I know I usually blog about living with a chronic illness. I occasionally blog about grief. That’s what today’s blog post is. Grief is like a chronic illness in the sense that it can be overwhelming and it’s always there. Last week I was in Iowa, we left on Thursday afternoon. I had my counseling appointment on Wednesday. I was so excited to go to Iowa but there was a big part of me that just wished Dad would be there. He would be making us all laugh in the van. He would’ve locked the van 3x like he always did for “let’s go hawks”, he would love taking us around Iowa City and Kalona again and visiting the campus and visiting family. Since Dad has died we made it a tradition that for my birthday we go out to Iowa and see a basketball game. It’s a place where Dad taught me so much even though we didn’t live there. It always felt like a part of him was with me out in Iowa. I mean I know he is always with me but it’s a different feeling out in Iowa.
So back to the counseling appointment. We’ve really been working on my depression and coping skills during appointments. I usually go once a week right now. I love my counselor and she has been so helpful! So I’m just going to share one of the coping skills she taught me and how much of a difference it has made for me. She said to give her any of my bad thoughts that I usually have any given day. I decided to just go deep because I knew going out to Iowa I would be thinking about Dad a lot. My thought was “It’s my fault Dad died because I wasn’t awake and I wasn’t outside when he passed. I could’ve gotten him help right away.” Right when Dad died the coroner and doctor both said his heart was so damaged from the ARVC that even if he was in surgery and there was a heart transplant in the doctor’s hand right there it would’ve been a very slim chance of survival. Dad was wearing a heart monitor at that time he passed. Dad and I were going to go to the hospital to turn it back in at noon that day and then have lunch somewhere. 10:45 came first that morning and he was already gone there was nothing anyone could’ve done. In fact when they looked at his heart monitor results it didn’t show anything until the last moments of his life when his heart went crazy. The doctors said he probably had no idea what was happening and he probably didn’t feel any pain. It’s so crazy to us that if he wouldn’t have passed away his heart would’ve appeared normal. Dad always said that when he dies he wanted to go fast and not know it after watching his Dad go through cancer and passing away. It gives me a little bit of comfort in the fact that he went fast and probably had no idea what was going on.
So even though I had all this proof and medical doctors were telling me there wasn’t anything I could’ve done to save him I had always been telling myself yeah but if you just would’ve woken up an hour earlier I could’ve made sure he wasn’t raking leaves, etc. I knew that thought was there but I wasn’t aware of how much guilt I was holding on to until that moment in the counselor’s office. It was like subconsciously my brain remembered this thought so everyday I was hearing a little voice this is your fault, you failed, etc and I wasn’t even aware this was happening so much.
So my counselor handed me a clipboard and said this is your thought and I’m your goal. She sat across the room from me. I had to hold the clipboard right against my face and she asked can you see your goal? No, I could only see the clipboard (my thought). All my focus was on that clipboard. She asked me what I was feeling and gave me a list of words to choose from. I don’t remember which words I picked exactly but these are similar. I first felt guilt, shame, terrified, overwhelmed, tense then I had to rate how strongly I was feeling those emotions on a scale of 1 being the least and 10 being the greatest. At that time I was a 10. Then she asked me to move the clipboard arms length away. She asked can you see your goal? I said just a little bit but not really. There were more distractions around me. She asked what I was feeling I felt embarrassed, hopeless, anxious, I rated that an 8. Then she had me lay the clipboard “the block” on the table in front of me. She asked could I see my goal. I said yes I can fully see my goal and all the things around me. She asked me to again state the feelings I was having at that moment. I was scared, worried, and I can’t remember what else I said. She asked what I would rate it. I can’t remember but it went down significantly maybe it was a 4. I could see my goal completely, but I could see everything around me and my thought was just laying on the table I can just leave it there. I went from really tense and feeling all the emotions then I took that thought right out in front of me and we opened it up and leaned in and worked our way though. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. It truly felt like weights had been lifted. Then we went over how my feelings changed and the numbers. During the exercise I wasn’t even aware of how much my feelings changed. I knew at the end I felt better. I can’t say how much I appreciate my counselor.
I’m so thankful to have a counselor who listens to me and truly wants to help me. I get to see my graph every week and this week my depression and anxiety levels were much better. It’s really cool to see all the hard work being put into place and how these coping skills are helping me. Some of them have become automatic without me even realizing it. So for now I’m not holding on to all that guilt.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour?” Matthew 6:25-27