The After Grief...
I’ve been inspired to write this blog because I’m currently helping my dear friend set up a charity (JOSH – Josh’s Osteosarcoma Support and Help) in the name of her son, Josh, who fought a long and hard battle, with incredible bravery and courage, against the demon that is Osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer). Sadly, we lost Josh last year. Josh’s legacy, in JOSH, is to provide short breaks for children and young people, affected by a cancer diagnosis, to enjoy with their families and give them the opportunity of creating beautiful
memories with their loved ones. Feel free to click on the link to the JOSH Charity, and better again if you’d like to donate, but this is not the point of my blog (I’ll get to that shortly): https://www.facebook.com/4josh/
There are so many sayings, quotes and advice for those who have lost loved ones, but suffice to say losing a child, and in my friend’s case, a young person who was extraordinary and 2 weeks shy of his 16th birthday, is beyond comprehensible. My friend is incredibly brave and strong in her grief. She’s often faced, as are many of my clients, with the cliché that “time heals all wound”. I believe that time is an important factor when it comes to healing, but time on its own is not a healer.
As a therapist, I tend to practise what I preach, and as such I’ve worked hard at processing the loss of my loved ones over the years. Losing someone to death is the ultimate ending of the living relationship with that person. Some people believe Grief, Loss and Bereavement relates only to death, but the reality is that grieving is not exclusive to death. Indeed, Freud’s theory around bereavement is that people who are grieving are searching for an attachment they once had that has been lost. That attachment could have been to a loved one, but also to a job or a friend the person no longer has or sees, or even their environment.
Perhaps due to the melancholic emotions brought to light as we’re setting up the JOSH charity, it’s made me think more about my own grief and loss experiences. I’ve recently revisited the circumstances surrounding these (at the time) difficult experiences and I’ve realised something important that I want to share with you. All these experiences, some of which either broke me or had the potential to at the time, have all led me to the place I’m at today and for that I am truly grateful.
Although, life isn’t particularly easy for me, it’s by no means truly awful and I can almost always find positives, be grateful and find joy in my life. This is because over recent years I’ve adapted a more positive philosophy of living. I work with many clients who have experienced the death of a loved one or faced their own grief and loss due to the challenges life has thrown their way. They’ve worked through the various and hugely helpful grief cycles, many of them accepting support along the way, but what they find is missing is how they learn to live their lives again without that person, or without that attachment.
In the words of Virginia Satir, “the world isn’t the way it’s meant to be, it is the way it is and it’s the way we cope with it that makes the difference”. We are all different and we therefore have different perceptions of what is happening around us, using our own personal memories of past events and our own personal attitudes of those memories. We use our own personal imprints (i.e. learning that occurs in early life, commonly associated with bonding and developing relationships, or in some cases the lack of this), our attitudes and beliefs about the way the world works and our needs and values. We then give meaning to our experience and in the case of loss, this can be intense sadness, or maybe anger, or even more difficult to manage is guilt, perhaps for what we perceive could have been done differently.
So, it’s reasonable to say we all have a chance of experiencing grief, loss and bereavement in our lives and we will all have different encounters and different ways of managing this. There’s no one size fits all in the experience itself or in the healing process. We are unique and we are the most important people in our own life.
As someone who spent most of my life putting others first, regardless of my own needs, I now believe that being kind to me is paramount. Building self-acceptance, self-love, self-compassion, self-appreciation, and self-understanding is key, because I am the only one who will be at the very start and the very end of my life’s journey. There are others who will be with me along the way, including parents, siblings, teachers, friends, employers, work colleagues and my husband and children. They will be with me for as long as their destiny allows and sometimes, I’ll be ready to let them go (I’m thinking about some of the teachers, employers, and needy friends I’ve endured along the way) and at other times I won’t be ready but must accept their parting and deal as best I can with the inevitable grief, loss and bereavement.
A few years ago, I had no choice but to move away from a difficult relationship and the subsequent loss I experienced was crippling at best. I tried all sorts of self-care and EMDR (which has served me well over the years), but nothing would shift this feeling of intense loss.
One day, I was working with a client who had been suffering a long-term anxiety disorder, linked to an element of (achievement perfectionist style) Frustration Intolerance. I integrated some Rational Emotional Behavioural Therapy (REBT - Ellis 1957), which is an approach that helps a person identify irrational beliefs and negative thought patterns that may lead to emotional or behavioural issues. I’d used the theory/approach many times before, but on this day, I had a light bulb moment. I realised my beliefs were keeping me stuck and my feelings of loss and grief could only be shifted if I changed these (irrational) beliefs. The rest, as they say, is history and I healed. My belief had been that this person should have treated me better and shouldn’t have walked away from me. By holding onto this belief, I was blocking myself from my goals of being happy again. REBT is an interesting approach int the right circumstances, and I’ve not given it justice in this blog, but feel free to get in touch if you’d like to know more.
I don’t believe this approach will work for everyone; remember we are all different. In the words of that lovable animated loser, Charlie Brown, “In the Book of Life, the answers aren’t in the back”. Find your answers, your way, your approach, because you deserve to live a full and happy life.
Sandra C Thompson