Today I talked to a grief counselor about her career to get a realistic view of grief counseling in order to judge whether or not this is the career path for me. I’m happy to report I had a delightful conversation with her that was, at times, very exciting because what she said matched my own interpretations of our society and how we (dysfunctionally) deal with death. I could probably talk to this woman for hours and not gotten bored (though, she may have eventually gotten bored with me). It was enlightening to touch upon the many questions I had about this profession and the program at Kent. I was surprised with the ease at which I interviewed her (interviewing has always made me nervous as a technical writer) and how my confidence level burst forth from me the way I wanted it to. My self-esteem is sometimes wounded and I have to concentrate hard to be the person I am in front of my friends. But I feel like I did it! Hopefully, I came off to her as balanced as I felt and that she didn’t think I was just another widow longing for closure by fixing the ills of society.
I mean, on some level, that’s why I want to be a grief counselor — to take something very negative that happened to me and turn it into something positive. At the same time, however, I feel I have had my closure with grief. I’ve finally accepted what happened to me, I embrace the occasional trip into grief when it comes, and I’ve learned to appreciate it instead of being angered by it. As I told the grief counselor this morning, I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, for it’s merely a sign of how much I loved my husband that my heart occasionally skips or a tear falls down my cheek when I remember him. It’s an ode to him, really; a testament to the power of our love. What a beautiful, glorious thing! Mike is not gone because I remember him; because I remember him, it hurts a little. I would not be human if it didn’t. It’s okay to hurt; it’s not okay to let the hurt rule your life. I’ve reached the place where I know this precious balance.
She did caution me against letting my own story overshadow that of a patient’s. Separating myself from my patients could possibly be the biggest challenge for me in this job. As a counselor, my role would be to listen, not to be heard. I’ve had my chance, I’ve talked to my counselors. Now, in giving back, I have to truly be there for other people. I will have to withdraw my own emotions and prevent myself from correlating my grief with the patient’s. This could be very hard. Empathy is one of my biggest assets. Somehow, I have to learn how to be an empathetic listener without emotionally wrapping myself in my patient’s misery and projecting my experience on his/hers. Though everyone experiences grief through similar stages, each person’s grief is different. I have to always remember that.
I think I can do that, but I do think it will be hard. Still, I’m hopeful. Lately I’ve been a lot more controlled — less likely to cry — when others share with me their own stories. I haven’t perfected it — sad movies make me wail like a baby. I actually want this bad enough to try. I know I’m made of tough stuff. If my mom can look unflinchingly at an open wound, then I’m sure I can teach myself to not blink when presented with people’s emotional wounds.
The grief counselor admitted there are cases that she can’t take on because they make her too emotional and she can’t separate herself from the therapist with a patient: abusers of children or animals. (I wasn’t too surprised, as her little dog was also present in her office during the interview.) She admitted to me that she has these weaknesses. She believes she’s successful because with loss issues, she is able trade her emotional persona for her professional one.
As I sit here, I think about all the other things that could be hard to get used to in the coming year if I choose this path: studying, balancing work and school, the financial crunch. I am used to my lifestyle now of working and playing as I want. It will be a challenge to put myself into that mode again. It’s not forever, though, and in the end, I may be more fulfilled career-wise than I’ve ever been. So I need to take the jump!
The grief counselor praised my initiative in applying to volunteer in the bereavement group at a hospice (as I have done recently). She told me that is one of the things she would have told me to do. She gave me a long list of books I can begin reading to get my feet wet, some of which are personal accounts of grief, and, in my excitement to get right to it, I started adding those books to my wish list on amazon.com so that perhaps my family can get them as Christmas or birthday presents.
She gave me some useful advice about the counseling program at Kent; mainly, that there are no elective courses on grieving because the State of Ohio feels there are already too many requirements for certification of counselors and she can’t get the school to put through any class of this type. However, this is not a problem localized to Kent; there are no completely adequate grief counseling programs anywhere in the United States. Why? Because health insurance companies won’t classify grief as a condition worthy of treatment, like chronic depression or other mental disorders. Even though most people who come to grief counseling tend to be more of a short term issue that often has a terminus in treatment (unlike other mental serious mental disorders).
I smiled and excitedly told her that that sounded like a reflection of our society’s nervous tendency to sweep grief and grievers underneath the carpet. It reminded me of how my company’s bereavement pay — even for a spouse — was three days, which is completely inadequate. I experienced often the discomfort of people who just wished I’d “move on” and fix my sadness in the arms of another lover (just weeks after I’d lost my husband).
To my glee, she nodded enthusiastically and added detail and examples to my argument. I felt such relief, almost as if I’d just passed my first test.
Despite the unavailability of grief-specific courses, she advised me to always use my class assignments in counseling to further my own research in grieving, almost like an independent study. She said that there were many opportunities for me to do this and I should whenever I can. She also told me about some classes I could take through the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) at their annual conferences.
It was a really, really good day. I left her office feverish with excitement and hope. Every once in awhile, I feel like I’ve found my way back to the path I’m supposed to tread. This entire year has slowly led me back to this path and I’m really grateful. I’m a little leery of this current direction I’m investigating because I’ve wanted to go back to school for so many different reasons so many different times over the past several years. I’m worried that I’m lying to myself or getting over-excited about this thing because I’m so overwhelmingly disgruntled with what I’m doing now. I guess I can comfort myself with the fact that I’m doing the right things by investigating this before making any rash decisions. And it’s certainly a really good sign that each one of these explorations (first the death and dying seminar and now this interview) have gotten me successively more excited even after facing the details, learning about the difficulties. I guess I’m always a little unsure about my decisions. Nothing is as clear and simple as it was when, in high school, I was choosing a college… All I can do is keep walking and hope that I’m haven’t missed some vital trail blaze.