Navigating Grief Responsibly

Cathy Laffan returns to the blog today to resume her monthly post!

Emotions that I had never felt before welled up in me like waves in a storm at sea.  I was hurting, I felt out of control, and I didn’t like it.  I lashed out at a loved one and hurt them at a time when they were already hurting.  That made everything so much worse.

This is how I felt almost twenty years ago when my Mom became suddenly ill and passed away after a very brief illness. I had never experienced the loss of someone so dear and I had no experience to draw from and no tools to help me through the uncertainty. At the time I was feeling things I didn’t want to feel. I had no idea this was grief and that not wanting it wasn’t going to make it go away but only come back time and again until it had been acknowledged and accepted.

Now that I have been practicing The Responsibility Process® regularly, I can look back on these memories and realize that the time I lashed out came from blame. I wanted someone or something I could blame for what was happening. I thought that blame would give me some control, that I could direct what I was feeling at the source I was blaming. I know now that this was a ‘below the line’ response.

What happened next was that I justified my lashing out and hurting a loved one because of the situation I was dealing with, my Mom’s illness and death. When I realized how deeply I hurt the other person, I quickly went to shame at my behavior. How could I do that to someone so dear to me? What was wrong with me? How stupid was I to hurt the person who cared the most about me at the time I needed them most?

I did eventually get to a place of responsibility when I owned the fact that I had hurt the other person, acknowledged that my blaming and justifying were just forms of excuses. It took time, patience, and forgiveness from the person I hurt and myself to repair the hurt I had inflicted.

Why am I bringing this up twenty years later? My mother-in-law passed away recently and in my grief I have been reflecting on my own Mom’s death. My mother-in-law became acutely ill quite suddenly and passed away which brought to the surface old feelings and memories.  The big differences being that this time I had some experience from which to understand what was happening to me and my husband emotionally and I had The Responsibility Process as a guide.

Some of you who use The Responsibility Process as a professional development tool may be thinking, she can’t possibly have been thinking about The Responsibility Process with all this emotional family stuff going on, but I really was. I knew I didn’t want to repeat that old behavior pattern from when my Mom died. I was also clear in the fact that I wanted to be there for my husband and I decided the best way to do that was to do it from a place of responsibility.

How can you grieve responsibly? I’m sure there is more than one way but allow me to share with you what I did and how it went. From the first phone call letting us know what was happening, I consciously chose to stay present which meant allowing my emotions to well up and just feel them. It meant allowing my husband to experience his feelings without trying to help him or change them, just be with him. Part of me wanted to mentally time travel to a past or future without these feelings but I stayed in the present and felt my hurt and experienced my husband hurting. I kept doing this each time emotions welled up and I felt the desire to be someplace else. I stayed, I felt.

My husband flew to his mother’s side without me. The next day he called and asked what ‘should’ we do? ‘Should’ you fly to Boston now?, later?  I chose to respond with – ‘what do you want me to do?”, “I want to do what you want me to do”.  I got a very clear response – “I want you here with me.” I booked my flight right after that call and went. No ‘shoulding’. It’s all about ‘wanting’.  Even though this exchange only took a few moments a lot went on, did you notice? Let me point out what wasn’t spoken. First I listened; I heard ‘should’ also known as obligation. I also heard anxiety which I didn’t try to fix, I just felt it. Next I asked a question instead of answering the ‘should’ directly. When I asked, I chose words from a place of responsibility; the ‘want’.  Suddenly, I got clarity, not anxiety. Upset solved; flight booked. Throughout this brief exchange I was telling myself to listen, to feel, to stay present, and to respond from responsibility and I did. Much better than what I did twenty years ago.

There were many other opportunities to respond from responsibility as the family moved from the death to planning the memorial, being at the memorial, and celebrating the life of their mother. I chose to stay present throughout all of this by slowing down my mind, allowing my emotions to swell and fade, and by being there for my husband and others without trying to fix anything, just allowing them their own process. It was the best possible experience given the situation and I know The Responsibility Process helped me navigate this storm.  Instead of being left wallowing somewhere below the line, I felt connected and loved even in despair.


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Cathy Laffan

CL Nov 2013_cropCathy Laffan is a member of The Leadership Gift™ Program and accredited as The Leadership Gift Practitioner. She is a Managing Director with 24 years of experience working for a leading global financial services firm. She has 20 years of experience in the project management field and is certified as a Project Management Professional.

A champion of flexible work arrangements, Cathy has been working remotely full-time for 4 years. Cathy is also a Toastmaster and has earned the Competent Communicator and Competent Leader designations from Toastmasters International.


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Posted in Responsibility on 06/03/2015 04:42 pm
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