When Navigating Grief’s Turbulent Waters, Tighten Your
Relationship’s Life Vest
Today, I’m turning The Indestructible Relationship blog over to an award-winning author and therapist I met recently at a conference in Philadelphia. Her name is Dr. Jane A. Simington, PhD, but she’s more often known as Dr. Jane, The Woman of Hope. When you read her entry below, about grieving after the death of a child, I think you’ll see why.
By Dr. Jane A. Simington, PhD
For more than thirty years, I have been a professional, helping people as they move through difficult life experiences. I am also a bereaved mother whose son was killed when he was 13 years of age. In my therapeutic practice and in my comments to you here, I blend both my personal and professional experiences of loss and grief. As a therapist, when I work with an individual or a couple who has or have endured the death of a child, I help them prepare for the rocks in the waters they will have to navigate. I explore with them the solutions that they think will work for them, and I give them suggestions of what worked for me and for the many other couples I have helped through crisis.
Losing a child to death is an extremely difficult experience. This experience can challenge even the strongest among us, ripping us apart at the very core of our being. When we feel torn open, raw and vulnerable, it is easy to strike out at others, to blame, to criticize, to be angry at them if they appear to be grieving too much or too little, or even if they do not grieve in the same ways as we do.
When I work with grieving individuals, I spend considerable time discussing the importance of paying attention to how their relationship as a couple is being affected by grief. I help them find strategies to keep their relationship alive, and as they heal from their grief, I encourage the use of techniques that can make their relationship thrive. Here are a few points.
1) At the initial visit I ask every bereaved person who is in an intimate relationship what they want their relationship with their partner to look like in five years. This is an important question for you to ask yourself. I believe that if we have a goal we have a greater chance of reaching that goal.
2) I discuss a model of grief I have developed based on my own research and clinical experience as well as on the research of others, including Karen Martin. This model is designed in a Figure of 8. In the top portion of the 8 I place the word Head. In the bottom portion of the Figure 8 I place the work Heart. I describe the need to recognize that people grieve in their own ways and that these ways of grieving can change over time, especially when we find that the ways we have been using do not work, or no longer work. Some people begin their grief journey in their Head. They try to logically figure out the grief process. They may read every book that has been written on grief and attend every workshop or conference. Others however, begin their grief journey in their Hearts, immediately experiencing all the gut wrenching emotions of grief.
The important point is that regardless of where you start on the Figure of 8 Grief Journey, you will soon likely recognize that you cannot resolve all the pain of your grief in that way. You will then begin to journey into the other portion of the Figure of 8. As you do so, your partner may also be frustrated with the ineffectiveness of his or her process and will change position to where you have been. As you can see, both partners are experiencing grief in very different ways. One partner is attempting to work through his or her grief by gaining information and using reason and other logical measure, and the other partner is exploding with emotion. It is not hard to envision how this back and forth movement from the Head to the Heart can cause chaos and confusion among partners.
3) Recognizing the Figure of 8 Process through grief and how your partner may be in a different place than you are on the grief journey and attempting to mange it in his or her own way, as different from yours, is extremely valuable. This awareness will keep you from judging and scolding him or her for not grieving correctly. Judgment and scolding tears a relationship apart.
4) Support, love and intimacy are essential during these times. This is a time when both of you need to care for yourself and for each other and care deeply for your relationship. Five years from now, only the two of you will know how much you hurt through each step of the process. After the death of a child, there is a deep, strange kind of intimacy in knowing that you have been hurt so badly and that together you survived and your relationship thrived. Only the two of you will be able to look back five years from now and know how much love that took and love each other all the more for having done so.
Dr. Jane A. Simington, PhD. is the author of the internationally acclaimed books, Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul and Setting the Captive Free, two award-winning videos, Listening to Soul Pain and Healing Soul Pain, as well as a number of CDs. Visit her on amazon.com and amazon.ca and at www.takingflightinternational.com online books.
The mission of The Indestructible Relationship blog mirrors that of the book by the same name: To help couples who are stressed, grieving or traumatized find peace and hope and to help them establish a deeper connection with their romantic partners during and after times of trouble. For more information, visit The Indestructible Relationship.