I’ve been on both sides of grief. I’ve been the counselor, and I’ve been the one grieving. Sometimes at the same time. The first major loss I experienced came right before the beginning of my internship, and the second as my training period comes to an end. I found it interesting to reflect upon some of the things I’ve learned through the experience.
•People try to take away grief. “You’ll be all right.” “Cheer up” “They’re in a better place.” “God needed another angel.” Although I know statements like these are well-intentioned, they are the opposite of what a grieving person needs. A person who’s grieving doesn’t want to hear that they shouldn’t be hurting, or that they need to hurry up and feel better. Unfortunately, even counselors are vulnerable to this frantic desire to eliminate the pain of death. As my clients sob over the loss of a loved one, I have sometimes too felt the urge to speak too quickly, to hurry and fill in the pain with platitudes. But the counseling office may be this person’s only outlet to release their grief unfettered by insistent comforting. We have to give them that.
•There is such a thing as a good death and a bad death. A bad death is one that comes too early, one that leaves behind unfinished business. A bad death is one that is painful for the dying person. A bad death lingers. It happens to someone that is younger than they should be. It is harder to get through the bad death. The bad death leaves scars even after the wound heals up.
•Death is a loss of innocence for those affected, even if they are mature in other areas. The death club has a painful initiation. No one undergoes it and comes out the same. You realize it can happen to you, because it did. Anyone else you love is subject to loss. You cannot protect yourself. And you can never go back to the place in which you did not realize this.
•Grieving people are afraid of being a burden. Therefore, don’t ask if they need anything. Just do it. If you’re a friend, show up with food or a hug, and call to check in. Don’t be offended if they don’t call back, just be available when they do. As a counselor, don’t ask if they’re okay. Tell them you know they’re probably thinking about (their loved one) and you would want to hear what they’re thinking if and when they’re ready. Most of the time, people in mourning are just waiting for permission to share.
•Grieving people do stupid things – some to deal with a loss and some just because their heads are in a fog. When you’ve lost somebody, you can go about everyday tasks but can’t escape the awful, overarching state of loss. “I’m brushing my teeth – and they’re gone.” “I’m returning my library books, and the person I lost will never read a book again.” It makes it hard to think straight.
•Death is not something you “get over”. It is something you get through. You don’t – you can’t – go back to the way it was before. Don’t expect anyone to. The goal is not “back to normal” but finding a “new normal.”
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.