Sitting With Grief

I recently listened to Megan Divine speak about how to pick a grief therapist. I was shocked to hear some of the things that she reported that therapists say to clients, saying it’s about time to get over the grief, to the absurd thought that grief is a linear process and that in a few steps you can be back to happiness in no time. Ugh!

We are still in the dark ages about grief. Actually some of the ancient ways were better than some of the ways of being with grief that we have in more modern times.

In ancient times grieving individuals were often protected by the community and supported to just be in the feelings of grief while meals and other tasks were provided for them. They often wore clothing that symbolized that they were grieving, and were treated with care and given loving support for as long as needed.

I have talked about my father’s death in the past, and will mention it again now because it is the start of my grief journey. The lack of talking about death or about my father left a void that was impossible to fill. I had no idea what to do with all the feelings I was experiencing and that no one seemed able or interested in hearing.

When I was in my twenties, my grandma died. This was another big loss. My grandmother was my guide and support in a lot of ways. She was present for me when my Mother couldn’t be because of her own grief. And she always had cookies and Mr. Rogers ready for me after a hard day of being bullied at school. When my grandmother died I felt guilty. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with her because of my busy life and I really wished I had.  I had nightmares for a long time after about my grandmother still living upstairs and everyone forgetting to take care of her.  I tried to pretend that I could handle it and just ignored my grief.

I became a social worker and a psychotherapist and I began listening to grief stories that children presented when I worked in the Chicago Public Schools. I read as many books as I could about grief, but there were not a lot. I learned that mostly what children and adults wanted was someone to sit with them when they were suffering with grief; no fixing, no problem to be solved. There was deep emotion that wanted to be expressed, along with the memories of the beloved one.

In January of 2017 my brother died. The suddenness of his death was so difficult, we thought his cancer was gone and he was on the road to healing. Then so quickly, he was gone. I am grateful for the last FaceTime conversation I had with him, and I have saved a few voice mails to listen to from time to time when I want to remember his voice and hear him say I love you. I think I have more grief than I have expressed.

One of the biggest losses of my life was my mother who died in 2011, days after my 49th birthday. She was my anchor and my best friend, I will never get used to her absence. We grieve because we love, so I feel fortunate to have loved so many beautiful family members.

In addition to the human loss I have experienced, I have loved and lost to death several cats and dogs over the years. Each one leaving an imprint on my heart forever. My dear cat Allie died in my arms in 2006 and no other loss has brought more tears. I could literally feel my heart break. This year when my beloved Rumi cat died it felt like lead, a huge weight on my heart. Our animals love us so unconditionally.

My own grief stories have led me to be a better grief counselor, and to teach programs and workshops on grief so that others have the tools and the support they need for the journey.

Fortunately there are better books about grief now, and many excellent therapists who know how to companion someone through grief. There are also excellent groups for those who want the support of a community of grievers.

I believe that grief is the most difficult sadness we will ever experience, and we will all experience it. Hopefully, the world we live in will get better at talking about grief, supporting one another through it and everyone will know that sitting with grief is a sacred gift we can give each other.