April 13, 2022

A Simple Way to Help Someone through Grief.


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It’s been a week or so since my mom’s diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, and I’m on my way to my first therapy session.

I had searched through the profiles on a psychology website looking for someone to help me walk this nightmare, quietly realizing I was also looking for someone who looked like a mother—my mother. Any mother.

And I saw Nancy. She seemed to be my mother’s age and had a smile that just made me feel safe. And when she wrote back to my “Are you free for therapy? Do you have any availability? Omg, please help me survive my mother dying” email, she used my name in the sentence back saying, “Amy, of course, I have availability. I’m so sorry you are losing your mother. Let’s find a time to meet.” And today is the day I get to have someone just tell me I will be okay—even though my mother will not be.

Nancy, my therapist to be, is going to realize she has the enormous job of helping me through the future death of my mother. I pull out of my driveway and start the 15-minute drive to her office and roll right through the stop sign outside my neighborhood like I know not to do. I make it to the next stop sign only to look up and see flashing lights behind my car.

I start crying as I pull my car to the side of the street and out of the way and fumble for my registration and license. I start throwing every single piece of paper out of my glove compartment, struggling to find the envelope with my mom’s handwriting on it that says “registration” since it used to be her car.

I’m in full hysterical mode when the policeman walks over to my window. He is young and in his early 30s with massive shoulders and a height of six feet and over. Sunglasses on and ready to throw a ticket at the driver who had the audacity to not even pause at the stop sign. Just rolled right on through. He is absolutely stunned when I lower my window and I’m bawling.

This stunned police officer lowers his dark sunglasses to make eye contact with me. I can barely see him through my tears. Everything is spilling out. “I’m sorry, officer. My mom just got diagnosed with lung cancer, and I’m not okay. She’s my mom, and she has stage 4 lung cancer, and I can’t handle this happening to me.”

I see alarm all over his face, and then he takes a deep breath and speaks in a quiet tone, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. You went right through that stop sign. I’m so sorry about your mom. She needs you to be safe for her and for your family, so you have to still be careful with traffic signs, okay?”

“Okaaaaaaayyyyy,” I bawl and begin to hiccup. “Ma’am, where are you going right now?” He gently asks. “I’m going to therapy!” I wail, and he smiles and says, “Good! You’re taking care of yourself. Self-care is going to be so important during this time.” “I know that!” I exclaim, “I’m a therapist toooooo!”

I need to give out my job title as a psychologist as if to prove to him that I know what I am doing, even though I am beyond lost and without that knowledge. So I continue to hiccup and cry.

“Okay, ma’am. I’m so glad you’re doing what needs to be done, and you know it’s important. Good job. I’m going to ask you to do some breathing with me before I let you go. I just want you to be safe on your drive to therapy. So, let’s put our hands on our stomachs and take some deep breaths. Ready?”

I catch my sobs and put my hands on my stomach and stare at this policeman who has suddenly become my yoga teacher or my pre-therapist or just pure kindness. “One, inhale, one, exhale. Good good! You’re doing great. Let’s do it for a second time. Two, inhale, two, exhale! Okay, great. Let’s see if we can do this five times.” And on the side of the road, in my suburban neighborhood, I find my breath and stop crying with the help of a policeman.

I make it to therapy without any more traffic violations and take the stairs slowly to Nancy’s office. I sink into the green soft seat in her waiting room and notice classical music is playing. I remember my officer guru and put my hands on my stomach to continue my breathing. Inhale one, exhale one.

The door at the end of the hall opens and the nicest, kindest, sweetest, most motherly older woman comes out and says, “Amy?” My name again as a way of her taking care of me. Just like her email. It will be okay. I follow her into her office and allow myself to sink again into the couch this time. I lean over and take her entire box of tissues and look at her. And then the crying starts all over again. Except this time, it’s the right space for my tears. I’m not in my car. I’m with the best person for this job—well, aside for my yoga policeman.

We talk about the day my mother told me she had stage 4 lung cancer. I tell her about the metastatic spread and the prognosis we all know but won’t say. I tell her that my mother can’t breathe. I tell her my absolute fear that I have to watch my mother decay. That’s the only word I keep using: She will decay. And I won’t have a mother.

That is the sentence that breaks me: “I won’t have a mother.”

I stop talking. There are no words after that sentence. Nancy looks me right in the eyes and softly says, “We will get you through this, Amy. And yes, this is going to be such a huge loss in your life. Such an unimaginable loss. She’s your mother and means everything to you. I will promise you one thing, though. You will get through this. It will be so so so hard, but you will find yourself again on the other side. You will be different, but you will still find yourself. I promise.”

I look at this new person in my life across from me in a small office, and I know she will be the one who helps me get through the loss of my mother. So I tell her, “You will be the one who gets me through the loss of my mother.”

Kindness and compassion in my world of grief and agony. Two strangers. Two people helping me find my breath in one day, in the least expected ways. Inhale one, exhale one. And my world starts to feel held.



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