Would I say to someone with chronic pain: ‘you’ll learn to live with it?’ No.

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From Karen_Nadine on Pixabay

This is at once an impossible question to answer, and the only question that really matters when you are the one who is grieving. That’s how it is with pain. When we are in pain, pain is all that we can think about.

So as a grief therapist, I’m often asked: when will this end? How long will I feel this way? Will I ever be myself again? I’ve offered many responses to these kinds of questions. They are to be expected, and I understand the need people have to ask them. So I do my best. …


The (unwelcome) persistence of memory

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Photograph of author by author’s daughter, Lily Kosminsky

“The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive.” — The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

Rewarding as it is, being a grief therapist is not what you would call a “feel good” profession. Pretty much everyone who comes to talk to me (online, for the time being) is suffering, or they wouldn’t be talking to me. A long time ago, which is when I started doing what I do, I made the mistake of thinking that whatever difficult, sad thing a person was dealing with at the moment, that was all we needed to be talking about; that was enough, I thought, to explain the person’s state of mind. …


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In talking to my colleagues who provide support to people grieving the death of a loved one, I have found that in almost every case, they have had at least one experience of profound, life altering loss. In my case it was the loss of my mother, when she was 32 and I was 9. My memories of my mother begin and end with her illness, a form of cancer that required frequent hospitalizations and surgeries. In the early 1960’s, when she died, there was little in the way of grief support, particularly for children. Much has been said about the importance of meaning making in coming to terms with loss: I know that I am not alone in viewing my work as a form of meaning making. …


A Response to the cover story on Grief, Psychology Today, August 2020

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“If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake up each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.

We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.” …


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The Lovers, II Rene Magriette, 1928

I’ve been hearing a lot from people lately about their dreams, and (no surprise) they tend toward the nightmarish. Sleep is meant to be restorative. But wherever we go, our minds go with us, and the mind, in sleep, is unrestrained. Whatever is on our mind is still there when we sleep. And whatever we have been trying not to think about flies at us with a vengeance.

Maybe this has been your experience.

My dreams, for better or for worse, feel very real to me when I’m having them. There’s some variation, but I always come back to favorite themes: being left, being lost, being frustrated. (What are yours?) Frustration has been particularly popular of late. Which makes sense: I’ve been in the house with one other person for three months. …


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My work is about talking to people who are grieving, and people who are grieving get told a lot of things that are not helpful. Some of the things people say to them are of course well meaning, or at least, benign in their intent. “She’s in a better place” and all that. Much of what people say is simply an expression of their own discomfort about death, a wish to make it seem like it’s a good thing to die, sometimes. “He’s not suffering anymore”. Or: “He had a long, wonderful life”; and after all, we all have to die sometime. I’m sensitive to these kinds of comments, not only because they are a constant theme in my work, but because of my own experience (and isn’t that usually the way it is). I was nine when my mother died, and I was told all kinds of things that, even at that age, I knew were nothing more than adults’ attempts to magic away my shock and grief. There was a hole in my heart, and their remedy was to cover it with pink icing. I didn’t trust their intent. …


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“I just want to be in control of my emotions.”

In my online sessions with clients, and in conversations with friends, I’ve been hearing this a lot lately, and I get it. Feelings hurt, they’re uncomfortable, they’re distracting. When they show themselves without warning they can be embarrassing, a sign of some internal weakness.

For a lot of people, exercising control over their emotions is a well-developed, workable strategy for getting from one day to the next. If this is your strategy, if you are someone who generally feels in control of your emotions, you may be finding that in the present moment, that control is faltering. We all have a breaking point. …

About

Phyllis Glick Kosminsky

Phyllis Kosminsky is a grief therapist, author and adjunct professor. She is interested in life, with death left in.

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