Graduate School of Grief

I’ve always been a straight-A student. Ok, well, there was that ONE time I got a 79 on my New York State Chemistry Regents exam. I’d worked hard with my eleventh grade teacher to study for that end-of-the-year torture. He was a wonderful tutor. We were both relieved that I’d passed. Other than that, though, there’s only one other poor mark on my record. I earned a “C” in a class on religious studies in college. 

Death, grief, and loss had entered my life prior to the death of my teen son, but not on the same scale. The intensity and exhaustion I felt losing my beloved boy was overpowering. I knew I needed to  study everything I could about how to get back up after that devastating and complex blow. I was drowning. I needed to practice new skills and tools so I could reach the surface and stay afloat.

I also knew I had it “easy” or could be considered “lucky”: my trauma was limited to a single event, not a compilation of horrible things up to that dramatic point in my life. I have other protective factors that make my grief process ripe for resilience: a loving partner, freedom from elder and child care responsibilities, a supportive working environment, and I live in a beautiful, peaceful place. 

I want to be clear, though, that I wasn’t looking to wipe away or fix my sorrow and sadness. I was searching for ways to file down the jagged edges, to make the experience a tiny bit smoother, more manageable. The first few weeks and months were incredibly raw and scary. I was in shock and depressed.

My years as a professional counselor also gave me an advantage. I was familiar with Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for work with clients who’d experienced trauma. So, I opted to try them for myself in the early months after my son’s suicide. Because I live in rural area, access to certified and skilled practitioners is not easy. These clinical interventions do not lend themselves well to video conferencing, so I had to arrange for in-person appointments. I gave those therapies a shot and while there were some benefits, I usually quit after a couple of sessions. One of my closest friends said during those initial days, “I bet you’re really challenging to counsel.” 

By far, the best use of my time came out of the video courses I took with NICABM, the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. An anxiety expert I’d trained with shared a link that offered a series of trainings about trauma and the body. Access to the videos was time-sensitive, so I signed up right away, watched, and took copious notes. I immediately purchased another two courses: one about depression and another on post-traumatic growth. 

Here’s NICABM:

We are committed to developing online educational programs featuring new research and ideas immediately adaptable for health and mental health care professionals to use in their work.

They are an amazing resource featuring specialists like Pat Ogden and Ronald Siegel. They also have this notice on their FAQs page:

Our programs are created for practitioners and intended to provide new insights and practical strategies professionals can apply immediately in their work with clients. That said, anyone is welcome to look over their shoulder and take these courses out of their own personal interest. But please know, if you are seeking help, we do not advise our programs be used in place of working with a professional.

NICABM’s courses truly helped me and offered effective tools for my personal goal of post-traumatic growth. I paired NICABM work with the meditation site/app Headspace. Their courses entitled Grieving, Letting go of Stress, and Handling Sadness were immensely useful. The guided meditation sessions improved my ability to settle and soothe myself in those jarring and completely unsettling months in the aftermath of my son’s death. 

Check out NICABM here: NICABM LINK

Headspace: Headspace LINK

Finding the right mix of healing tools for your grief is a personal process. I need material I can return to when triggered or ruminating; having solid notes about what I’ve studied helps me recalibrate. In case you haven’t noticed, references to suicide are everywhere.

And…please read through my other posts about Grief Books for Grown Ups for additional resources. 

Published by Lauren