Tag Archives: grief

The Other Side of the Couch – Don’t Wait

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded; it isn’t daily now as it was in the first several years.  When it returns it is tempered now by sweet memories of better days.  The things we did together, the moments of laughter we shared, the trips we took – these are precious now. 

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded, but when it returns it is jagged and still painful and hard to understand.  The pain has not been worked through – it seems instead burned into our memories without healing.

Today, September 11, has two meanings for me. 

First, this day would have been my dad’s 101st birthday.  He was born in 1920, and he died unexpectedly on the 5th of July, 2001.  The first anniversary of his birth occurred on the day that the 9/11 attacks shook our country to the core.  Now, twenty years later, we are remembering as a nation that terrible day.  I, as a single human being, am remembering both the terrorist attack and the loss of a beloved father.

The most important lesson for me out of all this loss is a simple one.  Don’t wait.  Don’t wait to visit loved ones. Don’t wait to say you love them.  Don’t wait to take that trip, to write that story down, to share happy memories.  Our time on this earth is not a given, and we never really know what is ahead.

I didn’t know on July 1, 2001 that the phone call I had with my father would be the last time I heard his voice.  Thousands didn’t know on September 11, 2001 that they were saying good-bye for the last time.

Don’t wait.  It may be the last thing you ever get to say or do.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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Pandemic Overload

blue and white face mask on white laptop computer

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Okay everyone, I am about to unleash a whole pile of emotions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the new “Safe-at-home,” lifestyle we’re all now living. I say, “lifestyle,” because as far as I can see, life as I knew it is officially over. Yes, we will eventually leave our homes and go back to work, to shop, to gather in small groups and maybe even larger ones. But honestly, can anyone imagine that our pre-pandemic life is out there somewhere, waiting for us? Will we ever think the same way about a cough, a sneeze, a fever? Will we ever not think that the stranger next to us in line at Starbucks might be carrying a virus? Will we ever hug someone who does not live in our house without asking for permission? Will we ever forget that for a time we were confined to our homes, isolated from our children, grandchildren, siblings, friends and extended family? Will I ever erase the images of people dying alone in a hospital with only a doctor or nurse for comfort?

For most of the last couple of months, I have cycled through the stages of grief over and over. From shock, to denial, to bargaining, anger and acceptance and back again, sometimes not even in that order. I’ve observed the social media accounts of people I know, and don’t know, who seem to be enjoying this time as some sort of staycation. And yes, everyone copes differently. I suppose if my children were young and needed to be schooled, entertained and otherwise taught the lessons that are part and parcel of this historic time, I’d also find the wherewithal to be a good model. But honestly, I just can’t seem to shake the grief and despair that I carry all day and most of the night. My usual exuberant energy feels dampened, my sunny outlook is overshadowed by sadness and my heart literally feels heavy.

I read once that trauma can be characterized as splitting life into two parts: life before the occurrence and life after. I believe our world is experiencing one giant collective trauma that will forever divide our lives in two. There will undoubtedly be other traumas that come along and supersede this one, much like my parents’ generation defined life before the Great Depression and life after and then, life before World War II and life after. And on and on and on…I. Hate. It.

Are there lessons to be learned from this crisis? Good that will come from all the deaths, the risks on the part of first responders and others who face danger everyday delivering essential goods and services? Who knows? There are those who believe this is some sort of cosmic payback for our collective bad behavior and disrespect of each other and our planet. Some believe this is nature’s way of thinning the herd and cleansing our overpopulated world. Some even believe this is all a hoax perpetrated by one political party or the other, one government or another, this or that corporate giant. I have become distrustful of most of the information I hear or read. There are a few sources I rely on, but I’m often skeptical of even those.

So how does all of this stack up for me? I still don’t know. Every day is different. I’m working on finding some peace, but it’s a struggle. I dread leaving my house, but when I do, I feel a bit better. As for some sort of deeper meaning, I just can’t see it, but maybe in time I will. Maybe it’s all just a senseless tragedy with no explanation or meaning to be found. I do hope that I can learn to be more patient, more compassionate, more accepting of things I can’t control. Mostly I hope someday to again feel safe in the world.


About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the current Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .

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Trauma Comes in Many Forms

agave beach cactus california

Photo by Natália Ivanková on Pexels.com

I recently read in an article that trauma, though usually associated with a sudden, unexpected horrible event or occurrence, can also be caused by something positive.  The article explained that trauma is anything that divides your life into before, and after.  I realized, as I approach the 12th anniversary of my move to Tennessee, that I’ve been dealing with the trauma of being uprooted from the only home I ever knew and relocating to a place where I had no family or friends.

My discovery was triggered by a call from someone I don’t know, but who is a colleague of my brother.  This person and his wife are considering moving to Nashville and my brother suggested they reach out to me to learn the ropes.  As I first spoke to the husband, I answered his questions and gave him the broad strokes about life here.  He’s concerned for his wife and how she will fare.  I next spoke with the wife, who had very different questions and concerns.  We had a great conversation, but as I shared my experiences with her it became clear to me that I’ve suffered some trauma as a result of the move.  In fact, after our conversation, I felt a wave of grief wash over me and it stayed for several days.

I’m sure on the spectrum of trauma, my experience is somewhat mild.  But I do distinguish my life before the move and my life since.  I often spend time wondering what my life would have been like if we’d never moved.  I fantasize about what I’d be doing at this moment if I was still, “back home.”  And I long for a time we can move back.

I don’t know much about recovery from trauma, but in this case, it’s come as a gradual process.  The last 12 years have been challenging but, I know now, also incredibly rewarding.  I’ve learned that I am a resilient person.  I’ve become more confident in my ability to navigate new situations.  And while I always knew I’m someone who makes friends easily, I’ve learned to consciously use that skill when necessary.

And there’s been another, unexpected lesson I’ve learned.  The concept of, “home,” is one I always associated with a place.  In my case, that home is Southern California.  But home is a funny thing, wherever you are, wherever your loved ones are, that’s home.  For some people, it’s obvious but for me, it was something I really had to live through to understand.  And the places that I long for are always with me, in my heart and my memories.  Just like people who have passed through my life, places I treasure don’t disappear.  But unlike people who have passed, I can, and do, revisit places.  The shores of the Pacific Ocean, the rocky peaks of the Sierras, the desert sands of Palm Springs, all are still there for me.  Not to mention the breakfast table at my best friend’s house, the neighborhood parks where my children played, the street where we bought our first home and the duplex I lived in when I was a child.

Right now, I actually feel lucky to have two big parts to my life.  The part before the move that gave me my values, my inner strength, my education and my family.  And the part since, that put all of that to the test.  I know now that, given the choice, I wouldn’t go back to the life I had; that life exists in my memory.  The one I have now is so much richer, more meaningful and more satisfying.  As time passes I feel blended rather than split in two.  I get to choose what part of my past to keep and what to let go and I also get to decide what to embrace in my new life and what to let pass.  I guess for now, the grief is passed, but I’m sure it will resurface and next time, it will be different.

Springtime in my Garden

Here are a few shots from my garden.  This is definitely something new for me!  A vegetable garden of my own is something I always wanted in So. Cal. but never had time or space.  Check it out!


The latest veggie harvest


First yield of the season.


The garden!


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The Other Side of the Couch – Charleston

CharlestonI was on the way to Charleston on Friday, June 26, 2015, as President Obama gave the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine African-American members of the AME Emanuel Church who were gunned down by a white 21-one-year-old who had been indoctrinated by a white supremacist organization.  I was on the way to a city that embodies in so many ways the contradictions, struggles, pain that 150 years – no, 300 years – have not erased from this country.  The bloody war, known in the North as the Civil War, in some parts of the South still called the War Between the States, or less benignly, the War of Northern Aggression, still incites pain.  Black or white, Northern or Southern, the history of war, occupation, slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression is unfortunately alive today.

President Obama said,

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.  By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.


I am moved by this eloquent response to unspeakable tragedy.  I am moved by the families of those massacred, who offered forgiveness to the murderer.  I am moved by the people of Charleston, who, rather than withdrawing into factions and anger, came together with tears in the face of this tragedy.  I hope that political divisions can be put aside as we come together to work for a better tomorrow.

It’s not about the Confederate Flag.  It’s about us.  All of us.  May we all be Charleston, and create a better future for our country, united.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch – Loss, Again

girl and sky

She called this afternoon.

I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. For days now I have been having a sense of something being wrong – some disturbance in the Force, in the energy that surrounds us all. I had laid it to the time of year, always a challenging one for me. As soon as the cherries bloom, every year, I am back in those unquiet days before my mother’s death, driving back and forth to the hospital, and seeing the most beautiful and radiant of springs unfolding throughout the poignant April days.

I have been aware of being sad, of missing my mother this year in a more particular way. Perhaps as I approach her age at her death, and realize how much more life I wished for her, and how much more life I hope for myself, I am shaken by the gossamer threads that hold us to this planet, this plane of existence. The unexpected lurks, and there is much that we cannot control.

The call telling me that a dear friend, younger than I, had lost his battle with cancer, a cancer that metastasized in the same way that my mother’s had, and that ended in a similar, brutal way, recapitulates all losses. The weight is the same, the heavy leadenness, the what-does-it-matter feeling, the tears always ready to be shed, the questions to which there are no answers.

I grieve for his wife, for his daughters, for my husband, who treasured him as a close friend. I grieve for the circle of lives that he touched, which are myriad. He was a giver. I grieve for the life he didn’t get to live. And yet, I know that he lived life with gusto, with joy, with presence. He appreciated the life he had. He knew that it wasn’t guaranteed. He knew that before the cancer ever came.

So today I am doing my best, in the midst of sadness, to celebrate the life of a special man, who gave much to the world, to his family, to his wife, to his community. He gave the best hugs. His life philosophy upheld and lifted. May all of us be so mourned. His was a life well lived. He will be missed.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch – Letting Go


I received the news yesterday that one of my dearest friends, one of those friends that has touched your life in a thousand ways, unexpectedly succumbed to pneumonia.  She had been battling cancer for some time, and she had started on a new kind of chemotherapy.  I knew that she had been struggling with side effects, but the news that she had not survived was both shocking and so very sad.  As I face this grief, I notice that is a familiar experience now – the weight in the chest, the tears that lurk behind the eyes, the feeling that nothing much matters.  I have been here before.

Any loss recapitulates all the other losses – and as we live life longer, those losses indeed pile up.  I believe that one of the lessons that all human beings are called to face is that of how do we let go.  When a loved one has moved beyond us, as will happen if we live long enough, how do we go forward?

Perhaps one way of looking at this is NOT to go forward, but to stay still. The shock of loss is immobilizing at first, and for good reasons.  We are not thinking clearly; our rational mind has been overturned, and we are living in – swimming in – the emotional sea of grief.  I would wish for all space, quiet, support, time.

David Whyte, a poet and author whose work has been very meaningful to me, has written a wonderful book called Consolations.  He chooses 52 words and writes essays on each.  One of his words is Heartbreak.  Below is an excerpt.

David Whyte


“…If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and even perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, to see it as its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is a deeper introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something or someone who has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the last letting go.”


The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press 2015

Now Available http://davidwhyte.stores.yahoo.net/newbook.html

As I think of my friend, and experience the heartbreak that comes with my loss of her, I am asking of myself the opportunity to sit with my heartbreak, to be with it and with her, to remember, to regret, just to be with the precious moments that we did have, to grieve those that we will not have, as I allow that piece of my heart that belonged to her to open, to grieve, and to let go.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!


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Loss and Renewal

Glad painting 1

My mother passed away just over three months ago.  Though she had been having some health trouble, her passing came as a surprise to family and friends.  She was tough and withstood tremendous discomfort.  Heard often to say, “Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day,” she was cooking her breakfast on Friday morning, went into the hospital in the afternoon and passed away on Tuesday evening after just two and a half hours in hospice care.  I miss speaking with her every day, hearing her daily synopsis of the news, what was going on with family, and her laugh.  I miss sharing the birds that I had seen, and taking her for car trips to see the birds and other wildlife.  Mother was dramatic.  When we would see a hawk perched on the Vine Street Christian Church steeple, along the roads or soaring overhead, she would often exclaim, in her delightful southern drawl, “Ohhh, ah do love the fowl”.  I miss her entertaining ways.  Our family misses her way with words and phrases.  Mother had more colloquialisms than you could shake a stick at.

I have heard that the depth of loss doesn’t sink in until some time has passed.  I believe that to be true now.  It has had its stages with me and will continue evolving.  Having lost both parents and three of my four brothers, I can say that even though it is difficult to let go, there is a beauty surrounding the event like nothing else I have experienced.  When we have had loss, everyone is unified, grieving and pulling together, loving and supporting one another, as at no other time.  Let me say that I do not want to lose anyone else to experience this again, but I am more accepting.

Because there is time freed up with no longer looking after mom, and because I jumped right back into work after she passed, I recently took a week-long sabbatical to the mountains and did something that I have never done but always wanted to do…I took a painting class.  It was lovely because the teacher, the talented and inspiring artist, Kim Barrick, was encouraging and generous.  I rented a small cottage all to myself and had the luxury of time to fully dedicate into creating and learning something new.  I made new friends and to my surprise saw an old friend.  In the mornings we hiked, in the afternoons we painted.  It was heavenly to have space and time all to myself in the evening.  My cottage had a screened-in patio with a lawn and old growth forest beyond.

Of course, birds were everywhere in the mountain village.  My mother would light up when you mentioned a Wood Thrush.  I had not seen a one in probably 15 years. For the entire time that I was there, a Wood Thrush sang to me.  The first morning that I heard the varied and beautiful song, I wasn’t quite sure if it was the Thrush.  In the early morning of the second day I stood inside the patio and wished and watched for it to fly into view, hoping to get a glimpse.  Sure enough, it briefly flew into the yard.  It was a Wood Thrush!  Not only did I have the melodic song almost nonstop from dawn to dusk, I had Pileated Woodpeckers, Towhees, Wrens, and tons of Robins (in the thrush family, much more common.)  There was also a Cooper’s Hawk that I was alerted to when I heard the whole community of birds squawking.  They were doing their best to run him off as he tried to steal the babies from the wren’s nest, unsuccessfully, I will add.  This collective of art and nature was a spiritual experience and life changing.  I felt, and still feel wonderfully, wholly loved, taken care of, and that I am doing the right thing.  I found that I actually have some ability to paint and want to learn more techniques.  I want to grow this.  I have begun working through a twelve-week course, ‘a spiritual path to higher creativity’, with a book titled The Artist’s Way, by Julie Cameron.  I will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, I will relish the renewal.  Though I won’t be able to physically show my mother the paintings, I think she knows just what I am doing.

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