In the following essay Lydia Lombardi- friend, social worker, and guest blogger- offers her personal and professional testimony to the healing benefits of energy therapies to combat the physiological effects of grief and trauma.
“ENERGY HEALING: Learning to Let Go and Let Be”
By: Lydia Lombardi
Since birth I was a “planner”. I always joke that I planned my whole life and career path as soon as I exited the womb. Being a “type A” personality by nature caused me to believe I had the super power to control everything in my life if I wanted. Sudden loss taught me otherwise. It taught me lessons about how constantly trying to live by the “master plan” most of the time doesn’t work and can lead to more pain and disappointment, versus living your life for what it really is now and enjoying that fully with your whole heart.
I was in my early twenties when my father told me he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He told me it was an aggressive type, but that he felt he would be fine and could fight it on his own. My father was the biggest success story I knew, having come here as an immigrant in the 1950’s, he had overcome childhood neglect, poverty, malnutrition, death of many siblings and yet became incredibility successful in the US throughout his adult life.
I thought maybe, if anyone can do it, my dad can. So, my family trusted his process over the next 3 years. During that time, he had refused any formal treatment and remained largely-what I thought to be- in denial about the fact that his symptoms were getting worse and he could be nearing the end of his life. In the midst of all this, my father rallied enough to be able to walk me down the aisle when I was married that year, despite his pain and his having to leave shortly after the ceremony. He gave his blessing when I asked if he would be okay with me leaving for a week’s long honeymoon out of state, but I came home after only 3 days after he had a rapid decline and was needing higher level of care.
His legs were swollen to 4 times their normal size, he could barely walk and was losing weight everyday. His pain was unmanageable. As a hospice social worker at the time, I had seen this many times before and at this point he wasn’t going to get better. My father needed hospice care.
As his main health care advocate, I pushed his urologist to admit to my dad that there was nothing more they could do medically at this point besides create comfort and symptom management. After that doctor appointment was the first time I saw my dad cry about his illness and begin to truly acknowledge what was happening.
My uncle, my husband, my brother and I took care of my dad at his home for the next 6 months until he died. It was surreal. I was relieved that he was finally out of pain, but I couldn’t feel the intensity of my grief until about 4 months after he died after we had cleaned out his home, began the process of settling his estate, and I began my new life with my new husband. It was a terrible way to start a marriage, but I felt that it also secured the fact that I picked the right guy to see me through even the worst of times.
We got through that first year and then I got a call. I was on my way to work and the Medical Examiner’s Office called me asking if I knew someone. I knew immediately it was my uncle. The investigator told me my father’s brother had been found in his apartment after an apparent suicide. It was almost to the day of the 1-year anniversary of my father’s death. Again, my uncle had no other family, so I settled matters with the apartment manager, took care of his belongings, donated his car, and handled his final affairs. I was on autopilot. Walking like a zombie through what I just couldn’t believe was my life.
Then two months later, I got the worst call of my life. My husband had been in an accident in the middle of the night out of state while visiting friends. He was immediately put into emergency brain surgery after a critical head injury and was in a coma for 10 days before he died suddenly of complications.
I was immobilized. My whole life as I knew it was gone. Nothing was the same; my day-to-day life, my home, my dreams my future changed in an instant. I couldn’t find ground beneath my feet. My best friend in the whole world, my love, died right in front of me and I didn’t know where to turn. No one knew me as he did, no one knew how to comfort me- I felt so alone.
Those first 6 months I had classic trauma symptoms. I couldn’t function well, I was jumping at the slightest sound, I couldn’t focus, I had nightmares every night and couldn’t sleep, and I feared my own death everyday. My whole sense of safety and order in the world had been thrown off balance and nothing felt right or any made sense.
It’s so easy in those moments when you are alone and in your head to think you are the ONLY one feeling this way, the ONLY one who has ever gone through something so horrible- no one possibly could understand. I was 29 years old, a newlywed one day, a widow the next and feeling like I was floating through my days without a tether. Nothing and no one could anchor me. I thankfully had amazing, courageous and loving friends and family to hold me through those tender days. People who listened and didn’t judge my feelings. I knew I was so fortunate for so much, but something was still missing. My body was trembling everyday…I was anxious, fearful and felt very off-center. I couldn’t ground myself.
I had always been interested in alternative therapies and had read a lot about them, but never tried. At this point I was desperate to feel like myself again and begin healing so I tried everything. I did massage, aromatherapy and art therapy, but none of these fully addressed my physical symptoms from the trauma.
I soon found a woman in my area who did Somatic Experiencing (www.traumahealing.org). In my first session, we began by doing a centering/relaxation practice. After explaining the technique, my practitioner then laid me on a massage table and began holding me gently in different places in my body, starting with my head, then later my arms and legs. It was a very gentle practice, non-invasive and didn’t require me to talk about the details of my losses, but instead she guided me to connect with my body and allow the traumatic energy to exit through my extremities. I knew it was happening because I could feel a tingling sensation in my legs and out my feet. It was such a release and I felt 10 lbs lighter after each session.
This drew me to explore more energy healing modalities and I soon found Reiki (www.iarp.org). This ancient practice allows the practitioner to tap into the earth’s universal energy help remove energy “blockages” in the body where stress and emotional pain has been stored and needs releasing. About a year after my husband’s death I began taking a course to become a practitioner, not only for myself, but also to learn how to support others like me who are suffering the physically taxing experience of residual grief and trauma in the body.
Once I began working on others I soon felt more compassionate and connected to the pain of those around me. By experiencing and sharing energy healing, I learned that the power of interconnectedness with all living beings and fully experiencing life in the moment have been the greatest healers of all. Although it seems like such a simple concept, healing through the use of the energy channeled through your hands was so deeply spiritual, loving, and powerful. It reminds you that what you give is what you get. When I remained open to healing and the good in my life, I was better able to receive it as well as give it to others.
Much of the last 10 years of my career have been spent working in hospice and end-of- life care where I have had the privilege of helping many people successfully navigate the “unknown” in their new lives after major illness or death. Learning to accept what we did not plan for in life can be one of the hardest challenges, but can also help us create the most growth, even if we did not chose the path created.
I now jokingly call myself a “Type A” in recovery. I no longer plan long term- beyond what is absolutely necessary- and I try to be in the moment whenever possible because when I am fully present I am never more alive.
Lydia Lombardi, LCSW