Being with Grief: After the Santa Rosa Fires

Santa Rosa therapist and life coach Patty Bechtold blogs about the complexity of being with grief at wiselifetherapy.com

Not long ago I made some Earl Grey tea in my favorite mug from Chloe’s French cafe and began pondering what being with grief means for me, and perhaps others too.  

Sadly, Chloe’s was badly damaged in the Tubb’s fire over two years ago, so the owners decided to close up shop and focus on their catering business rather than rebuild.

I adored Chloe’s and have such fond memories of it. Wonderful soups, salads, sandwiches and my favorite part: the outdoor patio. I’d take myself there for lovely late afternoon lunches or coffee, maybe do a bit of work and often journal among the plants and trees.

Although I’m a certified grief support specialist, it wasn’t until after the fires that I more fully grasped the complexity of being with grief.

I learned a lot from my own experiences as well as those of my clients. And Chloe’s played a part in it for me.

Mug from Chloe's French Cafe, Santa Rosa CAI noticed that wherever we were on the continuum of loss almost all of us minimized it in some way. No matter if the fires only briefly interrupted lives or went to the worst case of leveling homes and possessions and barely making it out alive, almost everyone had some version of “it could have been worse.”

And when I say everyone, that includes me, the clients I’ve worked with in the aftermath and the many articles and stories I’ve read about the fires.

Now, I better understand why we say what we say and do what we do after a natural disaster.

It’s a complex stew of trauma, resilience, resourcefulness, with perhaps a bit of survivor guilt and stoicism thrown into the pot. And there may also be feelings of urgency to just get on with life.

So when I began to sit with this, I could understand better that being with grief comes in all shapes and forms. Whether it’s a lingering sadness and attachment to a little French cafe or a need to look away from the enormity of what happened or something else, it is simply where we need to be for a time.

Unfortunately our society doesn’t do too well at recognizing all the shapes and forms of being with grief.

There’s even a name for it: disenfranchised grief.

But now I can see that I needed a long time to sit with my grief about losing Chloe’s because it was a manageable way to deal with the fires and the loss of my dearest friend one month later. The memory of Chloe’s, and this mug, held a lot for me and kept me safe.

These days, when I pull the mug from the shelf I still feel a little pang but there’s also gratitude. And I think I’ve finally found another cafe to take its place.

So all this is just to say, if you’re grieving anything, try not to doubt yourself.

Acknowledge the complexity of being with grief. Sit with whatever and wherever you need to be, even if it seems strange. There’s no roadmap for grief, so trust your wisdom. (And of course, please get help if you need to.)

*****

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.
-Rumi
Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

Welcome. I'm a Santa Rosa therapist and life coach, and I help women who feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. I specialize in self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grief, life transition, and women's groups. On this blog I write about different approaches to help you find your way back to your deepest wisdom. Thank you for being here.