I had my first counselling session this evening. All day it’d been on the edge of my vision, a sharp black thing spearing my view.
I logged onto zoom.
There she was, my counsellor. She had emailed me, and now I had a face to put to the short, kind, phrases she had typed. Here was Helen. I felt sweat on my back. I was going to have to speak.
I’d had an initial consultation with the project’s supervising practitioner back in mid-December. She’d come across exactly as I’d hoped she’d be. Her hair was grey, long, fuzzy. She wore layers of comfortable clothes, brushed cotton and crochet. Behind her, a spider plant in a hanging basket. I expect her cat was just out of view. She had a brown, lined, face with eyes that crinkled when she offered me soft smiles. I wanted her to be my counsellor. I wanted her to be my new mum.
That evening I was confident enough to say yes, I would sign up to counselling for twelve weeks, starting in February. February was ages away. I felt relief. I could put it off, again.
I’ve been putting it off for a long time. As the months pass, all thirty-two of them, I’ve found it harder and harder to talk about grief, to talk about how much I miss Dan. The first year was, by comparison, much easier. Everyone I met also wanted to talk about Dan. They wanted to share their memories, their condolences. But once they have been said, where do I go? Inside, that’s where.
I felt it as a kind of astonishment, that when I did meet up with any friends or acquaintances as the weeks rolled by, they didn’t immediately ask ‘how are you missing Dan today?’ But I understood too, that the world does not revolve around me and my shock. I knew that it would not be a usual question to ask someone. I knew that other people had real life problems and experiences to discuss. I just couldn’t see how any of it could be more important than talking about Dan.
So, I began to chew and swallow the words that would rush into my mouth whenever I saw someone. Whenever someone asked, ‘how are you?’ I would smile and say something like ‘as well as can be expected’ or ‘I’m ok,’ or ‘Staying positive’. Something, anything. Close friends asked, and sometimes I would say ‘I am having a tough week’, and I would talk about it for a little while. And they would listen and be kind and I always felt a little of the burden had been shared. But we didn’t keep talking about Dan. I would be upset, we’d change the subject, and down I would push the feelings again. It became a habit. Like an eating disorder; private.
When the pain is there, I write to let it out, in quiet words on paper. I cannot speak them aloud very easily, but I can write them down. That becomes easier to do than talking about it. Sometimes, I am caught unawares, and tears fall in response to something, whilst I am in the company of someone. I try to wipe them away as quickly as I can.
I can talk about Dan in a light-hearted way in a general conversation. If someone mentions a cub camp, I can offer a little tale about Dan getting lost and getting into trouble. A joke about someone’s food fad prompts a memory to share about Dan eating peas with his fingers. Someone talking about Lego invites my tale of Dan forever asking for the Lego Death Star on his Christmas list. These memories are like scattered stars in my mind, each one a jewel to pluck and admire for a moment. But I cannot dwell on the tale I tell, cannot spend a moment more placing it in context because then I see the whole damn constellation and the enormity of what has been lost engulfs me and I could be sucked into the black hole of grief on the spot.
So, I push down again. I let some feelings out in tears on dog walks, or in the car, where no-one can see. I do not talk aloud about the hurt.
Helen is doing her best not to look more nervous than me. She is clearly consulting a prompt sheet on the screen; I can see the reflected Word document in her glasses. That is fine. We must all learn.
I chose this grief counselling project because it’s comprised of trainee counsellors, all undertaking their undergraduate or postgraduate degrees to become fully fledged practitioners. I know they are well supervised, and that they have a vested interest in doing their best, getting the most out of me, their case study.
I am here to talk about Dan. This should not be hard for a trainee to deal with. I am not here to be fixed, to uncover repressed memories or address deep seated psychological damage. My beautiful, vital, son died unexpectedly, shockingly, and my world crumbled. I just want someone to hold my hand and walk with me through the wreckage.
‘Are you ready?’ she asks. I nod. I am going to have to speak.
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I am ready.’