Grief counseling

Coaching within the maieutics school is based on two basic experiences: the experience of doubt and the experience of totality. This means that the existential themes that are espe-cially eligible for coaching – including grief – are approached from the perspective of both experiences. In concrete terms, this means that, on the one hand, the (painful) shadow sides of the theme in question and the accompanying doubts are discussed, but that, on the other hand, comforting metaphysical insights are sought. In contrast to Harm van der Gaag’s philosophical practice, coaching according to the maieutics school means that a client does not only go home with questions, but also – if possible – with answers.

In the case of grieving, it is immediately clear that it is about a deeply experienced expe-rience of doubt. In some cases, when the suffering is very great, this can develop into a so-cal-led radical doubt experience. During such an experience, the mourner experiences a psychological suffering that shakes his or her entire existence – and with it, possibly (the meaning of) existence at all. One doubts the fragility of one’s own existence, perhaps fraught with guilt and other feelings, which can lead one to doubt the overall meaning of an ephe-meral life. Especially if there is no spiritual perspective, or if the perspective is very negative (for example, the prospect of punishment = hell), the death of a loved one or the knowledge of one’s own death can be shocking. If one does not go beyond this tragic experience of doubt, all that remains is an uncertain dwell in finite reality.

Dr. Penny Sartori

The literature on the experience of totality has shown, however, that this experience – in which one transcends a finite reality – can be particularly inspi-ring for surviving relatives. And not only for next of kin who have had such an experience themselves, because they look at death in a very different way than they did before, but especially for next of kin who are aware of the totality experience. Poor grief management can lead to all sorts of problems, such as alcoholism and self-neglect, with serious consequences. But according to Dr. Penny Sartori, who dedicated her dissertation to the near-death experience (or NDE), reading about the experience fortunately offers solace. She writes the following:

“Reading accounts of NDEs is […] useful for people grieving the loss of loved ones, and many grief therapists recommend that their clients immerse themselves in NDE lite-rature. As for myself, my knowledge of NDEs has definitely made a big difference in the way I deal with the loss of loved ones since my research. It didn’t take away the pain and grief, but it helped to ease those feelings. It also helped friends who I recommended books on NDEs” (Sartori, Levensvreugde na BDE’s, p. 180).

Hence the mission of authors such as Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn is to encourage ‘ordinary’ people, i.e. people without a total experience, in words and in writing, to benefit from the rich insights this experience offers. This was followed by the publication of their book The Gifts of Near-Death Experiences (Dutch subtitle: Je hoeft niet te sterven om wonderen te ervaren = You don’t have to die to experience miracles). In doing so, the Linns are following in the footsteps of psychologist Kenneth Ring and sociologist Charles Flynn, who already in the 20th century tried to persuade their students to do the same through special courses at university. With success!

Colton Burpo

A well-known example in the case of grieving is that of the American boy Colton Burpo. Four-year-old Colton had a near-death experience (NDE) during an operation on his appendix. Research shows that around 90% of children in a critical condition have such an experience. Two elements of Colton’s experience are of special significance here. Firstly, in the non-local or metaphysical space where his cons-ciousness is at that moment, he ‘sees’ his dead grandfather. Not that he ever knew him, but later it is verified through a photo that it turns out to be his grandfather! Secondly, and at least as remarkable, Colton ‘meets’ his unborn sister in non-local space.

This last element is particularly fascinating, especially in connection with coming to terms with grief. Colton’s parents have never told him about the sister; indeed, they did not even know it was a girl, as the child died in the mother’s womb. Consequently, it was never given a name, as Colton testifies. It did become clear that it really was his sister and that this girl, or at least her soul, was never lost despite her physical death.

Today, Colton is a grown man in his twenties. He says he has comforted many people just by telling them about his experience. Death turns out not to be death: Heaven is for Real (according to the title of the book and the film, based on Colton’s NDE). Below is an interview with him and his father, Todd Burpo. In this excerpt, father Todd discusses miscarriages and abortions and makes it clear that these children will never be lost, but continue to live in metaphysical space.

Todd Burpo on miscarriages and abortions