FULL DISCLOSURE: DR. GAIL GROSS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PEOPLE. SITTING DOWN WITH HER FOR AN AFTERNOON IS A REAL TREAT — PART INSPIRATIONAL LESSON, PART THERAPY SESSION, PART CATCH-UP WITH AN EMPATHETICFRIEND AND BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, IT’S TWO HOURS LATER AND YOU STILL DON’T WANT TO STOP VISITING.
If you don’t know this wonderful Houstonian, you should. DR. GAIL GROSS is a local psychologist and educator, mother and grandmother, author and speaker. She’s a nationally recognized family, child development and human behavior expert. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems.
She lays it all out in her new book, which was ten years in the making. “The Only Way Out Is Through: A Ten-Step Journey from Grief to Wholeness,” is half memoir and half instructional guide in which she shares every part of her grief journey openly, honestly and intimately. The book addresses how to deal with the loss of a loved one as well as life’s major transitions, with strategies to find long-term happiness.
Gross’ daughter Dawn died in her sleep at the age of 24 from an undiagnosed heart ailment. Sudden and shocking, her death sent Gross, her husband Jenard and son Shawn into a dark place of individual and group suffering. (Shawn writes his own searingly honest chapter in the book that provides another perspective – a close sibling’s – on a family tragedy).
It’s not an “easy” book to read, nor was it to write. “My entire family has always been very close, so I guess you could say going into this trauma that was our great asset,” she explains. “We call ourselves Team Gross because we’ve always been there for each other.”
Dawn and Shawn were best friends and confidants. “Dawn treated him as her little brother,” says Gross. “She would take him everywhere, all of her friends were his friends. She would call him before tests at school to lighten him up, as he is more serious.” When Shawn didn’t hear from his sister for two days, he knew something was wrong.
Gross admits she didn’t realize the profound impact of sibling grief. “I always knew that the worst thing that could happen to a parent would be the loss of a child, but I didn’t recognize what Shawn was going through. He was in shock, I was in shock, and his suffering was different from mine but equal. The first time I realized the depth of his own suffering was when I reached for his hand, and he didn’t reach back. He didn’t pull back, but he didn’t reach for me.”
The thing about grief, says Gross, is that you’re in shock for a very long time. “The body is trying to save you. It slows down your processes, your movements, your critical thinking,” she explains. “You’re prepared biologically for fight or flight; that primitive function is how we operate today, we still retreat to fight or flight. It takes a while to come out of shock and move forward in the grieving process.“
“The key is to allow yourself to grieve, and not to resist or fight it. You can only grieve like yourself, not like someone else. It’s a process to get through the loss of a person who has left, who you loved. But it’s also the same process for any major life transition. There is a roadmap in my book that provides strategies for supporting yourself in that journey and coming out alive, maybe even more alive than you were before.”
“The Only Way Out Is Through” is available at Amazon.com. Check www.drgailgross.com for her upcoming book tour appearances.