New ways of looking at my grief

We all know that losing someone you love is devastating. Grief is often seen as being about coming to terms with that specific loss. But there is much more to grief than just losing the physical presence of someone you love.

There is the relationship that is gone. The companionship, the sharing, the mutual experiences and memories, the physical presence of that person.

You no longer hear their voice, their laughter, the sound of them breathing.

You no longer smell them or see the way their face crinkles when they are concentrating. You miss the way they greeted you when you had been apart.

You miss the feeling of them touching you. There are so many aspects of that person’s physical presence that you have lost.

There are also the unresolved issues. Maybe you feel guilty at harsh words you said to them. Maybe you feel angry at something they did. Maybe you feel you never got that chance to say goodbye.

Martha felt guilty that she had left her husband in the hospital when he begged her not to go. She was exhausted and the hospital provided no facilities for her to stay with her husband. She had also been physically caring for him for some time and leaving him in hospital was a necessary physical break for her.

A few weeks after being hospitalised, Martha’s husband died. Now she carried a terrible guilt at his death. Instead of recapturing the life she had once had, she became physically unable to carry out the simplest tasks. Her physical health deteriorated.

She believed she had no right to live a healthy life when she had left her physically disabled husband alone in his hospital room.

Allanah was angry. Her mother had manipulated and controlled her throughout her life.

As a child her mother had failed to provide her with the support she needed through all the important moments in her life. As an adult she had struggled to discover her capabilities ad believe them. She also struggled with her mother’s conditional love.

Now her mother was dead she found herself full of anger at the things her mother had done to her.

In loss there is also the future that is lost. The future you had together. The vision you had of that future. The expectations of life events and other joys you looked forward to.

Nella had lost her husband in their mid fifties. They had plans for the life ahead. Their daughter had just married and they looked forward to the time they would retire and enjoy travelling and being grandparents.

But her husband had died and now the first grandchild was due.

Nella wouldn’t allow herself to be excited by the imminent arrived of this grandchild. To her it felt like a betrayal of her husband. It seemed so unfair that he was missing all the excitement of being grandparents.

If she was prepared to admit it, it also seemed unfair that she had lost the future they had planned together.

There are the changes in your life. If the person you lost was a financial support then you have changed circumstances that may force you to move, or change employment. That is a loss that is not always acknowledged.

Hayley and her partner ran a business. He was a skilled tradesman and in high demand. She was the admin for the business. Now he was dead and the business was gone. Instead of continuing until retirement in business together, Hayley had to find a new job. She couldn’t afford the mortgage repayments on her new income and had to sell the house they planned to retire in.

Her whole future was destroyed and she faced the uncertainty of a future that was unrecognisable from the one she envisaged.

The worst thing was the loneliness of coming home to an empty house. If she was honest, she would admit she resented the changes her partner’s death had caused.

In loss there is also learning to live on your own.

Maybe you now come home to a new empty house instead of one your partner lived in.

Maybe you walk past your child’s empty room and it hits you how much you miss the noise that came from there.

Maybe you see something funny happen and your first instinct is to pick up the phone and call the person, then realise you can’t do that anymore. And that hurts.

Mark missed being able to share the events of the day with his brother. They always had a laugh together at things that happened. And when things were difficult, his brother was always willing to listen and offer support.

He felt so lost at the end of such an important part of his life.

These things I have mentioned are the most common other losses surrounding the death of a loved one.

There are more that are unique to each individual.

They can be difficult to recognise as grief.

If you are experiencing them, you may feel you don’t have the right to hurt this way. But all the things I have described are important aspects of grieving the loss of a loved one.

At this time it is so important to recognise the emotions you are experiencing. It is essential you recognise your right to feel those emotions. You are not wrong to feel the emotions.

It is also important to nurture yourself, to be kind to yourself. You are going through a hard time and you need compassion and support. The first person to give you that is you.

Feeling unsafe in your own home

Rachel came to see me because she had an incident where someone had parked on her front lawn and she felt threatened. Actually she felt terrified.

She had to do something to protect herself because this car was a threat. She didn’t know why, just that it was a threat to her safety and no one was going to defend her or protect her.

She rang council who told her she had to talk to the police. She was terrified to make a complaint but felt she had to. It was the lesser of two evils.

She talked to the police and was given an unhelpful response.

She felt frightened and alone, despite the fact her husband was in the house with her.

She couldn’t understand what was happening to her.

Her heart was racing. She was terrified to move out of a room deep in her house where she had gone for refuge.

She found herself crying uncontrollably.

She was terrified of the car on her front lawn.

She was terrified of complaining to council.

She was terrified of complaining to the police.

She was terrified of her neighbours abusing her for complaining.

She had just justification for the last fear. Her neighbours had threatened her in the past, and wrongly accused her of making complaints against them. These neighbours had brought all the other neighbours in her tiny street on side so she was abused or avoided by the neighbours.

When Rachel came to see me she was still shaking. She couldn’t understand her reaction.

As she talked I asked her if anything in the past came to mind.

She thought about it and said yes.

There was an incident when she was being sexually abused by a boy in her class. He kept touching her inappropriately and she had asked him to stop. She had even gone to her mother for help.

Her mother did not take it seriously and had told her she had to hit the boy to make him stop.

In classes he was in with her she sat at the front of the class in front of the teacher. No one was sitting with her so this boy would come and sit with her.

Eventually she got so desperate she hit the boy with a ruler. The teacher caught her hitting him and told her to stop.

Rachel courageously told the teacher she would stop hitting the boy when he stopped sexually touching her.

The teacher sent Rachel and the boy together, unaccompanied, to the subject master.

On the way there the boy told her she had to keep quiet about what he was doing.

Once there the master put them both in his office and asked them what was going on.

The boy started to say it was just nothing when Rachel courageously cut in and told the master what the boy had been doing to her for months.

The master sent Rachel out of the room and back to the classroom.

She never knew what happened to the boy, whether he was punished or not.

What did happen to Rachel was that the entire class and their friends in other classes bullied Rachel.

Every moment at school was full of name calling such as “Dobber” “C###” “slut” and threats to her personal safety.

At no time did her parents, teachers, or anyone else at the school debrief her, check in on her, or step in to protect her from the bullying or make sure she had help over the sexual abuse.

She was hurt, violated, frightened, ostracised and terrified.

She learned that her world was not a safe place.

She learned that she would always be on her own and no one would defend her.

She learned that everyone else was against her.

She learned that boundary infringements, whether on her personal body space or personal home space, where dangerous and reasons for terror.

So it was not surprising that Rachel was terrified.

We were able to work together to help Rachel heal the wound from the sexual abuse and the bullying.

We were able to work together to help Rachel reenvisage her world as a safer place.

We were able to work together to help Rachel reconnect with other people in a safe way.

We were able to work together to help Rachel learn that most people were for her.

Sadly for Rachel, her neighbours were frightened of getting involved in a disagreement with her neighbour. They thought if they sat on the fence and “didn’t get involved” they were being impartial. That of course is not true.

To the mouse being crushed by the elephant the fence sitter is siding with the elephant because they are allowing the abuse to continue.

Rachel realised most of her neighbours were too frightened of her neighbour to speak to her. It was only two sets of closer neighbours who were abusive.

Rachel learned to separate what was happening in her street from the past abuse and bullying.

It took a long time. But Rachel was able to heal that trigger.

When working with trauma there is no quick fix. It takes time and patience to heal trauma.

There are a number of different techniques to help heal trauma. These range from somatic (body) techniques through art and sand play to EFT and EMDR.

To heal trauma you need to see a properly trained counsellor who knows what they are doing. I am trauma trained and very experienced in helping people.

To heal trauma you need to know that it takes time. There will not be just one visit, there will be many.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or

Demeter’s Journey

Demeter lost someone she loved dearly. At first it was so unreal that she didn’t notice where she was. She loved this person, and now they were dead.

How could this be?

Why hadn’t the world stopped at the moment of death?

How could people go about their lives as though something so earth shattering had never happened?

Her days were full of people, funeral arrangements, flowers and casseroles. The funeral came and was over. Everybody left. Then she noticed it.

She was no longer in that place that was so familiar to her. She was in the wilderness. An unruly forest of Beech, Maple, Birch, Oak and Elm trees. Of bushes and vines and no clear paths. The trees were tall and crowded in around her.

The wind through the trees was cold and bitter. The leaves of the trees were yellow, orange, red and brown. As she walked through the forest swirls of leaves blew across her path. They hit her face and became entangled in her hair. They seemed to mirror her own confusion and swirling emotions.

Everything was different. Where once she had wandered the clear, cool, shaded paths under trees replete with lush green leaves, there was now a barren wilderness of fallen, dead leaves and bone chilling breezes. The leaves swirled, an echo of her own jumble of emotions.

She pulled her coat tight and struggled on.

Every once in a while she came to a clearing that was vaguely familiar. There she did mundane things. Things that were once normal. but now felt wrong to do.

How could she get on with life when everything was so broken?

And then she was in the forest again struggling on.

One day she noticed the forest had changed. The branches of the trees were now completely bare. Their limbs were stark black, a contrast to the snow she now saw was on the ground. Every sound was muffled. She trudged through ever deepening snow drifts. She witnessed the silent snow falling without a sound. She heard no sounds just the crying of her heart.

The clearings, when she could find them, sat oddly in this winter landscape, and she hurried out of them. The confusing wilderness of the forest felt more comfortable than the appalling mundanity of the clearings.

Much further on she realised she could hear a bird song. Then she noticed the crunching of her feet on the ground and saw the snow had gone. As she looked out across the stark forest, she could see crocuses and snowdrops emerging from the dark soil. Up in the trees there was a hint of green across the tips of the branches. Her mood lifted slightly. She walked on through the forest. Some days she felt the hope of spring, others she was pulled back into the cold of winter. But as the days went on the winter weather gave way to more consistent warmth. The trees filled out with leaves and the ground burst forth with snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, jonquils, tulips and more flowers than she could identify. There was less contrast with the clearings she now came across.

She still found the clearings hard. The familiarity of them was comforting, but it felt disloyal to spend too long in them, so she hurried back into the trees.

Then one day she saw through the trees a very large clearing. The sun shining through the branches felt hot. She noticed the flowers were all gone and the leaves on the trees were fading. From the clearing she heard the sound of people. As she emerged into the sunlight she saw many familiar faces. It felt good to be amongst people again. She realised she didn’t feel as guilty about being out of the wilderness.

As she moved around the group of friends she saw Amy pulling some leaves out of her hair. She remembered Amy had lost the job she loved and had been struggling to find a new one. She told Demeter she had been in a wilderness but was pleased to find this clearing.

Joseph was a little further along. He was brushing snow off his shoulder. Demeter remembered he left his home country to move to her country to make a new home and had found the transition hard. He told her he had been in a forest wilderness and hoped this clearing was a sign of things improving.

Then she saw Phoebe picking at petals caught up in her clothing. Phoebe shared with her the difficult journey she had been on in a forest wilderness following the amputation of her leg. She was feeling more positive about her life now and was loving the clearing.

As she looked around, Demeter realised all the people there had experienced some sort of loss. Ryan had his house broken into and lost his sense of safety in his own home. Peggy’s marriage had ended and she had found it hard trekking through her wilderness. Abbie’s dog had died, Max had moved interstate, Jim had lost his house in a fire. The list went on.

Demeter stayed for a while in her summer clearing. Seeing how her friends had lost things too and struggled helped her to feel less crazy. It was good to sit in the warmth and be with friends.

At the end of the day she left the clearing and moved into the forest of her life. It wasn’t the forest she had lived in before her loss. Neither was it the wilderness forest. This one seemed more manageable. Some days were full of swirling, multi-coloured leaves and bitter winds, others were stark snow filled vistas. There were ones that were full of leaf buds and baby animals. And there were ones where she caught up with her friends. And there were always clearings to enter.

Demeter understood that this forest was her life now. It wasn’t the forest of her old life but it was the forest of her future, of her new life walking with grief, and it was okay.