Tag Archives: grief

finding your way through grief

grief is not something that i have a lot experience with as a counsellor, so it was interesting to read through psychologist roberta temes’ solace – finding your way through grief and learning to live again. the book’s no-nonsense, empowering tone is set right in the first paragraph of the introduction:

you are experiencing this death in your unique way. your experience is valid for you. your response is right for you, for now. don’t let anyone suggest that you are mourning the wrong way. you are your own expert.

that resonates with me. there was a time when i felt ashamed that my father’s death had not affected me as much as my dog’s did; it would have been lovely to have heard these words.

like any good book about a specific subject in psychology and therapy, the principles used apply to more than just the topic, like this, for example:

trends come and trends go. philosophies are in vogue and out. stop listening to bereavement experts; they will change their minds and what is considered abnormal today will be obligatory tomorrow.

for example, there was a time when experts claimed that you must talk about the death, cry about the death, wail about the death. you were instructed to go directly to a psychiatrist if you were unable to loudly express your grief.

today we know better.

in line with this down-to-earth approach, temes peppers her books with a wide variety of suggestions from people who survived the death of a loved one, for example

suggestions from marion, a dog lover

my pets saved my life. when i couldn’t pull myself out from under the covers for anything else, i did for my pets. i recommend you get a pet or two or borrow on from a friend or a neighbour.

these suggestions are supplemented by people’s stories, told in their own words. i prefer these little biographical vignettes over the long-drawn-out narratives that often spike self-help books. you know the one: “one day, babette walked into my office. she was a tall brunette and worked at a prestigious bank in downtown san francisco. when she took off her jacket, i noticed her well-manicured hands shaking …” etc., etc. so thanks for getting to the point, roberta.

chapter 3 immediately drew my attention: “helping yourself” this is where you can really see roberta temes’ practical, life-affirming approach. the subheadings read

work is therapy
socializing is therapy
organizing is therapy
taking action is therapy
food is therapy
planning is therapy
religion is therapy
writing is therapy
art is therapy
learning is therapy
reading is therapy
sweet moments

she also doesn’t clobber the reader with simplistic “think positive” advice; in fact, in her appendix, where she lists more authors to read – something that i always appreciate in any book – she promises that the list will not contain anything that will estrange readers through overly confident and positive “smugness”.

the last page contains these words:

i wish your days to be filled with kindness and goodness and many reasons to smile. i wish your nights to be filled with secure sleep and sweet peace. i hope you follow a life-affirming path and i wish you a fine life ahead, full of good memories and laughter and love.

invisible

invisible illnesses are, by definition, not seen. there are two parts to this: the (un)seen, and the (non)seer. i’m not sure that invisible illnesses are in fact invisible.

the man with chronic pain sits on his bed at 3:00 am, a gun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger. he makes sure his wife doesn’t see it. but it is a reality that can be seen; in some/many/most cases a reality that exists because insufficient effort has been made by the medical profession to see his pain and suffering. ask anyone working in palliative care or a hospice (and, surprisingly enough, sometimes also in sports medicine): in many cases, if you experiment long enough, a combination of drug cocktails, complimentary approaches and human(e) caring out can be found that will bring adequate relief of the horrible experience of excruciating pain.

the woman who keeps going back to the casino covers her tracks; she doesn’t want her co-workers to know how deeply she is in debt, and she is horrified at her mother finding out what she’s done with the money that aunt judy left her. but there she is, look: at the table, throwing in one chip after the other. yesterday she won $6,000! she just knows it will happen again, maybe tonight, for sure tonight! at a deeper level, she feels she is doomed, is always a few minutes away from enrolling in the voluntary exclusion program but somehow is afraid to do it. and we, we know she, or someone like her, is there, right now, this minute. she, too, is at a high risk for suicide. we know it, and therefore we can see it. even if we suspect it – maybe we are one of her coworkers – we can see it, just a bit. we don’t always need a 100-watt light bulb to tell a horse from a dragon.

the old man whose wife died a few months ago is sitting in front of the TV. his children are busy somewhere at the other side of the country, and the dog passed away a year ago. he stares at the moving images in front of him but doesn’t see them. he knows there’s a world out there but he perceives no place for him there anymore. no-one needs him. he sees no more point in talking, cooking, or brushing his teeth. his curtains are drawn; no-one can look in; depression is about to take him over completely. but there are still stories inside of him, experiences, wisdom. they can be seen by those who take the trouble to listen to him to hear him.

in invisible illness, there are things that are hard to see; it’s not easy to directly point at experiences like pain, addiction or depression. but there are also things that are hidden by the person with the illness because of shame, hopelessness, or because of the many times an attempt was made to show what’s going on but no-one seemed to care. and there are things that are not seen not because they absolutely cannot be perceived but because we don’t look and don’t listen.

that can be changed.

(this post was written in honour of invisible illness awareness week, september 14 to 20, 2009)