Questions I get asked: why would someone who has lost a parent need help?
Ok so this isn’t a question I have been asked too many times but I want to answer it here for two reasons:
1) I was asked it a few weeks ago for the first time in a while. I (wrongly) assumed that perhaps the women who had asked me this had never really had much contact with coaches, healers, therapists, counsellors, or psychotherapists – which could explain not really understanding why anyone would seek help. I also assumed (again wrongly) that she hadn’t lost a parent herself yet. As we talked and I explained, I was gobsmacked when she admitted that not only was she herself studying to become a psychotherapist, but that she had also lost a parent within the last year and was having a very, very tough time with it. I found it really odd that someone who appreciated how hard losing a parent could be and appreciated the value of seeking help (you’d hope so if she chose to study this) would ask this question. I wish I could have spoken to her a bit more and figured out where she was coming from but I didn’t have the opportunity as we were at a very noisy, crowded birthday party and I think this conversation will be buzzing around my head till I write about it….so here we are….
2) That the loss of a parent, particularly for people who haven’t been involved in any form of coaching or therapy before, can seem like one of those things that just happens, so you just have to deal with it, and really…how can anyone really help you with it anyway?
So why do people who lose parents need help?
I hate to be the one to tell you but in most people’s ideal scenario i.e. grandparents die first, then our parents, then us, then our children, then our grandchildren, and so on, most of us in our lifetime will see both of our parents pass away. Some of us have already been through this with one or both. It is a guaranteed event. They say death and taxes are the two things in life you can’t avoid. Well I know plenty of people who have avoided taxes. So that just leaves death. So yes, for most of us, it is something that we will go through. But this knowledge doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.
Losing a parent and getting stuck in the grief of it can have a huge impact on your life. For some it can affect their work, their relationships, their health, their friendships, their mental health, and it can affect these things for a very long time if left unchecked. I’ve seen people be ok about it. But I’ve also seen people lose a lot of money, give up their jobs, become very unwell – mentally and physically, and strain their relationships to breaking point. And the worst part for me to watch is that through all of this that they feel they are supposed to suffer through they are feeling totally disconnected from the person they have lost.
You don’t have to just struggle with it
Losing a parent is a part of life, albeit one of the toughest of experiences, but that doesn’t mean that it is just something you have to go through and will just have to deal with in some way forever. To be honest when I come across that opinion, that it hurts but you just have to live with it, I find that concept just a little bit heartbreaking as it isn’t necessary and it isn’t the best way. Left to their own devices (or those of a lot of the people out there who do work in this area) you’ll either cling to your pain in a misguided attempt to hang on to your mum or dad – all the while feeling very separate from them, OR over time you’ll start to feel better as you start to forget. Here is where the ‘time heals all wounds’ bit comes in. As a friend of mine says “It has nothing to do with time, it has everything to do with what you do with that time”. Typically the way time ‘heals’ anyway is that as it goes by and you need to get on with your life your brain starts (very practically) pushing away the memories that are hurting you – and if you’re stuck in grief these are potentially every memory of your parent. You feel better because you just don’t think about it/them much anymore. That’s what time will do for you. The truth is that you can feel less pain AND feel more connected to the parent you’ve lost. You can keep all of your memories without them hurting you.
So my recommendation is to find someone other than time to help you out.
Who should you get to help you?
Two points to remember here. You want to find someone who has already done what they are going to help you do. Would you want a personal trainer who is already in worse shape than you, or a hairdresser with a terrible haircut, or a dentist with appalling teeth? If you want help with the loss of a parent make sure it’s someone who has been through it themselves and really changed the experience. And just like personal training, why do something the hard way when you can get someone who already did it the hard way and learnt from that to help you and show you how to get where they are now?
And even more important is the other thing – I learnt years ago sitting in a psychologist’s office (we don’t call them psychotherapists in NZ…or at least we didn’t when I lived there) that someone who sees the same thing you see can’t help you. What I mean by that is that if they don’t see something different in your situation than you do then they aren’t getting you out of it. No way. I was sitting in the chair and was very upset and told the psychologist something in my life that was upsetting me….and her eyes got glassy, she looked like she was going to cry, and she said ‘oh, that’s terrible’. Instead of being the least bit comforted I thought ‘hold on. If I’m sad about it and she’s sad about it too and feels sad for me about it….how on earth can she make me feel better or get me out of this?!’
Sometimes people who don’t understand the value of ‘getting help’ will say “isn’t it just like talking to a friend and getting it out?” and honestly I do believe that a lot of what goes on out there is exactly like this. And that is very unfortunate.
If what has happened to you is the saddest, most painful thing and you imagine it will hurt you forever and the professional you are working with sees it as the saddest and most painful thing for you that will hurt you forever…then you’re in trouble. I don’t mean they need to be a heartless ice king/queen with no feelings. That isn’t even close to the truth. But just like your personal trainer needs to see the potential in your body underneath what’s there right now, and your hairdresser needs to see the amazing cut just hiding under that frizzy mop of yours, the person who helps you out of your grief to get you to another place, and out of the place – the grief – you are in now, needs to be in that other place already and they need to see it in you as well.
Feel free to comment or share this. And if you have any questions for me or anything you’d like to see me write about next blog then get in touch!