The other day I was washing the dishes with Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska spinning in the background. It suddenly reminded me of home. Out of nowhere a wave of intense emotion came over me. I felt it first above my stomach in my solar plexus, spreading into my eyes and chest. I lay down on my couch and began to cry. Very soon I realized I was upset because I missed my grandma. She passed away just over a year ago and this is the first time I had really, truly cried since then. A weight was lifted off my chest in that moment; I felt lighter and happier than I’d been in a long time.
Grief is a mysterious process that is often misunderstood. I recall the fits of rage, incredible acts of defiance, and severe panic attacks my son had for months after his kitten passed away. I was incredibly thankful for my training as a psychotherapist to help me be present for my son without shaming him, shutting him down, or misinterpreting his behavior as being about something other than grieving for his loss.
Grief goes hand in hand with trauma: the body is overwhelmed and often cannot cope with the magnitude of pain and loss. For those in our backyard of Santa Rosa and Napa who lost their homes, many individuals do not have the space nor the capacity to address their own emotions, making it very hard for them to also support their children.
Think of airplane oxygen masks: we are advised to secure ours first in order to then be able to attend to others dependent on us. When the emotions stemming from grief are shut down or remain unaddressed, other symptoms arise: extreme depression, anxiety, and attention deficits. One child I work with struggles to pay attention in school since a traumatic hospitalization over the summer. Every time his mind wanders he thinks back to this extremely scary experience. Many psychiatrists would diagnose him with ADHD and prescribe him Ritalin. What he really needs is treatment derived from care and love. He needs the safe space to grieve.
As we at Seeds of Awareness work with children and families affected by loss, we know that empathy and listening are profound tools that lead to healing. By making space to feel the pain and sadness of another, we are helping them to feel accepted, understood and loved as they work to heal. This work–though it sounds simple–requires constant loving presence and guidance.
We train and support over 40 clinicians and hundreds of teachers and parents each year to do this work in schools, at home, and in nature. We provide mindfulness and heart-centered care to communities in need at very low cost, or no cost. Right now, we are digging deep into our resources to bring clinicians to communities affected by major trauma and loss, including inner city communities in Oakland affected by violence, and now the fire-stricken communities in Santa Rosa.
Please consider joining our community in this endeavor so we can provide the level of care and love our communities need to heal. There are many ways to support and join us. You can learn more on our website or lookout for our #GivingTuesday campaign.