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Notes From Your Therapist: The Humanity in Grief

Notes From Your Therapist by Allyson Dinneen

When heart-wrenching loss entered therapist Allyson Dineen’s life, she began writing meditations and affirmations for herself to process her grief and shared them on social media. Here is an excerpt from that collection, Notes From Your Therapist.

My relationship with grief started when I was three and my mother died in a plane crash, shattering my whole family. We never spoke her name again, as if she’d never even been there.

Years later, when my husband died in an accident, there was no possibility of shutting the pain behind closed doors. I was barely alive myself. But with children and a newborn baby I knew I couldn’t put them through the confusing and dissonant silence that I had grown up with. I needed to grieve. And I needed help.

Friends who didn’t know what to do or to say showed up, and then stayed—bringing us back to life with their presence.

Many years later, I see how that loss became the turning point of my whole life, bringing everything into sharper focus, stripping so much away, and putting my life’s priorities into serious order.

No matter who you are, life is desperately hard sometimes.

People we love die, and the longer we live, the more we find that’s worth grieving. People we trust abandon us. Happy times come to an end. Circumstances change in ways that hurt us. Emotional needs go unmet. Trust gets broken. We are forced to let go of people, places, and things we loved dearly. There’s even grief in letting go of who we thought we were.

Our culture is deeply nervous about grief. We think we’re not supposed to feel pain about things that happen to us outside our control, and that it’s best to get over it fast. We try to avoid or distract ourselves from despair to avoid feeling lingering pain—to put back on a mask of happiness, resilience, and equanimity as quickly as we can.

There’s really no “polite” way to grieve. No way to control it once it has taken hold. And that scares people who are very nervous about losing control—of things, goals, other people, feelings, life. But how are we to numb ourselves against being hurt, without also numbing the part of us that craves to be fully alive?

We could use a better relationship with grief.

As a therapist who specializes in emotional pain, I can’t think of one person who has walked through my door without some sort of grief standing in the way of healing what still hurts. There’s something they just can’t avoid anymore, though they’ve been trying very hard for a long time. They need someone to keep them company on a dark journey—to aplace they often don’t yet know they’ve been trying to go.

The emotional experience of grief touches all of our lives—from seemingly small losses that still ache to the catastrophic that reshape us completely, from top to bottom. Grief escapes wildly from our grasping control. And while it leaves scars upon us, it also imprints life more deeply with feeling and meaning. I plan to keep the conversation with grief going on my whole life, just the way I do with all my other emotions.

Grief has showed me that it’s okay to ask for help, reach out to friends, talk about it, and learn how to let myself accept love, even though my world is upside down and I don’t know what to do next. It’s okay to need others. It’s okay to let ourselves be affected by life and loss, and later acknowledge that even this overwhelming experience of grief didn’t kill me.

We don’t have to associate grief only with endings. When grief comes to sweep you away, tear you down, and reshape you ... know that it’s just the beginning—of a life reprioritized around more fully living.

Excerpted from Notes From Your Therapist © 2021 by Allyson Dinneen. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


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