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Featured this Month:

Visions of Those We’ve Lost
Tuesday, March 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Writing this month, I am drawing from my personal experience with grief.  The grief experiences of some teens and adults that have been shared with me in counseling sessions have often been intimate and vivid, and I sometimes take what others have shared and use them to examine my own response to loss.  I observe in others and notice in myself that a visceral, experiential memory of the deceased person may be an automatic grief response that applies to almost every age of survivor.   How might we otherwise explain these intense moments that seem to capture us and stop time?  Perhaps this is one way we attempt to compensate for a loss, to repair an intolerable breach of attachment.

Younger children are limited in identifying and articulating what I sometimes call vision memories, but it is possible to assist them in doing this. I say this because I observe children who may struggle with memories beyond the most recent interactions with their loved one before the death, and they also seem to prefer narrative memories, such as having gone to a beach or amusement park, or sharing a holiday memory. But there are memories that have little or no story to them because they are not about anything.  Yet, they hold power and evoke meaning, perhaps more now in memory than when the remembered action or event occurred. Younger children can be prompted by a parent or sibling to recall and hold remembered images.

What do I mean by vision memories? They are specific, intensively experienced memories in which the living presence of the loved one is recalled.  It may be the sound of her breathing, hearing him come down the stairs, recalling a moment when she awakened, laughed or expressed meaningful emotion. They are usually intimate glances of the loved one that we now pursue in a search to know them more deeply.  We allow these moments for the potential of insight and connection that they offer.  One surviving mother vividly remembers her deceased son’s eyes as he spoke to his dad not long before his death.  She noticed her son’s sense of pleasure and confidence as he shared a beer with his father and they talked about his college internship work.  Though painful, she cherishes this memory as a suggestion of what might have been, had her son lived into adulthood and independence.

For me, vision memories can fill the room with the loved one’s presence. But they are followed by a fresh awakening to the loss, and intense longing.  This can be very painful.  My parents were old when they died, and they did not die from suicide, but my vision memories often suggest that they engaged in a process of letting go of their lives as death approached.  Remembering my father’s fearful, china blue eyes as he lay on his side and watched me leaving his hospital room now clearly shows me that he was child-like, afraid to be alone.  The memory has painful meaning about parent decline and the child as caregiver.  There is a frightening depth in experiencing one’s parent as in an infancy state.  My parent is my child. Is this the life circle? I had not unraveled these meanings in that moment.

My mother lived her life with great attention to appearances.  Her interactions with those outside the family seemed pretentious and insincere at the time, and my response was to feel critical and impatient.  But I now recall many of her gestures with heartache and sympathy I understand her nervous laugh to cover something about which she felt insufficient and vulnerable. I see her momentary pulling back in a social situation as shyness.  I feel her insecure effort to express herself with a mispronounced word. And I vividly see the ways in which my mother worked her mouth as she thought something through.  But I see her solidly herself as she knocked a wooden spoon on the edge of a pot as she stirred the soup or stew. 

Death hurts the survivors and suicide adds more layers of pain and more questions.  But one mother shared with me that she no longer concerns herself with the fact that her beloved son died by suicide, she only misses him now, only longs for him.  She purely grieves the absence, that disruption to the attachment.  Grief counselors assess this later phase in grief development as having turned a corner in the suicide survivor’s grief process.   The complexities associated with suicide are lifting out of the way.  When the meanings related to the suicide intrude and torment the survivor less often there may be more awareness of the compensatory response of the attachment bond: This is the searching, persistent envisioning of the loved one as a living presence.  The facial expressions and body language we came to know so well were like no one else.  We can now spend time internalizing those visions, finding new insights into our loved one and realizing more of who they were. 

In the years since my father’s death I’ve used this intimate pursuit pf vision memory to identify the possible time period and reasons for his quitting of hard alcohol.  I’ve realized that he understood that my paternal grandfather died by suicide, even though my father never directly mentioned it to me.   After my mom’s passing, I learned that her spiritual faith was much stronger than I had realized when she was alive.  She had a desperate fear of getting lost, but as she approached her death she was surprisingly confident.
Over time, teens seem to be able to engage in this process and come to know their deceased loved one and their relationship with him or her  more deeply through narrative and vision memories.  They may be able to recognize the preciousness of these memories and construct meanings from them.  Younger children do have memories, but they are more usually diffuse and only concrete meanings are attached to them:  “When Daddy kissed me, that means he loved me. When he yelled at me, it means he was mad.”  There are exceptions, though.  A seven year old understood his deceased father’s irritability and withdrawal as depression.  This child imagined (constructed meaning) that his father might have wanted his kayak to sink, prior to the day that he took his life.  In the future he may have more to learn about his father.

We can foster these vision memories in children so that they can be used later, at a time when they are ready, and interested in drawing meaning from them.  While a child may not be able to describe the nuances of the sound and feel of his loved one coming down the stairs, we can prompt or stimulate this kind of memory y so that it can be felt in his or her body-mind to be recalled again later.  We can “practice” reaching in to vision memories together.  You can help your child recall when Daddy fastened the seat belt, how he sounded when he sneezed, the look of his hands.  Such memories conjure a kind of presence of the loved one that will provide the intimacy for deeper grief work as they develop  and provide a needed connection now with your child as you move forward with loss. 


Archives:

Visions of Those We’ve Lost
Tuesday, March 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Writing this month, I am drawing from my personal experience with grief.  The grief experiences of some teens and adults that have been shared with me in counseling sessions have often been intimate and vivid, and I sometimes take what others have shared and use them to examine my own response to loss.  I observe in others and notice in myself that a visceral, experiential memory of the deceased person may be an automatic grief response that applies to almost every age of survivor.   How might we otherwise explain these intense moments that seem to capture us and stop time?  Perhaps this is one way we attempt to compensate for a loss, to repair an intolerable breach of attachment.

Younger children are limited in identifying and articulating what I sometimes call vision memories, but it is possible to assist them in doing this. I say this because I observe children who may struggle with memories beyond the most recent interactions with their loved one before the death, and they also seem to prefer narrative memories, such as having gone to a beach or amusement park, or sharing a holiday memory. But there are memories that have little or no story to them because they are not about anything.  Yet, they hold power and evoke meaning, perhaps more now in memory than when the remembered action or event occurred. Younger children can be prompted by a parent or sibling to recall and hold remembered images.

What do I mean by vision memories? They are specific, intensively experienced memories in which the living presence of the loved one is recalled.  It may be the sound of her breathing, hearing him come down the stairs, recalling a moment when she awakened, laughed or expressed meaningful emotion. They are usually intimate glances of the loved one that we now pursue in a search to know them more deeply.  We allow these moments for the potential of insight and connection that they offer.  One surviving mother vividly remembers her deceased son’s eyes as he spoke to his dad not long before his death.  She noticed her son’s sense of pleasure and confidence as he shared a beer with his father and they talked about his college internship work.  Though painful, she cherishes this memory as a suggestion of what might have been, had her son lived into adulthood and independence.

For me, vision memories can fill the room with the loved one’s presence. But they are followed by a fresh awakening to the loss, and intense longing.  This can be very painful.  My parents were old when they died, and they did not die from suicide, but my vision memories often suggest that they engaged in a process of letting go of their lives as death approached.  Remembering my father’s fearful, china blue eyes as he lay on his side and watched me leaving his hospital room now clearly shows me that he was child-like, afraid to be alone.  The memory has painful meaning about parent decline and the child as caregiver.  There is a frightening depth in experiencing one’s parent as in an infancy state.  My parent is my child. Is this the life circle? I had not unraveled these meanings in that moment.

My mother lived her life with great attention to appearances.  Her interactions with those outside the family seemed pretentious and insincere at the time, and my response was to feel critical and impatient.  But I now recall many of her gestures with heartache and sympathy I understand her nervous laugh to cover something about which she felt insufficient and vulnerable. I see her momentary pulling back in a social situation as shyness.  I feel her insecure effort to express herself with a mispronounced word. And I vividly see the ways in which my mother worked her mouth as she thought something through.  But I see her solidly herself as she knocked a wooden spoon on the edge of a pot as she stirred the soup or stew. 

Death hurts the survivors and suicide adds more layers of pain and more questions.  But one mother shared with me that she no longer concerns herself with the fact that her beloved son died by suicide, she only misses him now, only longs for him.  She purely grieves the absence, that disruption to the attachment.  Grief counselors assess this later phase in grief development as having turned a corner in the suicide survivor’s grief process.   The complexities associated with suicide are lifting out of the way.  When the meanings related to the suicide intrude and torment the survivor less often there may be more awareness of the compensatory response of the attachment bond: This is the searching, persistent envisioning of the loved one as a living presence.  The facial expressions and body language we came to know so well were like no one else.  We can now spend time internalizing those visions, finding new insights into our loved one and realizing more of who they were. 

In the years since my father’s death I’ve used this intimate pursuit pf vision memory to identify the possible time period and reasons for his quitting of hard alcohol.  I’ve realized that he understood that my paternal grandfather died by suicide, even though my father never directly mentioned it to me.   After my mom’s passing, I learned that her spiritual faith was much stronger than I had realized when she was alive.  She had a desperate fear of getting lost, but as she approached her death she was surprisingly confident.
Over time, teens seem to be able to engage in this process and come to know their deceased loved one and their relationship with him or her  more deeply through narrative and vision memories.  They may be able to recognize the preciousness of these memories and construct meanings from them.  Younger children do have memories, but they are more usually diffuse and only concrete meanings are attached to them:  “When Daddy kissed me, that means he loved me. When he yelled at me, it means he was mad.”  There are exceptions, though.  A seven year old understood his deceased father’s irritability and withdrawal as depression.  This child imagined (constructed meaning) that his father might have wanted his kayak to sink, prior to the day that he took his life.  In the future he may have more to learn about his father.

We can foster these vision memories in children so that they can be used later, at a time when they are ready, and interested in drawing meaning from them.  While a child may not be able to describe the nuances of the sound and feel of his loved one coming down the stairs, we can prompt or stimulate this kind of memory y so that it can be felt in his or her body-mind to be recalled again later.  We can “practice” reaching in to vision memories together.  You can help your child recall when Daddy fastened the seat belt, how he sounded when he sneezed, the look of his hands.  Such memories conjure a kind of presence of the loved one that will provide the intimacy for deeper grief work as they develop  and provide a needed connection now with your child as you move forward with loss.