The Process of Grief- From Tragedy to Healer in 8 Steps

1. The tragedy- When I was 3, my 13 year old aunt was tragically murdered in front of our house. A teenager came by on a skateboard, shot her in the head, and rode away.

2. The downward spiral- My family had been falling apart before my sister was murdered. But after her murder, any semblance of sanity disappeared completely. My mother and grandmother dove deeper into their addictions. Family members who were barely functioning themselves were brought in to care for me. I was often shoved off to different houses while my mother and grandmother got raging drunk and high on meth.

I became anxious all the time and sought out attention like a starving person seeks out food.

3. The isolation- Everyone was grieving in their own way, and none of the grieving was done as a family. Some family members got clean, some deepened their addiction, some turned to sex, others to church, and everyone was so grossly consumed in their own process that nobody stepped up to take charge of the situation and develop ways to come together and support each other.

4. The anxiety- Being only 3, it was difficult for me to make sense of all that was happening. I became skittish and distrustful. I looked forward to being shipped off to other people’s houses because I might have a shot at some kind of attention there, but then again, I might be left to play alone while everyone else got high. I became anxious all the time and sought out attention like a starving person seeks out food.

5. Creating my own world- By the time I was 4, I had created a fantasy land where I saw my deceased aunt on a regular basis. I would dream about her, play with her while awake, talk to her when nobody else would listen to me, and make up stories about things she told me and the things we did together. Everyone was so consumed by their own process of grief over her death that nobody was paying attention to me. Having my aunt around to play with was comforting. Perhaps when they were ready to pay attention to me, I would be ready to let go of her.

My actions were an effort to scream “I AM STILL HERE! SHE IS DEAD BUT I AM NOT! DOES ANYONE SEE ME??”

6. The rage- My mother and grandmother were infuriated that I continued to insist on this connection to my aunt. They hated hearing about her and screamed at me and shook me to get me to stop making up stories, to let it go, to find a real child to play with. I wanted them to listen to my stories and help me cry about them. I wanted someone to teach me how to grieve and include me in their own grief. They were enraged that I was keeping my aunt alive, and I was enraged that they kept shutting us both out.

7. Acting out- I began acting out by the age of 5. I killed a bird, acted up in school, talked back to my mother, and embarrassed them in public every chance I got. My grief had turned inward. I had started the process of losing hope, which made me care less about my actions and the consequences. My actions were an effort to scream “I AM STILL HERE! SHE IS DEAD BUT I AM NOT! DOES ANYONE SEE ME??”

8. Therapy- My cries for help were heard. My mother could not get me to stop acting out and destroying things, so she got me a therapist and a psychiatrist from a public clinic in my neighborhood. My therapist and I clicked right away. Sometimes we didn’t do anything particularly therapy related, she would let me do her hair, or she would take me to the park, or we would draw pictures of my aunt. But being with someone who cares about you unconditionally and puts your best interest first can be very healing. I stayed in therapy for years and sometimes therapy was the only thing going right in my life, but it saved me from drug addiction, pregnancy, and suicide. It even inspired me to become a therapist and help others on similar journeys.

If you have a story that might help someone struggling with mental health issues, please consider sharing it.

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