To call the past two years since Gianna’s passing rough is an understatement. They have been the darkest of my life. Frankly, the fact that I am alive today is a testament to my husband’s unconditional love, the consistent outreach of faithful friends, and the expertise and care of my therapists.
I hope to share more details of my mental health journey as time progresses. But since it is mental health awareness month, I wanted to share how I have benefitted from regular therapy as I struggle to grieve and process the loss of my daughter. I still go every week and don’t know where I would be today without it.
C.S. Lewis said, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” To deny the sadness and the pain one feels after loss is to deny the love one felt for the person in the first place. If we loved them, we are going to painfully feel their absence. Grief, therefore, is inevitable.
In grieving, we struggle to comprehend the loss of a loved one. It is natural to try to avoid grief because it is extremely uncomfortable, but it will not simply abate. Nobody can grieve for another. Ignoring your pain or keeping it from surfacing will only exacerbate the grieving process as time progresses. In order for real healing to take place, it is necessary to face grief and actively deal with it. It is sometimes called “grief work” because finding one’s way through grief is hard work. It’s often exhausting. If it is put off, it becomes like a messy chore and will linger, hanging over the person until it gets done. The longer it waits the harder it becomes.
Continuing to walk along the journey of life after a loss is painful and often a very lonely and solitary path. There is no real framework or system to recover from the loss of a loved one, especially since people are generally not familiar with the tools to overcome the feelings that devastate them. Friends and family often do not know how to help or what to say. As a result, during the days (and even months and years) following a loss we can wonder if it is possible to survive. As time passes fear gives way to anger, sadness, and isolation – feelings that assault one after the other.
A loss so severe, like that of losing a spouse or child, is often described as an amputation, wherein the person is forever changed because of the loss and it affects every aspect of life. The pain constantly accompanies everything the person does and it is impossible to return to life the way it was before. Figuratively speaking, the person now has to learn how to walk with a prosthetic leg and adapt to their new life as a traumatized, handicapped person. Everything they once knew how to do, they have to relearn, adapting to their new situation in life. Grief is that uncomfortable process; learning how to adapt one’s new life without a particular person that once could have been the center of it.
Therapy has been essential for me over the past two years. Here’s why.
- It taught me how to walk with this new injury. Although one can never fully heal from a loss, the guided grieving process can help bring acceptance to the situation and help one learn how to cope and live with this new reality.
- It validated and normalized my feelings in the grieving process. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain. It’s a necessary step in going from death to life. But the feelings that arise can be alarming, scary, and unpredictable. Having a professional to guide and affirm someone in this new terrain is invaluable and provides comfort.
- Therapy gave me a space to keep talking about and honoring my daughter, even when it seemed no one else wanted to listen. Most people who have not directly experienced the loss have a shorter grieving period. For example, the woman who lost her spouse will continuing grieving all her life while perhaps her husband’s friends are quicker to overcome the loss. The bereaved person will need to continue talking about it since there is the danger that unexpressed feelings can become distorted. It is important for the bereaved to find people with whom to talk: an understanding, nonjudgmental listener to acknowledge the feelings and experiences of the grieving so they can express and work through their pain, and come to terms with the loss. If a friend or family is not available to do this, or if one’s needs exceed their capacity, a support group or bereavement counselor can help.
- My therapist also connected me with support groups and other parents who have lost a child. When you are suffering a loss, it can be such a help to find people who have experienced something similar so that you do not feel so alone.
- Therapy helped me identify and treat the trauma caused by Gianna’s tragic death. There are many types of grief and trauma associated with it and it is important to know the difference in case the person who is grieving moves into the stages where professional help is needed. The wound has to be identified and acknowledged in order for it to heal correctly.
Everyone will have at least one loss in their life: a divorce, a breakup, the death of a parent, unemployment, and etcetera. Loss and pain are, for the most part, a normal and common aspect of life. In these moments, I think it is important to acknowledge that effective mourning is not done alone.
If you are mourning in any way – and again, it doesn’t have to be a literal death – I hope you find a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear to help you to grieve what you need to grieve, heal, and find happiness.
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