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Dealing With Loss - A Lifetime of Learning

February 20, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 107

I was married at 26 and divorced at 30. I have not remarried. I have no children. In the eight years since my divorce I have earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and a master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the CSPP. I am now building my private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, California, which has been my goal from the start of this journey. I have a wonderful family of friends whom I treasure; a network of people who I can count on in any circumstance to make sure I'm okay. I have even learned to fly on the trapeze. And I have done it all on my own.

As it may seem to people on the outside, I am a strong, independent woman who is making her way in the world and getting what she wants. But the reality is that on the inside, I feel like a scared little girl. It doesn't matter that I am 38; that I haven't lived with a parent in my home in many, many years. It doesn't matter that I moved across the country and only saw my dad two or three times per year. I now have no parents. And I'm way too young to not have any parental supervision.

It was a car accident that took my mother's life. She was just 47, far to young to be taken from her family; I was 24. The first year without her was one of the most difficult of my life. I went through the grieving process just as one might expect. I cried, I yelled, I cut my hair, got a tattoo, quit my job and moved across the country. The thing that no one told me is that 14 years later there would still be moments when I think to pick up the phone and call my mom. Instants when before I realize it my automatic thought is to call mom and tell her what happened. The moment that follows immediately after that is one of sadness, disappointment and disbelief. The disbelief is not at the fact that mom is dead, but rather that after all this time, after 14 years still I sometimes forget that I can't call her.

It was July of 2010 that my father died. He had been battling lung cancer for some time. The end of his life was not peaceful and pleasant. He fought, he struggled, he was in pain and he lost. Again, I grieved, as one would expect. I cried, took some time off from work, went back into therapy and slowly readjusted. I found myself profoundly changed again, just as I had been after my mom died. I still struggle with the way my father's life ended. No, it was not a surprise that he got lung cancer; he smoked everyday for 53 years and did not take the best care of himself. However watching him go through this disease and the toll it took on him seems so unfair. No one should have to spend the last few months of his life scared and in pain, but that is how it went for my dad.

There is so much attention and support paid to a person when they experience the trauma of the death of a loved one. Friends and family rally around. They lend a shoulder to lean on; they send food. Navigating emotions, grief, and sadness is much easier when you have a strong support system. But what happens later? The part of loss that we don't hear about happens months, even years down the road when your life changes and the person you loved is not there to share it with you. When you realize that you have lost not only a person, but also sometimes the very definition of who you were, it can send you into an unexpected crisis. It can be a very lonely place. Even in the face of a joyful experience a person can feel grief for those they have lost and the profound unexpected changes that happen within them.

Recently I found myself in a situation where I made a decision and then realized that my timing was really bad. However it was too late. I had set in motion a cascade of things that all culminated in me having to make a huge transition in my life. What that transition was is not important. The change was welcomed; it was what I wanted. However the timing was awful and I found myself needing some support. I had wonderful friends cheering me on and offering to help me in ways for which I can never repay them. But still there was something missing. I was alone. With all the friends, all the help that was being given to me, I still felt alone. Then I realized that it was the first big, potentially life changing situation I had been in since my father had died. Now not only was I down the advice of a mother, my father couldn't weigh in either. I had no one to give me guidance. At least that's how I felt.

My dad didn't always understand me, or understand what my goals were. He was however always there to offer his sage advice based on what he thought was best for me. He was very much a "play it safe" kind of guy with me. As far as he was concerned, I was out here in California on my own and I had to be really careful. He didn't come to visit me here more than twice in the 13 years I've lived here so he didn't know what my life was like here. But he was always there for me to talk to, to comfort me with his pride and encouragement in what I was doing, even though he really wanted me to come home to New York. Unfailingly he would try to wisely advise me and he always threw in a little joke for good measure. I knew that if all else failed, my dad would send me a plane ticket and I could move back home. That of course was never my plan, but I had a sense of security that I wasn't even aware of in knowing this was his plan.

Then I found myself in the middle of this transition, needing help, needing support, and what I wanted was my dad. Suddenly, I felt like an orphan. I realized that I was, in fact, alone. I do not have a partner in my life right now to turn to for support and companionship. My friends, well they are outstanding. They are my family. Nonetheless there is no one in my life who is invested in me the way my dad was. His job was to protect me. His job was to make sure nothing bad was going to happen to me. His job was to have a plan "if all else failed". As much as my logical brain knew that I would be just fine once the chaos in my life settled, my emotional self still felt so alone without any parent to check in with. This was very unexpected. I started to doubt myself. I started to think that I am not any good at making decisions for myself. I mean, how could I be if I had made this one decision that sent my life into chaos?

This is the part of loss that I haven't heard anyone talk about. I didn't know that my dad's "if all else fails" plan was so integral to my being able to successfully navigate the world until it didn't exist anymore. Now what do I do? It's live or die by my own hand. That may sound dramatic to someone who has not experienced this, but to someone who has been in a similar situation, this might sound familiar.

There were a few days where things were going particularly wrong. No matter what I did, my predicament seemed to get worse. I wanted to give up, or at least give my problems to someone else for a while. Without a partner in my life, I don't have that support. The "don't worry, I'll be here to help while you fall apart for a bit" support. And now, without a parent there was no one to protect me either.

I was paralyzed with fear for a few days. My friends recognized the difficulty I was having and did all they could to support me. They really came through for me in ways I am so thankful for. Yet still, I was having what my therapist would have called an "existential crisis". I was recognizing the reality of being alone in the world. It was one of the loneliest times of my life.

I found myself grieving again. Not only for my father who had recently died, but also for my mother who had been gone for 14 years. I was angry with them for leaving me in this alone. I cried, yelled and talked to my parents in a way no child should. I became angry with myself for not handling this better. After all, I am a therapist. I should be able to manage my emotions and recognize that this was "part of a process", but I couldn't. I was an emotional mess. Then I realized that this was a new grief, something I had not yet dealt with. I was mourning the loss of being someone's child. The people who grew me, who intimately knew the particulars of my childhood, who have stood by me through illness, heartbreak, joy and success had disappeared.

I worked through the stages of grief after the death of each of my parents. I sat with my feelings. I allowed them to fill me up with sometimes uncontrollable emotions. I got angry with friends, I clung tightly to the special people who really understood and were not afraid of my tears. After more than a year each time, I grew to accept these deaths as a part of my journey. I had readjusted to my life without late night talks Mom, without Sunday calls to Dad. What I was not aware of was that I would, at a very unexpected and inconvenient moment in my life, find myself grieving the loss of being someone's child. I didn't even know that could be an issue.

The loss of a loved one is so much more than just the absence of that person from your life. It is a loss of who you were to that person. I have lost both my mom and my dad, which is not just the loss of my parents. I have lost the ability to be a daughter; I've lost the comfort of being someone's little girl, and the often appreciated, sometimes frustrating privilege of being parented. No longer can I keep in the back of my head that my dad is going to be my safety net, that if I run into trouble I can call on him for help (which by the way, is something I have not done in many years. It was however always good to know it was an option). I don't get to hear my dad tell me to "be careful" or "be good" at the end of each phone conversation. I don't get to experience being the adult daughter of a woman with whom I think I would have been great friends. A part of me died along with my parents. Acknowledging this is very difficult because it's part of the profound change that takes place with loss that is unspoken.

As I put words to the grief I suffered at the loss of being someone's child, I recognize that I suffered similarly when I separated from my husband. It was a divorce that was initiated by him, which took me a long time to get over. As I think about that time in my life I remember how difficult it was for me not only to lose my husband, but also to no longer be a wife. Wife was a role I was proud of, one I was good at, and it was taken from me. With that I also lost the children we had planned. People often say, "thank goodness you didn't have children." While I understand where that sentiment comes from, it still makes me a little angry. It always felt like another loss that no one understood. The family that I had planned was taken away from me when my husband left. It was a family that I was invested in growing and it vanished. My role in the world changed at that time and I mourned the loss not only of a marriage, but also of who I had been for the 11 years my husband and I had been together.

I am now learning a new way of being in the world. And to be honest, it's really scary for me. I have no safety net. There are times when I feel that I am floating around in the world without anything to anchor me. I have had to redefine the way I think about where "home" is. It used to be that I would "go home" to see my family. These days I go back to New York to see them and after a week or so I head home to San Diego. A small shift to some, maybe, but to me it was a major shift in thinking. My home used to be where my dad was. Now my home is where I have made my life. New York will always be in my heart, but now it is where I'm from, not where my home is.

I have to learn to be brave, which is not how I define myself. I have no parental supervision, and no partner invested in the outcomes of my decisions. Now, if I am wildly successful, happy and at peace or, if my life is in chaos and I struggle to figure out which way is up, it's all on me. I know that in reality I have been making my own decisions for many years. Still, it is scary to have all of the responsibility of my own life completely in my own hands, but I'm still standing.

What I have learned is that loss is a deep, profound and layered experience. Loss continues to teach you about yourself for a lifetime. While we may be defining and redefining ourselves on a regular basis, it is with the profound experiences that we recognize it. When you find yourself unable to rely on what has been an unyielding support in your life, it can knock the wind out of you. Sometimes you just have to sit on the floor, hang on to the carpet for support and cry from your soul. Then, it's time to reflect on what you have learned from those who have shared their time with you and use the tools they have left you.

And so, my life has settled, the chaos has cleared and I am none the worse for ware. However, I am still learning to live as this person who is no longer someone's child. I still struggle, still get angry, and now I am also beginning to see bravery and tenacity in myself. Things that I believe are new tools for the next part of my journey. I have also learned how far-reaching loss can be in one's life. It can sneak up on you and take unexpected shapes. It is also a great teacher if you can recognize the lessons and the beauty in even difficult emotional experiences.

Learn more about this author at

Dani Graziano, MFT earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from The University of California, Los Angeles and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Alliant International University. In her more than 5 years of practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, she has worked with diverse populations including At-Risk Youth and Military Families. Currently Dani is in private practice in San Diego, CA, working with adults and couples, helping them create change and improve their relationships.

Source: EzineArticles
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Article Tags:

Grief And Loss


Long Term Effects Of Loss


Loss Of A Father


Loss Of A Mother

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