Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - "Recovery" from Child-Loss...Are You Kidding?

Thursday's Therapy

"Recovery" from Child-Loss...Are You Kidding?

In When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter, psychologist and grieving mother, Judith R. Bernstein, Ph.D. has some wonderful insights to share about the ridiculous notion that one can "recover" from something as cataclysmic and life-shattering as child-loss:

We know that our grief will never end. We will mourn for our children every day for the rest of our lives. We will never return to normal. But we will live again.

We will be able to enjoy the bittersweet colors of a sunset. We may be productive. Laughter is not out of the question. Life will be forever colored by what has happened.

For every parent who loses a child, one life ended and another life is indelibly changed.

...(O)ur attitudes toward life change dramatically following a trauma. We don't get over a trauma; we adapt our way of thinking and feeling as a consequence.

Dr. Bernstein then shares some ideas from a noted researcher, and then disagrees with her, and others' notion that child-loss grief can have a time-table of a certain length of time until "recovery"...:

Catherine M. Sanders, a noted researcher, author in the field of bereavement (and also a grieving mother) wrote in her book Grief: The Mourning After,

"Our culture has not been educated to acknowledge the length of time necessary to overcome a major loss. This lag of information adds to the burden on the bereaved because they themselves feel that they should have been 'back to normal' long before this."

~Dr. Catherine M. Sanders

As time goes by, social supports diminish because "family and friends expect the bereaved to be over the grief in six months to a year rather than the three or four years that is generally required," Sanders continues.

Even researchers who are working in the arena of bereavement put time limits such as three or four years for grief to be overcome.

Along with "overcome," the word "recovery" is often seen in association with grief.

(Dr. Bernstein's premise greatly contrasts with the notion of "recovery" from child-loss grief held by some of her fellow-professionals:)

...(G)rief, or any major trauma for that matter, is never overcome nor does recovery take place. The course of healing involves integrating that trauma, not overcoming it.

There is a significant difference. To overcome suggests that you get past or get over the trauma and go on from where you left off. But that is not what happens.

No one goes on from any major event in their lives without having that event change them psychologically in some way.

The process of integration involves changes in the person's view of the world, in the way they relate to others, in their values, in spiritual feelings, and so forth.
It's the difference between stepping over an obstacle and being rerouted by it.

(Dr. Bernstein then defines "recovery" and shows how this word does not fit life-changing losses and traumas such as child-loss grief, rape, drug addiction, etc.:)

Recovery: to return to normal; to win back, as health.

Psychology is full of recoveries. People are "in recovery" from alcohol or drug abuse. People recover from childhood abuse or recover from major trauma or catastrophic illness, or so the theory goes.

Recover, overcome, no, let's save those words for those situations from which we in fact do return to normal without alteration, as good as new. Like the flu.

People get the flu, take aspirin, drink plenty of fluids, perhaps stay in bed for a brief period, and then recover. They return to normal, not changed in any perceptible way physically or mentally.

But if we think recovery means return to normal, can we use the word to apply to conditions like drug addiction, like having been raped or abused, like losing your child?

In order to lead a productive, drug-free life after a period of drug abuse, the last thing in the world the individual needs is to return to what was his version of normal. He needs a whole new way of looking at himself, of dealing with frustration, of relating to people, he needs new values, new attitudes.

He should not be said to recover, but to undergo a metamorphosis, perhaps like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. That person needs to change, to find a way of sculpting the former life into a new lifestyle.

We cannot be said to recover, in the sense of returning to a former self, from any major trauma. Trauma as shattering and cataclysmic as losing a child, as rape or abuse, as addiction, as natural disaster, and so forth, leaves indelible imprints on our lives.

We are not the same having traveled that road as we would have been had we been spared that journey.

Events of bone-crunching intensity inevitably leave us different.
The emotional journey people take to regain equilibrium, to be able once again to feel good and value life, to reform themselves so that their loss is somehow integrated into the fiber of their existence--that is the process of mourning.

~Dr. Judith R. Bernstein

(highlights mine)

We will continue with more of Dr. Judith Bernstein's insights and research findings in next week's Thursday's Therapy, so stay tuned!

picture of puzzle from
When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter (1997) ~Judith R. Bernstein, Ph.D. - excerpts from pages xiv - xvi
Grief: The Mourning After, ~Dr. Catherine M. Sanders


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