As originally published in Washington Post Magazine on December 10, 2018: Full Article Here.
Grief and trauma psychotherapist for the Wendt Center in Washington
When people find out what I do, the first reaction is to applaud this work, just the fact that anybody is able to sit with people who are grieving. And the second reaction is: Wow, I could never do that.
I have experienced a fair share of grief and loss in my life. It makes me a very particular kind of companion with clients. I don’t know if this is the first thing I would have jumped into out of college. But now in my 40s, having learned so much from my own grief and loss and those of others, it’s not unfamiliar, nor is it something I’m afraid of.
We are in a different place in conversations about death and grieving than 25 years ago. But still, for some reason, we just don’t like sad. Many people are not able to witness sadness, and many are just not comfortable being sad.
Grief is not just sadness. Someone grieving six months or six years out, they won’t stop feeling a certain longing, a yearning, an emptiness, a void, a hole. Those sensations and experiences aren’t sadness. They’re: I’m no longer the person I was. Something is missing.
We know how to have funerals, burials, cremations and scatter ashes. But grief? It’s not something where there’s a recipe. I have clients who just want to be done. They want to tackle it, accomplish it. I encourage people to shift from the idea they can conquer this to recognizing that it will change — especially if we pay attention and really attend to it. It doesn’t knock you to the ground if you are able to truly attend to the experience.
Clients don’t make me sad. I can be sad with them. If I walked out of my office with everyone’s sadness, I wouldn’t get out the door. I would fall apart. Partly because we don’t open up and easily talk about death, it’s a very sacred space. When people are sitting with me, what I feel is honored and privileged.