#10 A Brief Model for Structuring a Personalized Grief Process over 6 Weeks
After having worked with many clients who were in grief about the loss of someone or something that was very important to them, I noticed that a good amount of the naturally occuring adjustment process seemed to occur within the first 6 weeks directly following the event creating the loss. It was also apparent that some of these clients were not really comfortable with the emotional aspects of what seemed to happen to people when going through grief. So I developed a guided process that could be helpful for some of these clients who were either too overwhelmed by their grief to know where to start, or were in some way resistant to engaging with a grieving process at all. Many of these clients who were reluctant to experieincing their grief were men, and I believe their reluctance was more about the emotionally intensity of these feelings and their fear of losing control of their emotions if they were to allow their grief. This model structures a daily routine to support a person needing help to organize and engage in their own personal grieving process while not having to risk a total loss of control of these strong emotions. This process is structured to occur over a 6 week period to mimic my earlier observations about how long the naturally occuring process took.
Step 1: I would ask the person to identify an area in their personal living space where they could go to that would offer them complete privacy from other people either seeing or hearing whatever they might say. Sometimes this would actually require some interpersonal negotiating a specific time and location which others in their household would agree to simply avoid at the specific time selected. I would also ask them to make it a space that did not usuually occupy for long periods like a bedroom, kitchen, livingroom etc. So perhaps a laundry area, guest room or garage or a typically seldom used space in their environment. The reason I asked for this was to not change a space in their home into a 'no go zone' that would temporarally limit any emotional experience occuring in that space to the rest of their home. It will be important for them to be able to be in that space for a specific amount of time while experiencing the emotions which emerge and then after the set time to be able to leave the space and the feelings back in that space and be able to get away from those emotions until they return again at the next scheduled time. They need to be able to limit the experience in order to not risk being overtaken by the feelings when fear of a loss of control is an issue. They would be using this space in this way for 6 weeks, on a daily basis usually at the same time each day.
Step 2: identify who or what it is that has been lost. Then identify an object or photograph that clearly represents what they once had and now have lost. This stimulus is intended to evoke the feelings of loss. Bring that object or photo into this special space and let it remain there during this process within sight and touch while there. Over the time there may also be additional objects brought into the space for the same purpose, to open up their emotional experiences of grief and loss.
Step 3: They will identify how long they are willing to stay present with that object or photo and allow themselves to experience whatever feelings begin to emerge only for the time limit they had set. We are creating a safe place for this person to both experience some of these feelings and also have some control over how long they are willing to allow these feelings. The process must offer support to the client for both their willingness to feel these uncomfortable feelings, and also a way to limit their risk of how long they will permit it. This is a process of building a safety container which offers them a way to manage their fear of loosing control, and experiencing some of these strong feelings. They will need to specify the number of minutes they are willing to do so at the start, depending on how fearful or overwhelmed they are. This is a place you can specifically help them to be both careful and courageous by starting slowly with just a few minutes if they are very fearful. This will be a decision they will begin each session in their private place with, to determine how many minutes today. Have them write it down on a piece of paper that will stay there as they use this process and ask them to have a timer there, set it and when the buzzer says time is up, stop engaging with the feeling, turn off the timer, take a minute to regather themselves and then leave the space.
Step 4: Once they leave the space they should go and do something that is a pleasureable part of their normal day and life, eg. go outside and be in the garden or walk the dog or listen to birds speaking to each other or .... something the feels good to be doing, that is a normal part of their day. If they are not able or wanting to step away from the experience of their grief, ask them to extend their next session in this special place by a few more minutes. Suggest they don't stay in the grief right then. This is intended to be a gradual process that can start small and grow and then receed as well when no longer needed. Use the timer to help them stay within the boundary they have set and let it grow and shrink naturally.
Precaution: Don't share the fact that they are doing this with anyone so they will not have to answer any questions others may have like "how was it today?". It is important that they understand that this is not a secret or something to hide, it is something that is simply private and personal. If and when they do feel like sharing some of it, as they become more comfortable with it, that would be a good time for them to consider with whom and how much they wish to share. This grieving is a very personal process, there are many ways that it can be done. The structure of this model allows them to design their own way to get started, the tempo of emotional exposure and to survive the experience as they move through it.
Grieving to me is not about forgetting someone or something, it is a process that helps adapt to a change that has either been imposed on us, or become neccesary for some reason, that changes our reality in some important way. It is the change that now requires us to adapt to this change. Coming to terms with this new reality is what grieving helps us to be able to do. The previous reality eventually moves more into the background, and something else, the way we have adjusted ourself given this new situation, emerges into the foreground. We do not lose the memory of the old version, but we now must live in the new version, as painful, unfair or as unprepared as we may feel about how it happened, it did happen and we can not change that. The relationships we had to those or that which we have lost are not gone, but they are now different from the way we were accustomed to experiencing them. The form has been changed but we still have the relationship, still intact within us, but we now need to find our own new ways to engage with it.
Grieving can be a very demanding process, on those at the center of the situation required by the experience to change but also in ripples out to others not so close to it. There are going to be people who are unwilling to experience their grief as a way to move forward in their life, they will prefer to stay frozen in grief as their way to not move forward but try to keep everything the way it used to be. People get to choose if and when to let grief help them to grow. There are many ways to engage in grief, the model presented here is simply the way I have found to be useful for someone needing some help to get started. It is not a process we take people through in our offices, it is a way to give them some help and a specific tool to proceed if they wish. I hope you will find something in it useful to your work.
That is it for me, I will be back again next month when I have a look at......................