A Grieving Heart

The Refuge is Blessed to have an extremely talented, committed and compassionate staff. For this blog, THE HEART of Trauma we are delighted to occasionally have a guest blogger from our clinical staff. So in addition to my blog on Wednesday, today Cheryl Bailey, LMHC, CGC, CTT  our nationally known Grief Therapist is sharing her wisdom.

A Grieving Heart:
At a workshop I attended, I heard: Traumatic grief is like a river with two tributaries – the loss itself and the trauma associated with the loss. (Thanks to Phyllis Kosminsky, PhD, FT)  We must deal with both.

Current research in the grief field points to the meaning we give to a loss as being one of the most important factors in successfully integrating the loss experience into “our story.”  To quote Robert Neimeyer “…the survivor often faces a painful and protracted struggle to find new purpose and orientation in a life that no longer makes sense, and perhaps even to find a larger significance in the suffering he or she must endure.”  Add attachment and abandonment issues to the mix and you have the recipe for complicated grief.

K’s story:  K was adopted at birth into a loving family, but had some attachment issues that adopted children often experience.  After her parents divorced, she became very close with her mother and they did many things together.  At some point her mother remarried and K experienced feelings of abandonment and resented this new man taking mom’s time and love.  K became pregnant in her 20’s and was ecstatic about having a baby.  However, at 9 weeks old, her precious baby died of SIDS.  Reeling in the most devastating pain of her life, she attempted to numb herself with drugs and spent the next two years battling physical problems and drug addiction.  Her relationship with the baby’s father fell apart, she lost her job, she began hoarding animals and her home deteriorated into chaos.  She ended up close to death in a hospital prior to coming to the Refuge where I met her.  K’s mom was baffled – after all – it had been 2 years since the baby’s death.  Why was her daughter no further along in her grief process?  The more mom tried to push her to move on with her life, the more consumed she became that her mom just didn’t understand – that no one understood her grief.  What I recognized immediately was that K was experiencing traumatic and complicated grief.  The combination of traumatic grief and substance abuse had left her “frozen” in this nightmare of finding her baby dead.

As often is the case, the “big 3” – guilt, anger and fear – roared onto the scene.

Guilt:  Did I do or not do something to cause his death?  Should I have known?

Anger:  How could this happen?  Somebody or something must be to blame.  Why would God do or allow this?  No one can possibly understand what I’m going through!  This was not supposed to happen!

Fear:  Will I ever be able to survive this?  Will my family/friends forget him?  Where is he now?  What if this happens again?  What else will I lose?  Am I still a mother?

We explored all of that and much more in the time we worked together.  It has been a long and painful journey for K, but the good news is that 3 years later she is happily married, back working in her profession and has a healthy baby.  Wow!