The Blog: Long Day's Journal into Night

Good Grief

 

   Grief counsellors have been in the news a lot lately, especially since the appalling shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.


   Now this is a profession/occupation that did not exist 30 years ago.  Back then, the clergy, relatives and friends gathered around the bereaved and did what they could. Now the process has been professionalized.

 

   I imagine grief counsellors huddling in a place like a firehall, Kleenex boxes in hand, waiting for a call to the latest airline crash/mass murder/multiple car pile-up/ incipient revolution.  When the call comes, they hasten to their cars or helicopters, armed with platitudes,  ready to counsel the bereaved or even the confused.
 

   What I don’t really get, is the need for grief counsellors.  Grief strikes me as being among the most basic of our emotions, an overwhelming force that makes most other emotions seem trivial in comparison.  It is as spontaneous as the most fervent sexual impulse and as unstoppable.  And we all experience it at least once and more often, many times in our lives, with varying degrees of intensity.
 

   Grief comes with its own subset of emotions – regret, anger, denial among them.  And what you do in these circumstances is simple – you close the door, you cry, you rage, you agonize, you cry some more, you talk it out with your friends or family, you start to cry less and then comes a magic moment when you’ve managed to forget your grief for two, five, 30 minutes at a time.  You are ‘getting over it’, although in truth, you never completely recover who you were before the grief.
 

   I can see how grief counsellors can be a sounding board for that process, and perhaps even shorten it a little.  But then friends and family can do the same without the fees involved.  Because basically, grieving is a terribly solitary process, where you feel most alone and vulnerable.  Those around you can reach out and help you through it and in that sense, we are all grief counsellors, but without initials after our names.
 

  So I come back to: What exactly do grief counsellors do? And what does it say of our society that we have outsourced that function?