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Featured this Month:

Exploring Transformation after Loss
Wednesday, February 01, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
In witnessing the courageous grief work of so many adolescents and adults, I draw inspiration. Suicide loss can be counted as an immense, life-changing event for which no one is prepared. Such a fundamental loss means change, within and without, for the surviving person, couple and family. How can we enter into a compulsory change process productively?  How do we address our grief within a marriage or family system when our grief response has such a powerful impact on those who depend on us?    As a counselor, active questioning regarding change after loss led me to admire the blog of Helen K. Emms, Personal Healing and Transformation through Grief and Loss.  She repeatedly states:
“Loss is a universal experience and comes in many forms, our most profound experience of loss being the death of a loved one.  Grief is the term used to describe our reaction to loss.  How we deal with our experience of grief, though, is determined by how we have lived our life until that point.  Grief is not something to ‘get over’ or ‘work through’.  It is not about ‘getting back to normal life’ either.  Grief is an awesome personal experience that wakes us up to the one certainty in life that we cannot avoid and that is death.

Through our experience of grief we can learn, evolve and transform our relationship with ourselves, others and life itself.  Through our experience of grief we can learn to truly live the life we have.  Grief takes us to our deepest level of connection to the souls of those who have gone before us, and it also grounds and connects us in this world now.” 

 I’ve gotten to know individuals who have evolved beyond the ground zero of loss in keeping with what Helen Emms articulated.  It seems that the process is different for every person who embraces the exploration of healing and transformation.  I’ve observed that transformative work is the result of a gradual decision process that represents a clearing after the confusion and basic survival activity that dominate the acute phase of grief.  It is a tentative exploration, highly personal and unique to the personality, needs and values of the bereaved, and there is no prescription for when the process is undertaken. 

Emms adds that “Death and loss is an opportunity for our personal healing and transformation because we are effectively being directed into a space and time for introspection and self-awareness.  This transformation happens as we listen to our body, learn to understand the messages of our emotions, evolve our thinking and begin to question all that we thought was true.”

In the realm of bereavement, suicide loss offers specific challenges and opportunities for transformation.  We can never return to our old, normal life, yet the future is painful and uncertain.  Whether the loss is that of a beloved parent, spouse or child, or a person who caused heart-ache and ill-will prior to his or her death, grief will ensue and reflect the nature of that relationship.  Even when relief is part of grief, a void is carved out by suicide that may be the space where the relationship with the deceased can be safely addressed for the first time.  Suicide loss is relational.  What do we learn about ourselves and the person who died when the relationship is reviewed over time?  Can we use that knowledge for growth?   Through the course of healing, who and what might also benefit?   I have seen bereaved teens and adults embrace an ‘honoring life’ that, out of love for the deceased person, engendered purpose and renewal.  And others were always touched by the personal growth of the grieving person:  A boy achieved Eagle Scout, as well as other goals, out of a personal need for competence and achievement as he moved through his teen years in the wake of his brother’s suicide.  During a summer after she lost her beloved father to suicide, a teen girl cared for African orphans who lost parents to AIDS.  She also spoke about her loss to young audiences and made short films addressing the needless stigma of suicide.  Another young woman left her job in Chicago to work at a community service mission and school in Guatamala. A mother who lost her college age son explored a larger purpose in her grief work for years until she decided that fostering another child was what she needed to do.  Her dedicated exploration was supported by her tenant that her son’s death could not be honored by trying to return to the “old normal.”  Another mother simply rededicated herself to her young daughters, ensuring they would enjoy a full family life while cherishing the memory of their deceased father.  Another woman wanted to live closer to her values after she lost the brother she had looked after for years prior to his suicide.  She re-evaluated her corporate profession and sought new purpose in the medical field.  Another mother addresses anger at her deceased husband so that she can be more fully present to her children.

The stories above stand out, but transformational work can be subtle and just as meaningful.  Losing a primary relationship often results in the loss of ourselves as we knew ourselves to be.  Every value and perception may be questioned.  When bereavement challenges our motivation, our purpose and our future, we often must really work simply to survive.  Transformational work may mean personal renewal, or rediscovering the capacity for pleasure, compassion, trust and relationship.  A mother told me that working to find purpose after the loss of her son involved a willingness to be uncomfortable for a long time with no clear picture of what she could expect.  She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she would know when she found it.  What faith this involved!

The faith and dedication of transformational grief work begins to touch others with healing and inspiration as soon as we can acknowledge our intention, even when we don’t know where we are going.  Every person in a family, of every age, makes a unique contribution to the memory of the person who died and the adaptation of the family over time.  We may not know what our path has been until we look back.  We will see that our futures were informed by our losses, but also by the examples that we observed in other grieving loved ones.  As parents bereaved by suicide, our children are watching us and learning the deepest lessons we can offer as we attempt to live through profound loss.  Grief, survival and personal growth has a remarkable potential to counter the message of despair that a suicide can leave in its wake.


Archives:

Exploring Transformation after Loss
Wednesday, February 01, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
In witnessing the courageous grief work of so many adolescents and adults, I draw inspiration. Suicide loss can be counted as an immense, life-changing event for which no one is prepared. Such a fundamental loss means change, within and without, for the surviving person, couple and family. How can we enter into a compulsory change process productively?  How do we address our grief within a marriage or family system when our grief response has such a powerful impact on those who depend on us?    As a counselor, active questioning regarding change after loss led me to admire the blog of Helen K. Emms, Personal Healing and Transformation through Grief and Loss.  She repeatedly states:
“Loss is a universal experience and comes in many forms, our most profound experience of loss being the death of a loved one.  Grief is the term used to describe our reaction to loss.  How we deal with our experience of grief, though, is determined by how we have lived our life until that point.  Grief is not something to ‘get over’ or ‘work through’.  It is not about ‘getting back to normal life’ either.  Grief is an awesome personal experience that wakes us up to the one certainty in life that we cannot avoid and that is death.

Through our experience of grief we can learn, evolve and transform our relationship with ourselves, others and life itself.  Through our experience of grief we can learn to truly live the life we have.  Grief takes us to our deepest level of connection to the souls of those who have gone before us, and it also grounds and connects us in this world now.” 

 I’ve gotten to know individuals who have evolved beyond the ground zero of loss in keeping with what Helen Emms articulated.  It seems that the process is different for every person who embraces the exploration of healing and transformation.  I’ve observed that transformative work is the result of a gradual decision process that represents a clearing after the confusion and basic survival activity that dominate the acute phase of grief.  It is a tentative exploration, highly personal and unique to the personality, needs and values of the bereaved, and there is no prescription for when the process is undertaken. 

Emms adds that “Death and loss is an opportunity for our personal healing and transformation because we are effectively being directed into a space and time for introspection and self-awareness.  This transformation happens as we listen to our body, learn to understand the messages of our emotions, evolve our thinking and begin to question all that we thought was true.”

In the realm of bereavement, suicide loss offers specific challenges and opportunities for transformation.  We can never return to our old, normal life, yet the future is painful and uncertain.  Whether the loss is that of a beloved parent, spouse or child, or a person who caused heart-ache and ill-will prior to his or her death, grief will ensue and reflect the nature of that relationship.  Even when relief is part of grief, a void is carved out by suicide that may be the space where the relationship with the deceased can be safely addressed for the first time.  Suicide loss is relational.  What do we learn about ourselves and the person who died when the relationship is reviewed over time?  Can we use that knowledge for growth?   Through the course of healing, who and what might also benefit?   I have seen bereaved teens and adults embrace an ‘honoring life’ that, out of love for the deceased person, engendered purpose and renewal.  And others were always touched by the personal growth of the grieving person:  A boy achieved Eagle Scout, as well as other goals, out of a personal need for competence and achievement as he moved through his teen years in the wake of his brother’s suicide.  During a summer after she lost her beloved father to suicide, a teen girl cared for African orphans who lost parents to AIDS.  She also spoke about her loss to young audiences and made short films addressing the needless stigma of suicide.  Another young woman left her job in Chicago to work at a community service mission and school in Guatamala. A mother who lost her college age son explored a larger purpose in her grief work for years until she decided that fostering another child was what she needed to do.  Her dedicated exploration was supported by her tenant that her son’s death could not be honored by trying to return to the “old normal.”  Another mother simply rededicated herself to her young daughters, ensuring they would enjoy a full family life while cherishing the memory of their deceased father.  Another woman wanted to live closer to her values after she lost the brother she had looked after for years prior to his suicide.  She re-evaluated her corporate profession and sought new purpose in the medical field.  Another mother addresses anger at her deceased husband so that she can be more fully present to her children.

The stories above stand out, but transformational work can be subtle and just as meaningful.  Losing a primary relationship often results in the loss of ourselves as we knew ourselves to be.  Every value and perception may be questioned.  When bereavement challenges our motivation, our purpose and our future, we often must really work simply to survive.  Transformational work may mean personal renewal, or rediscovering the capacity for pleasure, compassion, trust and relationship.  A mother told me that working to find purpose after the loss of her son involved a willingness to be uncomfortable for a long time with no clear picture of what she could expect.  She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she would know when she found it.  What faith this involved!

The faith and dedication of transformational grief work begins to touch others with healing and inspiration as soon as we can acknowledge our intention, even when we don’t know where we are going.  Every person in a family, of every age, makes a unique contribution to the memory of the person who died and the adaptation of the family over time.  We may not know what our path has been until we look back.  We will see that our futures were informed by our losses, but also by the examples that we observed in other grieving loved ones.  As parents bereaved by suicide, our children are watching us and learning the deepest lessons we can offer as we attempt to live through profound loss.  Grief, survival and personal growth has a remarkable potential to counter the message of despair that a suicide can leave in its wake.