A Therapists Journey Through Grief
I have many roles in my life. I am a therapist, as a profession, but I am also a daughter and a mother. As a therapist, I spent many years training in counseling others in a multitude of different issues, one of which was the treatment of grief and loss. I learned about the stages of dying, the stages of grief, and grief recovery. My focus here is to share some of my personal experience with anyone going through the loss of a loved one.
Given my schooling and my experience counseling others through grief, I thought I was well prepared for the loss of my mother. Imagine my surprise when I absolutely was not. A little about my Mom, she had been sick for several years with a combination of health problems. Each time she was hospitalized, she got progressively worse. Due to the length of her illness, my grief journey started long before she passed away. Grief happens not only when a loved one dies but from the initial diagnosis through the long journey to passing on. Like many others who witness a parents declining health, I had periods of denial, anxiety, depression, anger, fear and confusion. Sometimes the loss of a loved one is sudden and unexpected. Sometimes it is a long, grueling journey. I’ve been asked many times which I thought is harder to process. My answer is that they are both equally difficult in their own ways. Mine was the lingering process, constantly hanging like a black cloud over my head. I tried very hard to appreciate the time I had with my Mom and was able to do that at times, but largely, I was so overwhelmed with my grief that it was hard to focus on the present. As a therapist, I will tell you that focusing on the present and appreciating every moment is important, but I know from my own experience it’s very hard to do without letting the negative emotions of grief take over.
The stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance apply to the entire process, from the initial diagnoses to death. They are presented in order, however like waves in the ocean, they ebb and flow, often overlapping, and moving between and amongst each other. They are not distinct stages that progress from one to the next. Knowing this did not prevent me from feeling the “grief crazies”. My emotions were all over the place all the time. The following list of coping skills will help you keep your feet on the ground, while wading through the journey of grief.
- Use your support system
- Take care of yourself
- Delegate tasks
- Ask for help
- Keep things simple
- Prioritize your tasks – not everything is essential
- Get plenty of rest – but not too much
- Get some exercise
- Don’t isolate yourself – talk with others
- Back to basics – eat enough, hydrate enough
- Stay away from unhealthy escapes such as alcohol or drugs
- Keep your schedule written down – your memory will not be normal
- Maintain a list of important tasks
- Remind yourself that you will be OK
- Attend a grief group
- Plan for “anniversary” dates
- Allow yourself specific times to grieve