Grief and Growth- A Therapist’s Perspective

Posted by Harriet on

griefhandsBeing on a grief and growth journey with you is an honor and privilege.  As painful as it is sitting here with you –  grief-stricken, numb, a broken egg shell of a person whose insides are pouring out –  I, your counselor,  hold your pain in all its rawness.   We sit together as your grief oozes out like a tube of toothpaste squeezed to its core with nothing left.

Grief is the part of life we all run from.   We look to avoid pain and sorrow at all costs.  After all, we are pleasure seekers.   But it enters our lives, sometimes slowly and insidiously with a chronicity that we can practically see as it takes hold in our life, or at times totally out of left field as the curve ball hits us smack in our face and knocks us flat out.

Grief is the natural response to many different types of critical life events.  We more often than not begin this journey flattened out.

I did as I entered my therapist’s office 31 years ago after finding out my daughter was not the normal, perfect child I excitedly anticipated.   The balloon burst, the egg cracked; like humpty dumpty, I had to be put back together.   My wobbly legs eventually found some solid ground on which to begin to carve out a new road – that of parenting a child with disabilities.

We must allow ourselves to enter that dark, seemingly closed off cave of despair, tugging and pulling at the cobwebs that threaten to entangle us in their sticky hold of pain. 

Death At Its Best

Posted by Harriet on

IMG_0203A mother brings forth a child into this world; a ‘child’ leads a mother into the next world.   This is my thought as I lay next to my mother watching her die.


My mom passed away peacefully at age 97.   A celebration of life but even more profound for me at the moment is the celebration and gratitude of a death; a death that we all would like when our time of departure arrives.

My mother’s time became apparent last Monday morning when she didn’t open her eyes to her loving aide Clara’s wake-up motions.  “Unresponsive” was the word that shook my hands as I held my phone and heard Clara’s message.

As the cream in the middle of the oreo cookie, I’ve worked at keeping that top layer of elderly parent and bottom layer of grandchildren tightly connected to the middle.  And here I was having to pick up my granddaughter from nursery and drop her off at her home before heading to mom’s house.    Sitting in traffic, the cookie was starting to crumble.

I called my husband to see if he could leave court and get to mom’s house any quicker.  And he did.  And I breathed.

I arrived and so began what was to be the two day vigil as she was in the process of dying.

Sitting by her bedside listening and watching her breathe, the intermittent breathing as she stopped for several seconds and started again with quick and hard breaths, I was actually filled with gratitude.

The Grief of Now

Posted by Harriet on


When you’re in the throes of awfulness you can’t think about tomorrow.  You’re in the powerfully crippling feelings of the moment.  And that needs to be attended to.  For it’s in the going through them that you will come through them to a new phase.  But it takes time, patience and work.   Wounds must begin to close up before the new layer of skin appears.


I couldn’t get myself to take my year-old daughter to the park.  It was too painful for me to see other younger babies with their heads straight and their little hands swiping at the mobile attached to the stroller, while my daughter’s head wobbled, her eyes crossed and her hands lay at her sides.  She was beautifully docile with a smile of ease and contentment and a body that lagged behind in hitting the basic milestones of development.

The balloon burst, the bubble popped, normality was shattered upon hearing the neurologist confirm my fears, that yes, there was something wrong.   She had a rare neurological condition, a fluke of development or lack of, that had occurred in the first trimester in utero.

My intense grief began and my mantra of “why me” reverberated against the walls of my shrink’s office week after week.   Session after session, I poured out my deepest feelings of pain and sadness.  And hour after hour, he held them.   He leaned forward and in his beautifully soft voice, he reassured me over and over how normal it was to feel what I was feeling. 

Bringing the Gift of Yourself to the World

Posted by Harriet on

best_self (1)Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.”  Elie Wiesel


I just finished a wonderful course called Teaching for Transformation by the amazing Maria Sirois.  In the last class she asked a question that really ‘knocked the ball out of the park’, as she likes to say.

Questions, as we know, are a powerful tool for reigning us in and setting the stage for what we focus on.   It points us in the direction of where to look.

So here’s the question:  What would the world be missing if you were trying to be someone else?  What would we be losing if you weren’t yourself?

What a way to get us thinking about our strengths, abilities, attributes;  a way to really look at what gifts we bring to the world;  a way to step into our truest great self.

As Marianne Williamson so eloquently states:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

Healthy Distractions

Posted by Harriet on

SnowshoeingJan'11 017Often when we’re upset or feeling overwhelmed with any sort of negativity, we fall prey to that which  may make us feel good at the moment.   The pint of ice cream in the freezer (or maybe even quart!), the bottle of booze in the cabinet, the local bar at the corner, the pill bottle in the medicine cabinet  (“just taking one extra to calm down”).

These are quick and easy, convenient and sure to have somewhat of a calming and numbing  effect pretty quickly.   But in the long run they do not serve us well and often create additional problems.

When we feel emotionally crummy, taking a break and removing ourselves from the difficult feelings can give us that necessary distance and perspective.   We can give ourselves a brief respite so that we can then return with more clarity and calmness, better able to deal with the issue at hand.

This is not about avoiding; rather it’s about choosing to step away for a short time period so as to be able to come back in a better state of mind.  We give ourselves some comfort by engaging in something we enjoy.


So what are some healthy distractions? 

Getting outside.  Nature is soothing and serene.   Taking notice of our surroundings brings us to that place of grandeur where we realize we’re a part of something huge and awesome.   Take that beach walk; yes, even in the winter.  The ocean is beautifully calm.

Watching a funny movie.

Laughing.  Laughter is a wonderful release. 

Set Your Intentions for the New Year

Posted by Harriet on

openhouseforbutterflies18Resolutions = failure

Intentions= striving towards

All too often we make new year’s resolutions only to see that it’s February (or maybe even earlier) and we’ve already messed up.  Discouragement sets in and we’re throwing in the towel since we’ve already failed.   Now what?

How about another way of looking at this idea of goal-setting and reflecting on what we want to bring into our lives this new year – the way of Intention.

Intention somehow sounds softer than resolution, gentler, like a leaning in or going towards something.    It’s like a compass pointing you in the direction of……whatever it is you aspire to.   It feels more internal; it’s coming from deep within you.  What do you really want?  Listen to that and start to move towards it in small steps.

Setting your intention{s}:

First and foremost is getting in touch with what you want to see for yourself.  What do you want more of, less of?  What do you want to focus on?  What do you want to change?  Meditate on it, talk it out, journal, and clear out some of those entangled cob webs so you can hear your own voice.

Go for the small doses of what you want.  If you can’t quit your job to follow your dream of becoming an artist, then give yourself some time during the week to engage in your artistic interests.

It’s about bringing into your life the things you value, that which is meaningful to you, what excites you.  Move towards that. 


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