Has someone you loved died?
Did you fail grief 101?
Chances are you read or have been told about Elizabeth Kübler Ross’ useless at best and harmful at worst ‘stages’ of loss and grief. You will find she, and theorists before and after, believed that the bereaved should progress through the stages or phases or tasks to reach a full resolution of their grief. Success means ‘moving on’ with your life having reached ‘closure’. And you reach this place in privacy with the context of where and how you live not mattering a hoot. Failure to relinquish the dead loved one risks the grief (and you) being labelled pathological.
Now these theorists were not good observers of the real world. If they had been they would have spied people hanging about cemeteries or other significant places that had strong ties to the dead loved one and seen conversations going on between the bereaved and the dead that often consisted of filling the lost one in on life’s events since their deaths. These people despite appearing perfectly normal have not detached but rather are continuing their attachment with their dead loved one. Thankfully they haven’t read the rules of grieving.
In the late 1990s new theories emerged that challenged former grief theories but have never made it into mainstream knowledge or pushed Kubler Ross out of the way. This is a great shame as all of us would benefit from knowing more about lovingly guiding our grieving friends, family and ourselves through the pain.
A guy called Robert Neimeyer became the most prolific researcher on the theory of continuing bonds. He and his colleagues talk a lot about the quest for meaning. Apparently finding meaning is very helpful for the well being of the bereaved. I have difficulty understanding this concept but recently found an article that describes the act of understanding the story of the event of the death and creating a narrative of the ‘backstory’ of one’s relationship with the deceased can equate to finding meaning. Keeping the story alive and held within the body, heart and mind of the bereaved is an important aspect of this compassionate and wise theory.
So why does it matter? For me it matters as rather than the angst of feeling a failure at this grief thing, I grab with both hands the opportunity to continue my relationship with my children (albeit children that always remain the same age). I guess my dead grown up son Derek is our most lived with person. He tells us off if we pack the dishwasher badly and insists on that we park the car in the place where it is least likely to be scratched by other careless drivers. In the everyday world my children are not ‘relinquished’ but with me in pretty ordinary ways.
So are your dead loved ones part of your lives still? Tell me how!
This week I’m lending out my blog to my friends. Today’s post is by Sue, who’s writing a brilliant book about grief and motherhood.