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Featured this Month:

Grieving Over Time
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
What is the quality of grief that has been present in the life of a surviving person for quite some time? We want to give voice to this indefinite, very personal process of moving through grief after the quaking and shaking has subsided.  A survivor has come to a point of uneasy stillness, and she cannot see her future.

All grief starts at Ground Zero, but as time goes by any given individual may find themselves in vastly different states of grief and recovery.  Older, more seasoned grief can present with bewilderment or depressive states long after one expected to feel better.   And the peculiar pain of older grief can feel only distantly related to the earlier survival of what is catastrophic, when the sudden absence of the loved one creates a profound disruption.    Although each person’s grief is ultimately unique, we notice that within the first few weeks after the loss, survivors tend to resemble each other in their grief responses.   Early grief focuses on disbelief and seeks stabilization for the self and those we care for.   Even with the shock of the loss, the relationship with the person who died can feel charged and alive. There may be a keen sense of presence of the deceased, and memories are fresh and detailed, causing both comfort and pain to the adult survivor.  For most young people and adults the initial phases of grief play out with an urgency to meet the needs of those devastated by the loss.  The mind is occupied in making sense of the suicide, and the evolving story is an account of our understanding of something that feels incomprehensible.   For many adults, the initial grief energy rarely rests.  Younger children seem to co-exist with unanswered questions better than adults, but they are likely to face them again when they have greater capacity to reflect on the loss.  Time can bring some benefits to the grieving family, and over time some adults dedicate their survival skills to work with the larger contexts of the loss:  Understanding mental illness, personal  growth, re-evaluating what matters, expanding one’s identity.   Each person’s story lives within, and seems to emit a unique ambient light or mood.   

For those who are father out in their grief a “new normal” may have been constructed, allowing a full night’s sleep.  Survivors may find they are able to attend to tasks and make decisions again.   And children and teens can do well in compensating for the loss, playing sports, studying, staying busy with friends, setting exciting goals.  These are significant achievements, but it is clear that, although grief changes, it does not end.   We have been changed by grief as individuals and as families.  Each person will find a characteristic way to manage the loss.  The absence settles in with us.

After these gains, the grief process may become less well charted and highly individualized, to the extent that survivors could even feel isolated from other family members who are experiencing the same loss. Not everyone wrestles so deeply with grief as time moves forward, but for those who confront this plateau,  a sense of commonality with other survivors is no longer a given, and the assumptions that were comforting in the past may no longer feel valid. Now, survivors may experience a sense of spiritual emptiness, a loss of connection with the deceased or a stalled process in meaning making.  One person described her grief as being alone in a dimly lit room, a vague sense of light coming through a small tear in a curtain. Another questioned the point of maintaining attachments, while another noticed the growth of cynicism.  A bereaved father shared his resignation that he would carry the” football” of pain that his son “lateraled” to him before he ended his life.   These confessions were shared after a considerable period of devoted grief work.  What steps to take?  

It may be that we are unprepared for the territory farther out.  We expect to feel better as we watch our adaptive functions improve.  But for those farther along the grief continuum the survival issues can become vague and complex, difficult to define.  The grieving person may experience a sense of stasis, where what they had hoped for eludes them.  The meaning they had constructed around the loss now feels less relevant, or missing the person who died is unrelieved.  The survivor speaks of a disconnect between appearing well and feeling lost.  A weary survivor asks, “What were the goals of grief therapy?”

We sit together with the sense of not knowing, poised and attentive as the survivor breathes through the stillness of the moment.  Nothing definite is offered up, and the therapist is touched by the perseverance of the person who grieves so tediously.  The grieving person may complain of feeling dry or diminished, yet to the therapist she has grown large as a question.  The therapist senses potency in the survivor, even as he describes a state that feels stagnant or shallow.   We talk about a Buddhist parable in which a monk calmly sweeps in the wind.  It affirms faith in effort, in attention, in seeing it through, even if it appears irrational.    After dealing with the initial onslaught of loss, survivors may later find themselves wrestling with spiritual or existential questions to which answers lie in a process whose energy is pure love and sorrow.  I feel certain that touching in to love and sorrow, softening around it, can eventually lead to transcendence.

But it may not be all stillness and touching in.  Observing and being with others who are further out in their grief may also lead to recognition of oneself, as well as momentum and change.  The survivor groups through LOSS may not be for everyone, but risking a roomful of others in various phases of the grief process can offer an opportunity to witness individuals who are giving birth to themselves.   This may be the time to take a risk with experience, observing others, 3, 5, 7, even 15 years out, who carry grief in very different ways.  The burned out wrestling with faith, meaning, connection or purpose may do well with a shake-up through hearing others speak, and there may be emergence into a place more green, more resilient.   

Counseling can still be helpful to those whose grief has settled into a state that feels too large, directionless or arid.    One bereaved mother commented that, her sense of “not knowing,” of feeling her way through the outer reaches of grief is due to the core of aloneness that separates one individual from another.  She has come to know how her therapist can help and how she cannot, but sees the close companionship as important.  Without knowing where her grief process is going, she copes by “keeping my eye on the big picture,” her goal for her family to be okay, to feel normal and happy again.  She found meaning in the story of the monk sweeping in the wind because his goal is steadily, calmly maintained in challenging conditions.

Grief is experienced through consciousness and attachment. We cannot take the attachment out of consciousness, but at some point, the physical loss of the loved one will become integrated in the identity of the survivor.  The vague sensing and uncertainty are also taken in as the survivor navigates the future and moves into later stages of her own life.   But memories and attachment bind the survivor to the person who died, moment to moment, truly in each breath and heartbeat… now expanded, now at rest.   How we hold and allow conscious awareness during the vicissitudes of grief will alternately increase and diminish our capacity to feel closer to the person who died.  Grief, a living process, breathes in to our experience of attachment and loss over time, sleeping, waking, and questioning through daily life.  With the intention to cultivate this kind of awareness, it may be possible that our new relationship with the deceased becomes intuitive.   The transition is difficult and slow, but a compass may not be necessary.


Archives:

Grieving Over Time
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
What is the quality of grief that has been present in the life of a surviving person for quite some time? We want to give voice to this indefinite, very personal process of moving through grief after the quaking and shaking has subsided.  A survivor has come to a point of uneasy stillness, and she cannot see her future.

All grief starts at Ground Zero, but as time goes by any given individual may find themselves in vastly different states of grief and recovery.  Older, more seasoned grief can present with bewilderment or depressive states long after one expected to feel better.   And the peculiar pain of older grief can feel only distantly related to the earlier survival of what is catastrophic, when the sudden absence of the loved one creates a profound disruption.    Although each person’s grief is ultimately unique, we notice that within the first few weeks after the loss, survivors tend to resemble each other in their grief responses.   Early grief focuses on disbelief and seeks stabilization for the self and those we care for.   Even with the shock of the loss, the relationship with the person who died can feel charged and alive. There may be a keen sense of presence of the deceased, and memories are fresh and detailed, causing both comfort and pain to the adult survivor.  For most young people and adults the initial phases of grief play out with an urgency to meet the needs of those devastated by the loss.  The mind is occupied in making sense of the suicide, and the evolving story is an account of our understanding of something that feels incomprehensible.   For many adults, the initial grief energy rarely rests.  Younger children seem to co-exist with unanswered questions better than adults, but they are likely to face them again when they have greater capacity to reflect on the loss.  Time can bring some benefits to the grieving family, and over time some adults dedicate their survival skills to work with the larger contexts of the loss:  Understanding mental illness, personal  growth, re-evaluating what matters, expanding one’s identity.   Each person’s story lives within, and seems to emit a unique ambient light or mood.   

For those who are father out in their grief a “new normal” may have been constructed, allowing a full night’s sleep.  Survivors may find they are able to attend to tasks and make decisions again.   And children and teens can do well in compensating for the loss, playing sports, studying, staying busy with friends, setting exciting goals.  These are significant achievements, but it is clear that, although grief changes, it does not end.   We have been changed by grief as individuals and as families.  Each person will find a characteristic way to manage the loss.  The absence settles in with us.

After these gains, the grief process may become less well charted and highly individualized, to the extent that survivors could even feel isolated from other family members who are experiencing the same loss. Not everyone wrestles so deeply with grief as time moves forward, but for those who confront this plateau,  a sense of commonality with other survivors is no longer a given, and the assumptions that were comforting in the past may no longer feel valid. Now, survivors may experience a sense of spiritual emptiness, a loss of connection with the deceased or a stalled process in meaning making.  One person described her grief as being alone in a dimly lit room, a vague sense of light coming through a small tear in a curtain. Another questioned the point of maintaining attachments, while another noticed the growth of cynicism.  A bereaved father shared his resignation that he would carry the” football” of pain that his son “lateraled” to him before he ended his life.   These confessions were shared after a considerable period of devoted grief work.  What steps to take?  

It may be that we are unprepared for the territory farther out.  We expect to feel better as we watch our adaptive functions improve.  But for those farther along the grief continuum the survival issues can become vague and complex, difficult to define.  The grieving person may experience a sense of stasis, where what they had hoped for eludes them.  The meaning they had constructed around the loss now feels less relevant, or missing the person who died is unrelieved.  The survivor speaks of a disconnect between appearing well and feeling lost.  A weary survivor asks, “What were the goals of grief therapy?”

We sit together with the sense of not knowing, poised and attentive as the survivor breathes through the stillness of the moment.  Nothing definite is offered up, and the therapist is touched by the perseverance of the person who grieves so tediously.  The grieving person may complain of feeling dry or diminished, yet to the therapist she has grown large as a question.  The therapist senses potency in the survivor, even as he describes a state that feels stagnant or shallow.   We talk about a Buddhist parable in which a monk calmly sweeps in the wind.  It affirms faith in effort, in attention, in seeing it through, even if it appears irrational.    After dealing with the initial onslaught of loss, survivors may later find themselves wrestling with spiritual or existential questions to which answers lie in a process whose energy is pure love and sorrow.  I feel certain that touching in to love and sorrow, softening around it, can eventually lead to transcendence.

But it may not be all stillness and touching in.  Observing and being with others who are further out in their grief may also lead to recognition of oneself, as well as momentum and change.  The survivor groups through LOSS may not be for everyone, but risking a roomful of others in various phases of the grief process can offer an opportunity to witness individuals who are giving birth to themselves.   This may be the time to take a risk with experience, observing others, 3, 5, 7, even 15 years out, who carry grief in very different ways.  The burned out wrestling with faith, meaning, connection or purpose may do well with a shake-up through hearing others speak, and there may be emergence into a place more green, more resilient.   

Counseling can still be helpful to those whose grief has settled into a state that feels too large, directionless or arid.    One bereaved mother commented that, her sense of “not knowing,” of feeling her way through the outer reaches of grief is due to the core of aloneness that separates one individual from another.  She has come to know how her therapist can help and how she cannot, but sees the close companionship as important.  Without knowing where her grief process is going, she copes by “keeping my eye on the big picture,” her goal for her family to be okay, to feel normal and happy again.  She found meaning in the story of the monk sweeping in the wind because his goal is steadily, calmly maintained in challenging conditions.

Grief is experienced through consciousness and attachment. We cannot take the attachment out of consciousness, but at some point, the physical loss of the loved one will become integrated in the identity of the survivor.  The vague sensing and uncertainty are also taken in as the survivor navigates the future and moves into later stages of her own life.   But memories and attachment bind the survivor to the person who died, moment to moment, truly in each breath and heartbeat… now expanded, now at rest.   How we hold and allow conscious awareness during the vicissitudes of grief will alternately increase and diminish our capacity to feel closer to the person who died.  Grief, a living process, breathes in to our experience of attachment and loss over time, sleeping, waking, and questioning through daily life.  With the intention to cultivate this kind of awareness, it may be possible that our new relationship with the deceased becomes intuitive.   The transition is difficult and slow, but a compass may not be necessary.