A fellow expressed surprise the other day that I have been seeing a grief counselor. I was surprised he was surprised.
The death of a spouse or a child is the most horrible event I can imagine. I think trying to survive that grief alone would be akin to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without a guide. In both cases, you have no idea where you are going, you don’t have a grasp on what tools you will need and you really can’t trust your own instincts because they’ve never been tested in that way before.
Many people believe that in finding a good grief counselor the secret is the initials behind their name. Those folks argue it’s all about credentials. I have nothing against psychiatrists, psycho-therapists or grief therapists. I believe in some credentials but for me there are nine key letters I want behind my grief counselor’s name: b-e-e-n t-h-e-r-e. I want to know my counselor has experienced the same loss I did. I will candidly admit that since my wife Jean’s death, the world divides into two parts–people who have lost a dear loved one and those that haven’t. If you are giving me advice, you better have walked in my shoes or I am going to seriously discount your comments.
I apologize if that offends, but for me that’s the price of admission. I appreciate everybody else’s empathy but not their advice.
My grief counselor, Jenny, lost her husband several years ago but that did not assure us a smooth road. The first time we met I thought she was crazy and I told her so. In that first meeting we watched a video of Jean in pictures with our family that we had prepared for the wake and funeral. I sobbed throughout the entire video. Jenny listened to me talk for a while and then asked me to watch the video every day. I wailed, I swore, I yelled and after a few days of complaining to sympathetic friends about what a stupid idea it was, I followed Jenny’s advice.
Jenny told me to watch the video until I was smiling instead of sobbing. I thought that was flat-out impossible. It was not. Jenny was right. Oh sure, I still get tears in my eyes when I watch it, but I also smile a lot. I marvel at Jean’s smile, I love the way she looked at me in tender moments and her rapport with her grandkids makes my heart sing.
Jenny made me stare down my grief and it has helped me immeasurably. You don’t get over grief, but it does become less all-consuming and more a part of your daily life. My grief controlled me for a while. Jenny helped me make it tolerable by teaching me to celebrate the joy I found with Jean.