The Grief Process: Moving Through Grief and Healing after Loss
One of the worst things about being public about my son’s death is the hurtful emails and messages I have received on social media. Last night I got a message from someone which almost took my breath away, an accusatory comment asking me why I was ‘talking about sex’ after my son’s death.'
I knew instantly the person writing it has never lost a child, or perhaps even a loved one. How blessed and fortunate they are, but I know eventually they will come face-to-face with grief, and when they do, they will realize there is no end to grief. It never leaves you. It never is forgotten. As grief advocate and author Dr. Joanne Cacciatore writes in her book (Bearing the Unbearable), “Grieving is loving.”
And since I will never stop loving my son, I will never stop grieving my son. But that doesn’t mean I am always going to be laying on the floor crying 24/7 (though some days, that’s exactly what it will mean, and that’s okay). Grieving my son can also mean being present with my two other boys, Ethan and Jackson. Grieving my son can mean snuggling my husband or making myself a beautiful salad with lettuce from my garden. Grieving my son can mean taking a yoga class or going for a hike with my friend. It can mean dancing in my living room as I listen to Dua Lipa.
I’m always grieving because I am always loving. But grief isn’t like how it is in the movies. I’m not wearing black and laying on a fainting couch. I’m still laughing at my friends’ silly gifs, I’m still calling my clients, I’m still talking in baby talk to my doggies as I scritch behind their ears. And yes, I'm still working.
Of course, my job is a bit different than most people. This makes my return to work seem callous or unprofessional or even utterly inappropriate to some people (yes, I have received messages trying to shame me for discussing sex after my son's passing). But if I was a chef or a nurse or a designer or a construction worker or a dentist, and I started to slowly ease back into work, would people scold me or debase my mother’s love for doing so?
Probably not. Since getting into the field of sex therapy, I have come up against these preconceived notions about what a sex therapist is and what type of person (especially what type of woman) would get into the field. In fact, I think a *lot* of the hate people send me for being a sex therapist during my grief, is that it doesn’t match their idea of what a woman should do or how a mother should behave.
But I have news for you. Helping people learn how to love themselves better and learn to love their partners better isn’t unmotherly. Caring about sexual pleasure isn’t unwomanly. Wanting to help people in the midst of my grief isn’t selfish. Having career success doesn’t negate my sensitivity, my femininity, my spirituality.
My son died. I had to walk in on him dying and watch him leave this earth. I wish on everything holy that no parent ever has to do this. I have lost both my parents but there is *NO* pain on this earth like losing a child,
But that’s not my whole story. I am also a woman who has spent 3 decades advocating for better sexual pleasure for women, I am also a woman who has helped countless people resolve their sexual difficulties, who has helped innumerable couples save their marriages, who has helped so many hurting, traumatized women and men recover from sexual abuse and reclaim their self-worth and spiritual wholeness.
And you know what? My son loved that about me. He was proud of me. Yes, he also found me weird or embarrassing or dorky at times. He was a 16-year-old after all. But he also liked how hard-working I was, that I was ambitious, intellectually curious, and that I was passionate about my job and helping people learn to love themselves.
I’ve always been a healer. I’ve always been a teacher. And I’ve always been a learner. And I am not going to stop doing ANY of that, even within the context of sex therapy, just because I am in grief. Sammy would want me to be fearless. To keep getting up every morning, getting dressed, and answering my emails and taking care of my clients and working on my many projects.
If this makes you uncomfortable, or you think I am not a good enough mother or a good enough woman or a good enough griever--Okay. My story isn’t for everyone and my work isn’t for everyone. I wasn’t put here to please every person on this earth, and thank goodness, because that’s a losing battle.
But I thank you for the hateful messages. Because it made me realize the cruel pressure we put on grievers, especially women who’ve lost their children, to just become vessels of grief and suffering without any joy, humor, creativity, sexuality, or ambition. It made me realize that there is a whole other hidden level of trauma out there that I can help address and shine a light on. And shine I will.
So for the grievers out there who ever feel ashamed for smiling or even laughing so hard their bellies hurt, for the grievers who feel like they’re not allowed to go for a run or get a pedicure or take a vacation, for the grievers who feel guilty getting excited about a new movie or a new dress, for the grievers who feel self-hate for daring to still enjoy sex and fantasize and self-pleasure:
Hi, I see you. I feel you. You’re not alone and there is NOTHING wrong with how you’re grieving. Enjoy the days when you feel like laughing. When you feel like making love. When you feel like drinking wine and reading a silly mystery. When you get a burst of superhuman energy and do amazing, intentional work for your clients or make beautiful art.
These moments are gifts. Your loved one is gone, but if they could talk, they would say: Take the gifts. Enjoy all the gifts. Enjoy the hell out of them. Keep loving, keep grieving, keep practicing self-care and making time for rest, but also keep working, whatever that work means to you. For me, it means sex therapy.
So, I’m back. I’m working. And I refuse to be ashamed or feel guilty about that. Email me on email@example.com to ask questions or leave a message for me on www.speakpipe.com/languageoflove, and I will try to answer it on my podcast.
Thank you for supporting me and helping me to get back to doing what I love -- trust me when I say that working is what my battle-scarred heart needs right now, and please, please do the same for other grievers in your life. Don’t add to their pain by judging or shaming their grief process.
And trust me: You NEVER need to remind a griever about their loss.