Psychotherapist: On allowing “grief,” as a process, the unfolding shape of which we do not and cannot control.

11COUCH-blog480This account, by a (rare) psychotherapist who “get’s it,” concerning the profound process that grief sets in motion — or it will, if we allow it; and we, in this culture, usually don’t — reminds me of my own process, what I called, even then, “conscious grieving”:

My husband Jeff Joel had suddenly died, of a heart attack, early on the morning of January 3, 2003, leaving me alone, in the new town to which the two of us had just moved.

Unlike the woman counseled in this story, I did not want therapy; nor did I seek a support group. In fact, I felt intensely grateful for solitude; this setting, for me, was exactly what I needed to allow the precious, exquisite process of disorientation that enormous loss sets in motion. In my case, I not only flooded with tears, I howled, solar plexus convulsing into primal undulations, on a number of occasions. Always alone. And always grateful to be alone, so that I could “let myself go” without the anxious eyes of others to contend with and slow the experience down, or even stop it, cut it short, in the interests of “propriety,” or of making sure I didn’t scare anybody else with my “crazy” behavior. And always, during those months when my body periodically worked through its insistent need to unfurl the locked pain inside, I was aware of the continuous presence of that larger awareness that holds all my experiences in the subtle, sweet field of abiding Love. And — here’s where my unique story is in common with the therapist’s relationship to his patient — in my journal I told the story of Jeff, and me and Jeff. In 2007, I structured this story into a book, This Vast Being: A Voyage through Grief and Exaltation, which won a “Best Books Award” from USA Book News.

What I so much appreciated, in this therapist’s account of “getting grief right,” is the recognition that grief cannot be stopped up without damage to the soul, and that to allow it full expression, we must be prepared for an unexpected and — I would add, truly miraculous, life-transforming — journey.

It is my feeling that our entire U.S. society is riddled with stopped up, even putrifying grief — a pathological condition that generates varieties of addictive behavior as its mask. Millions of people, most with crippling losses, the pain of which they cannot acknowledge and allow themselves to feel, and therefore cannot transform into the sheer unmitigated joy that attends the authentic expression of the truly free being.

Moreover, just as the entire cultural milieu endures this stuckness, so has it been ongoing for generations, tracing back to the grief attending the original genocide that we Europeans perpetrated upon the native peoples of this beautiful Turtle Island land.

Mea culpa.

Via Ted.

Getting Grief Right

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3 Responses to Psychotherapist: On allowing “grief,” as a process, the unfolding shape of which we do not and cannot control.

  1. Wendy Lochner says:

    Dear Ann,
    I have to thank you for this. I lost my husband on December 1 and am still deeply grieving. I read your book, which was very honest and inspirational, but I wish I had as much contact with Hank as you had with Jeff. Maybe I am pushing too hard for it. (I did have one dream about 10 days after he died suddenly and unexpectedly that was very immediate, tactile, and very sexy; in the dream he promised that he would soon “tell me everything.” But that hasn’t happened yet.) I too have been mostly solitary but had to return to work (fortunately I can work at home most days), and when I am with people I know, even friends, the persona makes its appearance. People want to see that you are “doing very well.” But I have no desire to “get over it”–I lost my life partner and best friend–I seek only some contact, if that is possible, and eventually some sense of serenity in which my Hank is the love story of my life. I have been writing and reading voraciously to learn how other creative people, mostly writers, depict their grief. One author whose book I haven’t yet had the courage to open is David Grossman; I’ve been told that Falling Out of Time is like no other book about grief, that it is searing. I will read it soon. I’ve even found that some of the Scandinavian mystery writers ((Mons Kallentoft, Ada Larsson) are very comforting in a way because they depict dead people thinking, communicating with people. Please forgive my long message. Your post was just too resonant, and I felt that you would be able to understand.


    • Wendy, Please, please, no need for forgiveness. What you speak of here is a great gift to others, including myself. Perhaps you might begin to write down your grieving process, or paint it, or dance it — some form of expression that feels most natural to you . . . I’m sure Hank will come again, if you desire it strongly enough. If he died only just over one month ago, perhaps he’s still in the bardo? I remember the morning when I was standing by the sink, doing the dishes. Our dear mother, Lady Renee, had died about two months earlier, at the end of September 2014 — and I hadn’t had ANY communication from her. No big deal. I didn’t really expect any. After all, she had finally let go at 96, and was very ready to do so. Nor had any of my siblings heard from her. But on this morning, I suddenly felt a strong impulse to talk with Mom, to just call her up on the phone the way I used to, decades ago, before she started to shift into dementia. All those years talking on the phone. She was a great communicator, central switchboard for her brood of eight kids. So I stood there, with this huge desire, and then berated myself, tried to talk myself out of it, thought it was just me doing some kind of weird number on myself. Well, the next day, at some point I realized that this had been her presence, that she was letting me know she is okay, in fact she is young again, and vital! At that point, I emailed my siblings, to ask if anyone had had a similar experience, and guess what, one of my sisters had had an uncannily simiilar tale to tell, of driving down the highway, wishing hugely that she could just pick up the phone and call Mom. This happened on the same day for both of us. She told me that when she got my message she was in some kind of meeting, and it just blew her away, to realize that this was Mom, dialing in.

      So be patient, and insistent! He will come when he can.

      • Wendy Lochner says:

        Ann, you are so thoughtful. And I’m discovering all your earlier posts on grief. I am especially looking forward to reading about your puppy, as I have lost many cats, including one who was my familiar. That grief took me months if not years to settle into a love story of its ow. (and a tattoo). I’ve also ordered Bayley’s book about Iris Murdoch, whom I love as a writer. Thanks for being who you are!


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