Away for the weekend

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” Lemony Snicket

As part of my counselling skills course, we are supposed to be keeping a reflective journal, to be handed in at the end. Anyway, here are some thoughts from this past weekend, the third weekend of the course, to help me remember when I inevitably try to write it all the night before it needs to be handed in! Not particularly interesting unless you’re thinking about doing a similar course.

So another weekend holed up in the Premier Inn. I think we were all steeling ourselves for this weekend. We knew what we would be facing: grief reactions, theories of grief, confronting mortality and other fun stuff. On the Friday night we shared our reflections since the last weekend, and our worries for what was coming up, and started to look at some theories of grief. We looked at Worden’s description of grief as a series of tasks that needed to be worked out through, and the gap between reading about theories of grief and the experience of it. How useful is a model when trying to connect with someone’s individual experience?

Saturday began with a look at epochè, or bracketing – putting aside our own assumptions and experiences to be able to come to the client on their terms. I found this interesting, as the reason we were all sat in that room doing the course was because of our own experiences and some kind of notion that we could help as ‘someone who had been through it too’. Then it was story time. We were read a story about two autumnal leaves, preparing to be blown away by the wind, and had to write a letter to the leaves, as the tree. I must admit I came to this rather cynically.

Dear Tree, I write with regard to my impending doom…”

I’ll admit that it was a good way to explore the topic without it being too raw. Same goes for the next exercise in which we had to create an imaginary person along with their social network. I got quite attached to Mabel, our elderly actress who was fond of long liquid lunches with her agent and crashing into neighbour’s cars while tanked up on gin. It felt a bit harsh to inflict a bereavement on her, but it was a good way of looking at how it can affect different relationships and the support networks we rely on. Then it was on to some practice sessions, based on an exercise which involved writing down the five things which most define ‘you’, and gradually crossing them off one by one and ending by scrumpling up the paper and throwing it away. When we did the exercise, I didn’t really feel as emotionally involved as I think others in the group did. It turned out that the two people I did the follow-up practice session did felt the same, but it was suprising what feelings did come out during the sessions, and even over dinner and drinks later.

I really struggled with the early start the next morning. But I’m glad I managed to drag myself out of my (thankfully Lenny Henry-free) bed, as it was another good session. The exercise in which we had to each take the role of a different family member and silently position ourselves in relation to each other before and after a bereavement did sound ominously like a year 9 drama exercise to begin with, but it was surprisingly effective. We then had to do practice sessions, with those in the client role acting as if they were the same character as they were in the exercise. This was surprisingly difficult – I’ve lost my roleplay mojo! I felt pretty positive in the counsellor role – I do feel I’m relying less on questions, and more on reflecting and paraphrasing, even though it still doesn’t feel completely natural. Still, lots of weekends to practice!

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide


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