss” can be an opening that allows your friend to share their sadness, or a simple phrase that signals caring thoughts and heartfelt sympathy.

2. I Remember When

One way to add something special to a condolence card is to share happy memories of the person who has passed. This may be a memory of a time they did or said something light and humorous, which can help to give the grieving family some joy on a difficult day. It may also be a memory of a lesson or special message they passed down to your family, like encouragement to pursue a project or support during a difficult time of your own. Memories are incredibly personal, but they also show the family that their loved one had a positive influence on people and will be well-remembered by many.

3. What an Amazing Person

There are other ways — apart from or in addition to sharing a memory — to pay homage to the person who has passed. Were they particularly caring or loving? Did they always bake something special to welcome newcomers to the office or the neighborhood? Could they make everyone laugh? Consider the impact the loved one had on those around them. By referencing specific traits or behaviors, you’re telling the grieving family that you saw the gifts their loved one shared with the world, and that you appreciated them for it. Doing this shows the aggrieved that the legacy of their loved one will live on.

4. A Spiritual Reference

For many, spiritual references are a useful way to navigate loss, especially in initial stages of grief. It’s important, however, to respect the grieving person’s faith — or lack thereof — before referencing God. Religion and spirituality are deeply personal, and referencing them may not always be appropriate. When it is appropriate, consider quoting spiritual texts or beloved hymns. Avoid messages that suggest the loss is part of a larger plan — for example, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God makes no mistakes” — as these diminish the loss by implying that it’s for a higher purpose. Instead, reference spirituality and messages of peace and love in a way that supports the grieving family by acknowledging the depth of their loss.

5. Sending Love to Your Family in a Time of Sorrow

If you didn’t know the individual who passed, but you do know members of the family, consider writing a condolence card to the grieving person rather than in memory of the deceased. This may reference their influence, such as how they raised such wonderful children, but you can avoid speaking of the deceased person entirely if you don’t feel comfortable. Simply writing heartfelt condolences to the grieving family of the deceased is often enough to show that you care without overstepping.

6. A Poem or Quote for Comfort in a Challenging Time

We don’t always have to find the perfect words ourselves. Loss is a universal experience and has been written about and spoken of in many ways throughout generations. It may be useful to share a quote or a few lines of a poem that you think your loved one will appreciate and perhaps find peace in. When it comes to poems and quotes about loss, you can tailor the writing to the specific individual you’re sharing it with. In some circumstances, it may have religious or spiritual elements. In others, it may be humorous or very serious. If the deceased or someone in the family had a particular love for one writer or singer, it might be special to share a line from them as an homage. Taking the time to pick out a quote they will really appreciate will show the family or your loved one just how much you care.

7. They Left an Impact and Fond Memories

After a loss, we often grieve the missed opportunities and moments our loved one could have shared with us before their passing. Speaking to their impact can ameliorate some of that pain. This could mean referencing the wonderful way they raised their children, speaking to their community fundraising, or sharing a time they helped you navigate a challenge. Knowing their loved one leaves a lasting legacy behind can bring great comfort to the deceased family.

8. A Promise of Help

While sympathy messages and deepest condolences are a wonderful way to support a family or coworker emotionally, logistical needs must also be met. Of all the gestures, tokens, and gift ideas, availing yourself to provide a service during a time of loss is always appreciated. This is especially true if the grieving family has elderly relatives or small children. A promise of help should be intentional and specific so that there is no undue burden on the family to pick up the phone and ask. Rather, you want to give the family the tools and resources they need to care for themselves during loss. That may be gift cards to local restaurants or maid services for the home, or even babysitting support so that they can make arrangements. Taking a few simple tasks off their mind can make a big difference.

Meaningful Messages and Sincere Condolences

When it comes to words of sympathy, there are many ways to share love and comfort at a hard time. The simple act of sending a sympathy card is a welcome show of support for the grieving family.

Depending on your relationship with the deceased and their family, you can further personalize your sympathy message by sharing loving memories, messages of love and comfort, and even quotes or song lyrics. Another way to show up for loved ones during times of loss is with the offer of support and help. Just be sure to take care of the planning so that your offer doesn’t add to their burden. Loss is never easy, but family, friends, and the right words can help us to navigate loss.

Complete Article HERE!

What We Know About Treating Extreme Grief With Psychedelics

— In his new memoir, Prince Harry talks about taking psychedelics to deal with the ongoing pain over the death of his mother. Here’s what we know and don’t know about their effectiveness.

By Dana G. Smith

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been remarkably transparent about their psychological struggles. In a documentary about mental health that he filmed with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Harry included a video of himself undergoing E.M.D.R., or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, which helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder cope with triggering memories. Ms. Markle has spoken candidly about experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts.

Harry’s new memoir, “Spare,” is no different, including raw and sometimes shocking details about his battles with mental illness. At the center of many of these experiences is his grief and trauma over the death in 1997 of his mother, Princess Diana, when he was 12 years old.

In the book, he described trying both traditional and unconventional ways to cope with his pain and that using psychedelics was particularly helpful. After one therapist suggested that he suffered from PTSD, Harry started to use mushrooms and ayahuasca “therapeutically, medicinally.” (He had previously experimented with psychedelics recreationally.) “They didn’t simply allow me to escape reality for a while, they let me redefine reality,” he wrote.

Psychedelic therapy has experienced a groundswell of enthusiasm over the past decade as research mounts showing the mind-altering drugs can be useful for treating depression and other mental health disorders. (The therapy is still illegal in most places and is primarily done in underground sessions, abroad or through clinical trials.) However, there is scant evidence about whether psilocybin — the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms — and ayahuasca might be helpful for processing grief and trauma specifically.

Dr. Joshua Woolley, director of the Translational Psychedelic Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco, is optimistic about the drugs’ potential. “Can psychedelics help with the experience of grief? I would say probably yes,” he said.

But other experts are less bullish on the idea of using them for trauma. “The actual evidence is really lacking,” said Dr. Shaili Jain, a PTSD specialist at Stanford University and author of “The Unspeakable Mind.” “It’s very early, and we still don’t know the long-term side effects. We are not there yet.”

Grief Versus Prolonged Grief

Grief is not a mental illness; it is a normal human experience that comes after the loss of a loved one. Sadness, anger and disbelief that the person is dead — something that Harry described in his book — are all typical responses to the profound pain of death and can last for months or years. However, if the grief has not improved at all after a year and is affecting a person’s ability to function, a diagnosis of prolonged grief, sometimes called complicated grief, might be warranted.

“What we see with prolonged grief is that the grief becomes very entrenched, that things look the same for this person today as they did the day after” the death, said Mary-Frances O’Connor, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and author of “The Grieving Brain.” “For a person who’s adapting more typically, a year after a loss, they’re still going to have sadness. They’re still going to miss the person who’s gone. But you can see this trajectory of change where they have started to restore a life that feels meaningful to them.”

People with prolonged grief may feel that life has lost its meaning or that a part of themselves has also died; they might have intense emotional pain or feel complete psychological numbness. Harry does not say in his book whether he was ever diagnosed with prolonged grief, but he does describe some of these emotions, and symptoms of PTSD and prolonged grief often overlap. About 10 percent of people mourning a loved one will develop prolonged grief, and the risk is higher if the death happened suddenly or traumatically.

Treatment for prolonged grief often involves cognitive behavioral therapy to help people start to move on and engage in meaningful activities again while they continue to cope with the grief. “It’s not about taking grief away,” Dr. O’Connor said. “It’s about learning how to live with the fact that you are a person who has waves of grief now.”

Using Psychedelics for Grief

Scientists think that psychedelics work in two ways: through their chemical effects on the brain and the subjective experiences a person has while on the drugs. For many people, psychedelics act like “a very intense, fast psychotherapy,” Dr. Woolley said.

Psychedelics “have this potential to induce these transpersonal states of consciousness where people might feel like they are connected” to the deceased relative or friend, added Greg Fonzo, co-director of the Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy at Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin. “That might allow people to move past some of the stuckness that occurs when they’re in this phase of grief.”

In the brain, scientists think that psychedelics induce a “plastic state,” helping to rapidly form new connections between cells. Those new connections may be behind the insights and reprocessing that people can experience when they use the drugs in a therapeutic setting.

There are very few published studies focusing on psychedelics’ effect on people experiencing prolonged grief. In one of the few relevant trials, Dr. Woolley looked at whether psilocybin, combined with group therapy, could help older, long-term AIDS survivors process their depression and survivor’s guilt surrounding their diagnosis, as well as the loss of friends and family to AIDS. The 2020 study, which included just 18 men, assessed the participants’ levels of demoralization — a therapeutic term for an existential sense of hopelessness and loss of meaning in life. Most of the participants had experienced profound grief and trauma because of the AIDS epidemic; on average, the participants had lost 17 loved ones to the disease.

After one psychedelic therapy session, nearly 90 percent of the men experienced a reduction in demoralization, and many saw a decrease in symptoms of PTSD and complicated grief. In a follow-up paper describing the men’s subjective experiences, the researchers wrote that psilocybin was “a catalyst for reconstructing their identities from rigidly centered on their past traumas to more flexible and growth-oriented life narratives.”

“The people in our study often talked about feeling stuck and detached from people around them and not able to move forward,” Dr. Woolley said. The psilocybin “did seem to help them move forward, to become unstuck and start being more engaged in life.”

Another study published in 2020 by researchers in Spain found that 39 bereaved adults who took part in ayahuasca ceremonies at a retreat center in Peru reported a decrease in the severity of their grief, and those benefits lasted for at least a year. The researchers wrote that people using ayahuasca to process their grief “described emotional confrontations with the reality of the death, the reviewing of biographical memories, and a re-encounter with the deceased.”

While these results are promising, both studies were small and neither included a control arm to compare the effects of the psychedelics against a placebo or another medication. The majority of participants in the ayahuasca study also reported that they expected to benefit from the experience, which may have had an impact on the results.

There is stronger evidence that psilocybin can be useful in treating depression, including in trials comparing the drugs’ efficacy to standard antidepressant medications. Similarly, M.D.M.A, which is sometimes classified as a psychedelic, has been shown to be effective at treating PTSD. Some researchers think that because prolonged grief has many similarities with depression and PTSD, psychedelics could be useful for treating it too.

Dr. O’Connor said that given how scientists think psychedelics work in the brain to treat depression, it’s conceivable that the drugs could also be helpful for people with prolonged grief. However, she cautioned against using the drugs to cope with grief that had not been diagnosed as prolonged or complicated.

“I would not say that it is appropriate to intervene with something as mind-altering, as dramatic, as psychedelic therapy if a person is, in fact, healing in the way that we would expect them to,” Dr. O’Connor said. “Meaning, I would worry that you could do more harm than good and that it just may not be necessary.”

The experts also emphasized that experimenting with the drugs recreationally is not the same as using them in a controlled therapeutic environment. After trying psychedelics in both settings, Prince Harry echoed this sentiment. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he said that he “would never recommend people to do this recreationally,” but that in the right setting the drugs worked “as a medicine” to help him process his grief and trauma.

Complete Article HERE!

My partner and I are both grieving.

— Sex might help us cope – but he has lost interest

We have had seven happy, loving years together. But I’m feeling the need for physical comfort

By Pamela Stephenson Connolly

My partner and I have been in a loving and happy relationship for seven years. During the past two years three of our parents have either died or been diagnosed with a terminal illness. We remain close but physical contact has become less frequent and meaningful. I find sex a cathartic way to deal with the stresses we have faced, and a way to demonstrate our closeness, but he has understandably become reluctant to be intimate. I feel our need for sex has a different purpose and miss our shared understanding of what closeness means for us.

Grief certainly can negatively affect a person’s sexual response and many people find that recovery can take quite some time. Occasionally, bereavement develops into depression, which in itself can shut down sexual interest or functioning. It is unfortunate that you and your partner are having different sexual reactions as you work through loss and try to heal, but recognise that you are simply experiencing different sexual responses to grief and, if possible, share those feelings with each other to feel more heard. Grief counselling could be very helpful. Your bereavement is relatively new, but if healing does not appear to be progressing it will be essential to seek help. At any point in a relationship it is extremely common for sex to hold different meanings for each partner. Take heart – it is reasonable to maintain hope that there will eventually be healing and a resolution of your current sexual issues.

Complete Article HERE!