Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Saying yes to grief is a step to recovery
Separation from family, being diagnosed with a serious disease, a sudden natural calamity -- life is full of bitter experiences.
But, quite surprisingly, "mental" specialists in the past didn't think very deeply of ways to help people pushed to the verge of a mental collapse by a devastating life experience.
The job of mental health specialists such as psychiatrists is to cure a disease. Therefore, when a patient comes and says, "I've been suffering so much since my mother passed away," specialists have become used to telling them that this is part of life and everyone goes through it, and we say things like, "You have to endure that."
However, especially in cases when people have lost their loved ones suddenly to a natural disaster, a crime, or a suicide, or when parents have lost their children, for example, they should be treated with special care.
Such special treatment, known as "grief care," is finally gaining real traction in the mental health community.
In fact, a number of grief care advocates in Japan have for many years made vocal appeals for its importance. Yoshiko Takaki, head of the Sophia University Grief Care Research Institute, is one of them.
During her life as a Catholic nun who has helped many to overcome grief, Takaki became aware that such people need special professional care to help them deal with the pain they have built up from the shock they have experienced. Based on rich practical experience, research, and training of specialists, Takaki has become a leading grief care expert.
When I met Takaki recently, she kindly gave me four books she wrote starting last year. After the enormous losses the Japanese people endured in the March 11, 2011 triple disasters, a number of publishing companies have asked her to write books on overcoming grief.
What struck me right away was that among the four books, three had titles that included the word "grief" -- "It's OK to be grieving" (Kanashindeii) and "On how to overcome grief" (Kanashimi no Norikoekata), for example.
Takaki, dressed in the simple outfit of her order and her eyes always sparkling like a little girl's, told me:
"See, I told the publisher that I doubt people would buy a book titled 'It's OK to be grieving.' But he told me, 'That's fine. This is exactly what people need right now.'"
It seems to me that until now, we have all forced ourselves into some kind of faux stoicism.
However, when we face a shock or unbearable pain, there is no need to pretend that everything is fine. We should openly admit that we are having problems, and people should respond by saying, "We know, it must be really hard for you right now." People should help others and stick with them until their tears are dry.
If I think about it that's exactly what we have done naturally in the past.
It's not bad to encourage a grieving person by saying things like "Chin up!" However, at times we can also say, "It's OK to feel down."
We should also all acknowledge our own feelings and honestly say that we are not happy when we aren't. I believe this is the first step in grief care. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
(Mainichi Japan) February 5, 2012