Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - Violent Death: Restorative Retelling

Thursday's Therapy

Violent Death: Restorative Retelling

Part One

Edward K. Rynearson, M.D.

Psychiatrist and Author of

Retelling Violent Death

A caveat up front...In my personal opinion, though the psychiatrist whom I quote tonight describes violent death as any death that occurs as a result of homicide, suicide, or accident, I believe any Child-Loss should be considered "violent" as such loss is violent in its essential effect on our lives. (The author does not specify child-loss grief in any way as he is speaking of violent death in general.)

I want to share with you some excerpts from the amazing book I am reading, Retelling Violent Death by Dr. Edward K. Rynearson, 2001.

Back cover:

"Dr. Rynearson presents a strategy for restorative retelling that is based upon his 30 years of clinical practice and research with family members after a violent death, as well as his own personal experience after his wife's suicide. (His book) provides hope that there is a way to survive and accommodate a violent death, to begin and continue the self-transformation that makes survival possible."

Book quotes:

Since violent dying is primarily expressed as a story that continues to be retold, this book presents a narrative framework to guide the reader toward a retelling that is restorative.

Restorative retelling is the narrative reframing of a violent dying story to include the teller as a participant, rather than a horrified witness, and to reconnect the teller with the living memories of the deceased.

A restorative retelling includes naming and retelling vital and life-affirming experiences that encompass and counterbalance the dying.

In experiencing the unexpected suicide of his young wife/mother to his five-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, the author was thrown into the survivor's horror of complicated grief that was debilitating and tormenting for him even though his own field was psychiatry. {As a side note, I was quite shocked recently to hear a Compassionate Friends grieving mother (knowing that I am a psychotherapist) confess to me, "I didn't think you would need any help (in your grief) since you have all the answers!"}

In facing the death of a loved one, when it comes down to it, professionals or not, we are all humans having to face an inhuman tragedy.

Dr. Rynearson:

"Over time, my retelling becomes less intent on analyzing the truth of her dying, and more open to finding the meaning of her dying in my own life. I won't find truth or meaning for myself in her violent dying, but truth and meaning crystallize and intersect in the evolving story of her dying that I retell. That is the magical effect of retelling--I create truth and meaning by revising myself in the telling.

"The purpose and power of retelling comes from reweaving a story with core interconnecting strands of personal truth and meaning. Over time, the enveloping story becomes more like a veil than a shroud--no longer so fixed and concealing. Each time that I remember and retell, I can revise and restore myself, so the darkening of Julie's dying can be lightened."

There have been only two stages--who I was before, and who I am now: changed by her dying.

Expounding on this opinion of the fallacy of the "stages of grief" theories, he states,

In my opinion, substituting a bright fantasy of recovery (e.g., discrete stages) for the dark reality of death is a shallow solution.

Instead of recovering, the best I can hope for is an acceptance of how I have changed.

I am left with the paradox of continuing my own living around my own "reliving" of her dying.

(We need to) disengage from this impoverishment of questioning and retelling:

How could this have happened?

How could I have kept this from happening?

How can I find retribution for this dying?

How can I prevent this from happening again?

(Instead, we need to) begin and continue a restorative retelling.

Mired in her dying, my retelling could not include me in that (restorative retelling) until I regained my resilience and autonomy from what had happened.

It is only after distancing ourselves from the chaos and confusion of violent dying that we can begin its contemplation.

(I need the) availability of inner and outer resources of resilience, and I need a reclaiming of safety after violent death.

Retelling is so essential in regaining a state of psychological coherence.

His overall theory of how one best approaches safely walking through a loved one's brutal death, he captures with his "riptide-survival" analogy :

If you're going to swim in the ocean, it's more important to remember how to float than to know how to swim.


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