How grateful I am for these cooler nights and days! This is my 3rd Fall in Tennessee, and I love seeing the green leaves turn to bright colors. Yet, I cannot deny how the changing of the season also brings thoughts of the seasons of life as well. As the onset of Fall shows signs of shorter days and longer nights, I am reminded of how the emerging season of cool weather and upcoming holidays can bring on a sense of anxiety and fear and anger for many who are suffering from significant loss and separation from a loved one. In August I lost a dear friend to cancer. She continues to dwell in my heart and on my mind. Her absence will continue to be felt.
There are two real life stories that bubble up for me at this time of year, even though I heard them decades ago. One was about a man who had suddenly and without provocation had an emotional break down. Although a successful businessman, he had deteriorated into someone who was unable to work or to even get out of bed. He had been brought in for treatment to the hospital. In his initial interview with a psychologist, he was asked how this had begun. The man responded it had occurred while he was mowing the lawn, riding his mower. The psychologist asked the day of the week, the weather, and the man replied it was Saturday and a sunny day. Then the psychologist asked what the date was. The man stopped and stared and was silent for a while. Finally, he replied that it was the exact day 10 years earlier that his first wife had died. It came to light that he had been so busy caring for his two daughters and providing for his family, including a remarriage, that he had not taken the time to attend to his own grief. Instead, his grief caught him by surprise 10 years later. Sometimes our grief can come out sideways and unexpectedly.
The second story is about my own mother. My father died in 1992 when my mother was just 59 years old. He suffered a sudden and massive cardiac arrest. They had been inseparable for over 40 years. She was, at the time, recovering from major surgery. It hit hard, but my mom is “one tough cookie,” as they say. Just a month later, she had another surgery. Once again, major and unexpected. One day, some weeks after the last operation, and somewhat physically recovered, she stopped at the gas station. She filled her tank, paid and then pulled away. The noise that she heard made her stop and look back. She had inadvertently pulled the nozzle off the tank and gas was spilling out everywhere. I can only imagine what the attendant was saying when she drove away deciding there was nothing she could do. Although it was not funny at the time, today we can laugh about it. If you knew how meticulous my mother is, about her person, her home and doing the next right thing, you might laugh as well. Her grief and stress had become unmanageable. She decided to go to a Grief Group offered by her church. She says it was the hardest and the best thing she did for own well-being. Meticulous and extremely private, she went, and it helped her beyond measure.
Grief is experienced uniquely by each individual. It is dependent upon many factors; the relationship one has with the person who died, the circumstances of the death, the age and developmental stage of the survivor, as well as other influences. Oftentimes, it can mimic symptoms of depression and anxiety. After my father’s death I went to the emergency room believing I was having a heart attack. Although most people won’t end up at the emergency room, a sense of panic is fairly common. We do out-of-the-ordinary things, due to an out-of-the-ordinary circumstance and experience. The best way through this uncomfortable and emotionally depleting event is to accept help from others. Whether it is in the form of comforting presence, food, walks, talks (primarily listening), childcare, financial, offers of assistance can be a source of buoyancy for those who are feeling the heaviness of heartache.
Recently an acquaintance, who was also close to my friend who died of cancer, invited me to join a dinner group for an evening out. I realized after that outing bit had lifted my spirits to be with her and to remember our friend together, and that I had been unaware of how the heaviness of grief had been permeating my days. That happens to therapists too…
If you know someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, reach out to them with a listening presence and look for ways to lighten their burden. If you are grieving, accept the help offered by your community, or reach out for the help you need. It might be the best thing you do for your own well-being.
There are many Grief Groups offered in the Nashville area by churches, synagogues and Hospice. Tapestries Counseling Center offers individual counseling help if your pain is obstructing your daily life abilities.
I invite you to join me for a discussion on the journey that is grief on October 18th at 11:30am. You may reserve your seat for this Lunch & Learn opportunity here: https://www.tapestries.care/events.
Barbara Jo Koenhemann is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Certified IMAGO Relationship Therapist.She is dedicated to helping couples and families safely communicate in a way that reconnects them toward intimacy and relationship satisfaction.Learn more about Barbara Jo here:https://www.tapestries.care/team.