Drowning in Grief until the Wave Subsides

I was driving home the other night after a long weekend with most of my extended family when suddenly I started crying and couldn’t stop. We had all gathered together in Chicago as it was a good midpoint place to meet for everyone. We had not been together for several years. The reason for this family gathering was bittersweet, my sister was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. She had asked everyone to come and be together one last time. She was not going to have treatment.

When my sister first told me a few weeks ago, I was deeply depressed. For days I would start sobbing suddenly, without warning, and then have trouble stopping. I envision this as literal waves of grief coming over me and drowning me. For those few days I worried that I would never feel okay again. Part of my fear was that I had suddenly lost my capacity to do my job as a therapist, especially as a trauma therapist. After all, I need to be able to rein in my emotions and be a safe, grounded, empathetic support for my clients. When I fall apart at the drop of a hat I question my ability to maintain my equilibrium during a difficult session. When I made it through a day without crying, I really felt like the worst was over. It’s not easy getting hit over and over by walls of sadness and I finally had some control over my emotions again.

By the weekend get-together, I was in a better place. In terms of my emotional equilibrium, that is. I wasn’t crying anymore. I didn’t want to get hit by those waves of sadness again. Most of us present seemed to feel the same way. Yes, there were tears, but no one suffered from sudden waves of unrelenting grief (at least not in public). My brother-in-law expressed how he and my sister’s children went through an experience similar to mine after learning the diagnoses. For about two weeks, they were knocked out by the news and couldn’t get back on their feet. Still, somehow, we all managed to catch our breath and swim to the surface.

So when a wave hit me again as I was driving home, I wasn’t ready for it. The wave of sadness and grief was just as cold and strong as the day I learned the news. I guess I was just hoping it was all over. My sister’s going to die and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Waves of sadness and grief are going to pull me under, for a little while, and it might feel like I am drowning, but I won’t. I will eventually fight my way back to the surface and be able to breathe again.

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Wynnewood, PA 19096

(484) 213-3616

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