Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I just heard an interview with Joyce Carol Oats on NPR. She is promoting her new book, A Widow’s Story, a memoir about widowhood. She said something that I think we cannot hear enough: in the wake of an overwhelming experience, we become temporarily stupid.
This is especially important to know during times of crisis, because unfortunately there are predatory people who will try to take advantage of the newly grieving. Joyce shared her experience with an attorney who wanted a huge retainer to protect her from “problems” in the will, a will which had no foreseeable problems. She declined his help. A few years back Consumer Reports published an article about newly grieving family members pressed by funeral directors to purchase expensive burial options as some sort of proof of their love of the deceased. (Please note: I am not categorizing lawyers or funeral directors as predators, I am saying that people are vulnerable when they are grieving and these are specific and concrete examples of attempted exploitation).
What stands between grieving people and poor choices? In Ms. Oates experience it was her friends who kept her going and going in the right direction. Social support is important during the good times, but it is critical during the bad.
Your friends may be affected by your loss, but they are not as affected as you are. Therefore, they will be able to think more clearly than you do regarding the next indicated steps. Whether you are facing the death of a loved one, a major illness, a divorce or a loss of another kind, review your options with a trusted friend (or two) and trust that your intelligence and confidence will return in time.
Personally I don’t make any major decisions without soliciting the perspective of my friends because even though I am not currently grieving, I greatly value the awareness my friends offer, and have come to accept that I can’t always tell the difference between my good ideas and my bad ones. For instance when I started my private practice I had the (to me) terrific environmental idea of putting together a wicker basket of washcloths instead of Kleenex for my clients to use. I knew I was planning an unusual thing so I queried my friends.
“Ick” said Melanie, when I told her.
“I wouldn’t even go to a therapist who did that,” said Jari.
“That’s disgusting,” said Lisa.
“Okay then,” I said, and bought Kleenex.
I have come to appreciate that friends are what stand between us and stupidity.
- Grieving the Loss of a Pet (grievingaloss.wordpress.com)
- What Not to Say to a Grieving Family (psychcentral.com)
- Grieving For The Dear Departed (p21chong.wordpress.com)