Within the period of three months, I lost three loved ones. Two of them died three days apart. Although I knew the end was iminent within each situation, my knowledge and anticipation did not soothe me – it only served to bring me closer to the inevitability of my own mortality.
Some say that God will never burden us with more that we can endure. Those words seem like idle chatter – it was all too much to bear. I braced myself for the predictability and shock of my pain and sought to manage its effects. There has been no single road that has brought me solace. Each day, I meander within trying to find a place of peace or respite from it all.
I’m supposed to know this stuff. As a psychotherapist, I teach people how to grieve. It’s different, however, when you are the patient rather than the teacher. You become as everyone else, relying on your instincts, courage, hope and faith to guide you through the darkness. What good is it to recite Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of grief when you are the griever? Talking about loss is not the same as experiencing it.
Each of us, in our own way is frail and vulnerable. As psychotherapist Sheldon B. Kopp used to say, “No one is any weaker or stronger than anyone else.” Each of us has a story, some of it wondrous and much of it challenging. Our narrative is about learning, and our losses teach us about the meaning and value of life – to cherish every single moment. Grieving our losses gives us an opportunity to take stock and review our life direction. We hopefully assess what really counts and focus our attention on that which lasts – the content of our character and the quality of our most precious relationships. That is all we have.
Unfortunately, as we age, our losses mount. We grieve the loss of youth, physical prowess, time, missed opportunities and fading friendships. Each must grieve in his own way. I have learned that there is no such thing as closure – some wounds never heal.
I have told others that we don’t need to stay stuck in our pain. All of us can find ways to manage our grief so that even if it lingers, it doesn’t overwhelm us. Like others, I must remember to:
- Seek the emotional support of friends and family.
- Acknowledge and embrace my pain rather than minimize its significance.
- Refocus attention on activities that bring pleasure.
- Learn this self-nurture. Treat myself the way I would a dear friend.
- Keep the positive memories of loved ones alive.
- Try not to fight my way out of depression. It will lift.
- Live in the present and re-evaluate life priorities.
- Rely on faith to provide me with hope.
- Realize that being vulnerable makes me more human and is a connecting asset.
- Learn to leave the self-pity behind. Accept the fact that I am a grown-up who experiences life as unfair. There are no sufficient reasons why certain things have happened to me.
As a grieving patient, I have a better understanding of what it takes to wind oneself down a path of profound loss – no words are adequate to describe the experience. Contrary to what others think, I do not believe that what I have encountered will make me stronger. I only hope that my experience with lingering loss will make my vision clearer as I look through the eyes of those who have suffered and continue to seek my help.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an educator, writer, licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He specializes in treating anxiety and depression for adults and children. He served as a teacher and guidance counselor for 30 years and has taught graduate-level counselor education courses for Chapman University. In 2005, he self-published Stepping Out of the Bubble: Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Counseling Therapy (Booklocker.com). His latest book, Troubled Childhood, Triumphant Life: Healing from the Battle Scars of Youth (New Horizon Press) is about the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adult functioning. He offers solution-focused strategies to assist adults in overcoming the perils of the past.