“Living With” Death, Not Just “Coping With”
As with many of you, my Facebook feed and email in-box are full of the new wave of memes, articles, and programs relating to death, dying, and grief.
Coming off a year of four very personal deaths, I’ve found myself hesitant to immerse myself too deeply. I do dip my toe in every few days, though, and recently found myself drawn to an article titled Remembering Abi: How Lucy Hone lives with the loss of her daughter.
For starters, I appreciated the title, which swam against the tide by choosing a word other than “cope” to describe a mother’s relationship to the death of her daughter and two close friends in an auto accident.
Lucy Hone’s approach to incorporating the reality of these tragic deaths into her life was prompted by what she describes as “the limited usefulness of the grief resources available to us, … further exacerbated by well-meaning people making us aware we were now prime candidates for divorce, family estrangement, and mental illness.” The biggest problem with the prevailing approach, she says, is that the lists of “long and varied symptoms we were likely to endure” gave “the impression we were now passive participants on a long, miserable journey.”
A researcher in the field of resilience psychology, Lucy went looking for evidenced-based strategies “to foster healing and maintain healthy functioning, even while we grieved.” Her article, published on the Australian web site Essential Kids, describes what she found.
For instance, it used to be accepted wisdom that successfully adapting to the loss of a loved one required us to sever our bonds with the dead; there was no moving on until we’d done so. But contemporary bereavement research suggests the opposite to be true: the bereaved who somehow manage to cultivate an ongoing connection with the dead seem to grieve more easily.
She cites the work of researchers Michael Norton and Francesca Gino who found that “creating personalised, frequently practiced, rituals significantly helps the bereaved cope with loss.”
The research is confirmed by Lucy’s experience, and what I’ve witnessed in countless of my clients as a Life-Cycle Celebrant: bereavement rituals “connect us to the dead, …restore a sense of control and order at a time when we feel so utterly powerless; …help counteract the turbulence and chaos that comes with loss; …reduce negative emotions while increasing positive ones; …. [and enable] us to grieve and maintain normal functioning simultaneously. They are the answer to moving forward while retaining the dead in our lives.”