Jill Duffield wrote an article for a Presbyterian magazine in the context of pastors. I thought it applied equally as well to counselors. “An honest seminary professor had warned me about grief, but no warning is sufficient. He had said it is painful to keep burying people you love. He was, and is, right. But death only represents a small part of the large, complicated puzzle of sadness that accompanies pastoral ministry.
“One of the hardest aspects of ministerial grief is this reality: As the pastor you know far more than anyone else the extent of grief in the room, the depth and breadth and variety of suffering present at any given moment. Add to that the fact that you can’t share it, except with Jesus and your therapist, and this mixes loneliness to the pain of hurting with people you care deeply about. It has the capacity to disturb your soul.”
I have the double whammy of being a counselor and being an author/lecture on the topic of death/dying and grief/loss. Those are my choices, although part of me believes that the professions have chosen me. For me, being a counselor is being present in the room fully with my clients, no matter the breadth of their pain. I work hard to be unafraid of it.
Yesterday I had a lecture at a college. It was not for a particular class, but was advertised to the college campus in general. The college had just had a memorial service earlier in the week for the one year marker of a student’s death by completed suicide. Plus it’s the holidays. I knew the audience was ripe for strong emotion. There was only about ten in the group. Sometimes smaller groups are great because they are much more intimate and allows for a more meaningful experience.
The lecture went well. That is, it was well received and clearly touched the people who listened. But it was also hard. I had to focus more than usual to keep on track. There was one gentleman there. He was likely in his 50’s. About half way through, he started weeping quietly. He was in the front so no one else could see him. I could though, and he was clearly suffering.
There was a young college student, and she wept through most of the hour. I was able to meet her after and give her a hug. She told me she has lost three grandparents in the last year. She was also mentally tortured as she was unable to be there for one of them. We talked at length and I was glad to know she was connected with a counselor.
I am used to making audiences laugh and then sniffle. That’s part of the power of the message and the heart of bitter and sweet. But yesterday was a bit more difficult. It was mostly painful for people and I had to keep going through it, knowing they we were hurting so badly.
When I got home, I was exhausted. I laid on the couch for a while instead of doing the big list of things I had to do (like write my blog!). It seems obvious, but I didn’t even put it together until eating dinner at night. I couldn’t figure out why I was so wiped out and then I was like, duh! That was pretty intense. And things like that can definitely “disturb my soul.”
Ms. Duffield’s article ends with this paragraph: “Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light, but the lead apron of grief is heavy and sometimes we need help taking it off, if only for a while. I am grateful for the people of faith who have helped me, quieting my soul so that I could once again wear a garment of praise instead of mourning. May God gift you with those people when you need them most.”
If you read my blog regularly, you know I am fortunate enough to have a nice, healthy number of amazing people in my life who quiet my soul. My hope and prayer is that those people I met yesterday will be surrounded by the same kinds of people as they are processing whatever grief is taking hold of their life. While it was hard, I am grateful they took the time to come and hear a talk that hopefully helped them with their healing. Blessings!