Blog 11 Grieving our Dead

Birth and death are the two most terrifying of times, for the baby being born and the person dying but also for all who are connected through family or friendship.  Time freezes; daily routine is irrelevant; our sense of being powerless and helpless peaks.  Also common to being born and to dying is that we usually have time to prepare, to position all involved so we feel united, to emotionally tune in to the frequency only experienced on these two exceptional occasions. 

Unlike the experience of pregnancy, those months of exquisite anticipation and minimising danger and risk to baby, the dying process follows the often tortuous and clumsy path of saying goodbye.  We do our best in ritually trying to ‘smooth goodbyes’ according to our cultural beliefs.  These rituals have been shaped to suit each generation and keep us socially ‘on the same page’ as we feel, think and act our way around and through what seems an ‘unnatural happening’.  One part of our brain says ‘shure, everything has its time, and now’s the time to let go’.’ Try telling that to your ripped heart and churning stomach, your legs that don’t touch the ground when you wake and that very special person is  not there at your side anymore. 

I have buried five members of my birth family: parents, 2 sisters and a brother.  These deaths have spanned the spectrum from old age (Mam and Dad) to death shortly after birth (my gorgeous wee brother Francis who died when I was 2 years old).  The deaths of my two sisters were sudden and chaotic (Breda at 18 when I was 12, Margaret at 44 when I was 36).  And so I know death.  There were parts of me that died when they passed into another world.  For a long time, death terrified and stalked me.  It confused and traumatised me.  But let me hold that and share some of that with you in later chats.

As a therapist, I comfort clients whose grief seems interminable with the fact that the depth and extent of their struggle to live again is a reflection and testimony to the depth and extent of their loving bond with the deceased.  We know that pre-grieving does take place when we have time and space to spend quality time, perhaps for months, with our dying loved one.  A partial healing has occurred because in our hearts, the passing of our loved one is daily experienced - their breath, touch, presence - and these fibres of bonding are sown into the fabric of our very self.  He / she has ‘passed’  but ‘carries on’ in the loved ones still here whether partner, child, grandchild, friend.

Different when death steals our loved one through illness or accident; shocking and numb when our loved one chooses death to escape the pain of living.  Now the heart is ‘ripped apart’, our reason for living in fragments.  This grieving needs accompaniment at so many levels.  I’m thinking of a woman I am counselling whose amazing husband of 34 years completed suicide about 12 months ago.  The event inexplicable, the man un-replaceable, her life at a standstill.  She has journeyed in that year from widow to single woman, her feeling world ricocheting every day against the expectations of well-meaning folk who ask her to begin living and loving again.  So what has she found in those twelve months of hell which has helped her remain on the planet.  As we share her weekly story , she has learned that her pet dog, her most loyal and intuitively sensitive friends, and younger relatives who like spending time with her are her first fragile moments of re-entering the world of caring and being cared for, of belonging, of making a difference.  Her grip on life and love is tenuous and flimsy.  She trusts me her therapist.  Why, probably mainly because she senses I know the territory where death flourishes - barren, unforgiving, judgemental, interminable.  I have tried many ‘therapeutic strategies’ and she looks at the sheet - nothing! She can’t write anything because it’s all stuck and muddled inside.  She looks across the room at my reaction: is he going to judge and rate me like some do - ‘Oh, you should be getting out more!’  I don’t react with disappointment or frustration.  That’s my stuff, not my client’s.  We look around the territory of death together and search for a tiny new plant that has emerged these past 7 days - a person, pet, event or activity where she notices she actually smiled, felt satisfaction, reached through her grief in selflessly outreaching and caring for a loved one.  This is bravery in its highest form.  We both leave the room, and we wait for the tiny new plants that will grow from this undernourished soil.  We hope, we walk together, and we will live and love again. 


Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and podcast through the website – see

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.






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Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


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