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Healing Concepts, LLC

promoting well-being in everyday living

Tips for Clients


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Mending A Broken Heart

Our hearts are fragile.  They can break in so many ways: the death of a loved one, a failed relationship, loss of a job, shattered dreams, and countless others.  Experiencing life fully inevitably means experiencing loss and losses need to be grieved.  It would be ideal if grief was always fully acknowledged, validated and supported.  It would be best if when we hurt those around us would express deep compassion and a commitment to our well-being.  Sadly, this is not always the case.  Far too often grief is minimized, misunderstood, discouraged, discounted, or even ignored.  This is called disenfranchised grief.  It feels lonely and it hurts!

There are many causes of disenfranchised grief.  Sometimes a loss is not recognized as really significant. Often people minimize important an loss such as a miscarriage, lost employment, the diagnosis of an illness or developmental disability, pet loss, hair loss during cancer treatments or the loss of a child as they head off to college.  Other times, people judge a loss, such as a break up where one partner poorly treated the other or when family and friends never fully approved of the relationship in the first place.  Frequently loved ones just don’t know what to say so they end up saying nothing or they urge the grieving individual to look on the “bright side” or “move on”.   Sometimes we get in our own way by telling ourselves we should not be feeling such pain or that it is time to “get over it”. 

Whatever the cause of your feeling alone in your grief, please know your loss matters and you have an absolute right to be supported in your pain! Here are 10 tips to start you on a path towards mending a broken heart.

1)    Acknowledge your loss and the depth of your pain.  Know that a broken heart does not simply mend if ignored.

2)    Own your loss experience.   Only you get to decide if a loss is significant to you or not!  No one else gets to tell you what, when, or how to grieve.

3)    Celebrate your wisdom in knowing that you need support.  Mending a broken heart is really hard and it takes more effort and time then you might expect or desire.

4)    Give yourself a break.  Grief is not neat or easy so don’t expect that from yourself.

5)    Stand up for yourself.   Do not cave in to the expectations of others.  They simply do not know exactly what is best for you. 

6)    Tell your story as often as you need.  One of the primary ways we mend a broken heart is by exploring the meaning of what has happened to us over and over again. We are not stuck.  We are doing our best to heal. 

7)    Resist urges to manage grief through isolation or “drowning your pain”.  Cutting yourself off from family and friends will not take away the pain.  Resorting to alcohol, drugs or even food to try and smother or drown pain will make things infinitely worse.  Grief can never be successfully avoided by trying to go over, under or around it.  Get the support you need to take this difficult journey.

8)    Be creative in your attempts to heal.  There is no one right way to grieve.  Everyone has an opinion about what is best, but you are unique and so will be your path to healing.  Feel free to try talking to loved ones or friends, attending a grief group, journaling, prayer, reading self help books, visiting online support communities, talk therapy or anything else you believe could help.   No one thing is likely to work perfectly, but with time and a combination of efforts you will mend. 

9)    Don’t expect a perfect ending.   Grieving hearts do mend, but this does not always look like we had hoped or been led to believe.  Often there is not a complete end to grief. There will be times, even after many years, when the pain will be intense.  Some need support related to a loss off and on for years or even a  lifetime.  This should not be judged, but rather acknowledged and honored. 

10) Have Hope!   Believe that, in your own time, your heart will mend.  Your pain will lessen.  You will feel joy again.  You will experience a full and meaningful life.    

If you have questions or concerns about what I have written please feel free to contact me at 610-209-3111

Lara  

 

Coping with Cancer Together:  Tips for Navigating the Journey  

Lara Krawchuk, MSW, LCSW, MPH/Healing Concepts, LLC-610-209-3111

 

Cancer is a family affair.  Not only is the patient’s world turned upside down, but the lives of the people who love this person change substantially.  For patients and loved ones; coping with cancer together is challenging at best and utterly devastating at worst.  Sadly, most health care systems fail to adequately support families as they embark upon an unwanted journey through cancer’s strange and frightening landscape.  Families frequently find themselves struggling to navigate without adequate maps or tools to support one another along the way.   It is so important to seek healing resources to help you navigate the rigors of coping with cancer together on a cancer journey!

In my work, as a therapist, I am often called upon to support families who have gotten devastatingly lost on their journey.  Together we work hard to help families find an easier path for themselves, understand the strengths and challenges of each member and identify ways to work better as a team when the going gets tough.   Finding better pathways can be challenging and even painful for families, but commitment to growth along the journey can be a powerful source of connection and healing in the long run.

I too have navigated an arduous cancer journey with my own family, as my beloved father battled through the wilds of a leukemia diagnosis.   I learned so much along the way.   I am deeply honored to share some of the collected wisdom from these journeys with you now.

HONOR YOUR EMOTIONS

A wise woman once told me that being diagnosed with cancer was like being dropped into a totally foreign land without a map.  The emotional part of a cancer experience can feel like walking up and down an endless mountain trail filled with countless, challenges.   Sorrow, fear, anger, frustration, hope, pride, confusion, resentment, sorrow, anger, and ambivalence are just some of many emotions families must cope with along the way.  Take time to notice what you are feeling and to honor those feelings.   Resist the urge to bottle up your emotions or shove them way down inside where they can no longer be felt.  Emotions that get ignored over time can get a bit toxic inside of you.  Bottled emotions can end up being more overwhelming or destructive then they might have been if honored, a little bit at a time, all along the journey. There are no absolute rights or wrong to the way you choose to honor your emotions.  Do what feels right to you and allow your loved ones to do what feels right to them.  Please remember that what you and your loved ones need, in any given moment may not match up. This is very normal! Try hard to find a safe way to regularly honor what you are feeling and to also support your loved ones unique needs in a way that fits who they are, as well.

ASK FOR HELP

In our “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” culture we are often quite reluctant to ask for help.  Even when faced with the unrelenting demands of a cancer journey we, too often, try to handle things on our own.   This is simply not the time to be proud, shy or reluctant to ask.  Just do it!  Ask everyone and anyone who might lend a hand, or an ear, or even some precious time. By all means ask your loved ones to help out, but be sure to look beyond the confines of your own family to friends, co-workers, neighbors, clergy, therapists and anyone else who makes sense for you.  Cancer journeys can be long and if you have only a small number of helpers they may eventually wear out.  The consequences of caregiver fatigue can be truly perilous, including physical and emotional exhaustion, volatility, resentment, avoidance, and sometimes total withdraw, so be sure to cast a wide net for a broad array of supporters.  Give them each a task that they can handle.  Find out what people excel at and then ask them to pitch in accordingly. 

ASSUME NOTHING

Many families get into trouble by making assumptions.  Some people assume that they are a burden and that it would be better not to ask for help. Others assume that they know what their loved ones are thinking.  Many wrongly assume that it would be better to stay silent then bring up a painful or taboo subject for discussion.  I beg you now to let go of assumptions and instead regularly check things out with the people who matter to you. 

BE FLEXIBLE

Cancer is stressful for so many reasons and in part because things are so constantly changing.  My most of my resilient clients share one trait in common.  They are all very flexible.  They have the enviable ability to acknowledge change fairly quickly, regroup, and move forward to the next phase of their journey.  That is not to say they do not struggle with change, but somehow they find ways to view it as a part of the process and therefore do not drain valuable energy reserves fighting unexpected or unwanted shifts in direction.   So practice being flexible with friends, family, your healthcare team, and especially yourself.

BE FORGIVING

Along with massive doses of stress, uncertainty and change often come some mistakes.  You, and everyone around you, in a cancer journey are likely to mess up along the way.  If you make a mistake it is usually helpful to openly acknowledge what has happened, apologize, and find a way forward.  If you are in the receiving end of the mistake or misunderstanding try to understand what happened, share what you would prefer in the future and find a way forward.   When someone you really care about makes a mistake try to remember that even you do not know exactly what you need on any given day.  So long as your loved one is trying to be supportive make an effort to be forgiving when they sometimes say the wrong thing or fail provide what is really required in the moment.

DIVEST OF TOXIC ASSETS

As I mentioned, I am a big believer in forgiveness.  However, I also think that there are just some people, places and things that are no good to you along a cancer journey.  So get rid of anything that hurts or harms you in any way.

 SEEK JOY

As hard as a cancer journey can be it is important to seek moments of joy along the way.  Noticing a bright blue sky or tiny flower, in the midst of despair, can remind you of the tenacious beauty in the rocky slopes of life.  Remembering to take a few deep breaths when overwhelmed can take the edge off frayed nerves.  Walking, or sitting quietly in a place or beauty can renew a wounded spirit. 

NUTURE HOPE

Hope is a human essential.  Throughout a cancer journey hope may shift and change and it may sometimes feel rather dim.  No matter where you are on the journey try to find some hope to hold onto.  Be flexible and creative with hope.  Allow hopes to change as you move throughout the journey.  If hope feels absent or distant, you might ask to speak to a social worker, therapist, or clergy member who can help you sort through your struggle and figure out the meaning of hope for you now.  Trained professionals can be very useful in times of diminished hope.

 TAKE A BREAK

Everyone needs a break from a cancer journey.  Learn to take breaks, small and large, on a regular basis.  Relaxation techniques are a great source of respite for my clients.  Together we practice relaxing breathing, meditation, guided imagery, journaling for joy, collage and any other creative things we can think of to give them a brief break form the rigors of the cancer journey. I also encourage bigger breaks, if realistic.  Never underestimate the power of a change in scenery to rejuvenate an individual or family for the journey ahead.  Finally, remember to take breaks from each other.  Not even the most loving, functional family can stand to be together 24 hours a day.  Be sure to take time for you!  Ask for some space when you need it.  Do something refreshing by yourself or with a friend.  Caregivers frequently struggle with feeling that doing something for oneself is a betrayal of their beloved cancer patient, but this is not true!  Self-care leads to better care for the person you love.  So regularly schedule breaks from each other and enjoy the feeling of appreciating one another more when you return.

I wish you much hope and healing on the cancer journey.  If I can be of help to you or your loved ones as you find your ways please do not hesitate to call me at 610-209-3111.  I am always happy to lend an ear, connect you with helpful resources, or support you in my own counseling practice.

Lara


Sustaining Hope When Times are Tough-Lara Krawchuk, MSW, LCSW, MPH

For families facing physical illness hope is an important and sometimes confusing concept.  Hope in an illness is not stable.  It must be frequently redefined as information and lived experience informs the journey.  Sustaining hope along an illness journey can be challenging.  Many well meaning others will weigh in.  They will tell you how to define hope.  They may warn you not to “lose hope”.  The truth is that no matter how many people tell you how they think you should experience hope; only you can truly make sense of this intensely personal concept. No one has the right to define it for you!  Wrestling with your unique meaning of hope is important because the absence of hope is despair, which is a state of deep suffering, but the precise meaning of hope is always yours to decide.  In good times and in bad, you are the boss of your own hope!

Tips for the Journey:

  • Take Time to Consider the Meaning of Hope. Think about what hope means to you now.  Do you know?  Does it matter to you?  There are no “right” answers here, but considering the concept can be useful.
  • How Do Your Loved Ones Define Hope? Does this match with your understanding of hope?  Do conversations need to be had to explore where your meanings match up or do not? Mismatched definitions of hope are quite normal, but sometimes need to be further discussed with a professional so they do not lead to festering resentments or hurts down the road.
  • Be Flexible.  As an illness journey shifts and changes so too does hope.  Periodic reassessment of what hope means to you may be required.  Stay open to hope changing.  Hope is always possible if you remain open to its many variations.
  • Actively Seek Hope.  Along an illness journey it is always important to actively look for moments of hope, even in times of deep distress.  Hope has many forms: a promising treatment, good news, a break from treatment, a sunny day, the smile of a child, a beautiful piece of music, a warm embrace, less pain, the promise of comfort after great suffering, and so on.  Hope comes in infinite forms and only you get to decide what fits best for you.  Try to spend a bit of energy each day actively seeking out that, which bolsters your hope!
  • Take a Break.  Staying hopeful over a long period of time can get exhausting.  While hope can co-exists with any emotion; it is ok to take “a break from hope” to more deeply honor the darker side of your emotional experience.  Cry, yell, or fret all you need to for a little while!  Taking a break does not mean hope is lost.  So if sustaining hope has worn you out give yourself permission to put hope on a temporary hold.  When you feel ready you can return to hope once more. 
  • Seek Support Along the Way:  Defining and redefining hope can be arduous.  Never hesitate to ask for help in sifting through the meaning of hope.  Professional helpers can be especially useful in helping you sustain hope in challenging times. We are here to help!  We are trained clinical social workers with a passion for helping individuals and families facing physical illness!  If you are feeling sad, anxious, overwhelmed or finding hope to be elusive, please call us at 610-209-3111.  Together we can explore the challenges you are facing and find a path towards optimal emotional well-being for you and the people who you care most about.

I wish you much hope and healing on the cancer journey.  If I can be of help to you or your loved ones as you find your ways please do not hesitate to call me at 610-209-3111.  I am always happy to lend an ear, connect you with helpful resources, or support you in my own counseling practice.

Lara


Grief Article-Main Line Today
http://www.mainlinetoday.com/Main-Line-Today/August-2010/The-Good-in-Grieving/index.php?cparticle=2&siarticle=1

 

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