Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I completed Grief Counseling in mid-Spring.  I don’t remember the date.  I do remember that it was raining that day.  The rain drops were fat and beautiful, plopping down with earthbound purpose.
I never seem to have an umbrella handy.  That day was no exception.  I didn’t care if I got soaked.  I lifted my face to the sky, breathed in the promise of Spring, and made my way to the entrance of the Counseling Center.
 Several Months Earlier...

The halls of the Counseling Center are the color of pink vomit. The counselor walked back the hallway with me towards his office.  “How are you, Megan?”  I always over think that question.  It’s generally a small-talk question.  The standard small-talk answer is, “Good, thanks.  How are you?”  I manage to utter this customary response to most people, but to him I responded, “Well, I guess we’ll be talking about that for the next hour.”  He replied, “Okay,” dragging out the “ay”.

The first time I was in his office, I sat upright in an uncomfortable wooden chair.  We went through the customary intake process-- family history, medical history and we talked about my "goals".  It took us two sessions to get through that process.  I was annoyed.  By the third session I had moved to an ugly, green upholstered chair, the kind you have to heave yourself out of when it's time to get up.  "So, I guess the 'healing' can start now," I quipped. 

Something I've learned about counselors is that they generally don't care for self-deprecation.  I'm fluent in it. Counselors don't usually go for that kind of talk. 

Basically, all I really wanted from grief counseling was a diagnosis of "normal."  (Another thing I've learned about counselors...they don't like the word "normal").  I just wanted a professional to validate that my feelings were a typical expression of grief.  

My first rambling session went something like this: "Look, this is how I'm feeling.  I cry a lot, but I've always been a crier.  You know those Hallmark commercials?  Like the one where the old lady always has an empty mailbox and looks so sad, but then one day her neighbor notices and sends her a card...that commercial killed me every time.  I'm a sap.  But all this crying lately, I think it's making my husband uncomfortable.  I've read all about the stages of grief...and honestly, I think I'm normal.  But could you just tell me that?  Please, just tell me that this is normal...oh, I know therapists don't like that word, but it's not really for me.  It's for Tim.  My husband.  I just want him to know that all this crying is not some black-hole of depression that I'll never come out of."

It was a relief to get the "normal" diagnosis...at first.  It was kind of a "win" to tell my husband that a mental health professional told me that I was experiencing "normal" grief and that my expressions of grief were also "normal."  We laughed when I told him that I actually asked my therapist to "write a note to my husband."  (My counselor did not write the note.  He didn't laugh either.  Whatever.)
I told myself that all I really needed to know was that I wasn't going crazy.  I didn't plan on going back for more counseling as long as I got the "normal" pass.  But I did go back, week after week.

The counseling sessions are rather blurry now.  Looking back on them, I realize now that the sessions themselves were not much help.  

I was beginning to feel a resentment towards the outside world for not realizing how much pain I was in, for not understanding how important my Grandma had been in my life. The "normal" tag seemed to minimize my anguish.  I didn't want my grief to be normal.  The actual act of going to a therapy session was what I really needed.  It was my way of saying to "everyone" that I was not done grieving.  Sometimes I wanted to scream, "I'm NOT OK!"

I didn't scream.

I cried. I sobbed. I buried my face in my pillow at night, wondering how many tears it could absorb before I began to drown in my own salty, snotty sorrow.

I couldn't scream.

Many days I would open my contact list on my phone and scroll through all the names. I found a reason for each name to not hit the "call" button.

I would not scream.

I went to counseling and sheepishly told a stranger about my darkest hours. A copay has a way of relieving you of any guilt that may typically be associated with unloading your sorrows on another human being.

Let Your Memories Bring You Comfort

Cardboard condolences. On a good day, they can make you feel loved. On a bad day, they can make you feel like bitch-slapping the guy who makes money by pairing up a cliché and a serene photo of an ethereal looking dove.
We talked about cliches a lot during counseling. Well, I talked about clichés. I told him how angry some of them made me feel. He listened. He didn't offer up any cliches about clichés. I was thankful.

I was allowed to have anger, hurt and pain. It was okay to let that lump in my throat explode into shameless tears. 

Memories are not much comfort soon after a loss. They can be as sneaky as a paper cut that catches you off guard. Where did that come from? Slice. Your eyes sting. Would you cry over a paper cut? Right here in front of your boss? 

They can also sucker punch you in the gut. Holidays. Those are gut-punchers. It's hard to breathe. You find an unoccupied room and crumple in defeat. Who knew that a glowing flash of Christmas 1989 had such a mean left hook?


When I made my way to my last counseling session last spring, I didn't know it would be my last walk down the pukey-pink hallway. The familiar green chair embraced me like an old friend while my counselor commented on the rain. His small talk didn't bother me anymore.

"My grandma loved Spring," I shared. "She liked to plant Gladiolus...oh, but she said it like, "glad-ee-ole-ee-yas.'" 

I smiled at the memory.

I smiled and the green chair seemed to hug me a little tighter.