Bereavement --- something we all experience, but also something none of us ever becomes expert in.  Losing a loved one is painful; there's no way to get around that.  At it's most intense it's a profound hurt that never seems to lesson.   Grieving can be further complicated when there isn't anyone with whom to share the feelings that emerge. 

I'd like to tell you about Noah, as an illustration of someone who wasn't able to move beyond his initial grieving process.  I've of course changed his name and identifying information to protect his privacy.

Noah was in his early 40s when he came into therapy.  He was a successful lawyer and was raising two young children on his own because his wife Rachael had died in a freak accident the previous year.  Noah was very concerned that he wasn't emotionally available for his children.  He knew he had shut down after Rachael passed away, and that he hadn't bounded back to any significant degree.  He couldn't tell his kids that he loved them, found himself putting them to bed at night in the most mechanical of ways, and would get headaches when they would try to share various upsets they experienced.

During the beginning of our work together, Noah and I talked a lot about his own childhood in California.  He remembered growing up as an only child in a family where there wasn't much room for his feelings.  He'd come home from school at times feeling sad or lonely, and when he'd try and talk about it with his mom, she'd either switch the subject by offering to play a board game or suggest that he have something to eat.  His father as well had little patience for Noah's feelings.   In his early teens, his parents died within two years of each other, both from cancer.  Noah moved in with his uncle and aunt in New York.  His new family was similarly emotionally distant.  There was no one who helped Noah mourn the loss of his parents, let alone with the transition of joining a new family, attending an unfamiliar school, and making new friends.

Noah and I discussed the lack of shared feelings in his home with his parents as well as in his subsequent second home, and how this connected to his current inability to open up.  And he understood that until he was able to mourn the loss of his parents, he would continue to feel closed off from mourning Rachael.  But gaining this understanding was only the first step in having and expressing his feelings. 

Over the next eight months Noah tended to avoid discussing his parents or Rachael.  He spent most of his therapy sessions fretting over problems related to his children.  Slowly over time, he did start feeling grief over his parents' deaths, as well as his anger at them for having left him so early.  He was particularly burdened by his guilt over these angry feelings, and we spent quite a bit of time exploring this.  Noah and I also did a number of EMDR therapy sessions (see to help him with rapid processing of his most painful memories around his parents' illnesses and deaths.  And as we continued talking about his parents, he found himself able to start talking more about his wife and her passing.  None of this was quick.  None of this was easy.  All of it was painful.  Yet Noah gradually realized that he was starting to feel lighter and less emotionally blocked.

More recently, Noah has found himself able to talk more with his children about their feelings regarding the loss of their mother.  These discussions are bringing the family closer together, and much needed relief to Noah and his children.  Noah is even thinking about asking someone he met through work to go out on a date.  For the first time since Rachael died, he is considering the possiblity that there will be another chapter to his life.