Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Timeless

My favorite picture of Nichole; age 5

On June 26, 1990, my beautiful ten-year-old niece died tragically in a car accident. It goes without saying, even all these years later, that every person in our family was changed forever that day.

I was married to my first husband at the time and he was a computer graphics graduate. We talked about making a memorial video of her, but we separated before it was even started. We decided it was a project we should do in spite of ourselves and during the time we worked on it, we reconciled. (We divorced four years later, but at that time, Nichole’s video brought us together.)

Speaking of that, our wedding was two years before her accident. I watched our wedding video recently and in spite of the reminder of divorces and deaths of loved ones, the only tears I shed were with seeing my eight-year-old niece as my flower girl.

The footage that got me the most was a scene with my sister. She is sitting in the front pew of the church and both of my nieces were standing in front of her getting primped up for the pictures. Every gesture was my sister to a tee. She, in a perfect motherly fashion, straightened the girls’ dresses and smoothed out their hair. Thirty years later, I know her heart still aches every day of her life.

Back to the memorial video.

Part of the video’s backdrop was me playing the song The Homecoming on the piano. It’s such a beautiful song. Thirty years later, I played that song at Mark’s mom’s funeral. He is one of my best friends. I never grow tired of it, in spite of the song being linked to my spirit with grief and passing.

Among those things that never change is the miracle of a new life. The video has audio of Nichole gurgling as a baby. I giggled as I listened. Ten years later, I recorded my own son’s cooing. I giggle whenever I listen to him too.

Another part of the audio was her singing, “I’m in the Lord’s Army.” I am pretty sure I am the one that originally taught that to both of my nieces. (And a whole host of nonsense songs as well.) Now my niece sends videos of her son singing that same song.

Both girls took dance lessons for years. There was video footage of several of her recitals. My own David danced some when he was little. He was the only boy in his ballet and tap classes when he was three. It’s priceless video.

I guess the point is, that some things are timeless. The first cooing of a baby and other precious memories of our children growing up will never get old, even though they will grow older. And watching a memorial video, well, some grief and loss is timeless as well. Some grief is meant to go with us hand in hand until our own passing.

For sure, that is our angel, Nichole.


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Being Present with Grief

I have been seeing a family that I have written about before (with their permission) who have been dealing with intense grief for almost two years now. It is so hard for them to even focus on healing because the situation around the loss has been a relentless avalanche of tough circumstances. It keeps the anger burning strong and it exhausts their energy.

Recently, one of the adult daughters came to session. Because of all the information we had to cover, there wasn’t time to focus on her like we had all planned on. As they were leaving, the dad mentioned the “mandatory hugs” that are usually exchanged before exiting.

After the parents went through the door, I hugged the daughter. I had one of those sixth sense moments and lingered with her. It started a flow of tears from her. I didn’t say much and my mind was racing to not say something dumb. Mostly I didn’t say anything except, “take your time” and “let it go.”

Eventually, the tears turned to more intense sobbing. Both parents came over and we all held each other in a circle. After several more moments, the hug ended. All told, it was about ten minutes. If that doesn’t sound long to you, let me tell you it’s a great amount of time to be crying.

I reminded them all that grief is horrifically painful. They did not need to say anything to each other or try to stop the tears. People who grieve just need someone to be on the journey. They need folks who aren’t afraid of the intensity of their sadness. They can all just be present with each other as they navigate the terrible path they have been forced to walk down.

After they left, I went to Tim and asked for a hug. It was a difficult ending to session, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was reminded that even though talking is good, that wasn’t what was needed today. It was caring touch and presence. Her tears were much more healing than any amount of verbal processing would have done.

Again, my hat is off to you, my clients. You are so resilient and brave!


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Another Twist on Grief

My clients gave me persmission to write about our work together. I have been seeing them about a year and a half. They were referred to me because I am a “grief expert” and I have been on their journey with them as they grieve the loss of their daughter.

She was killed in a tragic car accident. As if that wasn’t enough pain to bear, she was also in her last weeks of pregnancy. If the accident hadn’t happened, she would have given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

I have to laugh at the “expert” piece when I miss really obvious things that later hit me smack between the eyes. The mom has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), the latest name for Multiple Personality Disorder. It wasn’t until last week that I even thought to wonder about how that might be effecting her grieving process. And not just hers, but her husband’s as well.

I have only encountered DID twice in my practice, and once in my social life. While we were talking about other traumas they have faced together as a couple, many stories about the DID came up, which has happened in several other sessions.

People who are grieving are often afraid of letting their emotions really go. People who are working through past traumas are often afraid of letting their emotions really go. They are usually afraid the intensity will be too much and they will get swallowed whole. It is my job to assure them of the safe place in my office and reassure them that they will not emote forever.

I’m not so sure that is true with DID. Personalties or “alters” are often formed to cope with specific traumas in a person’s life. The alter bears the brunt of the experience, or develops a coping mechanism. The alter actually IS the coping mechanism.

As my client and I were talking, the mom was saying that she keeps her grief at a distance. The more we discussed it, I realized that there is a possibility that if she embraces it fully (which I am always encouraging in grief work), she literally may not ever come back from it. It truly might not be safe for her to take on the loss of her daughter and granddaughter with all its force.

I couldn’t believe that I didn’t take all that into account before then. Some expert, right? Then it also hit me. I asked the dad if perhaps he might be holding most of the grief for both of them? He is wondering now too. Not that any dad’s grief wouldn’t be intense from the loss, but his may be even greater as he unconsciously tries to “hold” it for both of them.

Wow, my lesson (which I relearn from time to time) is to never, ever stop learning. Is there ever really an “expert” on anything in the dynamic, changing world we live in? As is often the case, I grow more from my clients than they do from me. Oh, and please pray for this couple as they navigate this incredibly difficult journey they are on. They are two of the bravest, most resilient people I know.