(From The Wall Street Journal)
When my husband began hospice care last spring, I decided to join a grief group. I thought it might be helpful to share stories and support with others who were facing the same heartbreak.
I googled “grief groups” and found one that met weekly at a local church. It looked as though I was just in time for the next session, so I called and spoke to the group leader.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she responded sympathetically. “When did your loved one die?”
“Well, my husband hasn’t exactly died yet. He has end-stage dementia,” I explained.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
“I’m afraid you aren’t eligible to join,” she said. “Our group is only for people whose friends or family members have actually died.”
It led me to reflect on our cultural imperatives about grief:
• Grief must be fast. After the grief-group rejection, I began visiting grief websites to read about other people’s experiences. Before long I found myself spammed by grief gurus offering to accelerate my (as yet nonexistent) grief. The spammers offered courses for brighter or more ambitious grievers. Get through it in four weeks—a race to closure! There are books to help speed things up by defining the stages of grief; it is important to stick to the regimen so you don’t fall behind or flunk out.
• Grief must be regulated. The American Psychiatric Association has done this admirably through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which lists medical codes for insurance reimbursement. But here I ran into another problem. Although bereavement is covered, I couldn’t be classified as bereaved because my husband was still alive. To be reimbursed I needed a generic code, like 18 ICD-10-CM Z91.19, for “noncompliance of treatment”—that is if I could turn the diagnosis around and pin it on the government. After all, I was at least trying to comply.
A few months after I called the church, my husband died. Several weeks later I contacted the church grief leader.
“It’s me again,” I said (more or less). “My husband died last month.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss, dear,” she said.
“Can I join the grief group now?”
“Yes, of course! But you will need to bring a signed copy of your husband’s death certificate.”
This brings me to the last and gravest (no pun intended) grief guideline:
• Genuine, accredited grief must be accompanied by a grief diploma. Otherwise you’re undocumented.
And that’s illegal.