Blurred therapist office for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley
Ask A Widow

Ask a Widow: Therapy and Grief

Back in the early days of this blog, I spent a lot of time talking about therapy – therapy from my friends, therapy at my church, therapy with my widow friends, alternative therapies, and the therapy that I liked the best. Therapy was just a part of my life.

But it wasn’t always effective. In fact, a lot of times when I went to traditional therapy – i.e. one-on-one therapy with a licensed professional – I left feeling….like it just didn’t do much for me.

Maybe this is why I saw like 8 or 9 (or more?) therapists in the first year and a half after Shawn died. Or maybe I’m just bad at therapy.

But something makes me think it’s not my fault that therapy didn’t always work for me. In fact, I hear this sentiment a lot from my widow friends and from many of my readers. Therapy for widows can be really tricky. As a young widow, in particular, I often felt like my therapists just didn’t “get it.” I never saw a therapist who was actually a widow, and most of the therapists I saw were also a lot older than me. In fact, the very first therapist I ever saw looked at me with horror when I told the story of Shawn’s death and then kept calling me “dear.”

She was obviously a short-lived therapist for me.

So when I got this note the other day, which was posted publicly on my blog, I stopped and re-read it a couple of times. (I’m assuming this person is a widow, based on a number of factors.) Here’s an edited version of what she said:

I have a question. You have mentioned therapy in your stories. Can you tell what have you been doing or talking about at the therapy sessions? I’ve also seen a therapist (or two) but although they said grief is something we would have to work with, we don’t really talk about that. It’s more about how to deal with depressive feelings in general, how to manage my job better, why I should meditate, and all kinds of other things. Is grief something you discuss directly in therapy or is it just an unspoken undercurrent to all the other stuff?

Here was my initial reaction: ummmm….don’t you have to talk about grief with a widow? Isn’t grief literally the first thing that has to be covered, before you can get to anything else? I mean, all of my therapists – even the crappy ones – knew they had to talk to me about grief and prolonged grief before there was any way we could start talking about something like parenting or dating.

For many years, my life was dominated by loss. It was the framework through which I experienced everything else. Sometimes it still is, even when I think I’m truly moving forward. Refusing to acknowledge the role of grief seems….like bad therapy.

Sure, sometimes, you need to work on specific, tangible things (I loved when my therapist reminded me to “stay in the small“) but that doesn’t mean ignoring the big picture. And if you’re a widow – or honestly, a human in 2021 – grief is the framework.

So while I don’t think my readers need to know everything I’ve ever discussed with any of my therapists, I will say this: we’ve always talked about my grief and loss. Sometimes even when I didn’t really want to talk about it. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that even if someone isn’t a widow, there’s so much pain and loss in this world that it’s likely that most people need to talk about grief at some point with their therapist.

I don’t mean to overstep here, but if I were the writer of this comment above, I’d get a new therapist.

Grief shouldn’t be unspoken. That’s the damn problem we’ve had for years and years in this country. We need to talk about our grief – on blogs and with our friends and out in the open – and the first place where we need to be able to talk about it is in therapy.

**This column is merely my point of view and is for informational purposes only. I am not a therapist or medical professional, and thus my thoughts should not be a substitute for advice from these professionals. Please get immediate help if you feel like harming yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

5 Comments

  • Lisa

    Hello.
    I am 100% pro therapist. I love mine. We have talked about EVERYTHING under the sun having to deal with death and grief. Some days I lead the conversations and some days she introduces a topic. I absolutely love seeing her because that is the one ABSOLUTE safe place where I can say what is on my mind. I was fortunate to have been seeing her prior to my husbands death so I didn’t have to do the “shopping around” bit.

  • Angie Bell

    I have not seen a therapist, but did attend a GriefShare group. I write a blog and that is where I talk a lot about grief. But, in God’s providence, though sadly, I have personally met/connected with five women who lost their husbands after I did last year. They GET what I’m going through like I GET them. They have been therapy for me.

  • Sena

    Hi – I’m a 42 year old widow with four kids. I have been seeing a grief therapist for the past year and from my very first appointment, I felt just a little lighter. It may be that working with someone who has worked with so many families like mine (for 30 years) almost exclusively in grief is part of the magic formula. She is older, but so much of what she says hits home for me. My time with her (so far, and during this period of zoom support groups) has been more valuable to me than support groups with other widows. Just thought I’d share for anyone else out there who may be looking for a therapist. Mine was recommended to me by my pediatrician. Best wishes to ALL the widows and widowers and thank you for writing such a helpful and encouraging blog.

    • M Brimley

      I love that you’ve found a great therapist!! It’s so wonderful when you have someone that you can talk to, separate from the rest of your life. Thank you for sharing!

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