Loss and Lessons Learned


Book coverJanuary 12, 2016 a hundred or so of my friends, associates and their guests came to celebrate with me as I launched my memoir, Building A Life You Love After Losing the Love of Your Life at the Georgia Public Broadcasting. I felt like a celebrity and was touched that so many showed up to help launch the book. You can click HERE to read about the event and see photos.

Sadly, my therapist, Robin Kirby, Ph.D. wasn’t able to attend the event because of scheduling conflicts. One week later I received shocking news that she’d been killed in an auto accident. As we widows and widowers know life can change in an instant. An accident, a medical emergency or a devastating diagnosis.

If you’ve read my book you know that I talked a lot about advice and things I’d learned from Robin. She was an amazing therapist, woman and teacher. She was wise beyond education and formal learning. She had an amazing spirit and an ability to make everyone around her feel loved and valued. This opinion of her was reinforced as I heard family and friends speak at her funeral.

I’m sad that she’s no longer with us. I’ll be forever changed by what she taught me as she helped me work through my grief.

The following is an excerpt from my memoir Building A Life You Love After Losing the Love of Your Life where I first write about Dr. Robin Kirby.  

Crying with a Professional

Not long after Phil had been diagnosed with a Stage IV Glioblastoma brain tumor and given only twelve to eighteen months to live, I began seeing a therapist. Dr. Robin Kirby is the best therapist I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a few! While some folks think therapy is for people with serious problems, I’ve always looked at therapy as a positive thing. Some people seek out a consultant to help them build a business or a coach to help them learn life skills or have better relationships. I think therapy helps us work toward becoming our best selves.

I began seeing Robin in order to process my feelings about Phil’s diagnosis so that I could function as a caregiver. I couldn’t take care of him if fear and sadness overwhelmed me and kept me immobilized.

“There is a team of doctors taking care of him,” Robin would often say in our sessions. “For this one hour we’re focusing totally on you.”

Robin had helped me through accepting the diagnosis, facing each new obstacle in his treatment, and the progression of the disease. She’d helped me sort through my feelings and handle the stress of caregiving. It was natural for her to help me work through the grief too. I preferred the one-on-one sessions to going to a grief group. Normally I’m the one people come to when they need to talk. I listen and give advice and encouragement. Right now I just couldn’t take listening to someone else’s sorrow in addition to dealing with my own.

Time with Robin was one hour where I could sob, whine, and question “why me?” without being seen as weak and having family and friends think I was losing my mind. Some days I questioned my own sanity but Robin gave me a reality check and told me I’d survive.

“You’re in pain,” Robin said. “Pain won’t kill you.” Some days I believed her. Apparently ‘pain killer’ is a misnomer. Or is it an oxymoron?

Of course I had friends I could talk to. I’d been the strong shoulder for many of them as they went through job loss, divorce, and family craziness. I knew they would be there for me. But I didn’t want to spend all my time with them sobbing and feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t want to become the woman people avoided because she was always sad, depressed, crying, and moaning. I didn’t want to wear them out. I knew they were sad and missed him too. I didn’t want them to see me as wounded and broken. Not as wounded and broken as I really felt. I tried to appear “okay” for them. I was far from “okay.”

With Robin I could sob and talk about the loss and loneliness that consumed me. I could bare my broken heart and my wounded spirit and know that it was a safe place to break down without it destroying me. I could do the ugly cry and not worry about my mascara running. She listened, gave good advice, and gave me assignments. She knew when I was being too hard on myself, and she called me on it when I was just being a baby. She taught me to have “pajama days” for rest but only one a week so I didn’t disappear into the black hole of depression. She taught me to balance socializing with solitude. She helped me navigate the newness of being on my own again after years of marriage. She helped me know that despite my devastating grief I was normal and not going crazy. She gave me permission to grieve and nurture myself. She guided me in how to move forward in little baby steps until I was ready for bigger steps. Sometimes it was two steps forward and one step back.  I am thankful that I didn’t have to go it alone because the sadness was sometimes overwhelming.

Copyright© 2016 Building A Life You Love After Losing the Love of Your Life by Myra McElhaney

What about you? Did you do grief therapy with a psychologist or with a grief group? Who was most helpful in your moving forward?

(NOTE: To purchase my book on Amazon.com CLICK HERE. For a signed or personalized copy send an email to Myra@MyraMcElhaney.com stating who, if anyone, you want the book personalized to and your mailing address. I’ll send a PayPal invoice and you can pay by credit card or check.)

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