Things Said: the horror
person with a belief is
equal to a force of
Let me say at the top here, that I am only one person with a belief about the content that follows. But I feel so strongly that the family stories shared here are so awful, that you may find my attitude more forceful than the opinions of "ninety-nine" others who may have "professional interests" in the field of bereavement care.
Everyone keeps bugging me about my cynical attitude toward professionals in the fields that offer care to bereaved parents. Now I do not, by any means, have a cynical attitude toward them all! I do not mean to stereotype. And I do want to note that there are *exceptional* professionals out there -- and for each and every one of those exceptions, I am *most grateful* and so pleased that you are all on this earth making an effort to educate other professionals.
But I hear *so many* horror stories on a daily basis that I cannot ignore them. The reports I get from bereaved parents are just overwhelming. Yes, this is anecdotal, and you can disqualify my whole reason for this article on that basis -- but you know what? Even if there is just one professional out there doing harm to bereaved parents, it is not okay! And if that one professional happens to be doing that harm within your organization, wouldn't you want to do something about it?
Now I also want to acknowledge that finding grief support is a very subjective and personal thing. It may be that some of the horror stories are really just personality difference between people who just wouldn't naturally work together under any circumstances. And bereaved parents are hyper-sensitive to anything that does not feel supportive to their process of living life-after-the-death-of-a-child. I know this from my own personal journey. BUT I also think that if we disqualify the experiences & perceptions of bereaved parents, then we never look at reality (subjective or not), and we never take the leap of making change!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You cannot convince me that all the professionals are right and all the parents are wrong. It just isn't that black and white. I think it is the degree to which we understand what "support" truly means, the degree to which any individual can honestly understand grief. So I am not trying to set up right and wrong here. I am trying to illustrate the unhelpful techniques -- trying to bring light to the horror stories that are stuffed into closets, so that we all might look at them and then make some changes.
So what do I mean by "horror story" anyway? Well, let me give you a few examples of things I heard from bereaved parents in just the last 10 days or so. Now keep in mind, they sent me these tidbits under the heading of "Dumbest things anyone has ever said" to them about grieving the deaths of their children. Keep in mind that these things were said by "professionals" who were suppose to be helping them:
2) "You just need
to help your wife realize
that her feelings are lying
to her. Women are too emotional
and you need to talk down
to her. Play an emotional
story problem game. That
4) "Why are you
still crying... what is
Maybe the "professionals" who played parts in the stories above would have different versions of the stories. But my point is that it really doesn't matter if they have different versions or not. The damage has been done. These parents are now experiencing guilt on top of grief. These parents are already talking to me, to other members of their support systems, to anyone who will listen -- about how badly the "professionals" did when "caring" for them. That alone seems like it should be enough of a reason for all professionals to pay some attention.
Bottom line for professionals: BE GENTLE. Think before you open your mouth to spill out theories or politics or whatever else you were trained to say. Better yet, get some addition training that hopefully will be better than what these "professionals" above where trained to say!!! If you don't know where to find that training, contact the MISS Foundation and get your behind to the 2004 Passages Conference.
Bottom line for bereaved people: You have every right in the world to seek support that actually supports you!!!!!!!!!! For details on your "Consumer Rights" when seeking therapy or counseling, please see the "Finding a Therapist" article at the MISS Foundation site.
And then please consider the following Kota idea:
For anyone seeking therapy support, make a list of questions you would want answered -- litmus questions -- questions like, "We honor the birthdays of ALL our children, living and dead, every year. How will you support me during those difficult times?" And call therapists to interview them with those questions.They should be willing to give you 15 free, consult-only minutes on the phone where you ask these questions and get answers - you may have to make a phone-appt-consult to do it. If, based on their answers, you are willing to invest the time and energy to go and actually see them, then do it. But if they won't talk to you, won't answer the questions, or give lousy answers, *don't bother with them* and move on to the next therapist on the list till you find one you feel would truly support your experiences!!
Please note: This is my personal opinion as a bereaved parent and should not be considered medical advice nor be taken as a "professional" condemnation of the therapeutic process as a whole. :)