Change and Despair

I found that the same process (see last post) could be observed in a range of human situations. A man may be on shaky ground in talking about the experience of childbirth but the experience is described as involving moments when the pain can simply no longer be managed, and that it is just at such moments that there is a shift or change, a moving on towards the moment of birth.  Working with people in trouble sometimes reflected a similar pattern – I would reach a moment of despair when nothing more seemed possible in working with an individual or family. I would discuss the case with my supervisor to see if I could be rescued from this sense of hopelessness and paralysis, only to find when the client next returned, that something had changed and new possibilities had emerged.

This pattern is definitely a characteristic of the bereavement process. I was visiting one very sensible thoughtful lady whose husband had died some months earlier. She was getting on with a sort of life day by day but with a kind of mechanical emptiness. Her family was supportive and she would have described herself as ‘coping’. She knew however that she was not alright, that she was going through the motions of living. One day I visited her to find her distressed and frightened. It turned out that she had suddenly lost control and trashed her kitchen – crockery and glassware broken, furniture thrown. This was of course deeply disturbing to her, and she was ashamed and frightened about the loss of control. It was however, also a turning point in her grieving process from which moment she began to find life more real and herself to be more ‘there’.

Most of the volunteers in the first group in the Bereavement service could identify similar moments of crisis as turning points. It is this phenomenon that is so important in the early stage of bereavement – it seems there has to be some moment of shock and fear to bring the death of a loved one into reality for the bereaved. For some it was seeing the dead body; for others it was clearing out the wardrobe of the dead person, or the moment when the coffin is laid in earth or moved out of sight at the crematorium. These moments are surrounded by considerable anxiety, often generated in those close to the bereaved person. Doctors could be found prescribing medication to ‘protect’ the individual from the distress whether manifested in sleeplessness or in anxiety, and sometimes as a consequence were party to delaying the recovery process. There are often concerns to ‘protect the children’ and understandable though this is, in that way to deprive the children of the chance to grapple with the reality and to grow and learn from the experience. They can be kept in a state where they are dependent on the adult’s evasive descriptions of reality, accompanied only by the fearsome imaginations they create to make up for direct experience.

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