It has been nearly four years since Sean died and there are many of facets of our time together that replay in my mind almost constantly. My experience with grief counseling is one part of his death, though, that hasn't left me either.
When he died, I knew that I would need help. I was expecting twins -- my first children, and here I was, suddenly all alone. How could I bring these children into the world where I would be expected to love and care for them when I couldn't feel myself anymore? I knew I had to pick myself back up, despite my immense desire to do the opposite, if not for me, but for them.
I found a mental health care provider through my insurance plan and set up an initial appointment. What was scheduled to be a 90 minute initial visit turned into an almost three-hour appointment, as it took so much time to go over all that had just happened in my life and to begin to plan for what was to come. Over the next couple of months, many similar follow up appointments ensued. The time that was scheduled for me was constantly expanding, pushing into others' appointments, as I struggled to work through my tragedy. My therapist was patient with me, and encouraged me to let myself feel the things I didn't even know were inside me. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Hatred. Hope.
If life hadn't gotten a hold of me in the ironic way that it always seems to, I think I would still find myself on that couch, week after week, seeking help to better myself to the point of functioning coherently. Here I am, though, looking back on my experience, and I can recognize several distinct lessons I learned from my grief counseling
Talking about it hurts. And that's okay.
The first time I said "my husband passed away" to my therapist was when I was scheduling my initial visit and she had asked why I was making an appointment. I immediately began sobbing, on the phone, with this perfect stranger on the other end of the line waiting for me to pull it together. Except, instead of awkward silence, I heard a voice on the other end that told me, "That's okay. It's okay." There were many other instances during my time in counseling where grief and sadness and fear would overtake me and I would be reduced to a writhing puddle on her couch, but each time my therapist would stop and reiterate that what I was feeling and the way my body was reacting to those emotions, was all okay.
Talking about it helps. And that's okay.
So many times I found myself wanting to scream just to reassure myself that I still existed. On my therapists couch, I was encouraged to verbalize what I felt internally, as best as I could. Her encouragement worked marvelously, at times, and there were appointments that ended in sheer exhaustion, as I had spent the previous hour speaking and crying and feeling non-stop. I treasured those appointments, as they helped me realize that there was something left inside of me, and that my self hadn't disappeared completely the way I so often felt that it had.
Emotion can drown you, but never stop feeling.
I cried, a lot, during my sessions. I choked, gagged, and sobbed myself nearly to the point of dehydration. Talking about my circumstances left me swimming in tears and in all of the emotions that encased me. I often felt like if I didn't stop seeing my therapist and engaging in the counseling sessions, that I would drown. I felt sunken from the weight of all of the emotions that I had to bring to the surface at each session. With the help of my counselor, I came to understand that though what I was experiencing was unpleasant, the fact that I could recognize the emotions swirling within me, even if I couldn't process them all yet, meant that I was still in there somewhere. Knowing that I was still present after having been where I had come from helped me recognize that I had somewhere to continue on to.
If there is any light at the end of your dark tunnel, keep running toward it.
I was very lucky in the sense that even from the beginning I knew that there was an end to my grief in sight. I was about to become a mother for the very first time, something I had ardently anticipated my whole life. My daughters were coming soon, and I knew that once I held them, I would hold a piece of their father again. That thought was one of the few comforts I found during those turbulent months. Even though I knew there was a great deal of work to be done in order to be ready to accept and enjoy the light at the end of my dark tunnel, knowing what was waiting for me on the other side was enough to help me push myself. I realize that not everyone is as lucky as I was in that there is not always a clear light to help guide us through our grief, but if there is a goal to be set, a future moment to be had, or any part of yourself left to give at all, you must press on.
Grief is a wonderful complexity, one that allows us to reflect inwardly at ourselves and outwardly at our altered future simultaneously. Experiencing grief can push us to our limits. Grief can push us past our limits and set new standards for our life going forward. It has amazing power. Counseling with a professional may not always be the right answer for every person in every circumstance, but I know that my experience with therapy not only aided in my recovery, it helped keep me grounded, and I never would have been able to keep moving on without my own two feet right underneath me.
This story is part of HuffPost Healing, a HuffPost series about physical, mental and emotional healing. Have you had an experience with healing? If so, we'd love to hear it. For Karen, it was grief. What is it for you? Reach out by emailing email@example.com.