Get Help Now!  (312) 655-7700
 

Newsletters & Articles


LOSS Program Office
721 N. LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60654

Main Line: (312) 655-7283
Fax Line: (312) 948-3340

Featured this Month:

What My Grief is Like
Thursday, February 23, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW

After a suicide, or any sudden death, we often feel naive about what to expect regarding our grief responses.   Western culture does little to prepare us for grief.  As parents, we may be looking for ways to help our children navigate life-changing losses and the storm of reactivity that suicide loss presents.  The initial grief experience certainly does not feel like a friend, rather it can be terrifying and isolating.  Yet, grief is a compelling, organic process, part of the universal human experience that can lead to our eventual healing.     Many of us, adults and children, search for language to confront the immensity of loss after suicide. When we no longer feel grounded, our sense of self feels disturbed, the sensations of loss are unnerving, making it a challenge to put words to this strange time.

 We struggle to get our minds around this unexpected, permanent absence with an explanation that ‘works’ for us.  And for children, this is a goal that may not be achieved for years because of the complexity of narrative work.  But we at LOSS have observed that the initial attempts to describe the impact of the loss, or the pain of the loved one who ended his or her life seem to be naturally expressed with metaphor, a language device in which one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them (Merriam-Webster, 2012).  Metaphors “embody our perceptions of our realities” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003) and can be deeply personal, images relating to that which we know.   Grieving people find themselves sharing these metaphors because they evoke vivid images of their their internal experience, their relationship with the deceased person, the future, the altered sense of reality.  The descriptive images often describe force, weight, existential or spiritual crisis, containment, movement and atmosphere.  Poetry and art may be born out of abject loss.  They are there for noticing.

Grief metaphors have healing aspects, even when they describe devastation, because they are universal images for our present experience.  They spring into our awareness, they feel right for the moment, and they are interchangeable according to our progress in grief.  The surfacing of grief metaphors reveals the innate workings of the mind to express r our experience before language is spoken.  One woman, early in her grief, identified with an old bent nail that lay on a windowsill.  She disliked the image, finding it spoke of loneliness and neglect, but it described her moment.  A grieving father had a dream of an empty suitcase in an empty house.  A mother who lost her son held to the image of a landslide.  She dreamed of traveling through brackish water when her grief felt unproductive.  A six year old described his grief as a leaky boat.  Another young boy drew a shaft.  A four year old who lost her mom repeatedly lined up thirsty animal figures to drink.  Other individuals have described deserts, journeys, a tsunami, climbing a mountain, being under water, losing a limb or lost in the dark.   These images speak to loss, change, disorientation and longing, a timeless, organic function of the grieving mind, perhaps appearing even before we can structure our grieving thoughts into words.  A teenager was confused by her therapist’s questions about her grief metaphors after the traumatic loss of her parents.  She suggested that she couldn’t think of anything.  Then she said, “A white piece of paper.”  This was actually a strong answer for a young person who had lost everything that was essential for her.  She needed to figure out how it was relevant to her state of loss.

 As people heal, it seems that they rely less on metaphors.  We gradually ascend from that grief nether- world in which primal utterances and images emerge on their own.  But we can become intentional about healing.  We can consciously choose metaphors to guide and support our process, and we can talk about them.    A young mother kept a fresh flower next to her child’s bed to remember her father.  People have planted and nurtured trees to remember loved ones.  Recently, a grieving wife prepared a traditional wheat dish on the anniversary of her husband’s death because it represented rejuvenation.   Rainbows, doves and butterflies are popular images for new beginnings. A house that I pass always has an illuminated angel in the front window.  And someone described a burned forest with tender new growth, a pliant metaphor that is relevant from early to later grief.

So, metaphors are visual and symbolic.  They can be pre-verbal constructions, but always possible to share in some way.  What if family members could draw their metaphors for loss, or just describe them and share them?  Is the healing power of a grief metaphor made more powerful when it is expressed and shared? Every metaphor is correct and true, whether it becomes a great painting or shared as a single word.  No metaphor is better than another.  When we share “what my grief is like,” we are sharing the most personal sort of imprint created by our loss.

With younger children, for whom abstract thought is not yet possible, it seems that metaphors are still present in their play, in their art.  A four year old whose father died, drew herself with a tiny figure of her daddy inside her chest area.  She also drew ladders, as she had stated that she wanted to climb up to heaven.  Yes, she was showing her wish to be close to her father again, and her way of keeping him with her.   When the caregiver notices the child’s efforts, open ended conversation might be shared.

Noticing when a metaphor is available is not difficult, but it does require willingness to explore what is happening to us as we grieve important losses.  The interpretation that we assign to a metaphor gets us on the path to meaning making.   So, sharing a grief metaphor, or noticing one in the play or art work of our child fosters connection and empathy and readies us for individual narratives that will evolve over time.   



Archives:

What My Grief is Like
Thursday, February 23, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW

After a suicide, or any sudden death, we often feel naive about what to expect regarding our grief responses.   Western culture does little to prepare us for grief.  As parents, we may be looking for ways to help our children navigate life-changing losses and the storm of reactivity that suicide loss presents.  The initial grief experience certainly does not feel like a friend, rather it can be terrifying and isolating.  Yet, grief is a compelling, organic process, part of the universal human experience that can lead to our eventual healing.     Many of us, adults and children, search for language to confront the immensity of loss after suicide. When we no longer feel grounded, our sense of self feels disturbed, the sensations of loss are unnerving, making it a challenge to put words to this strange time.

 We struggle to get our minds around this unexpected, permanent absence with an explanation that ‘works’ for us.  And for children, this is a goal that may not be achieved for years because of the complexity of narrative work.  But we at LOSS have observed that the initial attempts to describe the impact of the loss, or the pain of the loved one who ended his or her life seem to be naturally expressed with metaphor, a language device in which one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them (Merriam-Webster, 2012).  Metaphors “embody our perceptions of our realities” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003) and can be deeply personal, images relating to that which we know.   Grieving people find themselves sharing these metaphors because they evoke vivid images of their their internal experience, their relationship with the deceased person, the future, the altered sense of reality.  The descriptive images often describe force, weight, existential or spiritual crisis, containment, movement and atmosphere.  Poetry and art may be born out of abject loss.  They are there for noticing.

Grief metaphors have healing aspects, even when they describe devastation, because they are universal images for our present experience.  They spring into our awareness, they feel right for the moment, and they are interchangeable according to our progress in grief.  The surfacing of grief metaphors reveals the innate workings of the mind to express r our experience before language is spoken.  One woman, early in her grief, identified with an old bent nail that lay on a windowsill.  She disliked the image, finding it spoke of loneliness and neglect, but it described her moment.  A grieving father had a dream of an empty suitcase in an empty house.  A mother who lost her son held to the image of a landslide.  She dreamed of traveling through brackish water when her grief felt unproductive.  A six year old described his grief as a leaky boat.  Another young boy drew a shaft.  A four year old who lost her mom repeatedly lined up thirsty animal figures to drink.  Other individuals have described deserts, journeys, a tsunami, climbing a mountain, being under water, losing a limb or lost in the dark.   These images speak to loss, change, disorientation and longing, a timeless, organic function of the grieving mind, perhaps appearing even before we can structure our grieving thoughts into words.  A teenager was confused by her therapist’s questions about her grief metaphors after the traumatic loss of her parents.  She suggested that she couldn’t think of anything.  Then she said, “A white piece of paper.”  This was actually a strong answer for a young person who had lost everything that was essential for her.  She needed to figure out how it was relevant to her state of loss.

 As people heal, it seems that they rely less on metaphors.  We gradually ascend from that grief nether- world in which primal utterances and images emerge on their own.  But we can become intentional about healing.  We can consciously choose metaphors to guide and support our process, and we can talk about them.    A young mother kept a fresh flower next to her child’s bed to remember her father.  People have planted and nurtured trees to remember loved ones.  Recently, a grieving wife prepared a traditional wheat dish on the anniversary of her husband’s death because it represented rejuvenation.   Rainbows, doves and butterflies are popular images for new beginnings. A house that I pass always has an illuminated angel in the front window.  And someone described a burned forest with tender new growth, a pliant metaphor that is relevant from early to later grief.

So, metaphors are visual and symbolic.  They can be pre-verbal constructions, but always possible to share in some way.  What if family members could draw their metaphors for loss, or just describe them and share them?  Is the healing power of a grief metaphor made more powerful when it is expressed and shared? Every metaphor is correct and true, whether it becomes a great painting or shared as a single word.  No metaphor is better than another.  When we share “what my grief is like,” we are sharing the most personal sort of imprint created by our loss.

With younger children, for whom abstract thought is not yet possible, it seems that metaphors are still present in their play, in their art.  A four year old whose father died, drew herself with a tiny figure of her daddy inside her chest area.  She also drew ladders, as she had stated that she wanted to climb up to heaven.  Yes, she was showing her wish to be close to her father again, and her way of keeping him with her.   When the caregiver notices the child’s efforts, open ended conversation might be shared.

Noticing when a metaphor is available is not difficult, but it does require willingness to explore what is happening to us as we grieve important losses.  The interpretation that we assign to a metaphor gets us on the path to meaning making.   So, sharing a grief metaphor, or noticing one in the play or art work of our child fosters connection and empathy and readies us for individual narratives that will evolve over time.