Yes, my pre-teen heart went pitty-pat over Paul McCartney, but I always thought Ringo Starr was way underrated. And that so-called quote from John Lennon that not only wasn’t Ringo the best drummer in the world, he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles – yeah, no. Lennon never said it.1
Once again, I dither around with a blog opening that has precious little, if anything, to do with what I mean to write about today. It’s merely a delaying tactic. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.
Tomorrow morning, so early I may appear for my session in jammies, I have an appointment nearly 200 miles from home with my grief counselor. I’m taking Sophie
home to her mom, and I plan to visit My Darling Husband’s niche at the Columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery this weekend.
When I’m in the neighborhood (Northern Virginia), I look forward to a face-to-face with my grief counselor. This visit marks the almost-three-year-anniversary of our first consult. Three years, one and a half months since MDH died.
At no time in my life before three years, one and a half months ago, had I sought and received psychological counseling. Not because I have a prejudice against it – quite the contrary. Mental health, in my opinion, is as vital as physical health and whatever professional help is necessary to maintain it is just that – necessary.
Always before in my life, I’d powered through tough times2, and I’d had pros treating my physical woes who recognized the psychological connective tissue that might need a little balm. One notable period called for anti-anxiety medication. Then, I met and married MDH, and for the following 20 years it seemed that my mind and body were a well-oiled, functioning whole, firing on all cylinders. Until he died, and then they weren’t.
For weeks, I couldn’t breathe3, I couldn’t sleep4. I couldn’t focus on day-to-day tasks. This isn’t depression in the clinical sense, by the way, it is just being so profoundly sad that it is disabling.
I was never one to freely share my emotions. I’m still not, to be honest. I’m hardwired not to, but over the past three years of wide-ranging conversations with my counselor, I’ve learned not to castigate myself for crying in front of other people, for not smiling reflexively in social settings from the trivial to publicly significant.
Grief, as everyone knows, is a process and, in many cases, not linear in the least. It’s also not solely related to the death of someone we care about – that’s bereavement – but can result from any significant loss. Personally, the Kubler-Ross five-stages of grief5 simply haven’t applied to me. A psychologist named J. W. Worden also developed a staged process he called the “Four Tasks of Mourning” that fits my experience more closely and is one through which my counselor has led me as I’ve been able:
- To accept the reality of the loss
- To work through the pain of grief
- To adjust to life without the deceased
- To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life
I’m still working on these.
In preparing for this blog post, I found another reference that resonated with me and I plan to talk to my friend/counselor about this tomorrow. Margaret Stroebe and Hank Schut developed a dual process model of bereavement. They identified two tasks associated with bereavement (the following is quoted):
- Loss-oriented activities and stressors are those directly related to the death. These include crying, yearning, experiencing sadness, denial, or anger, dwelling on the circumstances of the death, and avoiding restoration activities.
- Restoration-oriented activities and stressors are associated with secondary losses with regard to lifestyle, routine, and relationships. These include adapting to a new role, managing changes, developing new ways of connecting with family and friends, and cultivating a new way of life.
Stroebe and Schut suggest that people oscillate between these two processes. I can attest.
As I’m writing this, I note that these latter two models both use the term “tasks” to describe the processes. That’s pretty apt, actually. It’s heavy work getting through this stuff.
For me, the greatest benefit to working with my counselor is that she has told me every step of the way what to expect. I’m one of those people who needs to know in advance what’s likely to happen so I can plan and prepare. And I was thoroughly unprepared. Having a sketched road map has been invaluable.
I’ve been asked a few times “for a friend” what has helped me most over the past three years, one and a half months, and the singular recommendation I offer is to consider working with an experienced grief counselor. There is no substitute for the loving companionship of family, friends and even pets, but to grasp what is happening in your mind and your heart — in your body, a professional who understands the many facets, levels and – yes — tasks of bereavement helps to make the process bearable and, in fact, guides one to a new level of personal growth.
I offer my personal experience here. If you’d like — if you feel comfortable — to share your views, please do. It helps us all to feel more connected.
1 The quote is actually attributed to comedian Jasper Carrott in 1983, after Lennon’s death.
2 This is an important reason I needed a counselor through this period. You will probably know that there is no “powering through” grief.
3 I’ve written before about the breathing work I do with my personal trainer. I can’t stress enough how important this is to our mental, as well as our physical, well being.
4 My physician recognized immediately that the anxiety of losing MDH was preventing me from sleeping and prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. It was a lifesaver. I will never judge anyone who must use pharmaceuticals to address mental health issues – just as we rely on antibiotics to clear away bacteria that’s depleting our physical resources.
5 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified in 1969 what she saw as the five linear stages of grief. Most people have some degree of familiarity with these: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She noted that most people experience at least two of the five stages, and acknowledged that some might be revisited over time.