Throughout my professional life, I have noticed a duality in my own thinking. I make statements that reflect me, the counselor, and other statements that are just me, Kate. This duality has become more apparent in the last month as grief has been a constant topic for my family – we lost someone we loved very much.
As a counselor, I look to literature at this time. Joan Didion will tell me this is a year of magical thinking , Elizabeth Kübler-Ross tells me there are five stages  and Rabbi Harold Kushner will help me to try to understand why bad things happen to good people . Despite all this knowledge, I still feel lost.
My sister, father and I had a discussion on the stages of grief. We were trying to remember them, and how many there are. The answers flew around. Four? Seven? This is something I, the counselor in the family, should know. I shouted out, “nine”. I’ve studied the stages of grief, been quizzed on them, and counseled others around this premise. My answer of nine was absolutely wrong! The correct answer is five – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
In my grief, my education and training made me no smarter, no more prepared than anyone else. Grief is an equalizer. No amount of scholarly research, or spiritual wisdom, makes the experience less intense.
As my brain wraps its way around thoughts and emotions, I find myself actually looking to cartoons instead of literature. I keep coming back to the expression, “Good grief,” – the ever-frequent lament of Charlie Brown, child pessimist. When Charlie Brown uses the expression, it’s intended to be sarcastic – unbelievable or incredible. He often finds himself taken aback by the actions of others, and views them through a negative, depressed lens. The clinical part of my mind tells me Charlie Brown is dysthymic.
In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown whines, “I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” I find this oddly comforting. His statement is a common thought for those experiencing depression. But grief and clinical depression are not the same thing. Grieving in response to a loss is normal. In grief, not feeling how everyone else feels is exactly how you are supposed to feel. Grief is good! It is an emotion we are meant to experience. So, to that I say, “Good grief!”
- Didion, Joan (2005), The Year of Magical Thinking
- Kübler-Ross, Elizabeth (1969), On Death and Dying
- Kushner, Harold (1981), When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Kate N, MS, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor, then became a Performance Specialist in 2012. Kate has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and is devoted to helping individuals determine how to make lasting changes. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked in the social work field as a case manager for Child Protective Services. Kate enjoys baking, yoga and escaping into the woods of Northern Wisconsin.