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Reflections on Loss and Moving Forward

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The blogs for Therapy Changes tend to be of a more informative nature. Yet today as I prepare my August blog I am drawn to something a bit more personal, and at the same time universal to us all.

In May of this year I lost my husband to cancer. I’ve worked with clients through their own grief/loss, experienced it with my own father and grandparents, yet this loss was of such a profound nature I find myself still unable to describe it. And in that wordless place of describing it, others’ responses or condolences seem to fall short, some even feeling insensitive; yet I ask myself how can they know how to respond if I don’t have words to describe this immense heaviness? The confusion of this new array of emotions, coupled with the day-to-day necessities of life, and complicated with not having the energy or strength to try and find “my new normal” has been exhausting.

The first few weeks were filled with tears and disbelief, finding myself wanting to be alone yet at the same time fearful of being alone. My home, my children and my pets became my sanctuary while recognizing we were each experiencing this loss with each other, and apart. I experienced a new sense of strength while also an incredibly fearful level of vulnerability; my morning walks became arduous as I tried to brace myself for the return home to a house I use to share with this important person in my life. Looking in the mirror I seemed to have aged overnight, my body felt heavy and uncooperative with my desired actions, and the phrase, “the silence was deafening” was now very familiar. Those individuals who reached out with, “I’m thinking of you today” or “I’m here if you need me” were the ones who filled my heart; those who posed questions such as, “Are you okay?”, “What are you going to do with the house?” taxed my already cottony mind. And those simple, meant to be kind statements, of “He’s in a better place” touched me in that frustrated, angry place of feeling invisible with my grief. I just wanted to know someone was there, thinking of me, and respecting the ebb and flow of my unfamiliar emotions, and the understanding that I would be okay.

With more time passing my deep sorrow shifted; it no longer occupied every waking thought. Tending to the “business” of my husband led me down paths that brought me humor, affection, anger and frustration; for someone so organized, “Why did he have his military documents scattered in 3 different places?” I could sit in front of his computer and watch the photo slideshow with fewer tears, and a lot of fond memories; I would see pictures of his life before us and marvel at the gift of himself he had prepared through those previous adventures. His life story unfolded before my eyes with an appreciation for it being his life story, in my mind I get to write the final chapter, reflecting on the man he had become. This is how I am slowly progressing forward, recognizing that there is a closure to his adventures, but not to the impact he has/does have on our lives.

I found our combined children to rise to the occasion of “one family” and offering me a love I needed so much at this time, and together sharing a love that had been formed by the union of their father and I. We are approaching “the firsts” as we hit mid-summer. The first birthday celebration of our son without him, our celebrating his birthday in August, the birth of a new grandson this September, and weddings that lay on the horizon. This family has become a football family, and we are entering our Fantasy Football season without him, the competition will be different and we will rise to the occasion of ensuring that his presence is felt in other ways. The holidays will also be different this year and thoughts are circulating of how to modify tradition without losing his hand print on those facets that made it special times for us all. Changes without losing his influence is how we are moving forward.

I’ve adopted a phrase during this time of “finding my new normal”. I don’t want to erase the life I had with him, yet I don’t want to dwell on the past with such sadness that I forget to live now. I’ve watched our children shift in their grief, with my daughters in agreement that, “…he wanted us to remember the beautiful normalcy of our connection and the certainty of our love.” No truer words were ever spoken. So I am slowly, day-by-day building a new normal on top of the wonderful memories of what we created together. Some days are more difficult than others. I have learned that reaching out to our children, my close friends and family is what I need to do to ease the sadness and return to the art of moving forward with fond recollection of this incredible human being.

Do I miss him? Every single day.

So why do I write this heartfelt blog? I write this blog for a couple of reasons, one is to normalize to some extent this journey of grief and loss, the other is to underscore countless articles I’ve read on how to support someone with their grief and loss. There have been countless lessons gained on the path, yet the ones I want to share are those that you can offer to others in your life who may also find themselves faced with this natural life occurrence of loss.

  • Be still with them in their grief. Allow their sadness to be pure and genuine; move your discomfort with those feelings to the side and just be
  • Practice active listening skills. Offering advice can feel discounting to our feelings, but just listening and allowing them to talk guides them towards their own solutions
  • Allow levity to be present. Grieving is exhausting, and somehow our grief “takes a break” to enjoy the antics of a small child, reflect on a humorous memory, or conjure up some obtuse thought. Returning to the grief is not going backwards, that “break” is part of the process
  • Respect the invitation to be close, or not. When not grieving, our friends and family fill different needs; when grieving, the same holds true, a few key individuals will be invited to join through the process early on, others as the journey unfolds. You will be invited to join when it is time

In our role as therapists we are often seen as “knowing the answers” and sometimes I believe it is important for us, and our clients, to recognize our humanness. We have similar life experiences in that humanness and I would like to think that we can share those with each other in an effort to accept our own moments of feeling lost, as well as those moments of regaining momentum in our lives. Before losing my husband I was a strong and independent woman, and through this experience I remain a strong and independent woman. There were times on the journey where my sorrow and vulnerability masked this strength, yet I’ve come to recognize that this strength is more permanent than I could ever imagine. This strength has weathered an event that in my imagination was larger than life itself.

Image: Torsten Scholz on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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