Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Jungian Psychotherapy and the Reality of Grief

March 4th, 2011 · 3 Comments · grief

Jungian psychotherapy is fully aware that the intensity of grief as an experience is something shared by almost all human beings.  Its devastating character echoes down through the aeons, affecting nearly every life in every generation.  Sometimes the mute expressions of grief by those who lived long ago carry an aching eloquence that makes us feel our bond of common humanity with those brave and resilient people, the ancestors.  That’s how I felt when I heard a recent news story.

The Ancients

The New York Times recently reported on an article in the journal Science documenting the earliest human remains ever found in the Arctic region.  They are the remains of a 3 year old child who died over 11,500 years ago, in what is modern-day central Alaska.   We don’t know a lot of details of the story of the people who lived there.  We don’t really seem to know how they lost their child.  We do know that they performed the funeral ritual of cremation right in the center of their home.  Then they apparently left their home, never to return, or so the archeological record implies.

“Then they apparently left their home, never to return” — what words.  We do not know the exact facts, but across the ages, the aching pathos of that fact seems to speak volumes.  It is hard, on the feeling level, not to project our own reaction to their loss: too painful…never go back…

And Never Go Home…

We may wonder about this.  Across the ages, we wonder at the inconsolable pain caused by the untimely death of a child, a pain so great for these people that it seems to have forced them from their dwelling.

It is a symbollic truth that grief does make us leave home, in a very real psychological sense.  Grief can make that which has felt familiar and safe feel alien, sterile and full of pain.  This can be the effect on one’s own personality or on one’s familiar personal space.  The symbolism in these ancients’ acts is very eloquent: to leave the home, which very often in dreams is the symbol of the personality or of the “psychological space” of the individual.  In a very real sense, grief can evict us from our own lives.

Loss of something that we thought we had.  Disability of a child.  Death of a child.  Loss of a life partner to a debilitating disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.  Loss of a marriage in which we have placed all our hopes…

Is there any way home?  We wonder if we can feel in any sense good or “at home” ever again.  Is there a course through grief, a path?

How Can I Deal with Grief?

The experience of grief can seem so overwhelming, and so permanent.  It is not unusual for people to ask themselves, or others, “Will this ever end, or at least get better?”  Sometimes the experience can be so intense, people can even find themselves asking, “Am I going crazy?”

Clearly, anyone who has a grief reaction of this kind of intensity is never going to forget the loved one, in any emotional sense.  The yearning for their presence is always going to be a part of the bereaved person’s life.  That is the nature of love.  But over time, and under the right conditions, the loved one comes to occupy a different place within us, a place that allows us to at least begin to return some of our energy to life, as the loved one would wish for us.  To find a way to remember the loved one, while simultaneously letting life flow… this is also a part of our individual journey as humans.  To find a place of security and acceptance to process these feelings: that is often part of the journey of psychotherapy.

I wish you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)