Widow Wednesday #7
Welcome to Widow(er) Wednesdays where I share what worked, what didn’t work and what could work better when it comes to supporting the grieving. This week’s taboo busting blog is as much for those looking to better support loved ones who are grieving as it is for those who are grieving. This week’s taboo topic is GRIEF COUNSELLING.
Oh, no! Anything but that! No one is going to make me sit in a circle with a bunch of whining crying weak people who can’t handle what happened to them; After all it didn’t really happen to them – they’re still here. They should be grateful and be glad to be alive. I know I am. And don’t even bother suggesting one on one counselling. What would be the point in re-hashing what I know went down? I have no interest in discussing ‘that’ with some overly sympathetic social worker who is going to sit there feeling sorry for me the whole time just waiting for me to break down. It just ain’t going to happen. I don’t do that sort of thing. I can deal with the estate stuff or hire someone else to do it. I’m going to get on with my life. I can’t change what happened. I’ve put my life on hold long enough. I need to focus on the future now and not the past.
Ha, ha, ha, ha. It’s always good to laugh at oneself and make no doubt about it I said every one of those things to myself as well as to others. I am strong. I am formidable. I am not going to let this break me. Ha, ha, ha. The joke was on me because it already had. My brain just wasn’t willing to accept this ugly truth; my brain was… in denial. The real truth was that I was terrified of having to talk about what went down. It was so horrific at times that I wanted to never have to talk about it. I wanted to forget any of it had happened and to maybe somehow manage to pretend it hadn’t happen. Mostly, I wanted to get back to leading a ‘normal’ life.
Caring for loved ones with cancer was painful and scary beyond anything I could have imagined. It was knowledge I could have gladly lived without. Watching my loved ones die…well, that’s a whole other kind of bizarre that is so complicated that trying to explain it in a blog would be an exercise in futility. I’d fail.
So back to grief counselling. Everyone who has had a major loss should do some grief counselling and here is why. First off, because we are not taught about grief we have a limited societal knowledge of what it means to grieve and therefore, we do a poor job of supporting those who grieve (and most of us are willing to admit this). In addition, when we grieve we spend our days in places, doing things that for others are unchanged thereby creating the false impression that we too are unchanged and everything is back to ‘business as normal’. But grief changes us and the people who once understood us best in many ways no longer know us at all. This is bewildering especially since our goal is to fit back in. Try as we might it’s not possible to squeeze ourselves into the people we were before our major loss. When we fail at doing so we end up feeling unsupported and alone – like no one really understands. This is no one’s fault. As already pointed out, as a society, we do not really understand what it means to grieve. But grief counsellors (as well as others who are grieving) do understand. Grief counselling (group and one on one) gives us a place to not be alone, to untangle what went down and what it means to us. Grief counsellors support us in re-defining ‘fitting in’ and help us figure out how to move forward. Sometimes they give us tools to help others better understand what living with loss looks like.
The second reason is simply that life, school, and work do not teach us, as individuals, the skills to untangle the emotional mess that is grief. We know of no clear starting point, we see no clear path, no one solution or even a list of solutions that will result in the resolution or curing of our grief. To untangle grief and learn how to absorb it into the business of living requires someone holding space or creating a safe space for us to explore what loss means (because it does mean something). This is where healing begins. Friends and family are great but I’ve yet to meet anyone as effective or capable of doing this as a qualified grief counsellor(secular or otherwise). Grief feels so ‘not’ normal that without grief counselling we walk through our days believing no one else could feel this way (not true) and that what is happening to us is unique (also not true) and that we are weak because we cannot simply snap out of it or move on already (MOST DEFINITELY NOT TRUE).
Distraction is good and trying to get back to our everyday lives is helpful (see Widow Wednesday #6) but to live fully (which we all want to do) we have to live a life true to all of our experiences and knowledge. Incorporating the good stuff is easy: incorporating the hard stuff is something we have to learn. The woman who convinced me to go to grief counselling told me she’d gone to a program that was more like school. The facilitator shared knowledge with the group. It was technical. She liked school. She was a lifelong learner. This I understood and so rather than continue to wander around my quiet house not really being present I made the call. It was the smart thing to do. After all, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Grief is not insanity. It is simply grief. But, until we can begin untangling it we will do the same thing over and over again and we will not heal. We need to learn how to live a life that makes sense with what we now know to be true.
I suspect that even after we become more socially aware of what it is like to grieve and we get better at supporting those we love who are grieving that we will still need grief counsellors. It’s a relief to find someone who understands, listens and helps us to find our way forward. It’s about healing.
Till next time,
P.S. My short doc on grief will be screened on Saturday November 23rd as part of Silver Shorts at the Revue Cinema.
Tickets are available at Eventbrite or at the door. This is a donation pay what you can event. If you can’t make it don’t worry, I’ll be sharing it on my website as soon as possible.
To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here