Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - A Grief Shared, Part 2 ~by Dr. Lynda Boucugnani-Whitehead

Thursday's Therapy

A Grief Shared - Part II

"Profound Sadness"

~by Lynda Boucugnani-Whitehead, Ph.D.

(Psychologist and Grieving Mother)

This post is continued from last week's Thursday's Therapy and is the final part of "A Grief Shared." Dr. Lynda is a neuropsychological psychologist and unfortunately is a grieving mother as well. She lost her 13-year-old daughter Maria-Victoria from a car wreck in 1996 on her way home from school as she was being driven by her brother, when someone ran a stop-sign and ran right into them. I thank her so much that she is willing to share from her heart of grief and also from her professional expertise as she addresses her fellow-psychologists to give them a better idea of how to help us grieving parents should we decide to step into their offices...

There is no timetable for grief.

It is highly offensive to the grief-stricken to hear things like, "you need to move on," or to receive messages that you are expected to be back to normal and "over it" in a certain time frame.

I once had a principal come up to me about three months after Maria-Victoria died and say,

"Well, have you gotten over the death of your lovely daughter?" I swear this is true.

My response was, rather curtly, "I will never get over it."

This kind-hearted man had no clue about how much that remark hurt.

Let me tell you that you never get over it.

You are a changed, different person from the one you were before the death of your loved one.

We don't want to get over it because that suggests that we can somehow let that love go. That brings me to the dreaded "C" word. A word hated by the bereaved and one especially pertinent to those people who have loved ones missing in New York.

The dreaded C word "closure."

I hate that word.

I am offended by that word.

Most of the bereaved I know hate it too.

There is no such thing as closure - you never get over it and quit expecting us to do it.

People need to learn to say something else to describe people who need to have something happen before they can continue with their personal grief. Something like "relief from uncertainty" is more like it.

There is usually a lot of support and attention paid to the bereaved at the time of the loss and for a short time afterward. But after a while that support fades and contacts drop off.

Many, if not all, of my Compassionate Friends report that this is a time when you know who your real friends are.

Sometimes people don't know what to say and so avoid you. Especially in cases where children have died, people avoid you because they think it might be "contagious." If this most horrendous of nightmares happens to you, it could happen to me. I don't want to think about that so I'll stay away from you. You may be shaking your head in disbelief, but it is true. Many find that family members are the least helpful. They do not want to bring it up because they think it will cause pain to you - but especially to them.

If you remember one thing from this story, remember what is in this paragraph:

The most precious words a person who has lost a loved one can hear are their loved one's name. Say it over and over again. It will not bring pain - it has great potential to bring joy and to heal. MARIA-VICTORIA, MARIA-VICTORIA - hearing her name always lightens my heart.

In the beginning, people need to tell their story - over and over again. Your job is to listen, to give a hug or show that you feel for them.

It was important for those missing loved ones in New York or for those who knew their loved one had died, to "tell their story." This is a part of the grief process, and a way to validate the strength of their continuing love for their loved one. It is a way to honor them and, most importantly, to assure that they will not be forgotten. That is the greatest fear of those of us who have lost our children (and probably for other bereaved persons as well). We do not want our loved ones to be forgotten.

You are doing the bereaved a wonderful favor when you bring up their loved one's name and when you reminisce about something that they did or something special about them. It is a very, very special gift and so easy to give.

There can come a time when the bereaved person starts to refrain from bringing up their loved one's name or talking about them because they are afraid of making the other person uncomfortable.

A lot of people don't know what to say and so they say nothing.

You quickly learn who you can trust and who you can't to spill your heart to.

People are afraid that what they might say will sound awkward or mistakenly think it will bring pain. This then can be misinterpreted by the bereaved person as a sign that you don't care.

Never say "I know just how you feel" because you don't - you have no idea. Never say, "I don't know how you do it - if it was me I'd just die." My goodness, that implies that I must not have loved my child enough because I didn't die.

What helps? A hug and saying "I think about you often" - Just a heartfelt hug - "I was thinking about Maria-Victoria today" - "I know this is a hard time for you" - "I am so sorry."

I went to see a therapist for about a year after Maria-Victoria died. What I liked about her the most was that she told me at the beginning that she knew very little about dealing with grief but felt that she was going to learn a lot by our time together. She did learn a lot and I got a chance to tell my story, to process how my life had changed and to run through ideas about how to redefine my life and redefine my relationship with my daughter. In essence, in the long term that is what we, as psychologists, need to do to help others.

When you have experienced a traumatic loss you have to make a choice. You choose whether to retreat from life, to give up on life and what you held dear, or to grow from this horrendous experience. Making this choice is not easy, but it is a choice.

You also have to redefine your relationship with your loved one. You may not have a physical relationship anymore but you can choose to always have a strong and loving relationship. My feeling of connectedness with my daughter is very, very strong. She is very much a part of my life and will always be. I have redefined my relationship with her and do the things I want and need to do to keep our love and connection alive.

As you go on this grief journey, you do whatever feels right to do.

There are no rules.

In the beginning I would go to the cemetery and lay on a blanket and stroke the grass over her grave as if it was her hair. Imagine the sight of that to one that does not know. I still, after five years, have not washed the clothes from her clothes hamper (I probably never will). Before I moved, I would go into her bedroom at night, smell her sheets or sleep in her bed.

I talk to her aloud every day.

These are all perfectly normal things to do.

As a psychologist, it is important to validate to the bereaved person that anything they want to do that brings them comfort is okay. We all have different ways of grieving and we all need to respect these different ways.

I am a very different person from the one I was before my daughter died. I think I'm a better person (a lot of my friends think so too).

What often comes out of tragedy is growth, often spiritual.

I and everyone I know in Compassionate Friends no longer have any fear of death.

Death is the door to where my daughter is.

When fear is gone (the worst that could happen, has already happened), it is a very freeing experience.

You are less afraid of change, you are less tolerant of arrogant, insensitive people or of doing things that don't have meaning for you anymore and you put your energy toward the things that are truly meaningful in this world.

That doesn't mean you don't go through periods of sadness and despair and have to pull yourself up time and again - of course you do -

You are not necessarily suffering from depression, but profound sadness and there is a difference.

When you are depressed you don't want to do anything and you don't grow. When you are experiencing profound sadness, you still want to grow, to do things that will make a difference; you often feel compelled to do so.

As psychologists, and as friends or colleagues of those who have experienced a traumatic loss, we can help by supporting them on their own personal journeys, not by telling them where and when to go, but by being a friendly landmark along the way.

We help by realizing there is no destination, not even an itinerary.

At five years after my daughter's death, I probably think about my daughter about 500 times a day, rather than a million.

Some would call that progress.

I call it evolution.

A few days ago after putting 5 heart balloons and flowers on my daughter's grave, I found a card and letter put there by one of her friends. What a gift to me and my daughter. I close this story with her words so that we can all remember what really matters.

I thought I saw you dancing

but it was only the leaves in the wind

I thought I heard you laughing

but it was only the waves of the sea

I thought I felt you touch me

but it was only a moonlit dream.

but I know I felt you in my heart

because I miss you very much.

I love you

I met a girl about a year ago who when I first saw her I thought it was you. I had to take a double glance and everytime since then, when I see her from a distance or run into her I always think I see you! She favors you so much in appearance but I'm sure she could never be as loving, good-hearted and caring as you were. The angel ornament reminds me of you, always caring and watching out for others! Miss you more and more each day!

Friends Forever.

Love Always,


~written by Lynda Boucugnani-Whitehead, Ph.D.

Highlights mine.

Thank you so much to Dr. Lynda for sharing both from her heart and from her psychological expertise. Your words are invaluable to our grieving hearts! May God bless you for your vulnerability, and may He comfort you as well in your great loss.

Dr. Lynda's article was shared with me by The Compassionate Friends of Atlanta


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