Monday, December 24, 2012
Trying to Fix Grief
I'm a "fixer;" I like to fix things. Maybe that's one reason I'm finding the grief process to be so tough - because there's no righting this situation.
Not that I haven't tried. I went through with three different counselors in search of a remedy not long after Dad went on ahead, each of whom didn't specifically deal with grief; I liked all of them at first precisely because they seemed to have a linear approach to how they laid out their sessions - my impression was that they were "fixers" too, and that seemed like a good thing to me at the time.
About halfway through my second session with the first counselor, she asked me how I defined myself after the loss of my father. What the hell does she want me to say? I thought, and I felt as if I had been sucker punched. I felt like I was afloat in a sea of sadness on my best days during that time, and on many of the other days I felt like I was drowning. How do I define myself??? I had absolutely no idea, and I knew it would be a long time before I could withstand even the thought of redefining myself without my dad here with me in this world. And so, without answering, I thanked her for her time and walked out the door.
Two sessions in with the second counselor, she leaned back in her chair, put each of her fingers together with each of the matching fingers on the opposite hand so that it looked like she was about to start doing the hand-gesture that goes along with "Itsy Bitsy Spider," and said, "I think what you need to do is to realize that you were lucky to have been given the time to say goodbye to your father." Then she just sat there looking at me expectantly, as if she thought that some giant epiphany was going to come to me in that moment. Anyone who has ever been through the death of a loved one after that person has had to suffer through a terminal illness would not find comfort in that statement, particularly at that point in the grief process. Without a word, I stood up and walked out.
I waited a couple of weeks and then, mainly because I was concerned that I still wasn't sleeping much at all, I tried again. About 45 minutes into the first session with Number 3, I got "It's already been six weeks since your loss. You should ask your primary care physician to write you a prescription for an anti-depressant." The message I took from that was that I should have already moved on, that six weeks was plenty of time to have moved through the grief, and that I should get over it, and that's really the last thing I wanted to hear. Strike three.
Luckily, through a friend of a friend, I found my way to a grief counselor about six weeks after that, and that was a different ball game all together. That made me realize the lack of training and knowledge in the area of grief that the other three had. The grief counselor let me talk about my experience and my feelings; she had posters on the walls of her office that said things like, "To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die" and, my favorite: "Every grief needs a thousand tellings."
More than one physician, when I've gone in for a check-up or for a minor physical complaint and then when I've brought up the subject of my struggle to try to figure out how to cope with the loss of my father, has offered to prescribe medication as a solution for grief. As society does so often these days, these doctors have seen grief as a sickness, as an imperfection, as something that needs to be "gotten over." I didn't want to be on medicine. I know it's something that's helpful or even necessary for some people, and I told myself that I wouldn't completely rule it out as an option for myself on down the road - but I instinctively realized that to numb the feelings associated with the loss of such an important person in my life at that point would not only put the feelings associated with grief on hold temporarily but also would likely numb me to the goodness in my life, and I knew that the latter was all that was keeping me going. As I had learned from my dad, I mustered all the courage I could and forged ahead, for the most part with the belief that someday, somehow I would find a way to make it through. Because one thing that I've learned about grief is that not only is there not a "quick fix" for all the things that come along with it, but there isn't really a "fix" at all.