There are two issues I want to talk about here, in relation to grieving and bereavement. Firstly, the way grief and bereavement can affect children, the present poor nature and lack of counselling services for children, and secondly, the lack of good and available counselling services, for people with moderate to severe mental health problems, as a possible factor in prevention of them committing suicide.
Today, on the 8th of October, 2009, I went for counselling with my mum’s partner Bill, at the renal unit of my local hospital, where both me and Bill were promised and supposed to receive counselling, from a counsellor who came from another town. However, Bill was called in first to see the counsellor, and towards the end of his session with her, he was told that the counsellor wanted to give priority to Bill for counselling, because the hospital she came from in another town, had told her, that Bill had recently recovered from a physical illness.
This approach, defines grieving and bereavement, and mental health problems, purely as a physical illness, and not also as a social, mental, and emotional matter, of equal care, concern, relevance and importance. After the counsellor said, that she wanted to give counselling priority to Bill, instead of equally for me, the counsellor then said to Bill, that she didn’t have time to see me, as she had a call from her office in her home town, and had to give counselling to someone else there.
I was annoyed and upset, that I had to wait over an hour, whilst Bill had his counselling session, and that it was a wasted time, and wasted journey, when the counsellor could have phoned and told me or Bill, before we arrived there to see her, that she wasn’t going to see me, and not have to lie to us, that she had run out of time, and had to see a client in her home town. However, she did give Bill a contact phone number, towards the end of her counselling session with him, which was a possible choice and option, for us to contact the bereavement counselling group Cruise - from again another town - where I or Bill could arrange a counselling session at my local doctors surgery.
I asked Bill, about his counselling session with the counsellor, and he said that the counsellor was a nice woman, and that basically, most of the time, she just listened, and didn’t say anything, but that occasionally she would ask a question, about what had happened since my mum committed suicide, and about how he was feeling.
Bill said that he cried during the counselling session, and that some of the questions the counsellor asked, made him think about some things that he was feeling, that he didn’t know he was feeling. I asked Bill what it was, that he realised he was feeling, which he didn’t realise he was feeling before the counselling session, and he said that he couldn’t remember, because he had been in the counselling session for a whole hour, and which was all too much to remember. Bill then said, that he felt better for having the counselling session, and he said that this was probably because he cried during the session, but that he wouldn’t want to have any more counselling sessions, from that particular counsellor.
When sitting in the renal unit waiting room, whilst Bill saw the counsellor for a session, I read a poster on the wall, explaining what counselling was, and what it was for, and I then picked up and took a leaflet on counselling. The poster on the renal unit room wall, basically said, that counselling was for people with a physical illness, or suffering from depression, and that it was to help the person, understand their experiences more clearly, put them into perspective, and to support them in dealing with their own problems.
Where I disagree with this explanation, is that this only helps the person deal with their own problems, and not also to understand, the problems of the deceased person, whilst they were alive, and what led them to take their own lives. This counselling model and approach, also doesn’t consider, realise, or accept, that society has problems itself, in understanding or accepting grief and bereavement in others, and that this can be in some ways, very relevant to how well, or in what ways, the bereaved person survives and copes. Also, the social attitudes, problems, and prejudices about grief and bereavement in others, affect and influence the counsellors feelings, thoughts, therapeutic model and view, that people need to understand ‘the real truth of the situation’ (as described in the counselling leaflet), and to accept that they will never see the deceased person again.
Whilst accepting the real truth of the situation, or dealing with the purely personal problem, as these counsellors see it, may for some people - at some stage - be necessary in some way, it is wrong and very harmful, for many reasons, for society, mental health professionals, and others, to try and impose this on bereaved people, falsely, or straight away - not least - because some people, can have ways of connecting in some way, to the person who has passed on, and that this experience can go through some changes and transformations, and is a part of the grieving process.
For my mum’s partner Bill, this emotional, intellectual, and social and spiritual connection, is through and with his belief-system of spiritualism, in that he believes my mum is still alive somewhere, and that it is not true, that he won’t see or hear from her again. For me, this connection, is through my hearing voices experiences, where I have so far, twice heard the voice of my mum, at first crying, and then speaking with me. This connection, also works through, and is experienced with, my humanistic approach, where I try to understand the feelings and thoughts of my mum, whilst she was still alive, and leading up to when she took her life, so I can in some important ways, understand, learn, and relate to it on some kind of positive or constructive, human and personal level.
Another part of, or aspect of my humanistic approach, and way or surviving and coping, is to try to understand, speak out about, and change, the very poor, unequal, coercive, and discriminatory, local mental health services my mum received, when she was suffering a lot, and when she was very mentally and emotionally distressed. The so-called treatment my mum received during this time, from the local mental health services, only gave her psychiatric drugs, told her she could only attend the local day centre, with the threat of being observed by professionals, for further psychiatric treatment - and more importantly - she was not offered any actual counselling, when in a way, she obviously needed counselling much more than me and Bill do now. When I mentioned the sad irony of this to my mum’s partner Bill, when we got home from the renal unit, he agreed with me, that it was a case of too little too late, and that it was unjust and wrong, to deny counselling to people who really needed it.
Also, the outdated model and approach, of these counselling services - that are only available to some people - actually encourage and tell people, that the loss of their loved one, and the way this affects them, is a natural process of life and truth, as these counsellors and some others see it - when suicide is obviously not natural - and that societies inability, to love, care, and support people with mental health problems, and the neglect and poverty of current mental health services, are a factor in what made the person take their own life. What’s more, the loved one’s suicide, is a social injustice - in truth - and not a natural thing or occurrence, to be simply accepted, in the rather narrow, ignorant, and prejudiced way, that the counsellor very falsely sees and believes it.
Another thing, about the poverty and neglect of mental health services, is that counselling is never offered to children who have suffered a loss of a loved one, as if they don’t have thoughts and feelings, and are not also suffering from grief and bereavement. If counselling was ever offered to, or available for children, for bereavement, these counsellors would again, have to rethink their very limited, inaccurate, and inappropriate, current model and approach, and make at least some effort and sincere concern, to consider that the child is suffering too, and that he or she, may need some general or special care, concern, consideration, and support.
My older brother and his wife, have a five year old daughter - my niece - called Jasmine, and my brother told me, that shortly after my mum took her own life, he and his wife told Jasmine, that granny had been very ill, and that she had gone to heaven. Jasmine then cried for a whole hour, and which is longer than either I or Bill have grieved and cried, at one moment in time. I am not judging my brother and his wife, for what they said to Jasmine about her granny, because in some ways they may know no better, but to my knowledge, they did not further discuss this with her, although my brother also told me, that Jasmine put a photo of my mum and herself in her handbag, and that for some reason, she was being a bit naughty lately, in not doing as she was told.
It’s possible, that Jasmine was not doing as she was told, because she was hurt, angry, and/or disagreed with the way, that she had been treated and related to on this matter. Also, in my brother and his wife’s car, later on, Jasmine saw an ice-cream van, and blurted out "Granny took me to that ice-cream van!", and so my mum is obviously still more or less on her mind, and she is obviously in some ways, still connected to her granny emotionally and mentally, as a human being.
Jasmine has spoken about my mum, to my brother and his wife, but other than saying my mum was ill and has gone to heaven, as far as I know, they haven’t further spoken or communicated to her about it. Maybe my brother and his wife, don’t have the emotional, intellectual, and social skills to do this, but I can’t help feeling, that this is like the present model of counselling services - denying that the child is suffering from grief and bereavement - and that it represents and reflects the old outdated view, that children should be seen and not heard. My brother also said to me, that Jasmine is taking it all in a bad way, and so he is in part aware of this, but he also said to me, that Jasmine is not really aware of what has happened, and that it has affected her, and it is here that I disagree with him.
About a week ago, my brother brought Jasmine round to see me at our house. She came into the room to see me, whilst my brother and my mum’s partner Bill, were in the other room talking. Jasmine then asked me, why the birdcage in the room we were in, was empty, suggesting that she knew someone or some thing was missing from our house, and that this was on her mind, and that she was in some way thinking about this. I told Jasmine, that we used to have zebra finches in the cage, and explained to her what they were, and when she asked me what happened to them, I told her that they flew away. She asked me how they flew away, and I said through the drawer of the cabinet. She then said, that she thought they flew away through the cabinet door.
I then told Jasmine, that actually the birds died, because I felt it was wrong to lie to her about this, when she more than likely had a good idea, what had happened to the birds. I also felt, that it was important to give her the choice, of deciding for herself what had happened to her granny, whilst I didn’t tell her that it was untrue, that my mum had gone to heaven.
The way that I felt it was appropriate, to tell Jasmine that she could make this choice for herself, about how she felt, thought, and communicated about the loss of her granny, is I asked her if she could paint me a picture, to put on our fridge door, because she likes painting, and for a five year old, is very good at it. Jasmine then asked me, what colours I would like her to paint - suggesting that she thought that I could also choose and decide, how to interpret, respond, and communicate with her about this - and I then said to her, "I would like some blue in the painting, but you can also decide for yourself", and she then made some suggestions as to what colours she might choose.
Jasmine then pointed to the fridge door, where I suggested I would put her painting, and she said "Look, that fridge door is a pointed triangular shape". She was obviously, making her own free perception about material reality, and the fact that in a skilled and careful way, I had suggested to her, that she is capable and free to do this. This might possibly help her in some way, to decide for herself about her granny, as well as needing support and advice from others.