Sunday, March 7, 2010

Feeling Normal

Since sometime around Samuel’s death, I have assumed that I would schedule some time with a counselor at some point. This week I spoke to one for the first time since Samuel passed away. I had taken the day as a personal retreat at the St. Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center on the Chattahoochee River where shared the building and grounds with several staff members and about ten nuns on a silent retreat. We didn’t bother each other much. ☺ The lovely weather allowed me to spend most of the day outside. The sunlight, the running water, the paths through the woods all enabled me to slow down and take a deep breath. I needed it.

After my hour conversing with the counselor, I spent most of the rest of the day journaling. I had a lot to process and capture. My time with the counselor was more helpful than I anticipated an hour could be. Because she knew a little bit of my story, we were not starting quite at square one, and because she has counseled several friends of mine, I walked into our time with some trust and respect already accrued.

I had told Kathryn several times over the last several weeks that I felt like I needed some direction and input. I would say, “I think that it would be really helpful to have someone tell me that what I am feeling and thinking, how I am processing this, and my questions are normal. Honestly, it would even be helpful for someone to tell me that they are not normal. I’d just like to know, ‘How am I doing?’.” Meeting with the counselor provided me just that. She paid careful attention to my temperament and repeatedly helped normalize my experience: “Of course you feel that way. This is how someone with your personality approaches emotions.” She was even able to offer some encouragement in areas where I seem to be processing well. Not to say that I am healed of my grief or that I have everything figured out, but I walked away from the conversation feeling validated. My prediction to Kathryn was right. I was surprised at how much lighter I felt just knowing that what is going on in my mind and heart, especially in regards to grieving the death of my son, is normal.

In addition to the validation and affirmation, the counselor offered several questions and exercises that she feels could continue to help me process my grief and, more broadly, my emotions. The fact that I look forward to some of these exercises highlights the value of the counselor’s input. Just a day earlier, if someone had told me that they wanted me to spend some time processing this or that, I would have probably felt overwhelmed. It would have been like someone telling me to go to Cleveland when I am lost in the middle of the desert. Which way? How? Where am I? Now someone has come up to me and showed me where I am on a map and assured me that plenty of people have come through these parts before. It doesn’t make the journey easy, but it makes it feel possible.

I am still heavy hearted most of the time. I still find my swells of emotion scary. I still have a lot of healing to do. Paying attention to my soul is still not as natural for me as I would like it to be. But something has changed. I now know that these things are normal. I fully agree with Kathryn’s sentiments that life after Samuel will never be the same, that our lives will never be the old “normal” again. But, if I can use the same word in a different way, even knowing that that thought is “normal” helps me to feel “normal.” Now, instead of my inner world being predominated with isolation and fear, I feel more validated and hopeful.

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