“Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair” – Rollo May
I’m sorry you’re suffering. Coping with a loss is such an overwhelmingly helpless feeling. We as humans do not like to feel helpless or powerless, but when there is a loss, there seems to be nothing else that is felt. Loss, emptiness, the abyss. The unknown, the lack thereof…. The inevitable, the unavoidable, the painful and even relief.
Often times we hear of death as being “untimely” and “tragic.” We hear the stories on the news, but can’t think about death too much or else we will bubble wrap our homes, our children, our loved ones, and ourselves. The avoidance of death contradicts with the ability to enjoy life. So we try and find a balance, but all the while knowing, that we really have absolutely no control not just what happens to ourselves, but what happens to those that we love the most. Then the unthinkable happens…. it didn’t happen to someone on the news… it happened to me.
Since grief is normal, why am I struggling so much?
Sometimes grief does not move through as we would expect it too. Sometimes it seems to linger longer than it does for others, or the emotions are still so intense years later it feels like you’ve lost the person over and over again every time there is a trigger – or reminder of the event. Sometimes you might experience distressing images and feel paralyzed with fear, anger, or sadness. Sometimes it will stop you from having fun with friends. Sometimes it will result in being less productive at work. Other times it will leave you feeling completely lost and alone in the world.
As a trauma specialist, and someone who has always been oddly intrigued by death and the suffering of those left behind, I realized that for many of us, losing a loved one can be very tragic, and even elicit a PTSD reaction, especially considering the nature of some types of losses that aren’t seen as “natural” and “timely.” It was at this time that I realized, if I approach grief, as I would trauma, we would really get to the core of the issues. My clients will go from surviving to living, and not feeling like they have to carry the burden that they have been given, but being able to move forward in a healthy way, that doesn’t negatively impact their lives.
I have been a keen observer of the suffering of grief at a young age. I understand how not just holidays but random days, are suddenly stricken with intense emotion of what is no longer, of what would have been. Of the unknown. Maybe it’s my empathy bone, or maybe it was born into my bones, but the heaviness of the air is hard to hold. Life continued to offer me moments to hold such heaviness. To hold darkness that most would shy away from. To sit with it. To be there. To feel together. To show through action, “you are not alone; I am with you.”
There are a few particular areas that I usually target with my clients when it comes to complicated bereavement. Especially when the person suddenly dies in a very tragic way, people are often left with unrelenting nightmares, reliving of the event, and going through it as if it just happened. The memories, emotions, and intensity seemed to be burned into the brain that doesn’t become less intense with time. Another area that comes up often is the struggle prior to the loss. Relationships are not all rainbows and butterflies, so naturally there is guilt that happens when someones passes wishing that you acted differently, or the relationship was different and often when untimely, these issues didn’t reach a resolution prior to the loss and you’re left grappling with the unresolved issues of the past, that will never be resolved in the future. Dealing with all of this is quite difficult and I’ve found that addressing and understanding the multiple dynamics of the relationship and accepting how it was and ultimately forgiving yourself, and the person who is gone, is crucial in this healing process. These dynamics are often present when a parent who wasn’t the best parent passes, or when an adult child is a loss from addiction or mental health issues, it can really disrupt the grieving process.
Ultimately I believe in the strength and resiliency of those that are left behind, those that are suffering. I have seen the strength that comes out of people crawling up from the depths of despair and has taught me that life does move forward, whether we like it or not. I give my client so much credit as they navigate these waters. I wrote a little bit about this resilence in a blog post about losing a child you can read further here.