The Trouble with Grief
This past week at my internship I had to do one of the most difficult things to cross my path thus far. For most of the week I work in a 7-12 alternative school, but I also work at a K-3 elementary school for 1/2 day each week. That is where this event occured.
I entered the teacher’s lounge for my lunch break at approximately 11:30am, as I do every Monday. As I was waiting for my lunch to cool off I decided to check my phone for any messages. As I scrolled through the unopened texts I found 2 from my internship supervisor. I wondered what she would be texting me about since the only texts I usually got from her were reminders about days off, early dismissals, and such. I read the messages through once, and then just stared at them for a couple of minutes, not sure what to do next. The content of the messages was simple, but I just could not wrap my head around it. The story was easy enough to understand. There had been a shooting the day before. The victim was in very critical condition in the hospital and most likely would not make it. The tough part to swallow, though, was that this man had his nephew with him when the shooting occured. Luckily the little boy was not harmed, but he had seen the whole thing. My job was to give grief counseling to the boy.
For many of you reading this, grief counseling may be something you’re very familiar with and so this scenario doesn’t seem all that different from the norm of your day. Surprisingly, however, I haven’t had direct experience with a client dealing with this type of thing until now. The fact that the “client” was actually an 8 year old child made it all the more difficult for me. I could not imagine what this child must be feeling right now. As I sat down with him, I asked if he would like to draw, and he said that he would. As the picture began to take shape, he drew and described the events of the attack, explaining his feelings, why the people were positioned the way they were, and many more details that I never thought a young child would pick up on. I stared at the picture now in front of me and then looked back at this little boy, and I felt all the sorrow, fear, confusion, and sadness that he was carrying. We sat for a moment, just looking at each other, and I searched every corner of my brain for the right words to say. I had nothing. I couldn’t think of any profound statement, so I just asked, “How do you feel?” He replied with one word. “Sad,” he said, and he looked up at me teary eyed and ashamed. I waited for a few seconds and said, “You know what, it’s okay to be sad. If you feel like crying, it’s okay. And if you feel sad, that’s okay, too.” The boy looked unsure for a few seconds, but eventually smiled at me. After this exchange he got up, pushed his chair in, and headed for the door. I was about to stop him and suggest we talk more, but then I got the feeling that it was unnecessary. I guess in his mind the conversation was over. Maybe that small bit of confirmation and encouragement was all he needed, at least for now.
I’m sure this won’t be my last experience dealing with loss. Although it’s challenging, grief counseling is one of the most important things we can do for a client because it’s in these vulnerable states that real character is formed. I’m so glad that I was able to be there for this little boy in his time of need. I hope that the few words spoken between us will help him cope and feel comfortable enough to mourn his loss. In the end, I think that’s really all we can. Our clients don’t always expect us to make lemonade from lemons; sometimes all they really need is a little understanding.