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Ask the Expert: Lysa Toye on understanding grief

Grief is one of the most complex human experiences. How we grieve, when we grieve, and how long the process takes can vary significantly from person to person. Therapist and social worker, Lysa Toye, joined our Ask the Expert session to help our users navigate their grief. Lysa Toye has worked in pediatric and adult health, mental health, and palliative care settings for over a decade. Lysa works as a counselor and psychotherapist with the Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Centre and in private practice. She is passionate about supporting children, youth, adults and families living through end of life and other traumatic events by helping them grieve, grow, and give voice to their experiences.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Lysa Toye. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous.

Loneliness and grief

QUESTION — “My Dad died (suddenly and unexpectedly) last year and my Mom died a few years previously after a lengthy illness. I have no siblings. Even though I’m a grown woman (almost 50-years old) I feel like an orphan. My Dad and I were especially close, so I feel like I’ve lost a good friend as well. How do I get over the grief and loneliness?”

Lysa Toye — “The experience you are speaking to is something that isn’t spoken about nearly enough. I think for many people, we never stop needing parents. To experience the death of one’s last living parent is very much, as you say, an experience of being orphaned. The world feels very different when there are no more living generations above us holding the family lineage. Particularly as an only child this can feel hard. I think it’s important to know that the grief and loneliness you describe make sense and are so natural under the conditions you describe, and that it can be so helpful to have places where you can share and receive support for these feelings, and perhaps experience the community of others who are living through the same situation.

I wonder if you have explored support groups in your area or a professional counselor, or if you have friends or extended family who can be with you in these experiences. I also wonder if there are ways that you can strengthen your feeling of continued connection with your mom and dad by engaging in things you enjoyed doing together, revisiting wonderful memories, visiting special places or other connective experiences. Often grief is not a process of getting over, but rather a process of learning to live with, as it shifts and changes. Good luck.”

Asking for support through grief

QUESTION — “I lost my only child a couple of hours after birth about a year and a half ago. I am wondering if there is anything I can do to continue to move forward through my grief. The depth and consistency of my emotions has changed quite a bit, like they say, ‘waves keep coming but less often.’ My health (mental and physical) have stabilized, and I feel less fuzzy around the edges and more like myself. I do have an incredibly supportive group of family and friends, but often feel I’m bothering them with my grief the more time passes.”

Lysa Toye — “Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I hope others who are reading can learn from what you have briefly described. Perinatal death is so difficult, as our society doesn’t talk about or understand this form of loss, and it can often feel like our grief in such situations is disenfranchised or not properly acknowledged. What you describe is common, that it can feel that as time passes, the support that started out so robustly for our grief can lose step with our own internal process. Although this isn’t exactly what you are describing, others around us are sometimes ready to be done with our grief long before we are, and this can make it hard even in the most supportive conditions to gauge when and whether we can still call on our trusted supports as our grieving process continues and evolves.

I might encourage you to have transparent conversations with some of your support people to let them know that this is something you are thinking about. You will likely be able to feel from their response the extent to which it is true, or be reassured of how much they want to stay with you. You may also feel companionship by finding others moving through the same grief process as you are, through support groups or other forums, where you will have others who ‘get it’ from the inside. You may also benefit from having a counselor who you don’t need to protect and who can be present for you fully with no hesitation. Or you may find ways to carry your grief differently as your feelings and the conditions change; some people get involved in work that feels like it supports their connection or the legacy of the child who died too soon, some people write or find other ways to maintain connection and work with their feelings…. These are just a few ideas, and there are so many possibilities. Continuing to listen to your process as it sounds like you have been doing and asking the question ‘what do I need now?’ is so central. If you feel stuck, do ask for help. I wish you all the best.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Lysa Toye, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in July 16 at 12PM EST to chat with Dr. Joshua Coleman, who will be answering your questions about couples’ relationships. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a walk-through.