I had my first appointment with a grief counselor on Tuesday morning to talk about losing my dad. I didn’t do enough of this type of thing after my mom died. I think I internalized it all and shoved the pain down. After a while, you get sick of crying and your busy life continues on. I was talking to someone today who recently went through a similar loss and she said that this is probably the hardest time because everyone else has gone on with life and you are the one still left dealing with everything. And while I do think I’m actually doing OK, I know that I need to process this differently this time so that I heal.
My counselor works for Hospice of the Valley (HOV), which is the hospice organization that my father was enrolled with when he died. He died at their inpatient “home” / facility which was really a beautiful place. The staff was wonderful too. My mom was also enrolled with this same hospice organization when she died 9 years ago. We had heard such wonderful things about them but, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like everything went very smoothly with them as we had sort of been led to believe it would. I think maybe some of that had to do with my dad wanting to do things his way. But, this time around, I was impressed. 9 years ago, HOV reached out to me to see if I wanted grief counseling and I turned it down. I did, eventually, attend a multi-week session for daughters that had lost mothers which was OK. In retrospect, I needed more. So, anyway, I went to one of their business offices which is very close by and met my counselor, Dee. We went into a nice room with a couple of chairs and a couch…she told me to sit wherever so I took the couch – it seemed like the thing to do when you see a therapist. Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of Bob Newhart….I didn’t lie down though.
She had me tell “my story”. I went back to the traumatic beginning of my mom’s illness (brain tumor – out of nowhere) and her short battle that ended 8 weeks later. All of this occurring the same week I left my career behind after 10 years with the same company to become a stay-at-home mom to my 3 children who were, then, 5, 3, and 1. Little did I know what was about to happen with her health. We talked about losing her for a bit and then I rehashed the last month or so with my dad too – the stress I felt making medical decisions and trying to figure out where I was going to take him to live with conditions that seemed to change just about every day. It was extremely cathartic. I cried. A lot. She validated a lot of my pain. The hard part is not losing my dad. The hard part is that both of my parents are now gone. Clearly I just needed to talk about it. It is probably good to rehash it all every once in a while – and it had been a long while. I’m sure friends and family would listen, but retelling the story to a complete stranger was helpful. She told me that I might feel really wiped out for a couple of days after our session. I was really mentally exhausted the rest of that day. I feel OK now but I do think that is a benefit of the exercise. Getting the blood pumping really hard again really clears out my brain.
We set another appointment for later next month. Keeping the appointments spread apart is good. I did decide to go ahead and schedule with Dr. Galper too to discuss the food/eating side of this. I’m doing OK this week but I really was not managing my intake at all last week (and especially the weekend) and reached an all-time high of 7 lbs over goal – way way way above the red zone. I’m back to 5 over goal today and intend to keep things in check this week to hopefully get down within 3 pounds by this weekend. It concerns me though that it got that high. Coincidence that this is just now happening? I don’t think so – and that is why I want to see Dr. Galper. Combined with seeing Dr. Z mid-next month, I’ll just have little reminders each week or so about staying focused on this journey to take care of myself and manage my weight.
The hospice counselor gave me a few handouts which, upon initial review, look pretty good. The first one was a list of “symptoms” commonly associated with grief. Divided into 4 quadrants, the handout suggests that if grief is suppressed in one, it will often manifest itself in a greater degree in another. The 4 quadrants are, with just a few of the examples:
- Weight gain or loss
- Fatigue, low energy
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle weakness
- Irritability (definitely had this with my kids!)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short Attention Span
- Angry at God
- Questioning value/beliefs
- Lack of meaning or purpose in life
This handout was adapted by the HOV counselor, Dee Unks, MC, LPC from information by Sr. Teresa McIntier, 2006
So, I found it to be an interesting list. Most of it fairly obvious, but I do see how you could create an imbalance in your life by suppression, or not coping, with some of the symptoms. According to the handout, “well-being occurs when equal energy is distributed in all four dimensions”. I suppose this is probably true for life, not just in times of dealing with grief….
The 2nd handout was a “self-care activities inventory” where I’m supposed to go through and rate 2 pages worth of activities according to frequency 3=frequently 2=occasionally 1- never. The list is long but some of the examples are: Physical Care – eat regularly, exercise, massage, take day trips or mini-vacations, build or fix something. Psychological care – write in a journal, etc., art, read for pleasure, say no to extra responsibilities. Emotional care – make time for reflection, do something loving for yourself, allow yourself to cry, spend time outdoors, find things that make you laugh. Spiritual care – meditate, pray, contribute to causes, be open to inspiration, find a spiritual connection and/or community. Again, all good things to do in life regardless of whether or not we are grieving.
In closing our session though, I did tell her that I had something really neat on the horizon – my Ragnar relay in April. I am really excited to share that weekend with my new friends. Even though we haven’t met in person, we have already bonded through Facebook and it should be an amazing experience – perfectly timed too. I feel hopeful and optimistic, I just need to make sure I feel the pain too.