Loving After Life
“I’m truly sorry for your loss.” He sat looking at me with a look of total surrender. That kind of look you get when you know that there is no where else to go psychologically and physically but right here , right now. I could sense his big deeply sad frame almost disappear into the couch.
His loss was unimaginable as any. A terrific teen coming to grips with the fact that the most important other terrific teen in his life was gone forever.
My heart does a flip every time I hear that someone has died way before their time. It’s not right , its not fair and it shouldn’t be so, but it is …coming to terms with that will never be ok with me even after 7 years of practising counselling .
You think that as a counsellor you can navigate others’ grief like a smooth and well-oiled dancer, moving in and out with their rhythm and pace as they explore and come to grips with what has happened to them. I can’t and I don’t . It still rips me up.
I saw his parents after the session. They looked as if they were wishing the ground to suck them up into it and enable them to dissolve the incandescent pain , dissipating deliciously into oblivion as they did so. I know what they were thinking , exactly what they were thinking .
‘ Don’t worry” I said, looking gently into his mums’ eyes “ he is going to be ok “ .
She burst into tears and her shoulder slumped toward me . I hugged her , then I hugged dad . He looked totally bewildered, a compass with no direction , but grateful to hear the words that his only surviving son would weather this fatal tsunami .
I wondered where I would go with this young man , having only really worked with girls extensively, it was new territory . But I knew he was with me for a reason, and I embraced the change and the process.
Helping people who are grieving integrate their loss into their life is something I didn’t expect to be doing at this stage of my life but I’m finding that for me it’s kind of a spiritual pathway that I was looking for ,a need I could not articulate until it became experiential for me .
I’m not religious or even really spiritual but I do have sense that this process that I have chosen with people who are deeply hurting is a way I can give back and fill myself with the kind of satisfaction that can only be compared to the birth and parenting of my children. , that is my legacy I guess.
There is no way to avoid grief in its many permutations . The only common thread weaving through the whole tapestry is that you must weave through it . You can’t go under it ; you can’t go over it . You must go through it . That is the bitch of it in a nutshell. How you got through it through , and the colour of that thread is up to you . It can be so different for different people .
There are the stages of grief that Elizabeht Kubler -Ross wrote about in the 30s which have been debated in recent years . Critics seeing it as too simplistic for what is undoubtable a very complex process. I think the model still has validity , but perhaps the sequence of stages is not linear, or concrete as first theorised by Ross and others. It is possible to progress through stages only to find you may return back to a previous stage if triggered by circumstances in your environment. For example, you may be starting to integrate your loss into your life but the loss of someone else, the anniversary of their death or certain milestones in your life may see you regress to previous stages . You can also miss some stages altogether . It doesn’t mean that you do not grieve properly if you miss a phase. Your particular grief may not need it .
There seems to be a kind of silent rhythm and pace to grief that churns around in the background and seems to have a life of its own when it comes to healing the loss of a loved one. We can experience what are called “ restorative phases ” and “loss orientated phases” . These are periods where we are often focused on “ getting back into the game of life “ where we look for ways to resume our previous work, hobbies, and social events . We find ways to memorialise the loved one and do things to normalise our lives.
Then there is the “ loss orientation “ where we feel a huge wash of emptiness , ,pain and longing come over us and we are immobilised in the grief. We find everyday things difficult, and we are focused on what we have lost and what the future looks like without our loved one. This can happen anywhere in the grief process . It does not mean we are getting stuck ; it just means that we have been thinking about the magnitude of our loss in the face of new changes and milestones in our life, and the impact that is having or going to have .
It’s important that when this loss phase happens that we do not ignore it , or try to distract ourselves from it, but lean into it and allow it to do the work its needs to do to work itself out of our body and back into a restorative phase.
Integrating the memory and presence of a deceased loved one into your life is a personal and ongoing process that varies for each individual. These are things we explore in the counselling room. I have some ideas that may resonate with you , that have been helpful for some of my grieving clients.
Create a Memorial Space:
Set up a memorial space in your home with photographs, mementos, or items that remind you of your loved one. This can serve as a tangible reminder of their presence.
Keep alive any traditions or activities you used to do together. Whether it’s a particular meal, a holiday celebration, or a shared hobby, continuing these traditions can help maintain a connection.
Talk About Them:
Share memories and stories about your loved one with friends and family. Keeping their memory alive through conversation can be a comforting way to integrate their presence into your life.
Consider writing letters to your loved one. This can be a way to express your feelings, update them on your life, or simply share your thoughts. Some people find writing to be a therapeutic way to maintain a connection.
Acknowledge and celebrate special occasions that your loved one would have been a part of. It could be birthdays, anniversaries, or any significant event. This can be a way of honouring their memory.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or support groups. Grieving is a complex process, and having a support system can provide comfort and understanding.
Create a Ritual:
Develop a personal ritual to remember your loved one. This could be lighting a candle, visiting a special place, or any other activity that holds meaning for you.
Engage in Activities That Connect You:
Participate in activities that your loved one enjoyed or activities that remind you of them. This can help create a sense of continuity and connection.
Honor Their Legacy:
Consider ways to honour your loved one’s legacy, such as supporting a cause they cared about, starting a scholarship in their name, or volunteering in their memory.
If you find it challenging to cope with your grief, seeking the assistance of a grief counselor or therapist can provide valuable support.
Remember that the grieving process is unique to each person, and it’s okay to take the time you need. Integrating your loved one into your life is a gradual and ongoing process, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you navigate through it.
There are a number of things you can do to support a grieving friend or loved one to facilitate integration of the deceased in to their life moving forward
When working with a client who wants to integrate the memory of their deceased loved one into their future life, it’s essential to approach the conversation with sensitivity and empathy. Here are some open-ended questions that I have found useful.
- Tell me about your loved one ?
Begin with an open invitation for the client to share memories, stories, and details about their loved one. Doing this brings the love one into the room and for some time they can savour the joy that memory brings .
- What aspects of your loved one’s presence do you want to carry forward in your life?
Explore specific qualities, values, or characteristics of their loved one that the client wants to integrate.
- Are there particular traditions or rituals you shared with your loved one that you’d like to continue or adapt?
Discussing shared activities or traditions can help identify meaningful ways to incorporate their memory.
- How would you like to honour and celebrate significant milestones or events in your life in a way that includes your loved one?
Encourage the client to think about how they want to acknowledge special occasions with their loved one in mind.
- What emotions or challenges do you currently experience when thinking about integrating your loved one’s memory into your future?
Understanding the client’s emotions and challenges can provide insights into areas that may require additional support.
- Are there specific goals or aspirations that you believe align with your loved one’s values or wishes for you?
Explore the client’s aspirations and consider how they can be connected to the legacy of their loved one.
- How do you envision your relationship with your loved one evolving as you move forward in life?
Discuss the client’s expectations and hopes for the ongoing connection with their deceased loved one.
- Are there symbolic or tangible representations that resonate with your memories of your loved one?
Explore the possibility of incorporating symbols or objects into the client’s daily life that hold special meaning.
- In what ways can your loved one’s memory positively influence your decision-making and choices?
Discuss the potential impact of their loved one’s values and wisdom on the client’s future decisions.
- How do you want to involve friends and family in this process of integration?
Consider the client’s support network and discuss ways they might include others in commemorating and integrating their loved one’s memory.
Remember to approach these questions with genuine curiosity and a willingness to listen. Each person’s experience of grief and integration is unique, and the client may have insights that guide the process in unexpected ways. Additionally, be prepared to offer support and resources if the client expresses a need for further assistance in coping with their grief.
My teen is doing ok . Some weeks are better than others . He has periods where he is loss orientated and times when he is restorative in his life. His gentle quiet bravery , his resilience, his compassion, and love for his family is overflowing and my admiration for him grows every week.
What a very special sacred place I share every two weeks with this young man … I cherish it deeply.
. I think he has helped me more than I have helped him in understanding how resilient and immutable the human spirit is in the face of terrible tragedy . I am changed forever.