Clinical psychologist Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, has experienced many losses in her life. When she was 10, her grandfather died. When she was 18, her 8-year-old sister died of cancer.
She experienced the hardest loss when her closest sister and brother-in-law died just two months apart. He died of skin cancer. She died after drinking and taking too many Tylenol.
Around that time Hibbert also lost her aunt to a rare brain disease. Her husband lost his grandmother, both grandfathers and his dad in the span of two years.
“[I]t has been a lot of death for my family. But loss is about so much more than death.”
There are secondary losses: the loss of innocence, identity, security and peaceful childhoods. The loss of a family unit you deeply loved.
Hibbert chronicles these losses in a new memoir called This is How We Grow. She focuses on the four years after her sister and brother-in-law passed away, she gave birth and they inherited her two nephews.
“I started writing this memoir in 2009 as a way to show others [that they are not alone and] how they can ‘choose to grow’ through their hard times too.”
Below, Hibbert shared the lessons she’s learned while coping with intense losses and how she was able to pick up the pieces.
The death of Hibbert’s youngest sister tore apart her family. “Each of us grieved on our own, and we’ve never been the same since.” That’s why she was committed to helping her kids heal.
“I was extremely dedicated to being there for them, no matter what, because my own parents had coped with my little sister’s death by checking out, and I couldn’t do that to my children.”
While staying connected in the midst of grief is hard, it’s important to talk, listen to each other, cry together and remember loved ones. “That is how we heal from tragedy and loss.”
Instead of isolating themselves, Hibbert and her husband also turned to each other for communication, comfort and support.
The Power of Therapy
Hibbert credits therapy with giving her and her family the space and extra support to process their grief. For several years she attended therapy individually and with her family. Her oldest kids also had individual therapy. This provided them with a safe place to open up and learn healthy ways to cope.
“I wrote in my journal often, as a way to get my grief out and learn from it,” Hibbert said. These journal entries became the basis of her memoir.
Self-care has been vital for Hibbert’s healing. Her self-care practice included regular exercise; massages; and long, hot baths. She described this time as a refuge, “a place where I could just cry and let it all out without disturbing my family.”
Hibbert also nourished her spirituality. “Through prayer, meditation, scripture study, and pondering, I was able to face the tough questions that come with death and loss and come out stronger on the other side.”
She turned to medication to help her cope during an especially stressful time. “[W]hen we were unwillingly dragged through a court battle over our new sons, I used an antidepressant for a few months to help me get by.”
Choosing to Grow
Probably the biggest lesson for Hibbert has been the decision to grow. “As I write in my memoir, ‘When hard times come our way, we can go through them, or we can choose to grow through them.’”
“I choose to grow, and it has made all the difference. Every ‘trial’ has been a lesson, every hardship an opportunity to become something more. This perspective has perhaps helped me through my grief the most.”