In her book “Transcending Loss,” psychotherapist and grief counselor Ashley Davis Bush posits that a necessary step in moving through grief is something she calls Outreach, in which the griever in some way begins to use their own experience to help others. I think this is happening to me.
I say “happening to me” rather than “I am doing this” because I have not chosen this path. I don’t want to be on it, and the people I’m trying to help don’t want to be there either. I’m talking about my parents.
It’s fate’s sick joke that while I’m still trying to process my grief and figure out what is left for me in life, my father is failing and that causes suffering for my mother. Watching her halting steps along this cliffside trail is like watching a two-year-old video of myself–unpleasant footage of me trying to navigate a tragic and stupefying world, and realizing that regardless of how much my friends and relatives want to help, this is all up to me. I’m the pitcher, the outfielders, the infielders, and the catcher–even the umpires. It’s all on me. And now it’s all on her.
In dealing with my parents’ circumstances I seem still to be in Bush’s Shock phase, in which I’m not really processing reality but rather moving through it for survival’s sake. Just as one needs numbness and disbelief to survive the early stages of grief, I’m using them now to try to give strength to my mom, to ignore the bad behavior and deterioration of my once-incomparable father, to separate the person he now is from the person he was for my entire life. I simply don’t think about it.
Thanks a lot, people! You’ve gotten me thinking of what is lost and now I’m finally tearing at the memory.
But I digress. The point is that my experience, despite how dreadful it has been, has at least allowed me to help my mom by leaving me able truly to understand her frustration and sense of being overwhelmed. I presume it will help me to understand future emotions as well. My distance, thanks to a persistent state of shock (not only at my father’s condition but at *having to go through this all over again not even two years after Adam’s diagnosis*) allows me, I hope, to offer her some perspective, to remind her to take only one step at a time in this overwhelming process, and to be compassionate yet stoic when emotions overcome her. “Being there” for someone else is a huge relief not only for that person, but for the griever. In my case, I am, for a welcome change, not focusing entirely on myself. It’s like taking a little mental vacation, even if you’re just going to the muddy, gray, rain-swollen world of someone else’s grief.
A friend, who happens also to be my financial advisor, showed me how to help someone who is grieving. She helped us from the moment Adam was diagnosed, and helped me take one step at a time after his death. She continues to help me by encouraging my writing and by helping both me and Mom through the financial side of our respective morasses. Her own grief taught her, and she in turn taught me. I’m sure Mom will pass it on in time. My friend has been a godsend in every sense of the word. Cheers to you, friend.
So if the opportunity presents itself, I commend to you shining a light on the grief path for a friend. Use your knowledge to show your friend the way. It’s an incomparable gift, not just to your friend, but to yourself.