Article by Jari Lynn Smith
The death of a loved one is devastating. Unfortunately it's part of the human condition and therefore unavoidable. Having counseled the bereaved for many years I find that each person has a unique life story that colors their deep sense of loss and their journey through grief. No two people grieve alike nor are they on the same timetable. Often those who come for counseling are unable to get support from family and friends and usually appear during a period of acute pain. Strange as it may seem, this is where I most want to be - at the bottom rung of one's grief.
Grief has a mind of its own. I like to say it's the tail that wags the dog. Initially, many are in denial particularly if the death was unexpected or violent. The bereaved enter therapy overwhelmed by uncertainty and sadness, and they eventually wrestle with the inability to let go of their loved one. "Letting go" has an edge to it that I'm uncomfortable with. I believe the truth lies more with a gradual integration of the loss while the bereaved invest in meaningful living. I seek to help the bereaved accept their loss and understand that I provide a safe place for them to fall. I remind them again and again that their pain will not be as searing as it was at the beginning. Yes, time does ease the burden as does telling and re-telling the story of what happened on that dreadful, life-changing day. The loss eventually becomes real and permanent. To an outsider this may seem obvious , but to the bereaved it is not. For a time, they are at a great distance from the reality and permanence of their loss.
Grief is a process not an event. As the bereaved mourn their loss, they need a compassionate, empathic presence who can ease them into finding new meaning in life and into a deeper sense of who they are. They cannot be rushed. People who risk this kind of exploration are indeed courageous and I am honored to be present with them. It is essentially a spiritual journey for both of us.