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On the Job

A new kind of grief — post-election trauma

Lexington-based bereavement counselor Sairey Luterman is helping people cope.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Bereavement counselor Sairey Luterman is dealing with a new kind of grief these days. It’s not the mourning that comes after death, divorce, or the loss of a longtime pet or job. This is post-election trauma. Luterman says she’s hearing from clients who say, “I can’t stop crying” or “I feel hopeless.” These are most definitely not Donald Trump supporters. All the hallmarks of grieving are there — bargaining, anger, disbelief. And Luterman, 47, a certified thanatologist (study of death) who has a private practice in Lexington, is helping people cope. They are most definitely not Donald Trump supporters. “I have had numerous people call to say they are in mourning for our country,” Luterman said. But her work extends far beyond helping people deal with the outcome of an election.

“I don’t usually say to people after a loss, ‘Turn off the TV and back away from the news.’ But this is different from ‘regular’ grief, if there is such a thing. I recommend self-care, a supportive community, and, of course, avoiding social media. I don’t want to encourage partisan camps, but if you’re feeling vulnerable and unglued, don’t be spending time with your cousin, uncle, or father-in-law who is celebrating the current state of affairs.


“Think about how you can mourn and organize, as the two are not incompatible. Grief is a response to a specific catalyst, and it may last for some time, whereas depression may not have a single starting point.

“The role of a grief counselor such as myself is actually very old-fashioned: compassionate, nonjudgmental listening, and helping to empower mourners to a ‘new normal.’ I started on this path when my daughter was very sick. She recovered, but I felt I had a debt to pay.

“I began volunteering for a nonprofit bereavement center that served families dealing with catastrophic loss. I was terrified when I first started; sadness is the most gritty and horrible thing, while being rich and meaningful. Sometimes I can see a physical transformation from a trauma mask almost — pallor, nervousness, anxiety — to relief and peace.


“Do I have a magic button or lever? Hardly — my clients do the work themselves; the process is a very internal one.

“Grief or loss as a counseling specialty is growing because faith communities are crumbling and death is externalized — it happens in the hospital and not the home. Death and dying are disenfranchised in America because we don’t talk about it. But now we have death cafes, where taboo topics are discussed over tea and cupcakes, which normalizes it.

“Still, if you want to see someone turn gray and hurry away, tell them you are a grief counselor. People look at me wide-eyed as if they are thinking, ‘I can’t get away from this woman fast enough.’ ”

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.