Monday, February 19, 2007
An Interview With Gloria Horsley, PhD
Meet Gloria C. Horsley, Ph.D, National Board Member of The Compassionate Friends. In addition to Horsley's educational credentials, and numerous publications, Horsley is author of blog -- www.thegriefblog.com -- and hosts a weekly radio show, Healing The Grieving Heart.
A bereaved parent, Dr. Horsley knows the pain involved in losing a loved one.
Horsley holds graduate degrees from the University of Rochester, Syracuse, Greenwich, and Holo's Universities.
I am honored to present to you today my interview with the distinguished Dr. Gloria C. Horsley.
Dr. Horsley, as an accredited professional, what served you best as you journeyed through the grief process after your son died -- Your education or your life's experience?
It is interesting to note that when my son, Scott, age seventeen, was killed in an auto accident in 1983, I was already an expert in the area of grief and loss. I had become interested in the Hospice movement and had written my masters dissertation on “The Strengths and Needs of Hospice Nurses”. At the time Scott was killed, I was on the faculty of the University of Rochester Nursing School and was the Psychiatric Nursing Consultant to The University of Rochester Medical Center and covered the entire surgical service. I worked with burn patients, as well as accident victims and their families.
A few days prior to Scott’s death, I had been with a family whose son was injured in a van accident. The boy had been driving and his brother had been killed when the vehicle rolled over him. At the time I said, “I don’t know what you are going through, but I believe I have some information that may help.” A few days later my own son was dead and I realized how prophetic my words were. In fact I had not the slightest idea of the pain of losing a child. It is fully a physical experience like hitting a brick wall going ninety miles per hour. I did have a road map of what the grief trip would look like. However, there is nothing like taking the journey yourself. There is nothing like education in combination with experience. However, the experience was not worth the trip.
What came first, your grief, or your goal to help others through the grief process? Did one have anything to do with the other?
I stayed with the University of Rochester until I finished the semester, and then I went back to School at Syracuse University in their Ph.D. in Child and Family Studies. It was a way for me to stay competent and still not have the responsibility of caring for patients. I needed to do my own grief work. School was a wonderful distraction from the real world. I really specialized in Marriage and Family for the next 15 years. This practice always includes a good deal of loss. I also worked with families who had a member with AIDS. I opened a private practice in San Francisco and then in 2001 I got involved with The Compassionate Friends on a volunteer basis. They asked me to do an internet radio show with Voice America. I told them I would do thirteen shows which they could then archive on their web site. My daughter joined me as co-host this year and we have now interviewed over eighty bereaved people, mostly siblings and parents.
What helped most through your journey of personal loss? Can you expand on this? Was there a support system in place, i.e., family, friends, husband? Were they there for you? And in what way? Did you lose friends? Did friends return? Did you feel alone?
What helped me most on my grief journey was the fact that there were no choices. As I saw it, I had to go on. I had three daughters and a husband. I thought at times that I could not live through the physical pain. I thought the blood vessels in my brain would explode. After a week I made a promise to myself that I would not get sick. I started to run everyday. I felt ashamed as I thought the neighbors must be looking out their windows and thinking, “Look at her. She doesn’t really care.” But I ran, screamed, cried and went on.
Grief is an individual experience but there are some patterns and there are some things we know. I knew the patterns and I watched myself go through them. I yearned and searched, sighed, felt waves come over me, and had thoughts of feeling crazy and wanting to join Scott. However; I knew that these feelings were “normal”. This was somewhat of a problem because people came to me for support when I really needed to be left alone with my own grief. I really believe that you can only know what a loss is like when you have the physical as well as the intellectual experience. I frankly do not know what it is like to lose a sibling or a spouse. I have lost two parents as an adult and I can tell you that I miss my parents, but it was not the hell of losing a child but then I was an adult. Losses are not to be compared, they are to be experienced as part of the fabric of life.
Do you believe different type losses produce different type experiences, i.e, parents losing a child; husbands losing a wife, wives losing a husband, children losing a brother, sister, mother, father? Is all loss the same for everyone? What is your comment on grief?
I have always had the philosophy that to really know a loss you must have the physical as well as the intellectual experience. If a hang nail is the worst pain that you have ever had, you can have empathy for someone who has lost a finger, but you can really never know the depth of the loss.
As I write for widows only, what advice can you share with a woman who has just lost her husband? What words of wisdom can you offer to give her hope to carry on?
I would say just what I say on my show every week, “Others have been there before and made it. You can, too. You do not walk alone.” Call (in) our toll free number at 1-866-472-5791 and join us on the show every Thursday at 12 Eastern and 9 Pacific to talk about the losses in your life.
Have you a favorite tip, some words of wisdom which you wish to share with a new widow?
Financial issues are huge with the loss of a spouse. Make sure you have very good advice. Don’t move or make any decisions for the first year. It may be difficult, but try to stay put and stick with your routine. Drink lots of water, eat well, and walk around the block every day.
Is there a calendar, a clock, or a timetable a widow should know about the grief process? When can a widow expect to be done with her grief?
Grief is never “done” we always continue bonds with our loved ones and not missing them would, to my mind, be very strange. However, there has been useful research regarding widows and grief. It goes something like this: The first year is the, “I made it through year.” The second year is “Is this all there is?” The third year is, “I may make it,” and the fourth year is, “Where do I go from here?”
Do you have a favorite quote? It can be your own.
“Never, never, never give up hope. Find a why and you will find a how.”
What was your most embarrassing moment? Something to share with a new widow to help her smile, perhaps make her laugh out loud, again.
When I was seventeen, I was driving to a football game with a bunch of girls. We were packed into my father’s brand new Packard (car). I noted that I was almost out of gas, and I drove into a service station. A boy I recognized came out to pump the gas. As he headed for the pump, I said, “Oh, I hate that guy.” I then heard a voice from the back seat, “That’s my fiancé”.
Need I say more?