Growing Through Grief

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Patricia Cole

Today we're welcoming WYG mental health intern Patricia Cole with a guest article about her personal story of growth through grief.

For further articles on these topics:

A personal story of growing up through major loss and coming out the other side.

The Beginning

The transition from adolescence to young adulthood can be a season of trials and tribulations. Aside from the many biological changes that occur during this time, it is a period of major transition and identity formation. Needless to say puberty is uncomfortable and figuring out what you want to do with your life is a daunting task for everyone. At twenty-two, I’m no stranger to these experiences. But like many, I’ve also had to develop into who I am today alongside major loss and more than a truckload of grief. 

I often half-heartedly joke that the theme song to my existence would be “Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie, but there is a sprinkle of honesty there. At the age of eleven I found myself attending my first funeral. My father passed away unexpectedly at the age of fifty-five leaving my mother, brother and I to brave the world without him. I continued on through my preteen years confused but surprisingly unphased by the loss of my father. The ground I had to grow on was cracked but still remained stable. 

But then, just four days into 2015, my mother unexpectedly passed away at age fifty-seven. I was fourteen years old and my world crumbled. The foundation I had to grow upon disappeared and my brother and I were now orphaned. Cue “Hard Knock Life”. 

Growing Through It

With the support of friends, family and the dozens of frozen lasagnas delivered by loved ones I managed to make it through high school and achieved many academic successes. Again I appeared to seamlessly make my way through the world unphased by what some may find to be the loss of a lifetime. Rather than looking back and reflecting on all that I’d lost, I immediately began the process of rebuilding. I tried to outrun my grief (literally - I joined the track team).

I arrived at college confident in my abilities, “healed” from my losses and with an unwavering sense of self. I'd attended therapy and even an inpatient recovery program for my eating disorder shortly after my mother’s passing. At nineteen, I was now under the impression I had all the tools and resources I needed to take on the world and whatever hardships may come my way. Oh how wrong I was…

The truth is, my journey had just begun. For so long I had been under the impression that I was better off avoiding my grief. I taught myself I had to be ok, regardless of whether I truly was or not. Shortly after my twentieth birthday, I began breaking into crying spells followed by flash memories of my past life, the one where my parents were alive. I ignored them and blamed it all on stress and continued on for a few weeks this way. Eventually, they began to get in the way of my work and made for some awkward encounters at the local grocery store. Crying in the produce aisle wasn't a great look for me. Shortly after turning twenty, I sought therapy once more to find out what was going on with me. Although now it seems obvious, at the time I was clueless. 

Revisiting The Past

Over the next year and a half I would focus solely on the repressed memories of my parents' deaths. I was healing something I did not know was broken. I learned that my blindness to my pain and grief was a defense mechanism and one that once served a purpose. Without it I may not have achieved the many academic and career successes I had during my high school and college careers. 

That success didn’t stop me from finding a great deal of shame in my inability to recognize my habits and parts of me that I had been neglecting for so long.  At twenty, however, I was now a functioning adult who had the time and space to begin this challenging work and let go of those defenses against grief that once served me. It took me a great deal of time to accept and even appreciate my body's natural ability to protect me during my teenage years so I could continue on with my life. 

 I have now gained acceptance for what I had to do in survival mode and am grateful that I  have the tools to rebuild in a way that is conducive to my healing. I took on journaling, engaging in a daily self-care routine and finding ways to show up for myself in ways I wish my parents could. The process of revisiting a past I believed I had mended was painful, humbling and incredibly necessary.

I am aware that my ability to do this healing work on myself and attend therapy is a privilege and one that I am incredibly grateful for. I am still attending therapy and working to walk alongside my grief rather than run from it. My hope in sharing this story is to encourage others to explore their grief and minimize the shame in doing so. Whether it be journaling, looking at old photos and noticing what emotions come up or attending therapy/grief counseling, everyone deserves a chance to feel their grief and heal. 

Grief can be an isolating process in the midst of major life changes and transitional times, and I want you to know you are not alone. Finding space and time to rest and heal is incredibly important for all and especially so for those who have experienced major loss at a young age. We all do as we must to survive, grow and process what we have lost and endured. Whatever time you choose to do the work is the right time and I wish you all the best as you embark on that journey. 

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

Let’s be grief friends.

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5 Comments on "Growing Through Grief"

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  1. Susan  January 2, 2023 at 1:54 am Reply

    This article is so eye opening as it made me realise I am just a human having a human experience and repressed grief is not an illness and I am “normal”. Some days I wonder if I’ll I ever be happy again and wish I could go back to living with the repressed grief as it didn’t hurt like this . I know I am becoming an emotional being with compassion and kindness for others growing daily . I feel like someone took a lid off of me and I am spilling out by times without much control. After living most of my life with the range of emotions from 1 to 3 now living with the full emotional scale is amazing and exhausting . I am so grateful for your article and how it helps me accept myself and embrace this phase and not try out the kid back on. Mind you I think I lost the lid and even if I found it I reckon it just won’t ever fit again . So I go forward to explore where this leads and discover who I am and what I have to offer and what gifts were repressed as well . Xx

    • Litsa  January 2, 2023 at 5:08 am Reply

      I am so glad this article spoke to you. You are so right that feeling the full range of human emotion is exhausting and sometimes overwhelming. But it is a journey that can teach us so much about ourselves and others, even if it is a journey we’d rather not be on!

  2. Eileen Wagner  December 4, 2022 at 10:33 pm Reply

    My Mom suffered for almost 5 months with Luekemia. Watching her literally just exist for the next doctor appointment was awful. I am so blessed that she passed away in my Dad’s arms after he kissed her and said goodnight.

    I’ve been having an internal battle because I can’t feel sad she is gone. I miss her with my whole being but I know she is at peace. I also am in total amazement of the triggers they are EVERYWHERE!

  3. Marylue  November 8, 2022 at 9:15 pm Reply

    I enjoyed the above article about repressed grief…I could have written it. So true & so common I think. I was lucky to find a parents (in my case) support group and got some help. It’s 13 yrs later & I still go to group because it still helps me AND helps other grieves. Thanks for speaking directly to me…and so many others.

  4. Karen E.  November 6, 2022 at 2:42 pm Reply

    I just found this site, and I’m not ready to say much about what I’m going through right now.
    But I have been grieving several losses over the past 2 years, and I’m experiencing the loss of someone, who though they are still living,
    is declining and not present or the person they once were.
    My own health has been worsening.
    I’m 62, and have lived with some rare and serious and degenerative illnesses that started in childhood, and have just been this struggle forever.
    I get treatment, but it’s all worsening.
    And 4 weeks ago I had to put my dog to sleep.
    He was my best bud. I knew it was coming. But it wasn’t until this past week that it is really hitting me.
    I’m sick right now, and that makes me more emotionally vulnerable and I know that.
    But everything is hitting me.
    And all the losses are coming back…the traumatic loss of my baby when I very young,
    the loss of my best friend just 2 years ago,
    My neighbor who died 2 months ago, and so on…the fall has brought lots of loss to me in my life, and I ‘ve dealt with it, etc.
    But this is different and it surprises me.
    I didn’t expect this.
    I’m reaching out just to connect and not feel so alone with this.

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