Sometimes it is difficult to appreciate how much someone means to you until that person is no longer around. Last year, I experienced this after losing one of my all-time favorite professors. In formal settings, my classmates and I often called her “Dr. Laurie” to give some well-deserved recognition, while also keeping it casual enough to describe the approachable person she was.
I also thought of Dr. Laurie as a mentor who was never afraid to be both kind and direct. She was never fake. When she told me I was doing well in her play therapy class, for example, I knew she meant it. Outside the classroom, though, she was just “Laurie,” a friend who loved life and actively loved those in her life. As one of our mutual friends put it, Laurie gifted us with her “wisdom, humor, and grit.”
After Laurie decided to take a different job, she and I agreed there was no need for goodbyes, because it looked as though our paths would continue to cross. So, we didn’t say goodbye. Less than a year later, Laurie died tragically in a car accident, along with her sister, her young nephew, and her two dogs. I was utterly shocked and devastated. When it was time for her memorial service, I knew I needed to drive the six and a half hours to her hometown and be with Laurie’s loved ones. It was the least I could do. I knew the time had come for me to say goodbye.
I share this story because Laurie’s death reminded me what it was like to grieve such a terrible loss. I was reminded of just how real death and loss actually are, whether I wanted them to be or not. I experienced waking up in the morning with tears in my eyes after remembering that Laurie was not here anymore. I would see orange-flavored sparkling water and have a flashback of Dr. Laurie showing us how to make campus-friendly mimosas, and that memory would make me both happy and sad at the same time. Thankfully, I was able to surround myself with people who were grieving alongside me. There is something powerful about collective grief. It reminds us that although we all grieve differently at an individual level, we do not have to be alone on our grief journey.
When it comes to grief, there is no magic formula. There is also no wrong way to grieve. Perhaps that is comforting in some ways. It is okay to let our grief be messy because grief is messy. At the same time, creating a structure to help contain some of the inevitable messiness can be helpful. For instance, talking with someone at a scheduled time about your loss can help restore a sense of order when life feels more like chaos. For many of us, we turn to faith or spirituality as a source of comfort and perhaps even honest wrestling with God when nothing seems to make sense. When Laurie died, I was challenged to wrestle even more with what I believed, because when you lose someone, “loss” is no longer theoretical. As I reflect on this experience, I can say with confidence that processing all of these uncomfortable thoughts and emotions with trusted people in my life made a world of difference.
If you are reading this and are on a grief journey of your own, please know you do not have to grieve by yourself. Here at Amy Wine Counseling Center, we would be more than honored to journey with you- even if for a season- as you work through the inevitable messiness of grief and loss.
Ryan Woods, LPC Associate
My goal as a counselor is to help adults, adolescents, and children by providing a space to be heard, process life’s challenges, and develop the necessary skills to thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually. My overall approach to therapy involves cognitive behavioral methods (exploring one’s thoughts and beliefs relative to emotions and behaviors), as well as narrative therapy (engaging personal stories that view people as separate from their problems). I view counseling as a collaborative effort in helping clients to recognize strengths, identify needs, understand conflicts, discover new options, set personal development goals, and make informed choices.