Today is my first day back at my summer job when it's not-so summer, and I'm feeling more nervous than I have been in a while. Last summer, I took a course that trained me in bereavement counselling - not professionally, but part of a program to help children with losing loved ones. Even though I've hardly had to deal with the loss of losing a parent at the age that some of these children have, I still feel like I can identify with them, and if I'm blessed, help them.
The truth is that I quit almost straight after I'd finished the course, and even though I regret quitting anything, I did it because it just became too much. I didn't know what I expected, but somehow ending up with a ten year old girl crying on my lap for about an hour (I'm sure there's a rule that says that's not allowed.) I used to be quite an enclosed person - as in I never let anybody know that I was sad or afraid - so it's odd when I'm on the verge of being a wreck when I'm with these children. In a way, it's almost harmonising. I walk out of the home visits feeling like I've done something good, and I've been cleansed.
Still, it can get quite harrowing, especially when the children are much younger. In the beginning, I had no idea how to talk to them. I used to think "how do I speak to them at a level they'll understand without being patronising?" I felt bad when they didn't understand me, and stupid when they thought I was undermining them. I've gotten better, or so I hope, since this out-of-the-blue call came from my old boss, asking me if I might want to join again. I said not on a part-time basis, since it's just too much for me, but she seemed quite desperate that I come today, so I accepted.
I know very little, other than that it's a twelve year old girl whose mother was killed. What I fear the most today is the question that I'm inevitably asked.
"Why did this happen?"
It took me years to come to terms with that question myself, so how on earth am I supposed to tell a little girl the same thing. I don't know if she's religious, or if she was and isn't anymore. All I know is that whatever answer I give could stay with her for a long time, and that's terrifying. I don't have all the answers, which is what scares me so much about counselling, these vulnerable children look to you as the older ones who know everything, when you're just as confused as them. Sometimes I think that I can just be a friend, but that's not what I'm being paid to do. These children have friends all around them, telling them the same or conflicting things, "it's alright to be sad," "it gets better every day," "everything happens for a reason." I can't imagine having to make all of those answers match together, and in my head, they still don't.
In the end, I figured out that a lot of the time, these children don't know how to feel, because I'm sure that their relatives never prepared me for it. Yet, with me, I was criticised for being sad after so many years, and then told I was heartless when I found some resolve in my life. This little girl might be horrified, or she might feel absolutely nothing, not yet at least. That's my one goal for today, to make her understand how she feels, because I know that if she doesn't, she'll probably suppress it like I did until it floods back. Horrible, perhaps, that I want to make such a young girl deal with all of this at once. But in all honesty, I can't see anything but reality working.
Usually, I tell these children about my writing, and about how in my story, my character doesn't have a mother. One boy asked me why I didn't write that he had a perfect happy family to compensate, and I said that I couldn't do that to him, or to myself. It does no good to pretend, and the only way that I was able to understand things in my life was to look at why I did them to my characters - to assume the role of the Goddess and think in Her shoes, if you will.
My boss has told me before that I could make a career of this, and even though I don't understand why (it's talking to somebody and being compassionate, I always thought it should be inherent...), I realise that it all comes down to helping people. Even if this is the last time that I counsel again, and I stop helping these children in one way, overall my goal is to help them in another; with my writing.
So wish me luck :)