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Friday, November 9, 2018

Narrative Therapy for Grief

Losing a loved one is difficult.  You expect to see them sitting there, ready to embrace you, yet they are gone.  All you are left with are the memories you have shared.  It is typical for anxiety to arise, fearful that these memories will fade and the connection to your loved one will be gone forever.

A couple of weeks ago my grandpa died.  He lived a long, full life, to the ripe age of 95 years old.  He and my grandma were married just shy of 75 years.  As his family and friends gathered for his memorial service, we shared favorite stories.  We were able to laugh and cry at the sweet memories that we shared with him.  It reminded me of how valuable those stories are in processing grief.

Narrative therapy focuses on writing the story.  It puts words to the emotions, describes the memories, and gives permanence to the experience, as you have a written copy that will withstand the test of time.  We tend to take life for granted, that we can always go back and hear the stories.  After the loved on is gone, those opportunities can be lost. However, writing out those stories is a productive way to process loss. 

At the funeral, I was talking to my dad’s cousin about his dad, my Uncle Tommy, who was my grandpa’s brother. Almost 10 years after Uncle Tommy’s death, they found an autobiography that he had written.  As they read through it, they discovered stories of his life that were a treasure to those he loved.  They were able to get it published to share the memories with loved ones and friends.  What a treasure!

I typically advocate making memory boxes during times of grief to remember the experiences that are treasured.  With children, I ask them to draw pictures and describe experiences.  With older kids as well as adults, a journal is a great way to memorialize these experiences.  The goal is to put words to the memories and the emotions.  There is a huge chasm between the brain and the heart.  Words can help connect this chasm to release the pent-up emotion. The concept of narrative therapy is putting words to the experience.

Here are some ways to use narrative therapy during your journey to healing:
  1. Write letters to your loved one and keep them in a memory box.  Add small items that remind you of your loved one and pictures.  During times of sorrow, you can open the box and look through the contents.
  2.  Make a scrap book of memories.  Use pictures and short stories in your scrap book to remember your favorite times together.
  3. Keep a journal handy.  When emotions are strong, write.  You can write about memories, current feelings, how the loss is impacting you on that particular day, or about what life would be like if they were around. Acknowledging the how life is different now due to the loss is an important part of the grief process.
  4. Create videos, songs, pieces of art, or any other creative way of communicating your love and affection.  The art will be symbolic of your experiences, allowing you to feel and heal as you look at it or listen to it.
  5. Join a grief group to share stories with people who are also healing from loss.  There is almost a compulsion to tell stories during grief.  It is your body’s way of processing the loss.  It is OK to talk about it extensively if necessary.  Finding a group of people who understand and are willing to listen can help immensely. 

Grief can be painfully slow at times.  It impacts each person differently, and there is no timeline for “getting over it.”  The goal of grief is to continue moving forward and embracing the emotions as they come. Rather than looking at grief as a series of steps you must accomplish to be through the process, remember that it comes in waves.  The shock, anger, sadness, and acceptance can come and go.  Don’t be shocked if this happens, as it is normal.  The goal is to be able to look back on the memories and smile. 
When the waves of grief come, use it as an opportunity to share the experience.  Give words to the feelings and your grief and loss can help bring healing to others if you take the time to write.  Your stories and experiences can bring joy and hope to other people who continue to struggle with the pain.

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