Dr. Sibley shares her personal reflections on grief in this two-part series. The first part, below, was written just a few days prior to her father passing away.
I’m writing tonight to advocate for the power of grief work–or even more so, for the power of doing your emotional work before you grieve. As a family therapist in Washington DC, I counsel hundreds of families, teens, adults, and couples on almost every issue that you can imagine–a trauma or tragedy, a loss, a relationship injury, a state of anxiety, a depressed mood, a behavioral problem, a troubled past, a parenting problem, etc, And, I fully believe that the process of psychotherapy truly works! Yet, I’m reaching out to you tonight not as a therapist, but person to person. I’m writing to you as I prepare to grieve for the loss of my father who has struggled with Alzheimers and is in his final days of life.
Here is what I want to say to you—Doing the work of psychotherapy is worth it! While I’m immensely sad about losing my dad to this disease, I honestly do not feel confused or unhinged. I feel completely, utterly, and purely sad. Oddly, it is almost a glorious or joyful feeling, if you can believe it. And why is that? It is not because I haven’t known pain; it is not because I can’t “do feelings.” It is not because I meditate on my feelings all day long in order to transcend feeling bad or sad. It is actually the exact opposite of all of those statements
In my opinion, I am experiencing my sadness so purely because of the emotional work that I have done throughout my life to process loss. I have spent many of my own dollars on psychotherapy over the years working through my own complicated grief. Typical grief embodies 4 stages of emotional processing after a loss–shock, anger, depression, and acceptance while complicated grief occurs when there is trauma that interrupts, impedes or entangles the grieving process for someone, thus making it difficult to move through those stages toward resolution.
Here’s my short story–Our family experienced prolonged pain about a family member’s addiction and sudden tragedy with a completed suicide over 15 years ago. For awhile, it shattered our bonds and wrecked our attempts at connection. Yet, we all persisted, each in our own way–through quiet solace, spiritual pursuits, exploration of the self and of the world. As a therapist, I helped others heal as I too healed my own heart through my own counseling. I went to therapy, sought comfort in friends, made myself love again, and created higher reasons to strive–my family, my clients, and my staff.
And what did I learn in this 15 year pursuit? I think that I learned that it was all worth it. The pain, the learning, and the growth–all healed my heart. I feel ready to purely and clearly grieve–I feel grateful that I get to say goodbye to my father soon with a pure heart. I’m not trying to sell therapy other than saying that I’ve been a committed and satisfied customer. And for me, it is making all of the difference.