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Featured this Month:

Attachments and Imprints
Sunday, September 01, 2013 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
When a child begins life, its first developmental task is to attach to the caregiver.   There is no “other” as it is cradled and fed, only the cries for connection when separation is experienced.  And for the parent, the boundary between self and child seems mysteriously non-existent for a while. As the child matures and is compelled to explore the world, distancing is exciting, but also uncomfortable enough that the child looks backward often to balance the stimulation with a sense of security.  The parent, too, is attentive, even vigilant, as the young child pushes toward gradual independence.  Most caregivers will recall some anxiety as they observed this process in the small being that introduced them to the profound experience of  bonding.  Most of us learn to attach and to support our loved ones’ independence without a great sense of disruption.  As we become more secure adults, we learn to give space for self-determination to those we care about.  When we carry the attached relationships within us, the connections become flexible and don’t suffer whether our loved ones are close by or in another country. Even with distance, the attachments are not disrupted.

The universal human grief experience concerns a disruption of an attachment bond.  When death takes someone close to us, a spouse, a parent, or especially a child, the disruption can be so profound that survivors may experience a sense of dismemberment.  The sense of self and meaning of life as it was known may be greatly altered, or even destroyed.  Many enact a process of “searching” and yearning for the person who died in an effort to restore the disrupted attachment.  A surviving adult’s thoughts and behaviors are consumed by grief.  This is the bridge, the alternative connector to the deceased.  It is created with tireless energy after the crisis of loss.

For grieving children the attachment disruption is less within the cognitive spectrum, and more within a sensory range of felt absence.  A teen who lost his mother when he was three years old remembers her fragrance and the silky feel of her blouse.  Young children don’t understand permanency, and a vigilant part of them waits for the deceased person to return.  To some extent, even adults struggle to integrate the numbing fact of death’s permanene, and while children and younger teens may flaunt use of the word, forever, they don’t really “get it” without further maturational experiences.  The surviving family members, both adults and children, will find ways to stabilize themselves, individually and together, but each person’s grief process is in response to the attachment disruption.   As grief begins, memory may be walled-off to defend against pain or complicated feelings, or amplified to maintain the sacred connection as the loss is gradually taken into our minds and bodies.  Amplified memory is first aid for the wound created by the loss.  It recreates every detail of the precious, deceased person’s words, mannerisms and behaviors.   Adults and children use transitional objects for comfort, and to cope with the absence:  a T shirt, a hat, a ring worn by the person who died.  During the Victorian era, bereavement involved strict rules for mourning, and wearing mementoes of the person who died was fashionable; even woven bracelets of the beloved’s hair.  Today we make small shrines and memory boxes.  We wear precious photos of our loved person in lockets.  And children and teens incorporate the memory of the person in their world.  They adopt the teams and sports icons of the deceased; begin to work with symbols to demonstrate how they knew the one they loved, and may attempt to establish goals that they believe would have made their loved one proud.   We cherish the grief connections we create, and elevate those parts of our lives in service to the bonds that keep us close to the deceased.

When the loss is a result of suicide, the adult’s and adolescent’s questioning processes alone can be exhausting, but this allows a sense of near dialogue with the deceased.  We are trying to “know” and comprehend our loved one’s final act and sense of the world.  The created connection is almost larger than life when we are grieving in this way, even as we do this work in sorrow.  

As a LOSS counselor, I am honored to observe the changes over time in grieving children, adolescents and parents.  Questions seem to emerge when the grieving person heals into a phase where they are relieved of the relentless pain.  What happens to the connection when the loss wounds have begun to heal over, and the triggers to remember the loved one are less charged and insistent?   When the deceased person is no longer constantly on our mind, adults may have a vague sense that the connection is fading. I have been told that this is an insecure time. There is now a sense that the grieving person needs to do something that allows them to reconstruct a different kind of relationship with the loved one who died, and it usually isn’t clear what this could be.  They are ambivalent about the softening of pain. “If I welcome it, am I forgetting?”  A surviving parent may watch her surviving children or teens and notice that they appear stable, even flourishing, but there might also be the sense that the deceased seems farther away.  This is new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  As the young grievers increase in resilience, the adult may feel uneasy and look for direction.

In response, I need to remind myself that the process that evolves out of grief is intimate and deep.  The counselor cannot be on the inside.  Intuitively, I sense that the grief process can be trusted, that it leads into healing and transcendence if you stay with it, and the imprint of the loved person’s life will continue even after the survivor’s life has finished.   Just as death is a mystery, so is the unique pathway of individual grief.   It would seem that when the scar has formed over the wound, this is meaningful, and a new time of unknown purpose is taking place.  What is happening?  Everything, including the survivor, is different now.   Perhaps this healing period allows the survivor more energy to change and grow in a manner that bears the imprint of the person who died.  I have asked if this phase could mean not “letting go,” but “letting be,” allowing the loved one to continue his or her process in the spiritual realm.  It may be the time when survivors establish foundations or permanent memorials, or clean house.  A friend used this time to make a CD from many old tapes of her deceased mother playing piano.  Can the mystery support the grieving individual in exploration … meditation practice, the development of a deeper spiritual life, going back to school, commitment to something meaningful?

It appears that grieving children and adolescents are motivated to reengage in developmental tasks as soon as they can after a profound loss.  Sometimes, this is concurrent with their grief process, and they manage this with unique defenses. They are creating their identities as they lean in to the future.  Some children deliberately put aside their amplified memories.  Is this life reaffirming itself?  I do see this, and assure parents that the future allows their children many opportunities for reflecting, marking milestones and anniversaries, learning family history and giving birth to namesake babies.

For adults and the young, their profound attachment disruption informs everything that follows in intricate and sometimes subtle ways as the loss moves farther out.    If there is a fallow period after a cataclysmic loss, is this an indication for the survivor that his or her transformation is being quietly generated on its own, and the imprint of the deceased is transcending time in a way that will touch the future?  For anyone who faces this juncture in the moment, the “not knowing” can be frightening.  

After I was an adult, I deduced that my grandfather had died by suicide.  He was a man of many achievements.  After the turn of the century, he and his brother installed every gas meter in the homes of a small town in Ontario.  When he died, I was a teenager, and my father laid a trench of grief work that I didn’t enter.   Now my father has been gone for nine years, and as I grieve his absence, I seem to carry a lighter aspect of his paternal grief forward.  I see gas meters in urban gangways and near the garden hoses that snake along the flowers planted near the foundation of suburban homes.  Without effort, I never see a gas meter without thinking of my grandfather and his son’s wrenching loss, and all that his son generated later for my mother and my sisters and me, in response to his loss.  He struggled with the attachment disruption, making decisions over the years that were clearly informed by it.  A gas meter:  A generation later, the mind works mysteriously on cue.


Archives:

Attachments and Imprints
Sunday, September 01, 2013 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
When a child begins life, its first developmental task is to attach to the caregiver.   There is no “other” as it is cradled and fed, only the cries for connection when separation is experienced.  And for the parent, the boundary between self and child seems mysteriously non-existent for a while. As the child matures and is compelled to explore the world, distancing is exciting, but also uncomfortable enough that the child looks backward often to balance the stimulation with a sense of security.  The parent, too, is attentive, even vigilant, as the young child pushes toward gradual independence.  Most caregivers will recall some anxiety as they observed this process in the small being that introduced them to the profound experience of  bonding.  Most of us learn to attach and to support our loved ones’ independence without a great sense of disruption.  As we become more secure adults, we learn to give space for self-determination to those we care about.  When we carry the attached relationships within us, the connections become flexible and don’t suffer whether our loved ones are close by or in another country. Even with distance, the attachments are not disrupted.

The universal human grief experience concerns a disruption of an attachment bond.  When death takes someone close to us, a spouse, a parent, or especially a child, the disruption can be so profound that survivors may experience a sense of dismemberment.  The sense of self and meaning of life as it was known may be greatly altered, or even destroyed.  Many enact a process of “searching” and yearning for the person who died in an effort to restore the disrupted attachment.  A surviving adult’s thoughts and behaviors are consumed by grief.  This is the bridge, the alternative connector to the deceased.  It is created with tireless energy after the crisis of loss.

For grieving children the attachment disruption is less within the cognitive spectrum, and more within a sensory range of felt absence.  A teen who lost his mother when he was three years old remembers her fragrance and the silky feel of her blouse.  Young children don’t understand permanency, and a vigilant part of them waits for the deceased person to return.  To some extent, even adults struggle to integrate the numbing fact of death’s permanene, and while children and younger teens may flaunt use of the word, forever, they don’t really “get it” without further maturational experiences.  The surviving family members, both adults and children, will find ways to stabilize themselves, individually and together, but each person’s grief process is in response to the attachment disruption.   As grief begins, memory may be walled-off to defend against pain or complicated feelings, or amplified to maintain the sacred connection as the loss is gradually taken into our minds and bodies.  Amplified memory is first aid for the wound created by the loss.  It recreates every detail of the precious, deceased person’s words, mannerisms and behaviors.   Adults and children use transitional objects for comfort, and to cope with the absence:  a T shirt, a hat, a ring worn by the person who died.  During the Victorian era, bereavement involved strict rules for mourning, and wearing mementoes of the person who died was fashionable; even woven bracelets of the beloved’s hair.  Today we make small shrines and memory boxes.  We wear precious photos of our loved person in lockets.  And children and teens incorporate the memory of the person in their world.  They adopt the teams and sports icons of the deceased; begin to work with symbols to demonstrate how they knew the one they loved, and may attempt to establish goals that they believe would have made their loved one proud.   We cherish the grief connections we create, and elevate those parts of our lives in service to the bonds that keep us close to the deceased.

When the loss is a result of suicide, the adult’s and adolescent’s questioning processes alone can be exhausting, but this allows a sense of near dialogue with the deceased.  We are trying to “know” and comprehend our loved one’s final act and sense of the world.  The created connection is almost larger than life when we are grieving in this way, even as we do this work in sorrow.  

As a LOSS counselor, I am honored to observe the changes over time in grieving children, adolescents and parents.  Questions seem to emerge when the grieving person heals into a phase where they are relieved of the relentless pain.  What happens to the connection when the loss wounds have begun to heal over, and the triggers to remember the loved one are less charged and insistent?   When the deceased person is no longer constantly on our mind, adults may have a vague sense that the connection is fading. I have been told that this is an insecure time. There is now a sense that the grieving person needs to do something that allows them to reconstruct a different kind of relationship with the loved one who died, and it usually isn’t clear what this could be.  They are ambivalent about the softening of pain. “If I welcome it, am I forgetting?”  A surviving parent may watch her surviving children or teens and notice that they appear stable, even flourishing, but there might also be the sense that the deceased seems farther away.  This is new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  As the young grievers increase in resilience, the adult may feel uneasy and look for direction.

In response, I need to remind myself that the process that evolves out of grief is intimate and deep.  The counselor cannot be on the inside.  Intuitively, I sense that the grief process can be trusted, that it leads into healing and transcendence if you stay with it, and the imprint of the loved person’s life will continue even after the survivor’s life has finished.   Just as death is a mystery, so is the unique pathway of individual grief.   It would seem that when the scar has formed over the wound, this is meaningful, and a new time of unknown purpose is taking place.  What is happening?  Everything, including the survivor, is different now.   Perhaps this healing period allows the survivor more energy to change and grow in a manner that bears the imprint of the person who died.  I have asked if this phase could mean not “letting go,” but “letting be,” allowing the loved one to continue his or her process in the spiritual realm.  It may be the time when survivors establish foundations or permanent memorials, or clean house.  A friend used this time to make a CD from many old tapes of her deceased mother playing piano.  Can the mystery support the grieving individual in exploration … meditation practice, the development of a deeper spiritual life, going back to school, commitment to something meaningful?

It appears that grieving children and adolescents are motivated to reengage in developmental tasks as soon as they can after a profound loss.  Sometimes, this is concurrent with their grief process, and they manage this with unique defenses. They are creating their identities as they lean in to the future.  Some children deliberately put aside their amplified memories.  Is this life reaffirming itself?  I do see this, and assure parents that the future allows their children many opportunities for reflecting, marking milestones and anniversaries, learning family history and giving birth to namesake babies.

For adults and the young, their profound attachment disruption informs everything that follows in intricate and sometimes subtle ways as the loss moves farther out.    If there is a fallow period after a cataclysmic loss, is this an indication for the survivor that his or her transformation is being quietly generated on its own, and the imprint of the deceased is transcending time in a way that will touch the future?  For anyone who faces this juncture in the moment, the “not knowing” can be frightening.  

After I was an adult, I deduced that my grandfather had died by suicide.  He was a man of many achievements.  After the turn of the century, he and his brother installed every gas meter in the homes of a small town in Ontario.  When he died, I was a teenager, and my father laid a trench of grief work that I didn’t enter.   Now my father has been gone for nine years, and as I grieve his absence, I seem to carry a lighter aspect of his paternal grief forward.  I see gas meters in urban gangways and near the garden hoses that snake along the flowers planted near the foundation of suburban homes.  Without effort, I never see a gas meter without thinking of my grandfather and his son’s wrenching loss, and all that his son generated later for my mother and my sisters and me, in response to his loss.  He struggled with the attachment disruption, making decisions over the years that were clearly informed by it.  A gas meter:  A generation later, the mind works mysteriously on cue.