|My training, my experience, and
my love is to assist people with their grieving. Like most
grief professionals, I came to this work by accident. In the
middle of one of this country's first conferences on death
and dying, the memory of my grandfather's death was suddenly
uncovered. He had died when I was seven, and I was told "Don't
cry around your grandmother. It will just remind her of Papaw."
I did not yet know that the recently bereaved are never
without the thought of their loved one. So I grieved in hiding:
in my closet or under my covers at night. I also grieved
in my nightmares, my terror of the dark, of elevators, of
strangers, and of the snakes under my bed which lay in wait
for me every night. Until finally, after endless days and
nights, my grandfather returned to me in a dream, dressed
as an angel with huge wings, and said, "Don't worry.
I am doing lovely work in heaven."
This enabled me to bury my grief. And as adults seldom talked
about my grandfather, even these memories vanished....until
that conference 23 years later. Then, unbidden, all those
memories flooded me. I was overwhelmed, indeed incapacitated.
I went back to the home of the friend with whom I was staying,
and kept her up all night as I relived all those old terrors.
There were no grief professionals in those days, the early
Seventies. Neither my friend nor anyone else knew how to
help me. And then came the small miracle: my grandmother
gave me a copy of I Heard The Owl Call My Name, by Margaret
Craven. She said an aide in her retirement center had given
it to her, and it had helped her to begin to think about
death, especially the recent death of her sister. Thus began
my path to becoming a grief counsellor and a grief educator,
the path to creating GriefNet.
Grief work is exactly that: work. It is exhausting, it is
lengthy, it is terrifying, it is often unbearable. It is
work that is best done with others, for the hallmark of grief
is loneliness. The bereaved are often shunned, a result of
others’ fears of death and loss. After the socially
sanctioned period of mourning, the bereaved are expected
to put their grief behind them. But just as parents hunt
unceasingly for a lost child, so do the bereaved search unendingly
for their loved one until their grief work is done. And that
work is done only when the bereaved are able to live comfortably
with the memory of that loved one, of that loss.
When we are bereaved we are comforted most by those who
have suffered a similar loss. With them we know we are understood,
that we are safe to experience the multiple aspects of our
grief. We can talk to them about feelings, about dreams,
about wishes, about fears, for they have had them, too. My
dream was to create a safe space where those who grieve could
set aside the burdens of daily life and give voice to their
sorrow. The space I envisioned is best described by J.R.R.
Tolkien in his books about hobbits. He named that space Rivendell.
Rivendell was the safe house in the wilderness, a place
of refuge and comfort. Guarded by elves, the "cloven
vale" was safe from all evil. "Merely to be there
was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.." Visitors
arriving there talked and thought about their past journeys
and about the perils that still lay before them, but the
spirit of that land soon lifted their fear and anxiety. The
good or ill of the past and the future was not forgotten,
but their power over the present ceased. Instead, "health
and hope grew strong in them" and they learned to be
content with each day as it came and to take pleasure in
every meal, word, and song.
Providentially, I not only had my decades of experience
as a clinical psychologist, I was blessed with a in-depth
knowledge of computer use, experience with multiple types
of personal growth groups, and a strong academic background.
The creation of the Internet provided the missing piece to
build this safe haven for dealing with death, dying, grief,
and major loss. You can learn more about my professional