Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday’s Therapy - Resilience - Why Can't We Grievers "Get On" With Life?

Thursday's Therapy


"You need rest, sunshine, and lots of hugs from Daddy."

All the very things I need, but for which, I am not taking enough time out!

Thursday’s Therapy

Resilience -

Why Can't We Grievers "Get On" with Life?

The Incoherence of Intense Distress

of the Violent Death of our Child

The death and violent dying of an emotionally valued person is an external and indirect threat. It is rare that we were at risk of our own violent dying. Instead, the distress is provoked by the persistent memory of the vulnerability of the person as s/he was being killed. Because of the caring connection, the external event of violent dying is transformed into an internalized memory of the killing.

We have two major stresses going on in the violent loss of our child:

1) Death creates irreversible loss of our child which causes Separation Distress. Such sudden and unforeseen loss of our child through death, a complete separation creates a longing and searching for reunion with our lost child to relieve our grief and distress.

2) The violent death creates an additional Trauma Distress to the way our child died. Our central nervous system is programmed to process the trauma of violent dying before the more complex reprocessing of the (above) emotional connection with the deceased. We will struggle with numbness and shock, avoidance, and reenactment fantasies.

Many parents will suffer -- for years -- persistent thoughts of reenactment (playing over and over in our minds the possible violent death of our child), remorse (feeling guilty or responsible that we could not stop their death), retaliation (a cold rage and strong desire for revenge for the killing of our child), and overprotection (going into high alert to prevent what-feels-like the impending imminent loss of other family members after we so helplessly have lost this child).

The author calls this phenomenon of some or all of these thoughts swirling through our system "possession."

(I wonder if he uses this term to show that traumatic grief in-a-way "possesses" you so that it takes on a life of its on...?)

The problem with "possession" is that it interferes with our reengagement to living as the death feels like a "right-now" experience despite the passage of time.

The author does stipulate that all of these raging thought processes are

"a rudimentary accompaniment to the processing of the dying memory and should not be interpreted as abnormal."

Yet he goes on to say...

However, when possessive fantasies of violent dying do not spontaneously diminish, the teller becomes a helpless witness or subject within the awareness (of all these devastating thoughts and feelings), having lost governance of himself or herself.

Hopefully next week, we will pursue these above "possessions" (+ an added "possession" of "reuniting" we will discuss later):

  • Reenactment of the dying itself, with the teller only a helpless witness
  • Remorse, "I should have prevented this from happening"
  • Retaliation, "Someone else needs to pay for what happened."
  • Overprotection, "I will not allow this to happen (to anyone I love) again.
  • Reuniting, "I will do whatever it takes to find and reestablish my idealized attachment to my child, or I will remain inconsolable."

Again, the author admits that processing each of these dynamics at some level is needed and is normal to the grief process,

but if and when we become consumed by any one of them, it then leads to prolonged problems for our "reengagement to life."

{I'm afraid I'm there... At least it feels like it!}


But before we can effectively resolve any of the above issues, the psychiatrist Rynearson highly recognizes what we in the trauma-field understand is the first call-for-action, and that is to establish an emotional "safety zone" for oneself.

To give you an analogy to better climb into the need for this, it is a lot like what I experienced in physical therapy this year when I broke three bones in my pelvic girdle (which the orthopedic surgeon said was, in essence, like me being split in two, right down the middle!).
Each time I went to physical therapy, they made sure I was working on strengthening my body - yet always from a certain comfort-zone - to ensure healthy recovery. Always checking for the level of pain I was feeling from Zero to Ten in pain from zero being no pain to speak of up to ten being unbearable pain. They really didn't want me to get much over a "2" or "3" so that my body would endure the stress to build strength but not so much stress that it would do more harm than good.

So a certain zone of safety and comfort is important, even while stressing our systems for the needed growth to process through to healthiness.

To Restore Resilience

Before developing your restorative retelling of your child’s death, it is important for your healing that you to know how to “return to safety," essentially to know how to “float” amidst the storm of grief. Retelling your child’s story is very important to your healing process, but it can be triggering and possibly overwhelming if you do not pace yourself in the process. Thus it is important to learn how to achieve a calm base for a sense of “safety.” The following are pathways to that sense of safety.

Pacification (Self-Calming/Soothing) - Physical actions that encourage relaxation. Pacification is essential as a basis for limiting the primal experience of disintegrating terror. (Again, we don't want too much emotional pain, though pushing through some emotional pain is healthy and strengthening in the long fun. The old saying, "No pain, no gain" is essentially true!)

It is important to learn how to achieve both an ability to process both the traumatic loss and its incumbent memories and all of the myriad emotions that such loss and memories stir up within you. But it is equally important to learn how to effectively distance from the traumatic effects of grief at times so that you can have sweet reprieve from such deep grief. Thus it is important to learn how to be able to "float" above the riptide of your child-loss trauma, or even the seemingly-endless emotional agony that goes with it.

Consider what kinds of things soothe your senses and begin to help yourself by practicing these things:

· Deep-breathing,

· Meditation,

· Relaxing in the warm waters of a bath or spa,

· Basking in the sunshine,

· Painting or artwork,

· Watching a funny show or movie,

· Loosening up muscle groups,

· Creative writing,

· Sitting outside and watching nature,

· Guided imagery...for example, imagining God holding you and comforting you as you lay your head down on your pillow to drift off to sleep.

Partition (Separateness/Self-discrimination) It is essential in establishing a limitation or boundary between the experiential worlds of "me" and "not-me." Also, it is important that we develop a separateness from the violent trauma so that we do not as Rynearson says, “disintegrate with (our child) in their dying story.”

Perspective (Self-transcendence) It is essential to allow time to penetrate our experience so that we can begin to anticipate change. In this way, time will bring change by the parent's transcending and prevailing in a restorative scheme and procedure (Rynearson will define at least one such procedure for us {hopefully to come in a later post}).

Keeping the Overall Picture, which includes not only the traumatic ending but also the positives of pondering the sweet times of the days my child was here with me, all of which help me to maintain a more constructive focus. To get to some of these positives, you may want to answer the following questions for yourself.

Tell about your child as s/he was, living with you...

(...Since there is more to my child than just her death.)

Look at pictures of your child as s/he was happy, smiling…

(Recalling these happy times keeps the mind from settling in on violent scenes that were only a part of your child's life.)

How would your child feel about your asking for help?

(It is helpful to engage the image or essence of your deceased child as a supportive ally in processing through the grief story. When I hear from my precious daughter, it is usually very affirming!)

What would s/he say that you need now?

...I can just hear Merry Katherine telling me,

"You need rest, sunshine, and lots of hugs from Daddy."

{All the very things I need, but for which, I'm not taking enough time out!}

And on that note, and at this late hour, I think I WILL go and rest now! And now that we know some of the ways in which we can get centered again in the midst of our deep grief, next week I hope to examine some of the areas (Rynearson calls "possessions") in which we get "stuck" in our grief...

Paraphrased and quoted from Edward K. Rynearson's book, Retelling Violent Death



mcProdigal said...

Another great post, Angie. This one is loaded with great detail to help those who are overcoming grief. I think the advice, particularly your pelvic girdle analogy, is excellent advice for people dealing with anger and shame as well. They can be overwhelming but they can also be dealt with in 2's and 3's with some success.

Grieving Mother/Therapist, Angie Bennett Prince said...

Dear McProdigal,

Thank you for your comment! I am so glad you found this post to be helpful - and relevant to your own work with people! It is amazing to me that God has designed us so that His healing can take place when we engage body-soul-and-spirit together in the course of treatment. As you know, in counseling, if any one of these aspects is left out, the treatment is ineffective.

For example, a client could tell me all day long about their trauma story, spouting their trauma out just like a narrator of a documentary, just to convey information. And that is okay if it is just a preliminary for future vulnerability. But until my client's emotions (soul) are engaged as well, true healing cannot occur. And for their emotions to be able to surface, they have got to be able to trust (spirit) that I genuinely care for them and their welfare and am there to help guide them through what-I-trust-to-be a healing journey for them. Science too often lags behind spirituality for learning true healing methods that God makes available to us as science can fairly effectively measure body, but it can't always effectively measure soul or spirit, so it too often casts those factors out as if they were non-issues, when in actuality they are critical to the mix for healing to take place!

I am so very thankful God provides a way for healing to take place despite the horrors that Satan sends our way. It is absolutely amazing. Right now, like I said in my Twitter comment to you, in my own grief journey of 3 3/4 years, I feel like the daffodil bulb who has been underground, in the dark for almost four years, and is beginning to wonder if light is ever gonna come!

...And yet, in truth, Light is ever there with me, holding my hand in the dark, one step at a time, telling me to hold on by faith, and He will get me into the light to better breathe and blossom. What an absolute miracle that would be, to think there could actually be vitality of life that could co-exist alongside the ever-constant awareness of my devastating loss of my precious child to a horrific death, never to be in my presence, by my side, to be physically hugged or nurtured again until we meet again in Heaven.

Thank you again for your encouragement in-the-darkness-of-death's-fray.

May God bless you, and your work with other hurting people,


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