The Gift of Grief

Winter windowLoss, and the grief that results from loss, is a part of everyone’s life. We each suffer loss in a variety of ways, from separation, divorce, unemployment, relocation, immigration, natural disaster, trauma, illness and death. On some level we know that we will not leave this life without first losing relationships that matter. Still, loss can rock your world.

My own experience with grief began with a pregnancy loss when I was a nurse in a birth center of a large metropolitan hospital. Initially my grief affected me in so many ways – personally, interpersonally, and professionally. Grief affected my appetite, my interests, my sleep, and my dreams. This single loss event was like a stone thrown into a heretofore calm pool that was my life. The stone caused huge ripples, beginning with emotional pain deeper than I had never known before, and moved outward in ways that impacted the course of my life.

My grief has been a soul journey, and my guide was a wonderful therapist who inspired me. In the gentle holding container of the therapy relationship, we can deepen our experience of healing. We begin by pausing, and just being with grief, feeling it viscerally in our bodies. We move toward our suffering, finding a gentle way to be with it. Eventually we open to inquiry, deepening the meaning of our loss.  Through spacious inquiry we ask, “What can we learn from our losses? What inner and outer resources do we have to help us cope with our grief? How do we go on? What treasures lie in the mire and muck of loss? What are the spiritual gifts of grief?”

The experience of loss and the deep inquiry that resulted continues to ripple through me, revealing tenderness and vulnerability in place of naive self-assurance. Grief awakened me to the preciousness of life, and resulted genuine compassion for others and myself. This compassion opens my heart each time I sit with another who grieves. Sharing the richness of this common bond makes us both more whole.

Gail Caldwell, author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, writes, “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.”

So true. Grief rubs our rough edges, softening and opening us to the mystery life. One of my beloved teachers, Frank Ostaseski, says, “Grief is our common ground, and healing is always found by moving toward the suffering. The journey through grief is a path to wholeness.”

A Day in My Life as a Therapist

As a therapist, my day begins with self care.                                                                    The mornings have been beautifulShadows here – balmy and fresh, so I have been beginning my day with a brisk walk in the countryside near my home. Afterwards, I am rewarded by a warm shower and a healthy breakfast. It is a wonderful way to begin my day – refreshed, well nourished, and peaceful.

My drive to town and the tasks of opening up my office are routines I enjoy. To make sure I am ready for my first client I pull up notes from our last session. I enjoy the quiet pace, the fragrance of my tea, and the “Good Morning” calls from my colleagues of this first hour of preparation in my office.

During the next seven hours I will often see up to six individuals, couples, and/or families. One of the first things I find myself doing when another person sits before me is to take a breath, and feel the energy of the space between us. I find something lovable about the person or people placed before me. My heart softens as I feel our connection.

As I sit with people, I listen. I listen deeply for the meaning under the words, and I observe for non-verbal communication as well. I ask questions to deepen the inquiry, and invite other ways of perceiving and naming experiences. While I am engaged and active in the listening process, I also am still at times, A Day in My Lifeobserving and waiting to sense what might be most helpful.

Sometimes I hear stories that are sobering, painful, and angst-filled. And sometimes I hear about the funny things that happen, and the success people discover. When people are grieving, for me it’s like listening to a love story of the deepest kind. It’s not unusual that I feel the pain of another in my own heart.

In the end, I don’t usually solve anyone’s problems for them. I have a deep belief in the innate capacity of the individual to move toward wholeness, to health, toward equilibrium. In therapy, I am simply a companion, an active listener, and sometimes a guide. During my session I may teach some skills, explore alternatives, reframe negative beliefs, notice what’s working and what’s not working, challenge assumptions, acknowledge the struggle, guide mindful self awareness, and always, always support hopefulness.

At the end of the day, I complete my chart notes, tidy my workspace, and reverse my morning routine to close up my office. As I turn out the final light and close the door I head for home fatigued, but oh-so-enriched.  My profession as a therapist is the most satisfying job of my entire working career. It is a special privilege to witness courage, strength, trust, and growth. And daily I realize that change is not only happening for my clients – the therapy encounters profoundly change me as well. I have gratitude for everyone I serve.