My father died after a long battle with cancer. I was his only carer. And at some point in my grief, I realised that it wasn’t just the grief that needed healing, that it was also the toll of nurturing someone that I love into a quiet death.
This is dedicated to a special group of people who just lost the centre of their universe. And it’s dedicated to you. Always you.
And somewhere in my grief I found healing. One of my greatest healings happened to come through a transformational session with a therapist who magically fell into my life … and today, in this humble space, I’m sharing a transcription of it with you.
Because the light at the end of the long tunnel … is you.
So here are the powerfully healing words my therapist spoke after I told her my story …
People so often think it’s okay … what you’ve been through, watching someone you love slowly wither away … they look at you and they think ‘Hey, it’s okay, look, she can handle it’. The thing is, you don’t handle it, you endure it. And there is almost no guidance for going through a thing like this, so you have to be compassionate with yourself, because right now you’re not just fighting yourself – you’re fighting a society that is telling you to be a square when you know for a fact that you’re a circle.
First of all, you have to acknowledge that you have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), because what you just went through with your father, caring for him during his two-year battle with cancer, is traumatising. You were terrified, out of your depth, and you still stepped up to the plate.
I know you don’t actually realise it at this point because it was something you ‘just did’, you stepped up, you were there for him … but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was still traumatising.
So take a moment and admit that.
Because that is a fact. And you are allowed to be traumatised, and you are allowed to deal with that in the way you need to.
But if you don’t acknowledge that it was traumatising, then all you’re going to do is fight for numbness. And when you do acknowledge that it was traumatising, you can start healing. Yes, it starts opening up the pain, but that pain is part of the whole package of feelings – and that includes the good feelings too.
At first the scales will be tipped towards the painful feelings, but if you don’t allow yourself to feel that pain … guess what you lose? The good feelings too. And the good feelings are worth the fight.
You also need to get real with the fact that you are a warrior. That you carried your father through that experience. That you carried your family through that experience. You eased them all through the transition. You did what no one else could have done. So. Just for the record. You did that. So you need to give yourself credit where credit is due.
You become a warrior when you endure so much.
It’s not a strength you’re born with, it’s a strength that comes when you step up to the plate. And despite the fact that it was so fearful for you, you still loved through the fear.
You have to give yourself credit for that. Because you did do that. Not many people can care for a dying family member. You can’t get away from that emotional connection. You’re living through their experience the whole time. You were living through your dad’s experience the whole time. You were carrying him through it. And without you knowing it, you were dealing with his fear too.
So after all this time of being a nobody in your own life, acknowledge yourself and say, ‘Hey, I did that. And I made it through.’
Be gentle with yourself. When you’ve gone through something traumatic, you need the time to be tender and gentle with yourself. I say ‘be gentle with yourself’ because no-one else can give that to you. You have to be the one who, when you remember some of the traumas, must remind yourself that you survived that. You actually did that. You actually got through that. You actually did that for your dad and you got through it. You did that. No matter how scary or gross it was for you.
You actually conquered something in yourself – without knowing it. It just comes with trauma sometimes.
Be patient with yourself. Bereavement can take up to 3 years. In a good cycle. Sometimes it can take a lifetime because we get stuck in the negotiation/depression phase. So be gentle and tender and patient. Don’t buckle under society’s expectations – they just want you to get over it – give yourself breathing space.
Fear closes the door. Acceptance allows you to look at a situation creatively and see other options and opportunities.
For someone who has taken care of – and also lost – a loved one through a very traumatising experience, it also helps to grow something creative out of it. Allow yourself activities where you can be destructive … and then build something creative out of it.
Take some of your dad’s things, destroy them, and build something new out of them. Smash a glass and make a mosaic. It breaks the idea of losing ‘that as what it was’. You take that thing, break it into pieces and build something new out of it. Make art. You’re showing yourself how death flows into creation …
… and what happens after that is profound. Then you come back to a realisation, something you somehow always knew anyway, that the connection was bigger than the physical. And somehow things in your environment constantly remind you of that love … and that it really did transcend, because it transcended matter. It’s not the end of it all.
Plant something that you can nurture and watch grow. Something that represents the love that you’ve lost, something that can bring you back to a place where you can allow yourself to nurture again, because the last time you had to nurture, you had to nurture someone into comfortably dying. Now you have to allow yourself to nurture something into growing again. You need to shift that around. And the best way to do that is to be creative – but it can’t be for financial gain, it has to be a personal thing you do.
But whatever you do, be in integrity with your feelings.
We’re taught from a young age not to show what we’re feeling because it ‘makes mommy sad’. But you’re allowed to feel what you feel.
I just want you to know there is a map to all this, even if it feels dire. There is an algorithm to it. It’s like a planet in retrograde … there’s the deception that it’s going backwards, but it’s not. Things may feel like they’re pushing away from each other when in actual fact, they’re not. It’s just a construction phase. There’s destruction and then creation.
So allow yourself through the collapse and trust the process that you need. If you feel there’s something you need to hold onto, remember there’s nothing you need to hold onto. We don’t have to try control things we have no control over.
Everything changed for me after that. Even when I came home from this session, my boyfriend said my whole face had changed. Her wisdom was profound for me. She liberated me, she made me feel ‘normal’, she gave me a way forward. And those destruction/creation projects? They were even more transformational. I hope you find some light in all this too.
And if you want to reach out to my therapist (because she’s frikkin’ awesome), you can connect with Natasha van Zyl AKA Jellybean on cherubumje at gmail dot com.
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