Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Grieving Process: I am concern about how Black men handle this.

It has been 16 years since I graduated from Grambling State University with a masters degree in social work with a concentration in health and mental health. In these many years, I have worked in various capacities. I have worked in group homes, a foster care agency, in an in-patient residential substance abuse program as well as out-patient mental health agencies. I have worked as an alcohol and drug counselor and a mental health therapist. I have even worked as a family counselor. My social work degree has taken me all over the place I guess. I mentioned all of this because the one area of my professional experience that I deem most important and even most valuable is whenever I got the chance to work exclusively with Black men and Black boys, which was very and still is very rare. I always felt that I needed to be where this population is, but without having to go into the prisons or juvenile lock-ups. I have issues with going to those places to try to reach what I perceive as the unreachable.

Anyway, I am always concerned about the mental health of Black men and Black boys. I am concerned about black women and girls as well. As a matter of fact, I currently work in an in-patient residential program that only services women with mental as well as substance addiction issues. It is often referred to as having a co-occurring disorder or being dually diagnosed. Even though I go to work every day and give the women all that I have professionally in my psycho-education groups, I can’t help be feel as if I should also be somewhere else sharing this much needed knowledge to Black men who may not be getting this elsewhere. Also, mental health services are not made as available to Black men as it is to women. Moreover, a lot of Black boys are raised to believe that counseling is a cuss word or that counseling is for crazy people. To many black males going to counseling for grief/loss and anger is not a very manly thing to do, therefore counseling is not an option for helping in the grieving process and anger is something they can control on their own.

In the past three weeks, I have had two personal friends of mine in Memphis to suffer tremendous losses. One of the friends lost his mother to cancer two weeks ago. My other friend lost his one and only brother to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Today, another friend of mine who lives in Houston is trying to make sense out of the death of a very close friend of his. He is really heartbroken over the loss. So far, he is doing very well. He is reaching out and allowing others to help him during this grieving process. I was glad that I was able to be there for both of my friends in Memphis, with all that I know about grief and loss, to help them through the grieving process. Not only help them, but to give them a healthier way to view the grief and loss of a loved one. Y’all, Black men do cry when they are sad. Our hearts hurt when we lose a loved one to violence or a deadly disease.

These are two Black men that I was able to reach on a personal level. I am often concerned about the ones I can’t reach because so many are “not into” counseling to get past grief and loss, anger, rejection/abandonment issues, or depression. So, as of last Friday, I mailed off a form to the office of the Secretary of State here in Texas to form a non-profit organization that will allow me to focus on the mental health of Black and minority males. I would like offer free counseling sessions to Black men and boys who may not feel comfortable with sharing their feelings and issues with a female counselor or counselors of another race/ethnicity.

When I am facilitating psycho education groups at work on grief and loss, I tell the women this:

“We need to change the way we view death. Death is a part of living.” As surely as we are living, we are going to die. In the case of losing a loved one, it is perfectly ok to feel sadness, anger, disbelief, and even denial. These are phases in the grieving process. The key to it all is to allow the process to take its natural course so you can move on with your life. I am not saying that it will be an easy process, but it is a process that you must allow to take its course. You see. Many of us take death and the grieving process to the extreme. Meaning, we shut down. We stop taking care of ourselves. We stop going to work knowing damn well we need our jobs to pay our bills. Some of us even stop caring for our children if we have them. Many of us just stop living all together.

It is time out for these same old traditional reactions to people who die in our lives. For example, when a loved one passes, that does not mean my going out and drinking a gallon of liquor, smoking a blunt or hitting a crack pipe because the emotions are too overwhelming or you feel as if you are paying tribute somehow to the deceased by possibly killing yourself or ruining your life. That is not the way to pay tribute to the deceased. You pay tribute to the diseased by carrying on with your life and doing what they would have wanted you to do. Usually this means having a good life and being happy. I have yet to read or hear where the last words of a deceased loved one was, “Go out and fuck life you life up in remembrance of me.”

So, the way we can best handle this is to remember the fun times and loving times you had before the person died. If the last words that you spoke to the person were not so loving, still remember the good times. The death itself is not for you. The death itself is for person who dies. The memories are for you. The times you spent together are for you. The plans if any that you had for the deceased are now your plans to carry out if you choose to do so with the warm memories of the person in your life who has died. You see. Someone dying in our lives is suppose to be used to not only teach us, but also remind us of how precious living is and how important it is not to waste a single day of living. It teaches us that being able wake up every day to improve our lives and make a positive impact on the lives of others is a blessing in itself. If the person who has died in your life has positively impacted your life so much that you find yourself in so much grief, you were really one of the blessed ones because the happiness that awaits you upon the ending of your grieving process is going to be so wonderful that you will find yourself smiling and wondering to yourself, “Damn. Why didn’t I get to this place sooner?”"


goak said...

Hi my son is 18 years old 3 years ago he lost hiscfathervalthough he prayedd for his fathe to live...his father died . As a result he has become increasingly and me and despondent I have time to seek help but because we live in Pittsburgh there are not many counselors that are available for young black men. I have sought out others but its not the relationship that my son feels that he needs Some people say in the black
community because my son didn't really have a relationship with his father that it is irrelevant and he should be strong and
move on.however i beleive that a fathergives his the and my son has a great void it is a pain that has become
dark pain. We have sought counselor because we live in the Pittsburgh area there aren't many black counselors for black young man. What is your advice

Rico Rivers said...

Hello, Goak.

It sounds like your son is handling his grief and his sense of loss on his own, which is not always a good thing. If your son is still in high school, he could benefit from a counselor school to help guide him through the grieving process. If not, I would suggest looking up a grief support group in your area on the internet that cater to those who have lost loved ones. Also, since it appears that his faith has been shaken a bit because of his father passing away even after he prayed for him to live, a African American minister in your area would be a pretty good support person in that area. Finally, I want you to look information on the seven stages of grief so you can be informed on where your son is emotionally because he is going to eventually come back to you and it would behoove you to there ready and knowledgeable when he does. If all else fails, you can always have him give me a call if you think it will help. 972-854-9497.