I’ve talked about grief a lot over the last few weeks on Truly Madly Sassy and that led me to ponder the question of just how does a person deal with loss? Is it innate? Is it something that can be learned or taught? I don’t know the answers to those questions, so I asked my friend Cathy, who is a certified grief counselor, to shed some light on how people can cope with loss of all kinds. Please welcome her to the blog and have a gander at what she had to say.
Cathy, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘grief’?
Well, grief is a very broad state and it has many levels. And my story with grief is a rather personal one. I’d like to begin by telling you that after 20 years of working as a nurse, I decided to continue my studies to become a certified grief counselor because of that story. And in my daily work, I’m often asked how and why I seem to be so gifted in working with those who grieve and my first response is always because I’ve lost so many people in my own life. Not only that, but I live with grief on a daily basis. Having said that, though, grief is not necessarily always just from a physical death either and that’s where my work began.
Would you care to share your story?
I had one sister named Yvonne. She was one year older than me and she was my best friend. In 1991, Yvonne was diagnosed with a rapidly progressive form of lymphoma and in less than 3 months, we knew she would be gone. My family did not talk about this. Ever. I guess they just didn’t know how? I watched as each family member tried to cope and deal with the situation, yet noticed no one spoke of it. But Yvonne and I talked about it daily: we talked, we cried, we even ranted together! She knew of my work and how very involved I was with the dying and their families, and she also knew that I would be honest with her so that she could be prepared to cross over when the time came. In order to help those dealing with such a situation, I know I must maintain calm and stay emotionally detached, so I did and it was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I would walk out of her house, get in my car, and sob. A week before Yvonne crossed over, she asked me to do something for her: to use everything I had watched, seen, and experienced in an effort to help others! She wanted me to teach families to communicate with each other and relay to them how important it was that they talk with the dying! I made her that promise and fulfilled it by becoming a certified grief counselor. So, while it was initially meant to help others, my studies really began as a way to process my own sadness and it continues today. I do this kind of work to honor my sister.
What kind of light can you shed on the stages of grief?
Most of us know the stages that are so readily written in many books, and in my life and my work, I have come to see these stages as real. I truly believe that they come and go often, then sometimes return for longer periods of time. That may not be what you want to hear, but it has been my truth for decades. I also believe that no one really ever ‘gets over’ the terrible loss of any loved one, especially when it comes to the loss of a child—also not what you may want to hear, but I’ve witnessed that more than once.
What advice would you give to those who are grieving, and how can people best support those who are grieving a loss?
Those grieving must somehow just learn to continue on with their lives and create another life without the one they’ve lost in it. I’ve also learned how important it is to talk about the one you have lost—over and over and over again. It’s helpful to try to find others who may also be living with the same type of loss you are because there so many support groups available now: loss through cancer, suicide, grieving spouses, grieving parents, grieving siblings—find others that understand. I’d like to also mention that if you don’t know what to say to someone trying to learn to live with a loss, just do not say anything! Please! The most loving thing anyone can do is just listen and be there!
Are there any books that you can recommend to those who are navigating grief?
Yes! I stumbled across a book that when I was suffering from the passing of my father. I was young, but it helped me enormously. Amazing how Spirit works, isn’t it? The book became a best seller and the title of it is Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody. It forever changed my thinking about what happens after we leave our physical body because we do continue to live on!
Thank you, Cathy. You’ve been very helpful and have given my readers some great information on how to deal with loss. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. If I may be of help to someone reading this piece, it would truly be an honor to talk with them about their own source of grief. It’s a way for me to give back to others as well as a way to continue the love of my sister Yvonne. Many blessings!!