I’ve been told a few times since Jessica died that I need to have counselling. I’m sure the people who tell me this mean well, but it leaves me wondering why they think I need it so much.
Is it because they feel like I’m not coping with my grief? Or that I’m not grieving in a healthy way?
Sometimes it feels like people want to push me towards counselling because they are uncomfortable with my grief. Or because they want me to be the person I was before my daughter died.
Sometimes it feels like there is an expectation that after a certain period of time has elapsed I should have moved on; that I should be able to package my grief in a nice neat little box marked “dealt with”.
When people tell me I need to have counselling “to help me get over my grief” it makes me angry. This isn’t something that I can “get over” and nor do I want to. I grieve because I love my daughter and because I miss her. “Getting over” her death implies moving on from my life with her; consigning it firmly to the past; almost forgetting her. She is part of me, she is part of our family and she always will be part of it. This journey that we are now on is about learning to live with her loss, not about “getting over” it.
Counselling isn’t going to turn me back into the person I was before Jessica died. That person died with Jessica. I will never be the person I was back then. Losing Jessica has changed me forever.
That isn’t to say that I can’t be happy, that I can’t enjoy the things that I used to enjoy. But I know that life can change in an instant; that tragedy can happen to anyone; that no matter how much I want to, no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep my children completely safe.
Jessica’s death was sudden and unexpected. We knew she was unwell, we’d sought medical help and advice, we thought we were doing the right things. I have asked myself many, many times whether I could have done more. Sometimes that question torments me, sometimes I can tell myself that I was doing my best with what I knew at time and that there are no guarantees that Jessica would still be here even if she’d been in hospital that night. Counselling might help me come to terms with the questions that occasionally spin around my head, but asking them helps me to process them.
Sometimes I think people confuse my grief for depression. It might make me more likely to struggle with depression, but it is not the same thing. I’ve struggled with depression several times in my adult life; I know what depression is like. The sense of sadness I feel since losing Jessica comes from a different place; it feels different from the low mood that came with depression. I am grieving, but I am not depressed.
At the moment, I feel like I am coping with my grief as best I can. Hubby and I talk freely about Jessica; about our thoughts and our feelings. We don’t bottle things up and when the storms of grief come, we ride the waves, allowing ourselves to feel the emotions we need to feel in that moment and not try to fight them or suppress them. I write a lot about how I feel, about my grief journey. It’s my way of processing my thoughts and feelings, getting them out of my head so that they don’t overwhelm me. I also use a journal which is designed to help me reflect on my grief journey each day.
Do I feel I “need” counselling? No.
Do I feel that counselling might be beneficial? Yes.
Counselling gives me a safe space to process my thoughts and feelings and may help give me further tools and strategies to help me cope with them day-to-day. It isn’t going to make me “get over” my grief or package it up into a nice neat little box that I can put away on a shelf and forget all about though.
I have started having counselling recently. In all honesty, I feel like I’m doing it more because other people feel I should rather than because I actually feel the need for it myself. To be fair, I did agree that it would be sensible to have this extra support in place after Thomas arrived, knowing that the challenges of life with a new baby could tip me into depression, especially as I did suffer with postnatal depression after Sophie’s birth. I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to achieve with it other than having that safe space to talk though.
Ultimately though, counselling is about helping me on my grief journey. It isn’t about making my grief more comfortable for others, or about getting me over it, or about me “moving on” from life with Jessica. I will continue to talk about her, and about my feelings when it comes to grieving for her. If that makes others feel awkward or uncomfortable then that’s for them to deal with. If people choose to step out of my life because they struggle with my grief and the person I have become because of it, they are free to do so.
Of course now that I am having counselling, the inevitable question is whether it is helping me. Like being told I “need” counselling, this innocent, well-meaning question can also be a loaded one. It can carry expectations of what helping me means.
Is it helping me process my thoughts and providing tools to help me on my grief journey? Yes, perhaps it is.
Is it helping make my grief more comfortable for others? Probably not.
Is it going to help me get over my grief and move on? No.
And if that’s what you’re expecting or hoping, then perhaps you should be asking yourself: who is this counselling really for?