Grief and loss — when the unthinkable happens

When you’ve been through a loss, it can come as such a shock, and can make it hard to even function. You may feel like you’re sleepwalking through life, and like you’re numb except when those big emotions hit you in waves. The waves can feel overwhelming. It can take about everything you’ve got just to hang on.

Often, people around you just don’t know what to do with grief. Some people pretend it didn’t happen. Some people try to cheer you up by saying things that just make you feel more alone. Some people are so overwhelmed by your loss that they don’t even know what to say, what to do.

After you’ve gotten devastating news, it can feel like you’re just not there — even though you’re walking around and talking to people, it’s like there’s a wall that keeps you from really relating to others. It’s like the whole world is going on happily while you’re devastated, feeling so alone in a crushing loss.

You’re not alone.

And your sense of isolation can stop.

Did you know that part of what adds to the sense of devastation you feel is likely the picture your mind makes when you think of what you’ve lost? What often happens when we lose someone is this: We get a visual in our head that won’t go away. And it’s of maybe the shock of the news that they’re gone. It’s of the last moment. These images can be devastating to live with. And they don’t help you to honor the person you’ve lost either.

You can learn to change the picture you have when you remember that loss, and that can profoundly change the feelings. It’s not that you’re suddenly happy! But there is a different lightness to the memory, and the horrible shock lessens. You can remember the positive feelings you had, and the good times. That helps to move you through the sadness, knowing that those good memories are still there, and knowing that you get to hold onto those.

That’s one way to help you to change how you feel around a loss.

Another way is to work with your body to help it to get through those very intense feelings inside. Some parts of you may still be in shock. Your body may want to tremble, or cry, or it may still just feel frozen. Together, we can work with all those sensations inside and get through so that your body knows that it’s being heard, and that it has the resources to move through.

This is different from “just talking,” and people often mention a profound feeling of release and even spaciousness inside after working with their body sensations. Your body wants to guide you into healing. Sometimes we just forget to pay attention to our bodies and don’t know how to honor our body’s instincts.

Curious to know more about how this is done? Want someone to walk with you through this, so you can come through your grief?

We can get you to the other side, together.

You can schedule a consultation with me here.

When a child “never talks”

Before I met with Esther, I was warned that she was very shy.

I was informed that she is autistic, and that she’s just not comfortable with people that she doesn’t already know very well. I was told not to take it personally if she didn’t talk, because she rarely did talk.

When I met her, she was buried in her mother’s skirt. But she did peek out to look at me, and soon, after I made a couple silly remarks to her, she started to talk. First she talked a little. Then she talked a lot. Soon, she wanted her mother to leave the room so that she could talk to me alone, so that we could play more.

She told me about an imaginary family that she played with a lot. Jim and Barbara, and all the kids they had, and the kids’ kids, and those kids’ kids — Because Jim and Barbara were very very old, had lived long enough to see their kids’ kids have kids. Why, Jim must have been seventy years old, she said. No, 80. No, 94. No, 102!

Yup. They might live forever. She talked about their big boat, their house. She drew their house for me and all their kids. And Jim and Barbara got older and older as we talked.

A few moments after all of our play with Jim and Barbara and all their kids and the kids’ kids, Esther told me the story.

“Michaela,” she said insistently. “Yes?”

“My…..My daddy died 8 years ago. ”

Oh.

“He was 30.”

The “Jim” of her fantasies had started out 30. He kept getting older, and older and older.

She needed to talk more about it…..About life, about death, about sadness.

Her mother told me that Esther had never discussed her father’s death, not since the day it had happened. Her mother had had no idea that his death was even on Esther’s mind. But there it was, every day, in her play.

I wish that, back then, I had had the skills that I have now. But I’m very glad that I could hear Esther, and help her mother to hear her.

When someone tells you that a kid doesn’t talk, don’t believe them.

Listen, play, change tactics…..

And she’ll most likely talk.

In fact, the ones who “never talk” often have the most profound things to say.

 

Vulnerability and Shame

When I was 16, I was selected by my school to be a peer counselor. I was sent to a training where I heard about a bunch of issues, including eating disorders, anger issues, and abuse.

The most affecting part of the training for me was that time that I spent with the other kids that had been selected from around the state to attend this training. I was in a room with three other girls that were attending, and what I found out, as they each told me their stories, their secrets, was this:

We all have a story to tell. We all have secrets that we’re sometimes desperately ashamed of. These girls, all at a training to learn to help others, had it “together.” And yet, when they talked to me, they felt like they didn’t. One was struggling with a lie she had told her parents recently. One was struggling with body image issues. One had a sense of shame, of never being enough.

I  remember thinking how amazing it is that we all have stories to tell, and yet, it’s so easy for us to huddle in shame, to isolate.

I know that the most useful part of that conference, for me, was when we all talked about our own stories.

It opened up my awareness that everyone has a story; everyone feels shame sometimes, and that people can find healing through moving toward others with their “scary secrets.” Once we find that we’re all human, our own shortcomings don’t have to be so scary after all. We can know that we’re not alone.

A story about a child

Let’s call her Annie.

She was four years old when I met her.

While we started out by playing, she moved quickly to wanting to talk, so there we were, sitting side by side, and she’s occasionally pause just for a second and then say, “Can I tell you more?”

I would say yes.  I heard story after story, story of her mommy and her mommy’s boyfriend and a little girl, lost and scared — but resilient too. Resilient, frightened, working hard to make sense of her life.

Mommy’s ex boyfriend had been abusive. He hurt Mommy. He drank too much. He slammed doors too loud. He yelled too much. And sometimes, he hit.

After some time of hearing the talk about what he had done to Mommy, I heard about the puppy. The puppy was a favorite pet of Annie’s.

One day, the boyfriend got mad at Annie, and her puppy “went away”.

She was so hungry to talk that day, and she poured it all out — So factual in her narratives. Still appearing to be in some level of shock, as the details came out but the feelings did not.

She told me that she had a plan. She had a plan for if her mommy went back to the boyfriend and if the boyfriend tried to hurt them.

I asked what it was. She outlined what the house looked like for me. She had prowled around the house looking for all the exits, especially the ones the boyfriend might not think of right away, the “secret” ones.

She would tell her mommy where to go. They would escape together. If he blocked one door, they’d leave through this window.

She’d whisper, “Come on, Mommy; we have to go.”

She was too old for four.