Following is a repost I wanted to share from 2014. With the universal pain of Covid-19 over the past year fresh in mind, and as May and the observance of Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close, it's necessary to continue to tend to our experiences. One area in particular comes to mind. We can relate to its impact in some form, and it's often unexpected, unwelcome. Below is a part of my own non-linear journey with grief:
Being a behavioral therapist didn’t allow me to avoid the intense emotions I felt upon learning of my son’s prenatal medical condition in 2008. It also didn’t prevent me from experiencing the devastating reality I wanted desperately to deny. My son Aidan was diagnosed with an underdeveloped cerebellum that prevented him from breathing on his own. And so, with family surrounding us, my husband and I gave our precious little boy a lifetime of love in three short days.
Surviving loss and enduring grief brings to mind the image of making the passage through a very dimly lit street in an unfamiliar place. The hour is late and you’re hurt, vulnerable, and isolated as you walk along, feeling alone. Despite lights seen from windows in the distance, possible sources that would welcome and support, you continue to walk by, unsure of where to go, what to do next, and how to find your way home.
For each of us, the response to grief is inherently personal. The loss of a loved one is often extremely difficult to manage and accept. This physical separation can cause us to feel empty, lost, and unable to connect with others. In some cases, it can even trigger or escalate mental health conditions, for which treatment would be recommended. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “5 Stages of Grief” emphasize in her book On Death and Dying (1969), loss starts us along a journey which considers acceptance and healing as the ultimate goal, but acknowledges that this may be a prolonged process for many.
During times following loss it is important to allow yourself what you need. This may be quiet time to grieve, reflect, question, cry, pray, and even journal your thoughts. For others it may be getting involved in focused activities, i.e. volunteer or paid work as a means of structuring their time and staying busy. The need to make life adjustments following loss is necessary and vital. Acknowledging the availability of local supports is often a key piece of the healing process as well. Allow family members and friends to make a meal, provide a hug, walk with you, and be there for you. It will strengthen your spirit.
Compassionate professionals can also support you through this painful journey and help to assess your level of functioning, work with you to explore your feelings, and encourage your well being. After my son’s passing, my husband and I worked hard to support each other. We recognized, though, that at times we had different needs and ranges of emotion. For many months we felt drained and adrift. Throughout, we were still striving to provide consistency in our role as parents to our daughter, while returning to work and trying to adjust. This was no easy task. After Aidan died, we were concerned that our daughter would recognize our distress and respond in kind. We also recognized our own limitations, despite the best of efforts.
We sought out supports to aid parents of infant loss and participated in a local program - again, a difficult but necessary step that helped us cope. We also sought to use our grief to help others and saw the opportunity to build our nonprofit, which exists to support other parents who have also experienced the tragic loss of their child.
Loss affects us all at some point. Whether there has been a progressive and terminal illness, or a sudden accident, we seldom feel emotionally prepared to lose someone we love. Though the experience is deeply painful, we can find strength to survive loss and seek peace with the community of others who care for us. My husband and I have experienced the tremendous sense of purpose that comes from sharing our emotions and celebrating our son’s life. Like many of you, we too are travelling along on the road towards healing. Though this journey has produced significant pain, it has also fueled my passion to support individuals and families also experiencing grief and loss.
On many days, there are detours and setbacks, but we keep moving, trying to find our way home. For each of us, the loved one and the scenario are different, but the message is similar. When all seems dark around, and it is hard to walk towards the distant lights, be reminded that our smallest step can take us towards a destination which will sustain us, find helpers to support us, and heal the wounds of our hearts.
Be encouraged. Even in the most difficult of times, remember you are not walking alone.
Additional Mental Health Resources include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/ SAMHSA's National Helpline 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), the National Alliance on Mental Illness/ NAMI Helpline at 800-950-NAMI, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at 866-615-6464