Friday, June 17, 2016

Grieving Heals the Wound of Loss


Stuck for months unable to decide to stay in or leave a decaying marriage, my client began to cry as she talk about all that had been good about it. By the next session she had talked with her husband about separating and setting divorce into motion.


Grieving processes loss in a way that allows one to get on with living.


Grieving heals the wound of loss.  It is a natural, restorative process--like a scraped knee bleeding, scabbing over, tissues mending and perhaps leaving a visible scar, perhaps not, and getting on with “being all the knee it can be.” In the course of grieving a loss we shift from living in the pain of What No Longer Is to living and fully inhabiting What Is Now.


Suffering incremental losses

During the first four years that I worked with Steve, a 40 year-old man with multiple sclerosis, he suffered numerous incremental losses of his physical and mental capacities caused by this progressive disease. It affected his ability to balance, walk, and write legibly; sometimes it affected his ability to quickly focus his gaze.  He noticed it was harder to concentrate.  Muscle tension and pain had increased in various areas and interfered with sound sleep. He said he felt “locked down” and it was just getting worse. He gradually became more depressed and less expressive. When he spoke, it was increasingly about what he couldn’t do.


Upwelling of grief

One session, he had more difficultly than usual walking into my office and sitting down. He said he woke up two days ago and had lost some control of his left foot. He began to cry. I had never seen him do this.  He sobbed and told me how helpless and hopeless he felt. For about 20 minutes feelings just welled up in waves. And then it all subsided.


In subsequent sessions, he begin to talk about various interests he was exploring, what he has doing, how he had figured out the logistics of traveling to someplace he wanted to go. During one session as he told me what he was up to he said,


“I’ve never been happier in my life. I’m doing more of what I like than ever before.”


Grieving as a restorative process

In the years since, as we continued working together, I watched and learned from Steve as he repeatedly suffered degradation of various abilities. And each time he grieved his losses, it was as if he reset the counter from what had been to what now was… and each time regained being enlivened and engaged in his capacities as they had become, rather than how they had been.


Your comments are welcomed.
Footnote: About examples
Stories and vignettes that are inspired by my own or my clients’ coming to change are not intended to accurately portray therapy and are most often fictionalized syntheses written to make clear some point. When drawn from a particular interaction, they are used with permission and are always altered to protect client anonymity. 

All are offered with gratitude to my clients—all of whom teach me that our capacity for intelligent and life-affirming responsivity and change exceeds conscious imagining. And all are offered in support of people making enlivening change in their own lives and in support of those of us who, in turn, support others opening to more options for being alive and vital.