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Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 2

September 22nd, 2014 · dealing with death in the family

Part 1 of this series on dealing with death in the family examined the real nature of grief; here, we look at what coming to terms with loss of a family member really means.

dealing with a death in the family

What are some of the things that actually go on within the psyche of a person dealing with death in the family?

The Inner Image of the Family Member

Self psychologists like Heinz Kohut see us as carrying within the psyche what they call the imago of loved ones, a kind of unconscious model or image of the family member, and of how we have experienced him or her.  When the individual dies, this inner partially unconscious image undergoes very powerful transformations.

An essential part of grieving is to find a way for psyche to move the departed individual from the realm of the living, to the realm of those who have passed.  This is an essential part of the grieving process, and is reflected in the dreams of those who are in grief.

That Which was Not Resolved

One of the hardest things to come to terms with can be the shadow of the deceased family member.  When an individual has passed it can seem unloving or disloyal to accept and face the aspects of the relationship with the individual that were painful to us, or dark.

To confront this reality may take us inside the entire shadow life of the family.  The grieving individual may need to confront and accept the ways in which the family as a whole required him or her to fit into a role that was inauthentic and that kept the individual from living contact with the true self.

Depth psychotherapy shows us that, sometimes it is only the grief of a great loss that can stir the forces inside an individual that lead to claiming his or her authentic individual life.  Jungian analyst James Hollis writes about an individual’s journey through grief that led him to face the ways in which his family of origin had disempowered, de-valued and used him, and how that pattern had been perpetuated in his marriage to a woman who died of alcoholism in her late 30s.

“Only great loss… provided the catalyst to encounter another loss which lay so deeply as to be unconscious–the loss of his own journey.  Only grief could stir him to finally face his estrangement from himself.  And only the betrayal of Anne could have led him to see the exploitative nature of his family relationships.

By dwelling in these dismal swamplands, and working through their grievous woundings, Devin recovered the life he was always meant to live — his own, not someone else’s.”

Ritual

dealing with death in the family member

 

SInce deep in pre-history, we humans have used ritual as an archetypal means of dealing with death in the family.  We know that humans have engaged in ritual around the death of loved ones for at least the last 100,000 years.

For many people the rituals of one or another organized religion fulfill this need, at least in part.  Yet, often individual created rituals in the midst of grief can also be of fundamental importance, and do much to heal the soul.  Individual ritual can participates in, and opens up, the archetypal character of human grief, the healing that can flow through it, and the on-going movement of life.

Grief counselling from a depth psychotherapy perspective assists the individual in accessing healing from the depths of psyche in the grieving process.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence | Dreamstime.com  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 1

September 15th, 2014 · dealing with death in the family

We live in a culture that often gives the message that the best manner of dealing with death in the family is really to not deal with it at all.

grief-distance

Yet grief and grieving are an essential part of the psyche coming to terms with the loss of a close family member.  We may well speak of an archetypal pattern to human grief.  U. Mass. Prof. James Averill has made a strong case that grief is a process of biological evolution that actually helps us adapt and cope.

 Is It O.K. to Grieve?

Is it “O.K.” to grieve?  The answer to this question might seem to be an obvious “Yes!”  Yet sometimes there are deep barriers to an individual truly grieving the loss of a family member.  These barriers can be within the individual him- or herself, or in those around them — or both.

When people grieve, it often makes others uncomfortable.  Sometimes other people don’t know what to say or do around a grieving individual, and sometimes, the pain of the grieving individual is an uncomfortable reminder of a person’s own losses, either past, or anticipated in the future.

But if grief truly is a biological, or even archetypal necessity for the individual to come to terms with loss, we cannot trivialize the importance of engaging in grieving.  The individual needs to face the loss, and those close to him or her must allow them

In my experience as a psychotherapist, it is very concerning when a child has not been allowed to grieve.  Often adults remain psychologically stuck exactly at the place where grief has left them as a child.

Aspects of Grief

We must emphasize that these aspects are not stages.  There is no right or wrong order, nor any way it “should” go.

Avoidance of grief is often an early response.  The grieving individual is consumed with the urge to recover the lost person, to bring them back into the relationship that has always been with the person.

Confrontation with the loss is another aspect of the process.  Here, the individual often experiences confusion, disorganization, despair, acute sadness, anger, sometimes guilt, and a range of other feelings felt acutely.

Re-establishment is a third, often less recognized aspect of the process. In this aspect, the emphasis is on the gradual decline of grief, and the individual gradually coming back into social and emotional connection with the everyday world.

Each aspect must be met and accepted by the individual.  Grief counselling in a depth psychotherapy context can often be very useful in assisting with this.

Grief is Very Individual

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that grief is the uniquely specific experience of an individual personality, who is in a uniquely individual relationship with the deceased.  The meaning of the grief experience, and the best way of dealing with it, will be an individual journey.  But rather than leaving the person alone to do that, depth psychotherapy provides a solid and unwavering support to the individual dealing with death in the family.

dealing with death in the family

The Grief Work has to Get Done

The individual must be allowed and enabled to grieve in their own way, and supported throughout.  Otherwise life stays in a holding pattern, because the need to grieve is a powerful enough force in the life of the individual to require them to do this healing work before life moves on.

Depth psychotherapy often greatly assists the grief process in following its natural, individual course.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence | Dreamstime.com  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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