A guide to grief for therapists

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Bianca Bagnarelli

Editor’s note: While Lori Gottlieb is on vacation, Dear Therapist editor Rebecca J. Rosen steps in as The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” archivist, directing readers to some of Lori’s most popular columns.

To grieve is to encounter a paradox. Loss is an inescapable human experience; most people – and certainly most adults – endured the death of a loved one. Yet loss can feel completely isolating, a lonely cell with no window.

Lori’s columns on death are written for everyone in this cell or for those who try to help outside of this cell. People ask her, “What will make this pain go away?”

In her answers, Lori leads her away from this question. “Healing doesn’t mean the pain will go away. It means that the pain becomes a sacred part of you that you will carry within you forever. Often grieving people come to me in the hope that I can help them to “find closure”, but I always felt that seclusion was an illusion, ”she writes. “Besides, how can there be an ending point of love and loss? Do we even want that? “

But if the hope is not to feel any closure, then what is it? Lori cites the work of grief psychologist William Worden, who said that one of the “tasks” of grief is to “integrate the loss into our lives and create a lasting connection with the deceased – while at the same time finding a way to move on” . . “

For many people in deep sadness, this advice may feel incomprehensible, like there is no way forward at all. But as I read through these columns, one topic came up: the first step is to get out of that isolated cell. As Lori writes, “Being alone in your grief makes it much worse.”

So reach out from this cell or open the door to those who reach into it. Doing that, writes Lori, was what helped her most through her own loss. Her therapist and her memories of her father’s advice before his death “could not take my pain away,” she writes, “but they sat with me in my loss in a way that said: I see you, I hear you, I am with you. “

Illustration of hands holding a photo of two people dancing at a party
Bianca Bagnarelli

Dear therapist writes in her grief

My father has died, there is a pandemic, and I feel lost.

Husband and a ghost of his wife are sitting at a kitchen table
Bianca Bagnarelli

Dear therapist, will I ever get over my wife’s death?

We were married for 47 years and I can’t imagine life without her.

Illustration of grief
Bianca Bagnarelli

Dear therapist: I cannot accept my father’s death from COVID-19

I wasn’t there for his last breaths. I wasn’t there for his last words. I am trying to fight my guilt.

Illustration of a boy sitting on the couch with a ghost of his dog.  His father is standing in the kitchen and looking away.
Bianca Bagnarelli

Dear Therapist: My husband accidentally caused the death of our family dog

My son blames his father and doesn’t speak to him, but my husband makes matters worse by not apologizing.

Dear Therapeut is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your doctor, psychologist, or other qualified health care provider with questions about any medical condition. By sending a letter, you agree that The Atlantic use it – in part or in full – and we can edit it for length and / or clarity.

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