Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief

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Good Grief!

My clients teach me more about life and human relationships than I ever teach them. It’s been a week with some very moving sessions. The first one was a woman who is confused and upset about loving and hating her former husband at the same time. And why miss someone who hurts you terribly? I saw myself in her. I was only with Jay four months and I am still regularly tortured by the same thoughts she has. I can’t believe how difficult it is to move forward and how deep the pain still is. This woman had ten years invested and had children with him. Trying to reassure her, I realized I am usually much too hard on myself. Loss is complicated and difficult, but it is what it is. No way around it, only through it.

Yesterday, I had a session with Natalie. Natalie is only in her early twenties, but she has one of the oldest souls I’ve ever met. She lives her life outside the box, yet has a simplicity about her that is soothing and refreshing. A couple of months ago, she found herself with an unexpected pregnancy. Talk about mixed emotions. She and her significant other did a tremendous job of managing the complexity of the excitement with the difficulties of an experience they weren’t quite prepared for.

They got through the first trimester only to have a frustrating week of sickness and illness that had no apparent explanation. And unfortunately, a team of doctors that you could make a case for being nothing short of negligent. This turned into one of the most difficult and traumatic miscarriages I have heard about.

Natalie and her partner took this new experience on with the same grace and maturity that people twice their age find hard to accomplish. She talked about trying to cope with this loss that seemed to be hanging in the air. Having had a miscarriage myself, I could understand. It is incredible that these tiny not-fully-formed lives completely capture our hearts and devastate us with their loss when we haven’t even laid eyes on them.

Yesterday she came in for session, and had just had access to the pathology report. Turns out she had an infection that is relatively rare which caused preterm labor. The baby was a perfectly formed boy.

Suddenly, her grief had a shape, a face, a gender. There was great comfort in knowing that he was healthy and perfect.

And yet… doesn’t that make it even more tragic? And maddening that earlier intervention from the medical system might have prevented this. She understands that maybe not, but maybe it would have.

Again, the bitter and sweet complexity of human emotion and connection. Such happiness and relief from knowing, mingling with gut wrenching grief.

At the end of session, I stood up and said, “Good grief, Natalie!” which I realized was a bit of a pun. Natalie said it was ironic that I said that because of being a grief counselor. Then it hit me. My God, Nat. There it is. The perfect description of it all. Good…Grief. I watched her face as she caught it too. It was one of those sacred therapeutic moments that don’t come all that often in a career.

I hugged her goodbye, but I couldn’t hold her tightly enough to let her know how incredibly grateful I am that she trusts me to share in her journey. What a privilege to share in someone’s pain and joy.

Thank you my dear Natalie. You are my teacher.

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Engaging in Life

Sometimes engaging life means being willing to engage in pain and loss. If you are going to be genuinely connected to others, that is going to mean being willing to face their difficult challenges as well.

I’m sure that life is full of happiness and wonder and surprises and goodness. And sometimes life just seems full of unfairness, injustice, inequity, suffering and agony.

A dear person in my life went through a difficult miscarriage. Then she went through a year of difficult infertility. Then she finally got pregnant with twins. Her pregnancy was turning out to be quite difficult with incredible sickness. There were days she wanted to rip her hair out but then she would tell herself with every vomiting spell that the babies were alive and well.

And then she delivered twin sons at 16 weeks and lost them both. She and her husband were able to hold them, name them, cry with them, and say goodbye to their sweet babies. Talk about gut wrenching loss.

An older friend of mine was in tears on the phone yesterday as she talked about two of her grandchildren getting a life education about loss at their young ages. Her 15-year-old grandson lost a friend and teammate when he went on a hike with his family and fell to his death heading to the Eternal Flame. Her nine-year-old granddaughter lost a dear friend who was driving with her family and was hit by a drunk driver. Stories aren’t matching up. He may not have been drunk but on some kind of medication. Either way, he is in jail, and the family weeps over their loss. And young kids try to make sense of loss the same way my Frankie did when he was eight and his father died.


I had a quiet night with a couple of friends sitting by a fire. I commented that I love fires, and I’m having one in my beautiful yard outside of my beautiful house. I was sitting with friends. So why the heck aren’t I happy? I get so terribly frustrated with myself that I can’t be happy, content, or whatever. I just feel empty most of the time. And angry more and more often. One of the people sitting with me is a neighbor who I haven’t seen in quite a while. She has buried TWO husbands in her lifetime. She told me again, that in her experience and her reading, her guess is that it takes about ten years after you lose a spouse to really, truly feel like you are living again.


I told her we are approaching five years. When I talk to others about grief and loss, I always preach about there not being any time tables. That everyone is different. You know the drill. But when it comes to myself, I think that five years sounds like an eternity. Every year that passes I think I should be further along than I am.

I guess partly it is hard for me because it doesn’t always feel directly related to my loss. It often feels connected to being alone, but sometimes it’s not even that. But what other reason do I have to feel so lost and angry and empty and unhappy and unfulfilled and cranky?

I will keep being there to be a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and I will even weep with others. I’m not afraid of anyone’s pain or suffering. I just wish there were more moments of the other end of the spectrum to balance things out more often.

Maybe tomorrow.