The Roads of Grief Have No GPS
This is a little different from my normal blog posts, but the heart of the piece is possibly more about ‘writing the roads of grief’ than any of my previous posts.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a two day workshop presented by, Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD, titled
TECHNIQUES OF GRIEF THERAPY:
Creative Practices for Counselling the Bereaved
Much ground was covered over the two days. A couple of stand outs for me were watching videos of actual clinical sessions, noticing when certain words or observations caused the person to retreat or even shut down. Also noticing when they lit up with love, when encouraged to share photos and stories of the person whose death they mourned. When we use the name and acknowledge the value of the life of the one who has died, we give a gift beyond words. Because we all grieve differently, it’s important to allow the person who is grieving to take the lead. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when dealing with bereavement.
I knew these things from my own experience of grief, but to see them from the other side was both powerful and empowering. It encouraged me to have confidence in the value of my grief experience as a tool when working with others.
The most important part of the workshop for me was the writing section.
For one of the exercises we were given a group of words:
- traumatic loss, empty house, crying child, animal, mountain, sunrise.
- 8 minutes writing time
- and then instructed to give our piece a title that contained a verb
The following is my 8 minute write (The only thing I’ve changed is the spacing) I’m itching to edit this piece but feel it’s important to show precisely what can be accomplished in 8 minutes.
To Listen Silently is Everything
He is dead, he is dead,
I cried to the rising sun.
I could recall vividly
his first cry
as he came forth from my womb
26 years ago.
My grief was higher than Everest,
but my memories, ah my memories.
They were more beautiful
than the view
from the highest mountain.
His love for his dog, Digbee,
the way he would come home from school,
sit on the back deck
and share his day with his dog.
I would ask ‘How was your day?’
‘OK’ he’d reply.
And to my ‘What did you do?’
his response would be
He saved his stories for
the perfect listener.
Home would never be the same
(The one thing that surprised me in the above piece is that it’s 40 years since my son’s birth. I sense I wrote it was 26 years since his birth because he was 26 when he died.)
This was a special experience for me both for the precious memory it evoked, and for the valuable insight it gave me for future writer’s workshops. To give people too many choices can be stultifying. Bob’s very specific instructions had my pen racing over the paper. No time was wasted in getting lost in deciding what to write about. One thing I do know is that decision making can be difficult for the bereaved, and so this simple set of instructions was far more valuable than the page of choices I’d previously given people.
This is the third of Bob’s workshops I’ve attended. I also attended the 8th International Conference on Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society where, Bob, was a keynote speaker, presenter and panelist.
The following is the link to Bob’s website where you can see the full scope of his work, including some of his poems, and the artwork that accompanies them.
Bob’s work and words found a home in me the first time I heard him speak about grief. He, and my grief psychologist, inspired me to do something with the bag of grief that I’d been lugging around since the suicide of my son, Ken. Bob, was my long distance mentor in the creation of my first writer’s workshop, even encouraged me to document my work and submit my findings re participants progress, to Death Studies, a peer reviewed journal. But sadly, my precious husband, Rod, collapsed and died in my arms before my workshops had gained momentum. I needed time and space to come to terms with this second traumatic death.
Also, with the death of my husband, I was confronted with the reality of my chronic illness. My husband had cared for me in such a way that I’d not realised how much my health issues limited my ability to do many things. Added to this I had a year long battle with the, Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), over errors in my husband’s initial autopsy report. My grief was once again, ‘complicated’.
The roads of grief are different for everyone. My husband and I both grieved the loss of our only child, but we lived that grief differently. It was important for our relationship that we gave each other the time and space to grieve individually.
Now, thanks to good therapy, hard work, loving extended family and friends, lots of writing, and the help, encouragement and support of some who shall remain nameless, I’m ready to move on with my life. I will always grieve the loss of my son and husband, but my grief is now a gentle companion.
I reconfigured and recommenced my writer’s workshops at the end of last year. They will be refined again as a result of my experience of this latest workshop. And while my health permits, I will do what I can to accompany others along their roads of grief, be it health related grief, grieving the death of a loved one, or one of many other grief issues. One thing life has taught me is, death doesn’t own grief.
Tonight her last night in
New bed not wanted
To meet the needs
Of chronic illness
A specially made bed
To ease her symptoms
Improve her sleep
She wanted to hold on to
Tomorrow her new whizz bang bed
It will raise her back
Elevate her feet
Dip in the centre
Take pressure off her spine
Even vibrate gently
It will no longer be
One final night
For her first night in
Layers of Silence
Latitudes of Melt
I began to think
Words and Wounds
Words are my constant companions
My friends and confidants
There are days I loathe the words
Brave, courageous, determined
Not all days
Just the really difficult days
Stoic is a stand out on the loathe list
A tiny pebble
Hiding in my shoe
Rolling and rubbing
The skin blisters and breaks
Then there’s the word
I want to write this blight in large black letters
On a huge white sheet of paper
Cut out each letter
Tear the letters into tiny pieces
Put them into a rusty old jam tin
And set fire to them
When the black ash of closure has cooled
I want to take the tin to the top of a mountain
Shake out the ash
Allowing the winds to swirl and dissipate
This monstrous mantra forevermore
Because with death
There is no closure
We can relearn our lives
In the wake of absence
Savour our memories
Even learn to laugh again
But the illusion of closure
Is a pain inducing panacea
An exhausting trek along a road to nowhere
Forty years ago today
My son was born
Thirteen years ago he died
Most days I live in peace
With his absent presence
But today the pain is as raw
As the day we discovered his body
I know from experience
Tomorrow will be a better day
Today will be a mixture of longing and laughter
Crumpling and climbing up again
As the kaleidoscope of memory rotates
There will be no closure
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.