Leaning Into Grief

Leaning Into Grief

I get attached easily: to places, people, and animals. When I feel a connection, I work hard at maintaining it and I hold on tight to what feels precious to me. That’s not to say that I’m not able to adapt to new situations—just that it takes me a little while to accept and grieve what I have lost. These past 18 months have been difficult while I’ve been adjusting to yet another new place of abode. After a wonderful two years in Northern Virginia where I was able to create my dream job for myself of working as an equine assisted therapist specializing in eating disorders, I had to close my practice and pass it over to a trusted colleague and start again in a different state. Being told by well-meaning friends and family that, “When one door closes, another one opens,” left me feeling unsupported in my need to grieve.

I miss my friends and colleagues, and the herd of horses I worked with. I miss the community that I had become a part of. I miss the diversity of Northern Virginia, and I miss the woodlands where I walked with my dog. Above all, I miss being a therapist to the clients whom I left behind.

So often, grief is associated only with death. My expression of my need to grieve when no one had died has been met with confusion. Loss is loss and grief comes with loss. Grief does not mean a lack of appreciation for what remains, or the denial of what is yet to come. Since arriving in Ohio, I have found meaningful connections and joy in many new relationships, roles, and pursuits. Yet, that has not diluted the pain of what was lost. As existential therapists, we bring ourselves into the therapeutic relationship with authenticity, upholding a philosophy that it is the relationship itself that heals. So when that relationship comes to a premature ending, feelings of abandonment and grief may be present for our clients. Painfully, grief may also be present for the therapist that had to abandon them.

Perhaps it is this unfinished business that has kept me from letting go of these relationships in my heart, and while there is a part of me that recognizes that letting go is part of the grieving process, I also don’t want to let go. Instead, I want to lean into the emotions stirred in me when I remember my relationships with these clients whom I have left behind, in much the same way as when someone has died. While the therapeutic relationship has ended, my hopes and fears for these clients remain alive. I mourn for the lost relationship of what could have been, and I am powerless in what might happen next for them, but I hold a candle in my heart in vigil in hope that they will thrive.

When I am able to lean into my grief and acknowledge what was lost, I feel a sense of freedom and relief. Knowing that I have been so impacted by these clients allows me to breathe in the possibility of starting up again somewhere new. I can remind myself that I have been through this process before when I initially moved to the States; I had to close my practice in the UK too and walk away from some clients then. That was equally painful, and I survived.

As each new wave of grief presents itself to me, I want to welcome it with open arms in memoriam for the relationships with these clients that have touched my heart. So as I lean into my grief, I can embrace my love for these clients; where love is the acceptance of all that has been, all that is, and all that will not be.

— Veronica Lac

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