For me, a grief counselor was the only smart answer

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.

2 thoughts on “For me, a grief counselor was the only smart answer

  1. A friend of mine shared this blog with me and wondered what I thought.. I believe she forwarded it to me because I am one of those people who has those letters after my name (PhD), because I work with children who have lost loved ones/caregivers in a traumatic way, and because I, fairly recently, watched my strong, powerful, relatively young father die of colon cancer. I think the first 2 part reaction I have to this blog is that I am really sorry about your loss, and I am so glad that you were able to seek out the support that you needed. You are brave. I know many people who get stuck in the grief and don’t reach out, when reaching out is probably the best thing they could do. I think one of the things I have learned in my profession and in my personal life is that there really is not THE right solution for managing grief, only what works for each individual. I sought out professional counseling to support my grief process as well, though I have absolutely no idea whether or not my therapist experienced the loss of a loved one, as I had—and to me, that was not important. What was important is that she could sit with me and support me as I experienced the grief and processed its meaning to me. I think we all have different needs related to grief and its important to understand whatever our needs are and to seek out support to match those needs. I commend you for doing that!

    I appreciate you sharing your feelings and your story… and I hope the process of writing this blog was therapeutic for you too.

    Renee ZD


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