Sami presenting her mom with a flower at a basketball game she cheered at.

“Shrinking My Grief” – A Guest Post

When I began my blog last September, I wanted its focus to be two-fold. In addition to sharing my personal experience with breast cancer, I also wanted it to be a place for me and others to address the often neglected subject of loss. Losing any loved one hurts. A lot. Losing a mother is an especially painful loss and it doesn’t matter how old you are when it happens. I am  grateful Sami discovered my blog almost immediately and that we became friends. She shares her poignant story of loss through her blog called Dear Mom, Can You Get Letters In Heaven? Her posts are like actual “conversations” with her mom. Like me, Sami wants to help others in their journeys of loss and remind them they are not alone and it’s OK to grieve.
 
Sami lost her mother to stage IV ovarian cancer on 12/2/07. Sadly, her mother was only 45 years old. Sami was only 19 at the time. I hope you enjoy reading about Sami’s decision to get therapy. It reminds me once again about the value of a good listener. Thanks for sharing a piece of your story, Sami.
 
“Shrinking My Grief”
 
Dear Mom,

When the day came that I consciously made the decision to not get out of bed, to skip my two college classes that morning, to just lay there staring up at the ceiling that I felt was closing in on me, that’s when I realized I couldn’t do this alone. It usually takes weeks to get in to see our university’s therapist, but after hearing of my circumstances from the Assistant Dean of our campus, she agreed to see me that same week.

To me, there were few things more embarassing than parking my well-known, dark green Toyota Echo plastered with a giant sorority sticker on the back windshield outside of the counseling building, so naturally, I parked further away and trudged through the snow, ice, and subzero temperatures to be sure not to tarnish my seemingly ‘put together’ reputation. I probably looked like I was about to rob a bank or something since I looked over my shoulder repeatedly on my way in with my hands shoved deep in my pockets and only my eyes peaking out over the collar of my winter trench coat. No one would know I was here; not if I could help it.

Of course, there were other students in the waiting room. I kept my head down and pretended to read a magazine, meanwhile internally thanking you for all the carrots you made me eat as I put my excellent peripheral vision to the test to scope out the girl next to me. Her wrists showed no signs of any cut marks; she wasn’t talking to herself; she didn’t scream at me for accidentally sitting on her imaginery best friend. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this girl was kind of… normal. She was kind of like… me. Well, at least the me that I had been before I made this appointment. Now, I was a basketcase, shuddering with nerves every few seconds and fidgeting with a wad of tissues that were damp from my tears on the car ride over. If anything, I looked like the crazy one sitting in that room. Great.

When the secretary called my name, I looked up and locked eyes with the woman that was about to change my life. Her name was April, and she was going to help and heal me for the next four months until I was on my own for summer vacation. Once we made it into her office, I hardly had time to spit out my name before the dampened, crumpled up tissues in my hand were catching more tears. She handed me a box of tissues, and even used some herself, as we spent the next hour talking about your life and eventual death.

Over the next couple of months I worked through my most painful memories with April. She didn’t say any magic words that made them go away; she just listened. I told her everything that haunted me at night when I tried to sleep: the night you told me you were dying; the sound of your breathing while you slept that reminded me your body was shutting down; the way your cold, stiff forehead felt against my lips when I kissed you goodbye for the final time in your casket; how, after they closed the lid to lock you in that box forever, I threw my body across it and sobbed in front of everyone at the cemetery. I told her everything. And even without any resolution– just knowing I could say it and not carry it alone– it felt good. I felt good.

Eventually, the only time I cried most weeks was during the hour I set aside on Wednesdays to sit with April. I figured that she either sliced onions and rubbed them all over the chair I sat in and the tissues she gave me, or she actually created a safe haven for me where I was comfortable enough to let my guard down and allow myself to be the heartbroken, fragile, emotional girl that I so desperately wanted to hide from the world.

And as quickly as our sessions began, they were over. Walking in that afternoon, I didn’t know it was going to be my last visit with April, but as I sat there silence, fishing for something to talk about, we both realized it was time to part ways. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel sad leaving her office for the last time, even though I knew I would never see her again. I was happy that she showed me that I had the tools to heal myself, and that at that time next week, someone else was going to be filling my time slot and taking the first step in mending his or her own life too.

Initially, I was ashamed to admit that I could benefit from professional help, but now, three years later, I am proud to say that I had the courage to seek it. Therapy gave me my life back. April explained to me, in the most subtle of ways, that grieving takes time, and a whole lot of it, so there was no need to be so hard on myself. And that pushing the painful memories out of my head, opposed to dealing with them, only hinders my ability to move forward in a healthy way. With her help, I realized I had the strength and ability inside myself to get through this without the pain, the hauntings images, and the missing you taking over my everyday life. After only about a dozen visits with April, I have never felt the need to go back. 

Eventually, I opened up about my experience to a friend whom I thought could benefit from hearing it. She responded, “Yeahhh… I’m all set with paying someone to listen to my issues.” I felt my face flush with embarassment as I instantly regretted ever letting her into that part of my life. I was brought back to my first day in the waiting room when I was embarassed to even be associated with that place as my friend tactlessly reminded me that there is that stigma attached to the mental state of someone who sees a therapist… even if that person is your friend, apparently. I am not– nor was I ever– crazy, but I did need someone to remind me that I was somehow going to get through that very dark time. I think most people could use that reminder at least once in their lives. So, I’ve chosen to not let her words, or anyone else’s, make me feel ashamed anymore, because, you know what? Sometimes, the best things in life aren’t free: like a roof over your head, food on the table, an oncologist working to save your mom’s life, and a darn good shrink.

 
Love,
Sami
Sami presenting her mom with a flower at a basketball game she cheered at
                                                                         
  
                                                                           
One of the last photos taken of Sami and her mom

12 thoughts on ““Shrinking My Grief” – A Guest Post

  1. Too many tears for me; I am at a loss for words. Thank you Sami, and Nancy for giving Sami the opportunity to write this story. You have reminded me, once again, that I have not grieved for my own Mother who died less than one month before Jeremy. I like to believe she went to welcome him ‘home.’

  2. Thank you Chez– I was nervous as to how this post would be received (as I always am!) since it was incredibly personal, so I’m glad it truly touched your heart. I know you had two significant losses in your life so close together, and I can’t begin to imagine the pain that that brought into your life. It has helped me to just allow myself to feel the sadness and hurt I carry with me and either write about it or talk about it with someone I can trust.

  3. Thanks for sharing some of your story with us, Sami. It turned on the tears for me, too, Cheryl!

    I honestly think EVERYONE can benefit from this kind of therapy, especially if you can find a therapist you are comfortable with. Most of us have some sort of issue (grieving, relationship problems, depression, anger issues, etc.). Just talking to someone who will listen and not judge or choose a side can make a big difference.

  4. Thanks Lindsay! I found that my load was lightened quite a bit through speaking with April. I’m not sure if it would have happened without her, and thankfully I’ll never have to know! I do agree that most people do have some sort of personal issue that could be helped through therapy. I’ve actually had a few people personally message me after reading this today to tell me their own experiences with therapy that they’ve never really talked about since. I’m happy I in a small way encouraged them to share their own stories 🙂

  5. Oh Sami, what a brave and courageous young woman you are. I couldn’t read this w/o crying and thinking of my own ray of light and how she dimmed when I was diagnosed. Now she is back and brighter than ever. You will continue to grow into a compassionate and loving woman; good luck in your journey.
    🙂 Lisa

  6. Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry to read of your grief. Your story is an encouragement and inspiration. I will definately be referring others to this post and share your story with them.

  7. I lost my mom to cancer over a year ago, and I still am grieving…in a way, I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing her. Having the right person to talk to is invaluable; members of my family have dealt with chronic depression for a long time, and we are not strangers to therapy! It really helps.

  8. Sami, this was a beautiful post. And there is absolutely no shame in having a therapist help you sort out those feelings. Sometimes I just can’t believe the callous things people say. Losing a mom at any age is hard (I lost mine to lung cancer when I was 52), so my heart goes out to you and I applaud you for seeking help for the grief. Prayers and blessings blown your way, Jan

  9. Sami,

    This posting is so poignant and brilliant. I am so sorry for your loss. Seeking therapy was a courageous act, and you helped break down an important barrier: the stigma that seeking therapy means something is wrong with you.

    Good for you for getting the help you needed and deserved.

    And thanks, Nancy, for having Sami as a guest blogger.

  10. Thanks to each of you for your kind words. I am blessed to share my story and encourage others through my own personal experience. I’m also so thankful to Nancy for all her endless support– thank you Nancy!

  11. Beautifully writtenn once again… You are an incredible young woman who has come such a long way. You have your mother,s laugh, her smile, and her caring ways about others. I know how proud she is of you, as am I. Missing her everyday. as are you. Love you girl!!

  12. There is no stigma about seeing a therapist–for any reason. Life sometimes throws us curves we can’t deal with by ourselves. It doesn’t mean we’re crazy, we just need help and guidance.

    I’ve been seeing a therapist every Monday since my husband, James, died. I need help dealing with his loss as well as the fact that his son has gone over the deep end since his father’s death and I’m unable to reach him. The son went with me to the first session, then got up and left and refuses to talk to me. He has a lot of grief, and other things, on his plate, and I fear for him if he doesn’t talk to someone.

    Your mother would be proud of your strength and courage and knowing you needed a little help.

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