Grief Is Hard Enough
Posted by Dan Sterdt
In our fast-paced, success-based society, people often feel stigmatized for the need to seek out counseling support. There’s this expectation that people will “pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” and the desire for help is deemed a failure. Men in particular are taught early on to withhold their emotions, and those who remain stoic in the face of adversity are considered heroic. Although we each carry a unique perspective, there are certain universal experiences that alter the course of our lives and inevitably affect our way of thinking.
As a grief counselor with JourneyCare, I provide services for individuals, families and groups whose loved ones have died. I am blessed with the opportunity to create a safe space for these folks to explore their memories, their feelings, their anxieties and their hopes. Each is linked not only by their loss, but more importantly by their love and care for those that passed away. Often, they are bogged down by the weight not only of loss and of bereavement―they are also burdened by the sense that they “should” be feeling or doing “better.”
An important first step in connecting with them is validation. I recently met with a 73-year-old woman whose husband and son both died in recent years. She is also a Holocaust survivor whose parents were killed when she was an infant. Despite the fact that this woman’s life has been permeated by tragedy, she is an upbeat and kind-hearted human being. As we “unpacked” some of her feelings of sadness, anger, guilt and loneliness, I highlighted her immense strength and courage. I encouraged her to build connections with other caring individuals and to continue exercising self-care.
At the end of our first session, she smiled and said, “I much prefer this to therapy. I’ve had some bad experiences in the past and I’ll never see a counselor again, but this I’d like to keep on trying.” When I smiled back and noted that we had indeed just had a therapy session together, she was stunned. “But every counselor I’ve seen has been so analytical. I always felt on edge, but not today. I didn’t feel judged―just able to open up and know it was all right, and that I’ll be all right.”
It was a pleasure hearing these words, for that is my ultimate goal for every person with whom I interact. Grief is hard enough as is without all of society’s “shoulds.”
JourneyCare’s bereavement counseling program enables people in their darkest hour to see a bit of light. Meeting people in that darkness, approaching them with an open heart and mind, and walking alongside them is the greatest gift we can bestow. As eminent psychologist Carl Rogers proponed, treating others with unconditional positive regard actually brings their best to the surface. Like the Wizard of Oz, I open clients’ minds to the strengths they already possess, and I help them to utilize these tools on their path towards healing.
Simply put, grief is a manifestation of love. And to quote a widowed gentleman, who I met after his wife of 70 years had passed away, “If this sadness is the price I must pay for having such a long and wonderful life with my dear wife, I’d pay it again through a thousand lifetimes.” May we all be so lucky in life and in love.
Learn more about JourneyCare's free grief support programs.