According to the great and all knowing Wikipedia, Grief counseling is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people cope with grief and mourning following the death of loved ones, or with major life changes that trigger feelings of grief (e.g., divorce, or job loss).
There is a lot of info on the web from the counseling perspective, but not as much from the viewpoint of the recipient. All I can do is share my own experiences and hope that it offers insight to those of you who may be considering it.
First, I had to be open to it. I was going through the fires of hell and needed a guide to help me get out with as minimal damage as possible before I was burned alive. Everyone and their uncle telling you to get counseling isn’t helpful unless you want it. You also need to find a counselor who is a good fit for you. I was fortunate to have two great counselors help me through the process, but not everyone has that kind of luck. If you are serious about counseling, keep trying until you find the right one.
Since hospice fees include grief counseling (FYI not all hospice companies actually provide it even though they are supposed to) I started with the hospice chaplain, Jay. He was wonderful and had that soothing kind of voice you expect to hear on nighttime radio. He described hospice counseling to me as companion counseling. He’d walk this path with me but I would set the pace. He’d survived his own devastating loss and had a personal point of reference that was comforting. He came to the house once a week to visit with me. Week after week he’d sit on the couch across the room and just be there in a way no one else could. He’d ask me questions about Dan. What were my favorite memories? How did we meet? What was Dan like? After Dan’s gruesome passing, Jay was trying to help me remember that there were many positive memories. He also let me cry. A lot. A lot a lot. Every time I sobbed that I was broken, he assured me I was normal. All through Dan’s battle with cancer I kept hearing how strong I was (not true, by the way). I was on autopilot from the minute we heard the word cancer, even through the loss of my Dad a month after Dan’s diagnosis. Surrendering to the pain was not easy, and so much worse multiplied by two major losses. Jay helped me see that allowing the grief to happen was the true meaning of being strong. He also set the expectation that it was going to suck. Apparently super organized control freaks have a harder time with grief because we can’t control it. Go figure.
When I realized this was going to be a lengthy process I started working with Kelli. It didn’t feel right to keep utilizing hospice resources indefinitely, although Jay still checks in with me periodically. Fortunately, insurance covers this type of counseling, so all I had to do was call my primary doctor to get a referral. Kelli is very similar in her approach although takes a more active role in our sessions. She lets me talk. She asks questions to help me get where I need to be and helps me come to my own realizations of what I need to move forward. She’ll even stop me when I start going down the guilt path. And, much like Jay, she is my cheerleader. Our sessions feel more like having coffee with a girlfriend than anything clinical. Oh, and sometimes there is still crying, just not as much as before.
I don’t think I’d be functioning without either of them. Repressing grief is unhealthy, and almost always rears its ugly head within a year in one form or another. I made the commitment to myself that I would let the grief happen. “You have to feel the feelings” is what I was told up front. I wasn’t quite as prepared for how sucky those feelings can be but I’m glad I chose to take this journey.
What if you try counseling and just aren’t feeling it? I’ve talked to a number of W’s who just didn’t find counseling a fit for them…either the process or their counselor. Everyone is different. I’ve found it immensely valuable.
- If insurance is the issue, check to see if your employer offers an EAP which usually covers 5 sessions at a time.
- If you’re religious, seek out your clergy. Many have at least a small amount of counseling training.
- Try a support group…either in person or online (I’m a member of the online The W Club since leaving my house to go to a meeting doesn’t work for me).
- Talk to a friend about what you’re feeling. Just be mindful that not everyone can handle our pain the way a counselor can.
- And if you just didn’t click with your counselor, try another one.
Whatever you choose to do, please “feel the feelings” and give yourself permission to work through the process. Be kind to yourself. And remember, you aren’t alone.
Oh, and for those of you trying to help your W…you may gently suggest counseling, but no nagging allowed.