Don’t get me wrong. I understand that sometimes you need a real-deal therapist to help you work through grief. Truth be told, every now and then I check in with my therapist, Dr. What’s-Her-Name. She retired and I felt abandoned so I rinsed her name from my memory. Luckily, I found another practitioner to help me examine this recent onset of anxiety (which I think is related to my Mama-grief).

Anyway, yesterday,  I spoke with the lady in charge of bereavement at a leading hospice in Maryland. She told me that because I am not a therapist, certified and credentialed,  I can’t share my soul-soothing poetry therapy workshop at her center. I was humiliated and angry.

How dare she!

Maybe I shouldn’t have called it therapy. Maybe the word freaked her out. Maybe she pictured me in a lab coat, pen thoughtfully tucked in the corner of my mouth, carefully analyzing a group member’s agony. Maybe they’ve been burned by some charlatan “therapist” who came in and told folks they’d only hurt for a few weeks then life after loss would creep back towards normal. Maybe she’s a hater, a poet wannabe who got a D- on her Walden term paper and never wrote another cinquain.

Maybe I should’ve said counselor. I’ve heard you don’t need a degree to be called that and to lead a support group. Tomato. Tomah-to. Did I get lost in the sea of nuance?

Who knows.

All I know is that there are two certifications: paper and street. One sticks letters behind your name (and one day I’ll go get that); one sticks out your chest and reminds you that each time you hold a girlfriend whose Mama ain’t coming back, you become her “doctor.” Every time you help a grieving 4th grader locate the right words to say’ I miss you Daddy. I still look for you at the Thanksgiving table next to the gravy,’ you become “certified.”

When a widow from the church group you’ve been running for two years tells you she sleeps better at night because she thinks of the group at 3:01am and knows she isn’t alone, you are the best “therapist.” One with her ear to the ground and her heart committed to the work. No office hours. Ready to listen and listen some more. Walking around sucking up lessons. A grief sponge.

Overhearing the produce man tell his coworker his aunt died last night and the service is next Tuesday and thinking, I should tell the group about that. How, even at work, the grief doesn’t stop but tell somebody so you can survive til the end of the shift. Go hug that woman who just finished crying. Call Sonya. It’s her mom’s deathaversary.

Do do do the work. Be the work.  It never ends and it never will. Feeling called to the work of the work. The passion of the work. Degrees or not! The difference between being therapeutic and being therapist.

So maybe I shouldn’t worry about the hospice woman who turned me down. She don’t know no better. One day, when she turns on CNN and sees me being interviewed after providing writing workshops for sixth graders who survived a school shooting, she’ll remember my voice and say, “hey! that’s the lady who called me last year to see if she could do poetry workshops with our patients’ families. Man, I missed that boat.”

Bless that woman’s heart. Turning down a life raft, waiting on a yacht.

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