Let’s Talk About Grief

Carson Winston

Thanks for joining us for this episode of Centra Scripts, where we talk health and wellness and practical tips for your everyday life. And now here’s your host, Kate Kolb.

Kate Kolb:

Well, thanks again for tuning into this next episode of Centra Scripts and we’re going to take some time today to talk about something that is affecting us all in this time right now. At the recording time of this podcast we are in the middle of this COVID-19 situation. It’s something that we did not see coming as a nation and quite frankly as a world. And so, just working through some of the process of this to understand how we process this and what we’re feeling. And I’m really honored to be joined here today by Carson Winston. She is a bereavement counselor with hospice here at Centra. And we’re going to talk a little bit today about grief. So, Carson thank you so much for being here and agreeing to do this with me.

Carson Winston:

Absolutely. Thank you.

Kate Kolb:

Well, if you don’t mind, just to get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What brought you to Centra, how long you’ve been here, and what you do?

Carson Winston:

Sure. I am a bereavement counselor with hospice. I’ve been with Centra for three and a half years. And prior to my role at Centra I worked in mental health for 13 years. And I chose this area of specialty because I feel very passionate about the importance of grief and the need for people to be supported and validated in their experience. And to me, grief is one of the most authentic and real experiences that any of us can experience. Because it’s something that we all experience at some point in our lives. And so being a presence for others during this time in their lives is very important to me and it’s a privilege.

Kate Kolb:

Well, thank you so much and I love what you said about it being an authentic experience that we all have. Let’s talk a little bit about this concept of what grief is. I think maybe as a society we don’t talk about grief that much at all. In fact, I think probably people, the propensity is to say, well that’s not something I deal with, or just block it out completely. So let’s talk just for a minute about… Let’s define what grief is, and how we define that as a people group and then individually.

Carson Winston:

Sure. As with so many other things, grief has a variety of definitions. And the way that we like to define it is, the internal thoughts and feelings that we have when we experience loss. And that loss does not necessarily have to be a death. It can be the loss of a home, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job. And I think it’s important to distinguish between grief and mourning, because these two terms are used interchangeably. And grief being that internal experience that we have, mourning is that outward expression of that grief. And so examples of morning are, creating art, crying, spending time at a grave site, journaling, wearing black, talking about the deceased, talking about your loss. And so these are just examples of mourning. I think it’s important to distinguish between the two of those.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. I’ve actually never really thought about the difference in that before. And you’re right, I think people use those two terms very interchangeably. Like, Oh, I’m in a mourning period, but not really defining what the actual internal example about it. So, that’s great. Well, okay, so let’s talk specifically then about grief, and this season that we’re in with this COVID stuff. I think, is it a fair statement to say that we are experiencing a grieving period during this time?

Carson Winston:

Absolutely, yes. It really is. And let’s talk more about that. During this pandemic, we are all experiencing so many different losses. And one of the major ones that we’re experiencing is that loss of social connection. And so, we are not seeing people face to face anymore. We’re not seeing our friends and family, our coworkers. We’re not hugging each other, we’re not getting that physical touch. And so this has been a major loss for us. Churches, we’re not going to church services, and Sunday school, and concerts, and conferences, and sporting events. So, all of these things we have lost that we like to enjoy collectively together, we are social beings. And so this is something that we’re having to grieve. Also, the loss of our routines, as mundane as they may feel, it gives us a sense of normalcy and comfort in the world.

Carson Winston:

And so, this has also been disrupted. Our sense of security and assumptions about the world. We assume our family and friends will be safe and that life will continue as usual for the most part, and this has also been disrupted. Now we’re waking up wondering, okay, will somebody in my family get the virus? Who will die next from the virus? And so that loss of feeling safe is huge for us. And loss of jobs, loss of income, which can lead to other losses for families. And so, this is a really big one that we’re seeing right now. Our sense of freedom, being able to come and go as we please. We are used to just picking up, Oh, let’s go out to eat tonight, or let’s go shopping, and we’re ordered to stay home. And so, we have lost that sense of freedom.

Carson Winston:

And I just wanted to take a moment to point out how our children and teens are experiencing this time because they have lost a lot as well. For children, they’ve lost connection with classmates, with their teachers, with their usual playmates. Seniors, they’re really struggling right now. They’re not able to live out their last several months of their high school career. Not able to go to prom, not spending time with friends. Same for college seniors. So this is a really big deal for them. And I think we just need to be mindful about what they’re experiencing too. And as far as the field of death and bereavement, we are seeing how this pandemic is affecting people who are already grieving the loss of a loved one. So for instance, say, someone lost their spouse six months ago, they are feeling even more lonely and isolated than they already were during the pandemic.

Carson Winston:

And so that person who would be their primary support, they’re not there to talk to and to bounce ideas off of. And this is a really scary time. And so, their grief is certainly being exacerbated and we need to be mindful of that. People aren’t having funerals. If people die during this pandemic, not necessarily from COVID, but just death in general, they’re not able to have funerals. That social connection we get that’s so important in our culture, of being with others during this time, hugging, and people bringing food and spending time together at a home, that’s not able to be had right now. And so this is really going to affect the grief experience for those people. And people not being able to visit sick and dying loved ones due to travel restrictions or facility restrictions. And so, we as grief professionals and also other helping professionals in the community, need to be aware of how this is going to affect these people so we can best support them.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because as you were working your way down that list of the ways that grief is making itself present in this pandemic, I was thinking, yep, I feel that, or yes, I feel that one too. And so, I have talked to so many friends and coworkers and family members right now that just describe what they’re feeling. Well, some of them can’t even describe what they’re feeling, but a lot of the talk is just this, it just feels heavy, or it feels gray, or it feels like I can’t crawl out of this mindset of just feeling off, is what people have said. What would be a piece of advice that you would give to people who are just really struggling with coming out of it? Do they even have to come out of it? What does that look like in dealing with those feelings?

Carson Winston:

Sure. I think, first it’s important to note that grief is a very comprehensive experience, it affects us physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, spiritually. And so, it just has an effect on our whole entire being. And this is important to be aware of as we’re tuning into our minds and bodies during this time. And I think, first, it’s important to acknowledge that what you are experiencing is grief and not to ignore it, not to push it away. To recognize that and embrace that. You don’t get through grief by ignoring it. It doesn’t work that way. And so to engage in those mourning behaviors that we talked about earlier, cry about it, do some type of art project. Doing collages has been known to be very therapeutic in grief work.

Carson Winston:

So, cutting out pictures of things that are going on in the world, and images that represent how you might be feeling and bind us together. It’s just an example of one artistic mode that can be utilized during this time. Talking about the loss, talking about what we’re feeling with others is very important, and also important to make sure that the people you’re talking to about it are supportive and able to listen to you. And let others talk to you about how they’re feeling. It’s really important right now that we are patient and sensitive to each other because we are all in this collectively. And so, if your high school senior wants to talk to you about not being able to go to prom for the 10th time, let them talk about it. Because it’s important to be heard and validated. And so, I think we just need to be sensitive to that.

Carson Winston:

And just some basic things of taking care of ourselves physically. Again, grief is a comprehensive experience, and so we need to make sure that we’re eating well and drinking water, getting exercise, making sure we’re getting rest and getting outside, getting fresh air and sun is huge. And so, that’s something that we definitely encourage. And also, just keeping those contacts open with other people in creative ways. So I know a lot of people are doing the Zoom thing. One of my coworkers told me the other day about something called house party.

Kate Kolb:

Yes. Yeah, I’m on that with a couple of my friends.

Carson Winston:

Are you really? Well, I thought that was great. She said that they connected virtually in that way and were able to play some games together. And so, just trying to be creative about ways to stay in contact with each other to help decrease that isolation. And just again, being open about your feelings with each other, and also relaxation techniques. And so, not only are we experiencing grief right now, we’re having a lot of anxiety. And so, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, visualization, yoga, these types of things can also help manage our anxiety that we’re feeling.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. Well, I want to go back to something that you mentioned in your description there when you were talking about, if your teen needs to talk about missing their prom 10 times, that that’s okay. Because I think we have, those of us who are willing to even broach the topic of grief, I think sometimes we think, okay, well, I’ve talked about it once and I’m not allowed to say anything else about it again. Or am I being a burden to somebody by bringing this up? What would you say to people who are struggling with the feeling of, I feel like I need to just keep reprocessing that. Is that healthy to do over and over?

Carson Winston:

It is. And that is one of the important aspects of grief work. And what we do in counseling is, allow that person to retell the death experience, to talk about over and over about how they’re feeling. That is extremely important. People need to be validated and heard. And this certainly helps you with that emotional processing to work through the experience and to promote healing. So, absolutely.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. I think the other thing that I’ve been hearing a lot from just people that I’ve been talking to is this idea of, well, I was fine yesterday. I felt almost normal yesterday. And then I woke up this morning and it’s not like there was anything specific that happened, it just hit me. And so, grief as a process that you’ve talked about, is there a timeframe for how you feel grief or what does that look like?

Carson Winston:

Absolutely not. And there are many, many myths about grief that being one of them. You don’t feel better within six months or a year, say, after the death of a loved one. It doesn’t work that way. It’s not something you ever truly get over. You learn how to integrate that loss into your life. And which I believe that we’ll be able to do with this pandemic. It will be integrated into our life. But to get to that point, you need to process it. You need to experience it. We tell people, you have to feel it to heal it. So, and that’s true. You do. And so these mourning behaviors are necessary.

Carson Winston:

But no, you know grief is like a roller coaster. It’s up and down. You might feel really good one day and then it may feel like you take two steps back. And that’s just the nature of it. It has ups and downs, and one of the things that we also talk to people about is the common experience of grief bursts, where you might see something or hear something that reminds you of something or someone you’ve lost and the tears just start flowing. And so, those are very normal, very common, and just a part of the experience.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah, I think that grief burst thing is something I’ve actually had a couple of conversations with people about, even just in the past week or so. And you mentioned it before too, that there might be some time that has passed from something else that you’ve been grieving in your life and because of the stressors that we’re under currently and that sort of thing, they’re triggering towards this idea of anxiety and grief. And so I think, how do we make allowances then for those grief bursts that happen in our lives? Is it better to face those head on? Is there a coping mechanism that’s better than another for that? I mean, it’s such a wide open-

Carson Winston:

Sure. It is. And grief is a very unique experience. It’s different for everyone. Everybody copes in different ways. But my initial response to that would be to allow it to happen. When you do feel that grief burst coming on, when you do feel that flood of emotion to release those emotions. If you let it build up, it will manifest in some other way. And sometimes that can manifest in unhealthy ways. So we want to make sure that we are allowing ourselves to experience whatever it is that we’re feeling.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. I think too the thing that I’ve even experienced in my own life is this feeling of, really up until a few years ago, I didn’t feel like I was a person that experienced anxiety. I didn’t really feel like I was a person… I mean, I had been through situations that were grieving to me through life but, I went through a difficult divorce a few years ago, I’m now a single mom, and all the things that come with that. And there’s a lot of people that are walking through things that they have had the ups and downs of normal life, and then all of a sudden it just feels like you’re just adding and adding and adding.

Kate Kolb:

And the one thing that a couple of my friends have said during this is like, I don’t even know what this feeling, I don’t know how to define it, I don’t know what to call it. I’ve never been a person that has experienced this. And the one thing that I hear people say over and over is, I feel like a crazy person. And I hate that a little bit because I think there is this idea in our society that if you feel something other than “normal” that you are crazy, which is unfortunate. My mom used to joke around when we were growing up. She’s like, normal is just a setting on the dryer. There is no other actual term for normal anywhere. So, how do we address maybe some of those societal ideas, that if you are grieving or you are mourning or you’re experiencing anxiety that you are “crazy person.”

Carson Winston:

Well, we hear that all the time with the families that we serve with hospice patients that, I feel like I’m going crazy. Please just reassure me that I’m not crazy. And we do, we tell you, it might feel like you’re going crazy but you’re not and what you’re experiencing is normal. Grief is one of the most abnormal normal experiences. And so, it’s a very normal process. It’s very normal for us to feel what we’re feeling but it may feel extremely abnormal. And so, a lot of people are uncomfortable with grief in society. People don’t want to see other people cry.

Carson Winston:

They don’t feel comfortable talking about people who have died without bringing up, well, it’s going to upset somebody. And again, not necessarily a death but any loss, and we need to break through that and just raise grief awareness, and embrace it, and support each other, and just allow ourselves to experience what we’re feeling. And so just, I think education is important. And so we do a lot of educating with our families, and again, going over how this comprehensive experience affects us in so many different ways.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. What would be your advice to maybe somebody who is recognizing signs of grief in a family member or a friend, but maybe that friend or family member is not acknowledging what’s going on. Is there a way to support that person if that person is not really interested in walking through what they’re experiencing?

Carson Winston:

Right, right. Yeah. It’s always recommended to reach out and to offer that space for that person. And some people just don’t want to talk about it and that’s okay. Again, everybody handles it in different ways. But yeah, we do encourage people to talk about it and if it’s extreme to the point where they need professional help, then obviously going in that direction, seeking help. But some people just don’t like to talk about it and that’s okay too. That’s okay too.

Kate Kolb:

So, just making allowances for the fact that it’s okay to talk about it, but if they don’t want to not pushing too hard.

Carson Winston:

Yeah. That’s right.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. Well, this is all really, really good information and I definitely feel like I’m connecting with it for sure. And I’m hoping that the people as they listen will as well. Let’s talk a little bit about what resources might be available to help, not only just during this time, but just with grief in general and how we process that.

Carson Winston:

Sure. So, the bereavement staff at Centra Hospice are certainly an excellent resource. We not only can provide services to our friends and family of hospice patients, but also to the community. So, our services are free, and we can provide individual grief counseling and our support groups are available to the community as well. Now, during this time we are doing virtual sessions with people and we are launching our grief support group virtually starting next month. So, May 5th will be our first date that we’re launching that. So we’re really excited to do that because we know how important it is to continue supporting people especially now.

Carson Winston:

Personal counselors, like if you have a therapist already, reaching out to your therapist, most of them can do virtual sessions. So, keeping that contact open is important. Churches, a lot of people find resources through their churches, through their pastor and their church family. Also, I would encourage people to remain in contact with your medical providers, if you’re experiencing any medical issues or physical symptoms to just keep in contact with your doctor. And also, there are so many apps out there, like meditation apps, and YouTube videos for yoga, and things like this that are really great resources to tap into some of those relaxation techniques.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah, that’s the one thing that I think that has been so interesting to watch during this time is the resurgence, not that we haven’t been aware that there are plenty of resources online, but suddenly I think because we can’t go anywhere and we’re not being able to interact with people, this virtual world of all the things that are suddenly available to us has been just so interesting to watch it come over the horizon. Although it’s a little overwhelming sometimes because everybody’s like, well, you need this app and you need this app. So, as we look for resources and how to deal with our grief or our morning this season, what do you say to the person that’s just overwhelmed? Maybe the resources are too much. Is there a specific pattern that you would have them start through, this is step one, step two, step three, or what works best?

Carson Winston:

Well, again, it’s different for everybody. And one of the things I would recommend too is just to take breaks from media. So, that constant stream of information I know people are just wanting to get on the TV and watch what’s going on, keep up with the COVID numbers and all that. But taking a break from that is important. I would say that, I think we need to slow down. I think we need to use this time to try to be more mindful and get outside. And I mean, for a lot of people that brings a lot of peace. And luckily we’re able to do that with the beautiful weather. Luckily we’re in winter with this going on.

Kate Kolb:

I was just thinking that the other day, I was like, if there had to be a time for this to happen, thank goodness that it wasn’t in the middle of winter when we could not even go outside.

Carson Winston:

You’re right. Exactly. So we’re blessed with that. You can get out, the hiking trails are still open on Parkway, so, doing that. But yeah, to slow down and just take these deep breaths and just do only what you have to do, and also to experience what you’re experiencing. So, what I mean by that is if you feel like crying, don’t hold it back, let it go. And so, just starting there.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah, that’s all really, really great information. Is there anything else that we haven’t hit on yet or something else that is either about grief, or about grief specific to COVID that you would want people to hear before we end this episode?

Carson Winston:

I would just throw in there that practicing gratitude, I think, can be really powerful in all of this. And just looking at what we have to be thankful for right now in the midst of all of this. We’re talking about all the losses that we’re experiencing. And so, just taking some time out to reflect on the good and what we have to be thankful for during this time.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. I think a lot of that comes from our perspective to this idea of being grateful in the midst of what we’re going through, but also maintaining a perspective for what’s going on. I was scrolling Facebook this morning before I came over here and there was a quote that somebody had put up from Shakespeare of all people that said, “I have cried over not having any shoes until I saw a man who had no legs.” And that changed his perspective of what his grief was in that moment for that thing. And so, just being, like you said, grateful for what we can recognize that we have and what we’re going through, but also maintaining that perspective of the bigger picture and that sort of thing.

Carson Winston:

Absolutely.

Kate Kolb:

Well, thank you so much for-

Carson Winston:

Thank you for having me. I appreciate that.

Kate Kolb:

… doing this. I think that this is a topic that we need to continue to keep open and the discussion going for. And you were so much fun to talk to and I appreciate all your insights on that.

Carson Winston:

Thank you Kate.

Kate Kolb:

Yeah. Well, once again, thank you so much for being with us, for listening. We appreciate you guys as listeners with this podcast and love being able to bring all this really great information to you. Continue to check out centrascripts.com for additional resources like blogs and links to some of these resources that we’ve talked about, and stay tuned for the next episode.

2 Comments

  1. Debbie Kendrick on May 4, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    This is so timely and very well done. Thank you so much for the information and the comfort.

    • Amy Price on May 7, 2020 at 12:02 pm

      We are so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for listening.

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