Women of vision

Women of Vision: Healing Grief

    Yoshiko Takaki is a grief counselor whose work has become even more important since 2011. Since then, she's been working to help heal the heartache caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

    She goes to where people are hurting -- in this case, the city of Rikuzentakata. The town in northeastern Japan was devastated by the tsunami. Some 1,800 people died or remain missing.

    Takaki, who is director of the Sophia University Institute of Grief Care, visits survivors and encourages them to express their sadness.

    "I know that all of you have difficult days. You lost your homes and family members. Nevertheless, you have continued to work," Takaki tells a group of them.

    The disaster took Mami Murakami's husband and parents from her, as well as her home. Now she's raising three sons by herself.

    "Before the disaster, I relied entirely on my husband. Now, I have no choice but to do everything myself. I can't afford to look back. I just have to move forward," Murakami says tearfully.

    "Ms. Takaki is the only person who listens to my pent-up feelings. She's the only one I can really confide in."

    Takaki tells her: "I understand how lonely and distressed you are. I pray for you every day. You're doing remarkably well."

    Takaki says grief tends to linger when the losses come from a catastrophe.

    "In disasters, people suffer immense losses all at once. Their family members, homes, heirlooms, and communities are torn away from them. Survivors tend to blame themselves because they can't find anyone else to hold responsible," she says.

    Takaki speaks from experience. She barely survived the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. She had already been a grief counselor for several years. But the quake made her realize that the work was actually her mission.

    She believes she has counseled more than 20,000 people. In 2009, she became the director of the country's first institute for grief counseling.

    Takaki says the changing face of Japanese society makes caring more important than ever.

    "When families were larger and communities were tighter, people had more access to support. If someone died, everyone comforted the family. That's hardly the case anymore," she says.

    What especially concerns her now is loneliness in disaster-hit areas, leading to a rate of suicide that's above the national average.

    She regularly holds talks to coax survivors out of a sense of isolation.

    "Revealing the depth of your grief to someone is helpful, don't you think?" Takaki tells a group of survivors.

    "I hope we all can support each other. I want to move forward for a real recovery," one woman says after hearing Takaki speak.

    "As long as even one teardrop remains in people's minds, I don't believe recovery has occurred. We need to develop the determination to bring about a true recovery," Takaki says.

    She also teaches grief counseling to nurses, care workers and teachers. She tries to instill in them the spirit that she feels.

    Takaki says those in despair aren't the only ones to be helped by care and counseling. She believes everyone can benefit from living in a more compassionate society.