Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Initiative

Something I've been thinking about for a long time is to use this space as a resource for dealing with loss and the grief that accompanies loss. I'd like to hear about your successes and failures, if you're willing to share, in dealing with the loss of a loved one.

I've been fortunate with the people that surround me - in how they've helped guide me, and the insight they offer in my struggle with losing Meghan. Those experiences have given me an understanding into moving forward through tragedy. A key element I'd like to highlight is being open to new experiences. When you lose a loved one it's easy to shut everything out and shut yourself off. It can be difficult to relate to others because your experience is unique and everything else feels inauthentic. You're numb and isolated and it feels secure to stay cut off.

I am where I am today because I allowed my grief to have its space but I didn't allow it to to take over. I was willing to let other people help me, and I was willing to try things outside of my comfort zone to heal. A phrase I came across in the book Shantaram illustrates this point really well; “I don't know what frightens me more, the power that crushes us, or our endless ability to endure it.” 

When you think about the horrible things that people have gone through, it is terrifying. It's scary that soldiers return from war missing limbs and go on to live happy productive lives. It's scary because really bad things can happen. It doesn't have to be scary, however, that we can move forward. Humans have developed an incredible depth of strength that even death can't stop. It's important to remember what we've gone through in reference to where we're going.  

I remember being scared to start therapy. Here's how I pictured it: therapist in the corner armchair, under an ornate lamp, quietly judging me on a legal pad. Me on a leather couch, trying to convince him/her that my life sucks. I thought I had to shell out hundreds of dollars every week to connect my struggles to a scenario from childhood, then leave with a xanax prescription. I thought it would be an ineffective solution to the things I was dealing with. I guess you could say that I thought it would be self-indulgent. I was mistaken on all accounts. 

There were armchairs and lamps but no legal pads or couches. There was no judgement. There was no convincing on my part, no prescriptions. More importantly, there was someone who was always on my side, willing to let me talk through any issue that I felt important. And the money? If you live near a university, there's likely a counseling program that offers income-based counseling from graduate students. I paid $10 a week to talk to someone that very much wanted to see me improve my outlook. Not every session was complaining or talking about my childhood. There was a lot of discussion about how I handled things vs. how I felt I should handle things. My therapist was there to serve as a mirror, to be objective about my experience and to be completely in my corner. There were definitely challenging sessions but the goal was always to see me get better.

If I had not been willing to go through therapy, I believe I would still feel guilty about Meghan dying. I would still feel the need to be isolated. I think I'd still worry about others' expectations about my feelings, rather than trusting my own feelings. This isn't to say that I don't still struggle, because I do. But I am in a much better place than I was two years ago and that is due to a willingness to try new things. We have a scary amount of strength inside us, but sometimes we just have to be ok with letting others help us find it.  

So, tell me what you think...tell me what worked for you, or what didn't, and why. 


slbarto said...

Adam~ I came across your link because of a story that was shared on a board I am part of...I wanted to know where you are at today because it intrigued an effort to spare you a lot of details, I have a gene mutation (BRCA2) that puts me at a high risk of developing ovarian, breast, and other various cancers. I have had as many prophylactic surgeries as my doctors can offer and, as a result of the struggles I face, have become highly active in communities where my friends are dealing with cancer. This year, things had to change - I had to find a way not to be overwhelmed by my friends dying, overwhelmed by my friends who are alive but are fighting with everything they have, and I needed to find where I fit in with it own issues about what it meant as a 29 year old to have my breasts removed, at 34 to have a hysterectomy...I identified with your description of giving grief space...I was in a mode of "get it done" and then in a mode of not acknowledging my emotions were real because they pale in comparison to what my beloved friends face...I wonder if I was scared of acknowledging and stopping to breathe and give myself an opportunity to feel...I made a visit to a counselor...who instructed me to do just that - breathe, give myself permission to walk through the emotions there, acknowledge their presence, and continue on...grief is a funny thing - and I don't know if we are truly prepared for what it looks like because we all want to be so happy and so "on top" of journey has led me to recognizing I need to love and accept myself, flaws and all...and find who I am and what makes me tick...I think facing my grief and finding I survived facing those "unknowns" has aided me in digging deeper...

Anonymous said...

Grief is such an unknown to me and it always seems to arrive unexpectedly. I never know it's coming, how long it will stay and what will help me through it. Each time it hits me it seems a bit different than the time before. I always try to take away something positive from each experience. This blog is such a good thing. Today it helped me a lot. Thank you for sharing.

Steve Gonzalez said...

Hey Adam. Heard the story on Love and Radio. I lost my best girl after a year battle with a genetic illness I'd never even heard of. She got sick around our 3rd wedding anniversary. She died March 12th, 2009.

I could relate to what you said and it meant a lot to me. I was as prepared for losing Jenn as much as anyone can be, and yet, nothing prepares you for how you will feel or deal with it. Not really wanting to live in my case, yet knowing that she wanted me to keep going and be happy when she was gone. It still hurts of course, 6 years later, but I am at peace with it.

She told me: "Tell me you won't be alone when I'm gone."
"Now say the words: tell me I won't be alone when you're gone."
"Now look me in the eye and say it."

Part of you moves on, part of you stays in that space. I've had lots of beautiful girlfriends since then, but there will never be anyone else like her, ever again.

I know you know what I mean. Just wanted to share. Thanks!

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