Grief and Loss—I can say, I know.

In my training, I learned to not say, “I know”. You cannot tell somebody you know--unless you’ve been through it yourself.  If you notice me saying, “I know”, or “I understand” on my website, it is because I truly do. So, I wanted to say, I know--at a time when I’m feeling what you might be feeling--if you are experiencing grief and loss, and are having a hard time with it. 

For me, it feels like it’s not real.  It feels like time has either stopped, is in slow motion, or I am in slow motion. I feel a pit in my stomach where it’s a little bit difficult to catch my breath at times. Right now, the area where my heart is physically hurts, I believe from crying so hard. I found I definitely need my time.  I remember that with grief, there is no time limit, and no right or wrong way.

I am using this space to help process my own grief, because writing about things is something I do each week—but I hope this speaks to those that may need to hear this.  This week, I lost a long-time friend to her battle with brain cancer. She was a few years younger than me. She wore a Supergirl cape until the very end.

No matter how beautifully strong she was, brain cancer was a battle for her that she just couldn’t win. I am not going to leave any tips, bolded points, or list them at the end as usual; although they may trickle in as I write.  I am writing this as a person, not a therapist.

Years ago, she and I had a friend that had passed. We were both amazed at how cheerful he was up until the very end.  It was beautiful to see.  Now, my friend seems to have handled things in the same way.  She had told me that she tried not to think ahead.  That is the healthiest thing anyone can do.  So, from my friend, do your best to live in the moment.  Appreciate each day.

This beautiful, caring woman treated everyone in her life graciously, unconditionally, and with respect for the people that we were.  I am happy that I have since met more select people like that.  The people you choose to have in your life can affect you in a wonderful way, or a not-so-wonderful way. 

You can get support, and support each other, but there is no magic wand for this.  We need our time. I do know as a therapist, if this is too much for me, that I have to take time off to take care of myself before I can take care of my clients.  If you are a fellow counselor, please always pay attention to that.  We need to practice what we model for our clients.  Keep on modeling for your clients, so you can be there for them at your best capacity.

I believe it is helpful, when life events like this are thrown at us, to look for the lessons. That’s what I am doing now. I am remembering many things she said to me throughout the years during different stages of our lives. What’s really important in your life? Who matters?  Are there relationships worth mending?  Do you tell people how you feel about them?  Are there disagreements with others that just don’t seem to hold the same weight anymore?  Are there things you just don’t need in your life anymore? For me, events like this tend to make things more clear  on what matters.  My friend mattered. 

I wish I could’ve been there with her, been able to say goodbye, and tell her how much I admired her.  I told her I wished I could be there.  But, since I couldn’t be, I asked if it was okay for me to keep checking in on her.  When you’re not sure how to handle something you’ve never been through before, I believe it is fair to ask the person what they might need. 

My friend lived a wonderful life with her husband.  I’m happy she met him, and had the life she did. I’m happy she was able to continue having her infectious smile and laughter with him. I’m happy she made it to the place she was married for an anniversary trip on New Year’s Eve, only four and a half months before she left us. She looked absolutely beautiful in her pictures that night. She was even more beautiful on the inside.  It can help to look at the good memories.

Another lesson I am still learning, now with a role of caretaker engrained, is to take care of myself. I know I already mentioned this, but I find it important to remember.  Back when I first started college, a friend committed suicide. This was about the time I was making my career choice.  I was doing a work study in a college counseling center, which is where I found my passion and purpose through this field. When it happened, I decided to talk with one of the counselors. I’ll never forget what she said—“What about me?” I was so concerned about how everyone else was, but not paying attention to how I was doing. I’ve found that I’m doing that now, so I am now reminding myself that I am hurt too, and I need to seek out support.

Another lesson I’m remembering is that we are where we’ve been. There’s reasons why I chose what areas to specialize in. I am now thinking I would like to add to my mission, people that are battling cancer.  It fits my existential nature, and past professional experience. Pay attention to lessons around you every day.  They can lead you in wonderful directions, even if you're in a place where it’s difficult to see ahead.  I will always be an advocate for cancer research now, but especially brain cancer.  If there’s someone you know that you admire, that might be the person you can find life lessons through.

What I’m doing here now is trying to make something good out of a tragic situation. I hope this helped you know that you are not alone in things like this.  Please know that you can reach out for support; and when I am again in a place where I can fully be present for you, I’ll be able to tell you, I know.