Towards reconciliation When someone close to us dies, we are bereaved. Our loss causes us to grieve. The journey of mourning leads us towards reconciliation. We do not recover what we have lost, but we learn to live with our loss in what is now a new and unfamiliar world.
We start a journey of mourning, an uncharted voyage. The path is unknown, and is strewn with unexpected obstacles. We do not move forward steadily, and at times we seem to be going backwards and meeting the same obstacle again and again. THE JOURNEY AND ITS CHALLENGES
THE FENCE The fence is the reality that we must face. The person has died, and is gone from our physical world.
THE RIVER The river of pain crosses our path. It is wide, deep and so frightening that at times we want to turn around and go back. But we cannot, because eventually it will wind around to cross our path again in the future. There is no bridge over this river, we have to go through it.
THE UNFAMILIAR PATH It seems that this path should be familiar, but it is not. The tall tree that used to stand beside the path, giving shelter and shade, has now fallen across it. The way is blocked and must be re-negotiated.
THE GATE The gate is the way through to a new relationship with the deceased. We can move on.
THE TRAVELLER AND THE DIFFICULTIES We each have our own journey of mourning to travel. Some of us will have more difficulty than others, and will get stuck along the way. We may need help in continuing our journey.
ABSENT MOURNING Sam has so many bags that he doesn’t know how to get started. He cannot carry them all at once. Sam was adopted at the age of five, but was never allowed to mourn the loss of his birth family. His grief was not acknowledged, and this has inhibited his ability to mourn all subsequent losses. He has shown little reaction to the death of his wife, although they were married over 50 years.
Sam gets help in understanding why he cannot mourn for his wife. He finally gets the recognition and validation that he needs for all his losses, and realizes that he must pick up one bag at a time. He can start his journey, knowing that he will have to come back later for the other bags.
DELAYED MOURNING Larry has crossed over the fence, but he cannot continue his journey right now. His bags are just too heavy. Since his wife died, he has been caring for their three sons, ages 18, 14 and 10 years.
Larry allows someone else to carry a couple of his bags for him which lightens his load. He is able to negotiate a more flexible work schedule for himself, and to encourage his sons’ involvement in community activities. He can move again.
DELAYED MOURNING Pat has also crossed over the fence and thinks her journey is over. Her husband died after a very conflicted relationship and she feels an initial sense of freedom and relief. She can go on with her life, leaving her bags behind her. Suddenly, she finds herself in the middle of the river, and out of her depth.
Pat needs a helping hand to pull her back to a resting place. She can then be shown how to cross the river more slowly and safely. Her sadness for all the unfulfilled hopes in her marriage makes up a heavy bag. This too must be acknowledged and unpacked if it is not to drag her under.
MASKED MOURNING Mary is holding her bags up in front of her and cannot see where she is going. She is actually on the wrong path. She has been seen by several doctors since her husband died 5 years ago, and she is taking an increasing number of medications, but her health problems continue.
Mary meets someone who helps her to unpack her bags and to see what is really in them. This person realizes that Mary’s health problems have intensified since the death of her husband, who was a doctor. In the course of a somewhat unhappy relationship, Mary learned that physical illness was a way of engaging her husband’s attention, through medication, and this is how she has continued to express her sadness and loneliness. She now learns that her feelings are valid in their own right, and do not necessarily need medical intervention. She is guided to the right path where other supports are available.
DISTORTED MOURNING Tony is carrying everything in one bag. He is overbalanced, and being pulled off the path. Tony’s wife died 6 months ago after a short 4 month struggle with cancer. Tony is overwhelmed with guilt. He has been involved in several extra-marital affairs over the years, and knows that this caused his wife much unhappiness.
Tony meets someone who helps him to unpack his big case, and to divide the contents into two smaller ones. Through looking at his marriage more realistically, and through rituals that allow self-forgiveness, he unloads some of his guilt. He can then pick up another bag, containing his sadness, which balances him on the path.
CHRONIC MOURNING Louis cannot put down his bags. He cannot open the gate, and continues to wander the path. His partner, Rick, died 4 years ago. Louis could not face his colleagues at work, quit his job, and now relies on social assistance. He is becoming increasingly isolated, working on an ongoing memorial to Rick.
Louis meets someone who opens the gate for him and helps him to look through. Is he ready to learn how to live in this new world, where the memories and wisdom of Rick will be part of a new identity for him?
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES When we do pass through the gate, we move on. Our burden is lighter, but we still carry a small backpack. We always know that it is there, but it is manageable. Our journey continues. There is no definitive end. We and our world are changed forever.
The theoretical framework for this booklet is drawn from the work of Therese Rando, William Worden, Alan Wolfelt, Phyllis Silverman, Thomas Attig and other experts in the field of bereavement.