A Grief Therapist’s Take On Our Longing to Be Seen
What would the neon sign over your head say?
A young man I work with lost his sister suddenly several years ago; she died of a congenital medical condition, which had never been diagnosed. It is a rare and tragic death — a seemingly healthy young woman simply dropping dead. In their family of several siblings, the two were best friends. They challenged one another, they brought out the best in one another, together they were a powerful force in their family, and encouraged one another as they both launched into the wider world of adulthood.
Without his sister, his identity in life is totally different. It is a source of astonishment, rage, and bereavement that every person he meets going forward in his life will not know him in the context of his sister. He will have to make a special and herculean effort to let it be known, “I had a sister. She was my best friend. She died tragically. The person you see before you is a totally different person than if you would have met me and my sister didn’t die. You don’t know and will never know something essential about me.”
Yet, he will probably never say this to most people. The people he will encounter in life will never know something so intrinsic to what’s shaped him and what he’s been through.
Intuitive people will guess something. Some, who have lost the dearest person to them, will understand and feel the depth of all that is altered in him.
He said to me once, “Sometimes I wish I could walk around with a sign hovering over me. ‘MY SISTER IS DEAD. SHE WAS MY BEST FRIEND.’”
Another client, whose mother died when she was a young child, works with me on the anxiety and grief that still impact her life, 40 years later. On the outside, she is a beautiful, insightful, quick-witted woman, and nurturing mother. Yet a deep anxiety informs many of her choices and she must push herself to do things that seem to come easily to others like going to a New Year’s Eve party. She criticizes herself when she takes care of her anxieties by leaving events early, or sometimes forgoing attending at all. “I guess I’m just seen as this quirky person. Like ‘she’s just kind of weird and anti-social.’ I wish more people…