S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 12 October 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
Good Grief

 

[]

In the past decade, Phyllis

DeMeerleer has lost two of her

children and her marriage. Her

son died as an infant eight

years ago; a drunk driver killed

her 7-year-old daughter in

1996. Her husband left her two

years ago because, says

DeMeerleer, he couldn't

understand or tolerate her

continuing grief. "I wasn't

getting better fast enough for

him," she says.

 

But wait! The story has a happy

ending. DeMeerleer has finally

been able to cast off her

unprevailing woe thanks to a

self-proclaimed "personal growth

counselor" who taught her a

trick to do with her hands.

 

[]

"I felt a huge relief," says

DeMeerleer. "I'm in charge of my

grief now — it doesn't control

me."

 

The personal growth counselor,

who may have devised the most

useful hand gesture since

chisanbop, is Martig Sheridan,

Seattle-based Anthony Robbins

manqué and father of a process

he calls HeartMend. Sheridan

teaches seminars with names like

"In Pursuit of Excellence," but

his real business is teaching

you how to turn that frown

upside down.

 

[]

It makes a certain kind of

sense. The ads that surround

HeartMend's in the pages of

Seattle's alt.weeklies — phone

sex come-ons, weight loss

miracles, cures for various

STDs, calls for drug research

subjects — are like a giant

puzzle of hope and misery. In

this environment, HeartMend's

call to action is just the

missing piece:

 

"GRIEF. Loss of a loved one,

whether by death, divorce, or a

painful separation, is always

accompanied by grief. This

anguish keeps you from moving on

and allowing rational

closure.... HeartMend offers a

unique answer: We guarantee that

in a remarkably short time you

can be free from your grief

forever.... The cost is only

$150, and if you are not

completely satisfied, your money

will be refunded immediately."

 

[]

A moneyback guarantee to cure

you of grief — this cuts to the

core of all the promises made in

the small print of magazines and

on late-night infomercials: We

hardly ever really want the

thing anyone's selling us; we

just want to be, you know,

happier.

 

Your happiness will result from

a single all-day seminar plus

follow-up, although Sheridan is

secretive about exactly what he

teaches. The clients sign a

non-disclosure agreement, and

Sheridan's usual volubility

clinches into coyness when he is

asked directly about the

subject. "I'm not trying to be

evasive, but if I told you about

it, well ... you'd know about

it!"

 

[Sweating Bullets]

Given his compelling business

plan, it's not surprising

Sheridan can show some early

hints of success. Out of the few

dozen people who have

participated in the seminar

since it began in November, only

two have asked for their money

back. Sheridan professes a

certain baffled amusement in his

good fortune, and waxes

Hudsuckerian when describing his

discovery. "It's hard to believe

that no one's thought of it

before," he says, "It's like the

Hula Hoop or taking a flat piece

of plastic and throwing it up in

the air and calling it a

Frisbee."

 

One reason why Sheridan may have

been the first to build a better

mousetrap is that nobody else

was trying to catch this mouse.

The idea that the mourning

process can be bypassed, or even

shortened, seems

counterintuitive at best. The

professional grief counselors

who come out after Littleton,

John-John, Diana, and other

quasi-national holidays tend to

comfort us with Kubler-Ross'

five-part dogma (denial, anger,

Today Show, Oprah, Roseanne),

and in this sense they are

pretty much in tune with the

growing field of "grief

therapists" who now see little

reason why we can't have shiva

all year long.

 

[1 2 3 Lock Box]

"Until we started to study

bereaved people [about 40 years

ago], people were talking about

six weeks," says Delpha Camp,

president of the Association for

Death Education and Counseling.

Today, therapists see nothing

wrong with recognizing a

grieving period that lasts

years. "One to two years to

sometimes up to four years for

people who were in very

difficult relationships," says

Camp, adding, "Some people think

you never get over it."

 

[Peace Sells...]

But this country didn't put a

man on the moon and overcome the

barrier to 24-hour mattress

delivery only to be balked by a

few deaths in the family. "I'm

not saying that therapy is bad,"

Sheridan says, "but it doesn't

cure grief." And whoever comes

up with the grief vaccine will

have no trouble finding a

welcome market. The field of

grief therapy — also known as

"bereavement counseling," and

the rather baroque appellation,

"thanatology" — has boomed in

recent years. "There has been a

ballooning of people who are

adding grief and loss to their

practice," says Camp, "a

ballooning of people who, often

without training, are calling

themselves grief counselors."

And grief therapy's long-view

attitude has produced a grief

culture, where grief isn't just

a process, but a part of one's

identity. There are support

groups, newsletters, conventions

— and in this culture, talk of

curing grief isn't hopeful, it's

threatening.

 

[I Can't Drive 55]

Whether or not Sheridan can

actually offer this fix in

significant numbers remains an

open question. His program is

safely at the margins of most

people's awareness — it smacks

of new-agey pabulum, even if it

isn't. But stranger things have

happened: The wasteland of

early-morning television is

populated almost exclusively by

people offering cures to

problems that are nowhere near

as tragic, and who are selling

them for about as much.

Sheridan's success or failure

would seem to have less to do

with whether or not his product

works, than whether he can

appeal to those people who want

to believe it will work. "We're

losing money right now,"

Sheridan says. But, he

continues, "I never want to make

money from the individual

clients. I want it to be from

the sheer volume of need."

 
courtesy of Ann O'Tate
 
 
 



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