Never Thought I Would Need Therapy

By Lara Gillham, Jackson’s Mom

I never expected to be sitting on a couch across from a stranger, pouring my heart and tears out and talking about details of my life that I hadn’t even shared with my family or friends. While I had tried therapy once or twice in my early twenties, it always felt so awkward and forced. The therapy sessions that my husband and I went to after our son Jackson died were wildly different than those prior failed attempts.

Before we left the hospital with empty arms, a kind doctor wrote down a few names of nearby therapists she recommended. I hadn’t even considered therapy before that, but I was in such a fog and didn’t know what to do that I needed to do something to feel “productive”. After a few days in the initial grieving and funeral planning stages, I reached out to the recommended therapists on that piece of paper. One of them didn’t take insurance and cost hundreds of dollars for each session. Another took insurance, but it was limited and ours wasn’t covered. Mind you, we both had very common health insurance plans provided by our employers. Each of the therapists was kind and provided another referral that eventually led to us finding our therapist. Thankfully she took our insurance.

We showed up to our first visit a little anxious, but mostly so grief stricken that nothing really mattered at that point. We had just cremated our 6 month old son, so how could anything else possibly be more frightening? We spent the first session just telling the story of Jackson’s life, hospital stay and ultimately his death. There were so many tears shed and our therapist just listened empathetically. We went a few times per week for the first month before returning to work, after which we went weekly. Eventually that shifted to biweekly and then monthly and trickled down to every few months. We talked about everything and anything Jackson, from what we missed about him, the triggers we faced on a daily basis after his death, returning to work, resentment of others for not doing more to help him, self-blame, his diagnosis, our fears of having and raising another child, and our grief in general. There were no limits to the conversations. Ben and I would almost always chat for a few minutes before our session about what had been on our minds most lately so we would be sure to address those particular topics.

Therapy provided us with some techniques to help reduce anxiety, but mostly it was a place for us to process our grief and emotions, which both changed on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. One of the most beneficial parts of therapy was that it forced us to dedicate time to sit down and share our feelings and remember Jackson. I do credit therapy with allowing Ben and I to understand each other’s grief process and triggers. We both had some different emotions, ways of grieving, ways we blamed ourselves and triggers. Without therapy I’m not sure we would have recognized or appreciated the differences in our grief processes. For example, after Jax died, I was severely triggered by seeing other babies and young children. Ben was not really phased by seeing other kids. I needed to sit on the couch and watch pointless television to allow my brain to take a break, while Ben needed to constantly be doing things (he did a lot of home improvement projects during that time). We also realized through therapy that we needed to do things in memory of Jackson and what those things were evolved and changed with time. One of the most important things we discussed was who we each blamed for Jackson’s death, including ourselves. We both had different answers to this and we needed to work through why that was so we didn’t end up blaming each other. Ben and I often say that in the two years following Jackson’s death our marriage actually became stronger, a notion I would have previously thought was ridiculous. I can’t say for sure, but I think attending therapy together really helped to keep us connected and allow us to lean on each other during that dark time.

After our daughter Violet was born, we continued virtual visits with our therapist every few months until she turned one, at which point, we all decided we would continue on an as needed basis. It had been two years since Jackson died at that point. We had passed the point of Violet reaching the same age as Jackson and we made it through her first birthday, which were both big fears and triggers of ours. While we haven’t returned to therapy in the past year, mostly due to the chaotic life of raising a toddler, there are times where I feel it would still be helpful. I don’t think there is any particular cutoff for when therapy is no longer needed. In fact, I think it fluctuates and is unique to each person, much like grief.

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