Features

Grieving The Death of a Grandchild

Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 in Features | 1 comment

In an old science fiction tale, the author opens the story with a death scene. In describing the dying character, the writer pictures an old man beneath the covers from the neck down, his head on the pillowcase like a shriveled nut on a white paper napkin. A young man, less than thirty years old and with tears in his eyes, sits by the old man’s bedside.

In the course of the story, we learn that the dying man is the grandchild of the weeping man. In this fictional world, science had conquered death. Yet sometimes a person’s genetic makeup rejected the treatment that preserved everlasting life. Thus the young man witnessed a grandchild dying of old age.

Grieving The Death of a Grandchild

It feels perverted when a child dies ahead of the parent – even more so when one must endure the death of a grandchild. The grief of such a loss is almost unbearable, the pain so deep that even the darkness between the stars of the midnight sky seem shallow by comparison.

But finding your way out of the emptiness is not impossible. Help is available, personalized help, help that identifies you as an individual with a distinct method for handling grief and pain.

Current Treatments

According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, in 2010 over seven million children worldwide died before reaching the age of five years old. In the good news, this report reflects a slowing in the number of preventable deaths. However, each day still bears the cross of nearly 22,000 children under five years old.

Who can really understand your pain? The very effort to treat prolonged grief stirs controversial questions. Losing a grandchild produces:

  • Acute stress
  • Extended mêlées with immeasurable sadness
  • A prolonged desire to be alone
  • Emotional numbness
  • An inability to redefine your place among family and society
  • Intense sense of guilt
  • Even the inability to cope with daily life.

In the gray area of treatment, many theorists advocate targeted grief therapy yet resist universal intervention. Possible healing techniques include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral techniques such as cognitive restructuring and exposure processes
  • Crisis or other intervention services
  • Pharmacotherapy as a means of reducing bereavement-related depression
  • Family-based support groups
  • Internet-based therapies
  • Preventive associations
  • And More.

Never Really Alone

You are not alone in a dark world that lacks any form of exit. Death is expected but help is available to the survivors. Others have walked this lonely path. Books that help:

“When a Grandchild Dies: What to Do, What to Say, How to Cope” by Nadine Galinsky
“Grandparents Cry Twice: Help for Bereaved Grandparents” by Mary Lou Reed
“Forgotten Tears: A Grandmother’s Journey Through Grief” by Nina Bennett.

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Revitalizing Your Relationship

Posted by on Apr 7, 2012 in Features | 0 comments

by Michele Weiner-Davis, Ph.D.

Michele Weiner-Davis has written numerous books that have been helpful to both therapists and consumers of therapy. As the author of “Divorce Busting”: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again, she has the following advice to offer couples.

Time Together

Couples need to make their relationships a priority. I believe the single biggest contributing factor to a breakdown in relationships today is the fact that couples aren’t spending enough time together. The relationship gets put on the back burner. Everything else seems more important: careers, children, hobbies, community involvement, and personal pursuits. When relationships aren’t attended to, trouble sets in.

People who don’t prioritize their relationships tell me that they often end up fighting during the little time they do have together. They argue about day-to-day issues: unpaid bills, uncleaned houses, unruly children.

But the truth is, arguing about “who’s doing what around the house,” may be connected to a variety of other problems. Some of these may be related to the relationship itself, such as problems of isolation, loneliness, and resentment. At other times the problems may be more socially and culturally related: gender inequities, economic issues, or problems of depression (see information for couple on Depression in the Circle of Life) and anxiety. Most of the time people argue about the mundane issues when their emotional needs aren’t being met. The soda can left in the living room becomes a symbol of a lack of care for the partner. Does this sound familiar?

And here’s the Catch-22: if you and your partner are arguing a lot, you don’t feel like spending time together. In fact, you want to spend as little time as possible with him or her. Unfortunately, avoidance only makes matters worse: more distance, more tension, less cooperation, more conflict, and so on.

However, time together can be the great healer. Even if it’s awkward at first, when two people commit to investing energy and time to their love life, good things can come from it. When people put their relationships first, they start to feel appreciated and important. They feel loved. Spending time with your partner tells him or her in no uncertain terms, “You matter to me.” Time together gives people opportunities to collect new memories, remember old ones, do activities they enjoy, laugh at each other’s jokes, and renew their love.

Some do’s and don’ts:

  • Do plan and schedule dates together. Write these dates on your calendar or appointment book, the same way you would a business appointment.
  • Do spend some time together without your kids. The best thing you can do for your kids is to make your marriage work. (see advice for Couples from the Curse of Perfect Parenting section)
  • Do something enjoyable together; it will make you and your partner feel more loving. As a result, you may even be able to resolve heated topics more easily in the future.
  • Do go for a walk around the block. Read a novel together. Set aside ten minutes each day to talk. Ride a bike. Be creative.
  • Don’t think you have to spend enormous amounts of time together to create closeness and connection. Regular, brief get-togethers work too. Small changes in your schedule can make a huge difference.
  • Don’t think you have to go to a tropical island to make time together meaningful. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to show your love for your partner.

Remember, having fun together is a way of acknowledging that relationships are a serious business.

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Taking the Hassle Out of School

Posted by on Apr 7, 2012 in Features | 0 comments

by Dorothea Lewis and Aileen Cheshire, New Zealand

We see harassment as a school context and culture problem that affects the whole school community, rather than as a problem of individual children identified as “victims” or “bullies”. The later individual approach gets adults trying to teach young people to be either more assertive or less aggressive. That approach can also lead to feelings of isolation, deficiency, vulnerability, anger, and resentment. It can replicate the “power over” relationship involved in harassment. By exposing harassment for what it is and challenging the ideas that support it, we open up possibilities for change in the culture of the whole school.

The Work of the Anti-Harassment Team at Selwyn College

  • Young people and adults work together toward peaceful solutions to conflict in the school community.
  • Conversations and workshops in classes about harassment, gossip, and rumor encourage adults and students to examine what supports and challenges these problems. They can then make choices about what they want for their class and the school.
  • Mediations run by skilled student mediators offer peaceful verbal solutions to peer conflict.

This work occurs through a partnership between the counselors and the students of the Team. The counselors visualize their role as providing the scaffolding: they are responsible for the structure, safety, and support of the Team. The students bring their knowledge about harassment and mediations.

Classroom workshops begin with creative and engaging role-plays showing harassment at work. A brain-storm names the interactions. Two students then take on the role of the named problem (often gossip) and its antidote (often direct talking). By imagining that these “characters” can talk about themselves, the rest of the class can quiz them about their tactics. At the end the class talks about the difference that talking in this way might make to them in the future. The experience is often an eye-opener for new students who have previously believed they could do nothing about harassment.

Mediations have become a popular way for students at Selwyn College to resolve their conflicts. The even-handed, no-blame approach can enable people to experience themselves in ways other than “victim” or “bully” and can lead to new understandings. Even if the outcome of a mediation seems small and insignificant, the experience can often be the beginning of change.

A 15 minute video called “Interviewing harassment” is available from Aileen and Dorothea at Selwyn College, Kohimarama Rd, Auckland, New Zealand fax 09 5219620.

A detailed account of the work of the Team has been published in The Dulwich Centre Journal, 1998 vols 2&3.

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Do One Thing Different

Posted by on Apr 7, 2012 in Features | 0 comments

“Do One Thing Different” by Bill O’Hanlon, M.S.

Mr. O’Hanlon is the author of 16 books; he teaches seminars worldwide; and he has reached thousands through his website www.doonethingdifferent.com.

“Do One Thing Different” is a commonsense approach that changes your life and solves problems. It has two main components:

  • changing what you do
  • changing how you view things.

Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over
and Over Again (and Expecting Different Results)

Most people do not have enough time to spend analyzing their problems to make changes. Trying to make too big a change sets you up to fail. This is especially so when your busy life, fatigue, or discouragement interfere with your good intentions. Instead of trying to make big changes like getting a divorce, quitting your job, or moving, try small experiments that help break old patterns.

“Do One Thing Different” lets you control the process of change by starting small and shaping the changes more to your liking.

  • Try something new.
  • Change your patterns.
  • Break out of ruts.

The “Do One Thing Different” approach calls this “changing the doing.” Inertia tends to go in the same direction. If you are doing the same old thing in a situation that isn’t working, then doing more of the same will only keep things going in the same problematic direction. If you try one thing different, you can break the logjam and start a snowball of change that gathers momentum as it goes.

Changing the Doing

  • Make the smallest change you can make.
  • Start with the least amount of time you think is reasonable.
  • Focus on discovering the actions and the things you can change most easily.
  • Change the timing of the pattern.
  • Change the location of the pattern.
  • Change your clothing.
  • Change your body behavior.

There is Nothing as Dangerous as an Idea
When It’s the Only One You Have

People get stuck when they think about things in the same old way. Try changing how you are thinking about a problem by refocusing your attention. Getting a new perspective can help you make changes that may change the situation or solve a problem.

Changing the Viewing

  • Change what you pay attention to in the situation.
  • Focus on the future rather than what’s gone wrong in the past.
  • Try finding another frame of reference in the situation.
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Connecting to Grief: Men’s Paths to Healing

Posted by on Apr 6, 2012 in Features | 0 comments

by Tom Golden, LICSW

“Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing” by Tom Golden, LICSW

Connecting to Grief: Men’s Paths to Healing

My father died in November of 1994. During the week of his funeral my brother and I decided to design and construct the container for my father’s ashes. That week my brother, Joel, and I spent time in my parent’s garage, which had doubled as my father’s workshop, planning and constructing his memorial container.

During this time the men who came to visit our family tended to be drawn to the workshop, while the women who visited were more likely to spend time talking inside. The men who visited usually had ideas or comments about the work that was being done, and they gladly chipped in, and did this or that to aid in the project. These gender boundaries were not solid, though. We men spent plenty of time in the house talking with visitors about my father and what he meant to us, and the women would sometimes boldly venture into the workshop area. It was not that the men and women were separated, it was that the men and women tended to have different paths to connect them with their grief.

Just as the tears flowed inside the house, they flowed in the workshop. As we worked we would share stories about my father. One of the most important parts of this experience was the presence of my father’s 80 year old best friend, Charlie Beamen. Charlie, a retired minister, was also my father’s woodworking buddy. As the three of us worked together we exchanged numerous stories. Joel and I told Charlie of our days with Dad growing up, and Charlie told us of his exploits with my father in the recent past. As we worked and told stories the tears and laughter flowed.

We men had found a safe place to act as a “container” for our emotions. The workshop functioned in this manner to connect our pain and tears with an activity. The activity of building the memorial container became a “hook” for our pain. It seemed easier, as a man, to connect with my grief through an activity rather than by simply “sharing” it. The women, I noticed, appeared to have great skill in simply sharing their grief. They were more drawn to connecting their pain, tears, and grief on a verbal level with their most intimate friends and family.

Cultural Differences in Grief

In studying the bereavement process, I have learned that my experience reflected the differences men and women have in the grief process. This difference puts men in a precarious state in our culture because almost all of the “action” activities related to death have been sub-contracted. Activities such as building the coffin, directing the ritual, digging the grave, or the funeral itself have been turned over to the “death professionals.” This leaves men with nothing to do following a death and thereby negates many men’s strength of action.

Evidence supporting these observations can be found in looking at tribal cultures and the ways they separate the tasks and roles of men and women following a death. For example, the Bara people in Madagascar literally separate the men and women. Two huts are designated: the “male hut” for the men and the “house of tears” for the women. The house of tears is the center of emotional expression, while the male hut is more the center of activities such as directing the ritual. In Australia the men of the Yolngu sing sacred songs around the bed of the person who is ill, and if death occurs, the songs continue as a means of orienting the newly dead to the Ancestors. It is said that the women join in the song with their crying and keening and the blend creates a sound of great beauty.

The Dagura men of Africa dance out their grief for the person who died. In a different African tribe the men will approach the women who are actively crying and keening and stand silently next to them. The men do this to use the women’s grief as a hook, that is as a way to ignite and resonate their own pain. This action is similar to that of a tuning fork. If one tuning fork is struck close to another one that is still, the still tuning fork will begin to resonate with the same vibration of it’s active neighbor. By standing near the actively grieving women the men start to get in touch with their own pain. In other cultures the men sing the life of the person who died.

There are many more examples of the separate, but complementary tasks of mourning assigned to men and women in different cultures. The point here is that the men are usually given active tasks following a death and these tasks become “hooks” to facilitate a connection to their pain. Once the pain is “hooked,” it can be expressed and released which brings us one step closer to healing.

In our own culture there are also examples of men who use a task or activity to connect to their emotional pain. Eric Clapton wrote a song about his child who died. Through his strength of music Clapton has found a way to honor his pain by creating a song about his son.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have had a habit of inviting a male friend to the White House to play what Lincoln called “sad songs.” This man and Lincoln would walk silently to a room in the White House and the man would sit at the piano and play the songs. As he played Lincoln would sit and cry. The songs were Lincoln’s hook to enter his state of grief.

Other examples include the AIDS Quilt, all of the memorials in Washington D.C., and a memorial World Wide Web site, such as webhealing.com which I created in honor of my father. All of these examples provide people activities which allow a connection to their pain by actively honoring the person who died. This can be a powerful healing IF the activity is connected with the pain. If not connected to the pain, it is merely a hollow exercise.

The Need for Rituals

While men and women have different strengths and needs in their healing process, these needs are often complementary and overlapping. As our culture finds it difficult to recognize and hold the pain that comes with loss, members of both sexes often find themselves in a difficult place when it comes to grief. We need more culturally endorsed “active” rituals that give us “hooks” into our grief. By becoming aware of the differences we have in our own chosen style of grief and healing, we are in a better position to find our own hooks and honor those around us and ourselves.

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Open Heart Practice: Reconnecting Children with their Fathers

Posted by on Apr 6, 2012 in Features | 0 comments

by David Epston & Wally McKenzie, New Zealand

This original program, developed in New Zealand by David Epston and Wally McKenzie, focuses on reconnecting children with their fathers, particularly in instances of separation and divorce.

An Open Heart Practice

In the Open Heart program, young people get a sense of who their parents are and the sort of relationships they can expect, rather than what they might dream about. Two potential outcomes become possible:

  • reconnection, on terms determined by young people and their fathers – not having to be mediated by mothers
  • reconciliation to what might be experienced as something lacking in the child-father relationship, allowing children to consider possibilities for happiness other than those that may derive from culturally-driven beliefs about relationships.

This practice can also set mothers free from the burden of unfair and unreasonable expectations surrounding facilitating viable father-child relationships.

One way to engage fathers is for the therapist to write letters inviting them to join with their children and the therapist in conversations about fathering. Children provide advice as to whether this is a good option, and are involved in the drafting of the letter, often letting Dad know that “it is really hard to talk to parents about things sometimes,” and assuring him that “Mum won’t be there.”

Discussions with fathers provide an opportunity for them to notice fathering practices they engage in, such as “minimal fathering,” “random or unpredictable fathering,” “hot and cold fathering,” and other practices that they and their children may experience as unsatisfactory. Fathers can then consciously choose a fathering practice that is more responsive to their children’s needs and concerns.

Interviews with fathers led to several different possibilities that allowed them to begin to question some of their thinking and actions:

  • a distinction between “covering up” and “making up,” trying to pay attention to what in fact is happening; otherwise “covering up” grief and despair can lead to “making up” a dream father;
  • employing a personal moral frame of reference rather than psychological or legal frames, thus contrasting the “morality of severance” with the “morality of fatherhood;”
  • considering “living wills,” attending to what parents “bequeath” to their children as an endless process that begins at birth.

Listen to Audio Interview

–from Wally and David–

“We noticed the poignancy, directness, and painful sincerity, offered by young people in the Open Heart program. We considered this “openheartedness” very risky and contrived as many safeguards as possible to respect such sincerity. Although we realized this process could lead to connection in ways that were deeper and richer than any previous father – child connection, that was not always the outcome.”

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