This March there was a completed suicide at my place of work. A young man a few years younger than Malcolm, and I hadn’t saved him. This event, coupled with the timing around Malcolm’s anniversary, sent me spiraling into the grief vortex.
I have chosen a profession where death is a daily occurrence and this recent depression made me question my choice. But the fact is most of the time I feel I make a positive contribution to the care of patients and families. Nonetheless, I have to work consistently at maintaining emotional boundaries, and there are some situations where I find myself triggered: the death of a young adult man, or when a man is sobbing at the bedside of a dying family member. Men’s tears, the sobbing body-wracked kind, move me incredibly. I want to comfort them. As I write this I realize that the only time in my life when I have witnessed a man’s profound, physical grief was watching my husband and my youngest son grieve for Malcolm.
Regardless of your chosen profession, when you have experienced a profound loss triggers are everywhere and daily living can seem like an emotional mine-field. It’s not just the special days like birthdays, anniversaries, vacation time, and religious holidays. It’s the daily news feed, the video clips on social media, Facebook “memories” that appear unbidden, and TV shows about families – the comedies as well as the dramas. And then there are the commercials: loving families, parents hugging their children – happiness, joy. When I first came to live in America I would get homesick and cry at the AT&T commercials, especially at Christmas time – lonely mothers waiting by the phone.
We can’t avoid all of these triggers, but we can make conscious choices to avoid the avoidable ones. I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse, so I choose to avoid Law and Order Special Victims Unit. But sometimes the theme of childhood abuse enters unexpectedly in TV shows and movies, and suicide and losing a child are sadly common themes.
I am trying to create better self-care. For one thing, I have promised my therapist that I will request coverage by another chaplain if a suicide attempt case surfaces at work. And I have to monitor my daily mood and provide myself with breaks at work. I tend to work through lunch and that needs to change. Today I am taking a break to write this blog post. To me that is a refreshing break, especially when coupled with mint tea.
My challenge to you is to examine your daily life and your calendar and identify potential triggers, then be proactive in creating emotional boundaries and providing yourself with support, breaks, healthy distractions, and self-nurturing.
Posted in anniversaries, depression, grief, healing, hope, loss, pain, sadness, suffering
Tagged grief, healing, pain, sadness
“While medications may help to allay some symptoms of anxiety and depression, we hear over and over from those taking tranquilizers and antidepressants that their symptoms persist or, in some cases, are worse. As noted bereavement therapist, Peter Lynch, MSW, said at an annual Holiday Service of Remembrance, referring to the many feelings associated with grief, “The only way through it is through it.” Medication doesn’t make the pain of grief go away. Clients need to understand this important point.”
The only way through it is through it. And for some of us the second year is worse. How can that possibly be? Can I really hurt more than I hurt now? Maybe you are really feeling it, really overwhelmed by the pain of it. But for some people those first few months, that entire year of firsts, is survived in a state of withdrawal from feeling, as if you are observing yourself going through the motions. And after some months it is possible that the defenses start coming down and the reality of the pain begins to be felt. For me it was just a week before I felt it. The day after the funeral. That was when my numbness receded. I was overwhelmed and had to be hospitalized. But for some a whole year can be spent in emotional separation, distanced observation, numbness. As your psyche hopes to build up strength for when the pain becomes more real and the fantasy of “it can’t be true” finally breaks down.
I imagine it must be much harder to resist that fantasy if you don’t get to see your loved one before burial. For example if they die overseas in a military conflict and there are no remains to view. I do believe in the value of that last viewing, of the emotional closure it allows. But me, I couldn’t watch as they closed the casket; I couldn’t watch as they lowered him into the ground. That much reality was too much for me. I was still in the distanced observation stage.
So be kind to yourself. Don’t set expectations on your grief. And don’t allow others to give you a time limit. We each have our own path to take. Just don’t take it alone.
Posted in depression, grief, loss, sadness, suffering, suicide
Tagged death, depression, grief, healing, letting go, losing a son, Loss, moving on, pain, sorrow, surviving suicide
How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?
This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.
Posted in anger, anniversaries, depression, doubt, faith, God, Grace, grief, hope, letting go, losing a son, loss, meaning of life, Moving on, pain
Tagged anger, Anniversaries, cycles, death, depression, doubt, faith, God, Grace, Gratitude, grief, healing, hope, letting go, losing a son, Loss, meaning, mourning, moving on, pain, sorrow, suffering, suicide, surviving suicide
Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on my journey of healing from the loss of my son. I thank all those who have reached out to me or shared their stories on this blog.
I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my healing journey and my journey through grief and loss if you are interested in my full story.
Posted in depression, faith, God, Grace, grief, hope, letting go, loss, meaning of life, suffering
Tagged anger, doubt, faith, God, Grace, grief, healing, hope, Loss, religion
Image from thuland-hansen.no
This time of the year. Is it the right time? There’s not enough time. Do you have time for a …
We seem to be controlled by this thing called time. But what is it? It is simply a measurement of change and things change at different rates and hence time seems to go fast or slow but it doesn’t really.
After a loss time seems to move inexplicably slowly. The clock’s incessant ticking in an otherwise silent room is an assault on your ears. What do I do now? Is it time to eat? Or did I eat already? What day is it? It’s still today? I was sure it must be tomorrow by now.
When the arrangements are all made and the services are all over there is only time, so much time. Can I fast forward to a year from now, two years, whenever the pain will be bearable? Sadly, no. And this is how time can be seen as a friend and not a villain. We need this slow time, this silent time. We need to listen inside ourselves and hear what is going on and we need to learn ways to cope. We need to reach out and find people and resources and that takes patience with ourselves and our pain, and, yes, it takes time. If we rush too soon back into a job where there is never enough time to get everything done, then we will be in danger of denying ourselves the sacred, silent, sorrowful time our hearts need.
This is a season of gift-giving, so be sure to give yourself the gift of time and allow your sorrow and your loss to heal at your own pace and in your own fashion, and of course in your own time.
Blessings to all…
It is now 2014. This year we will mark the seven year anniversary of Malcolm’s death and it will also mark a number of changes in my life. I lost my job in September and that could have been a real crisis. Well, to be honest I thought it was! But in retrospect it turned out to be more blessing than not. I have taken the time to examine where I want to go next, and I have decided it is neither back into Catholic education or into another office job. Instead I am returning to school to pursue training in Pastoral Care. Will it work out? I don’t know. But it is exciting to be trying something new.
There is a real sense of freedom when you have nothing to lose and no one to prove anything to. A small inheritance from my parents’ provided the fiscal freedom and the support of my husband provided the emotional freedom.
During this hiatus from work I have refinished lawn furniture and an old desk and chair. I have patch painted a water-stained ceiling, twice – they were very stubborn stains. I have cooked healthy meals and kept a clean house, and enjoyed doing all of this because I knew it was temporary.
The most important change was not home improvement, though, it was a change in my outlook. I have rediscovered hope. It wasn’t a sudden discovery it has been creeping up on me slowly and gently for a while now. The reason I didn’t pay too much attention was because it was not immediately obvious, the change was not linear but cyclical, just like the grief.
More to come.
Posted in depression, faith, grief, hope, losing a son, loss, suicide
Tagged career change, grief, healing, hope, job loss
Pain abhors words
thinks them trite
Pain gnaws at your bones
causing you to fade
from lack of substance
But over time
(it’s true what they say)
Anger enters then
the proffered hand of Grief
And at long last – weeps