Grief Counseling: Time for a Dose of My Own Medicine

Ken Donaldson, LMHC, and Mom, with one her her many “Momisms”

It’s been a little more than three months since Mom passed. In the first two months, I had several days that felt like years that were never going to end. I cried a lot. And I tried my best to get back into a regular routine only to be bushwhacked by waves of emotion. I slept a lot. I reached out to friends and talked their ears off. My pen became my best friend as I journaled a lot. I was clearly depressed. Ironically, my thirty plus years of being a mental health counselor didn’t clue me in to get some grief counseling. However, I received a follow-up call from a Hospice social worker and that prompted me to consider getting some grief counseling for myself.

I’ve seen the counselor several times now, and am happy to report that it has been very beneficial. I feel like I’ve “made a turn,” in that I’m no longer feeling so overwhelmed by grief.

I’m functioning better, have more energy and my overall mood is up.

I’m continually amazed at how easy it is to overlook something that’s so obvious. But then again, I do suffer from chronic and terminal humanness, so denial, blind spots and “I can handle this,” all come quite naturally to most people.

In my professional experience, I’ve facilitated a lot of grief counseling with clients who have lost a loved one. Other types of losses can be equally serious, enough so that it’s time to ask for help. Because of our chronic and terminal humanness, these can be harder to recognize.

As a few examples:

  1. When you lose a pet . Those little (or big) balls of fur find a way into places in our heart and soul that humans never reach. Pets give us unconditional love. They become part of our family and daily life. When they pass the pain is often no different or less intense than losing a loved human.
  2. Loss of your innate abilities. We all age and get old, and with that naturally comes the slow, or sometimes fast, decline of our capabilities. I ran regularly in my thirties and forties, but my body started to respond poorly (pain and extreme discomfort) as I aged. Several doctors, physical therapists and biomechanics specialists all strongly suggested that I give up running. I now use my bicycle for a good aerobic workout, but I still miss being able to run. For other people, the loss might be a noticeable cognitive decline, age-related changes in one’s appearance or ability to perform on the job.
  3. Loss of the dreams you planned on. This is perhaps the most overlooked and under detected. Many people aren’t even aware of this themselves. We all have dreams, goals and ideas that we want to fulfill in our lifetimes, regardless of how obvious or conscious they may be. In my opinion, this is one of the leading causes of depressive episodes. When people see time moving but don’t feel like they’re engaged in life at the level they planned on, there’s a significant loss there.

The bottom line is that grief is a common denominator in this game of life. We all have losses and we all grieve. Unfortunately, many people don’t cope with grief well. They don’t ask for help.

They self medicate with drugs or alcohol, or become “do-aholics” or “busyness junkies,” or get into some form of digital addiction via social media, gaming, TV or online shopping.

Having been on both ends of grief counseling, I highly recommend it. If you’ve never seen a counselor before, it can feel extremely vulnerable and scary. We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage in-depth sharing of our true emotions, so going to see a counselor for grief counseling, or anything, can feel uncomfortable in the beginning.

I’m extremely grateful for the counseling that I’ve received, and I’m equally grateful for being able to help others through their losses. It is a gift to be present as another person works through their grief. It’s also a reminder of the fragility of this thing called Life.

So if in reading this you’re reminded of a loss that you’re still grieving, consider talking to a friend or writing about it. If you’re still struggling, do yourself a favor and make a call to get some grief counseling. That includes us counselors too!

By the way, Marry YourSelf First is a great support tool for anyone who’s recovering from any type of loss in his or her life. It also makes for a nice gift to help someone you know who might be struggling with their “chronic and terminal humanness.”