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Bringing the dead to life. Telling stories, constructing legacies and re-membering in grief counselling Lorraine Hedtke MSW, LCSW, PhD California State.

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Presentation on theme: "Bringing the dead to life. Telling stories, constructing legacies and re-membering in grief counselling Lorraine Hedtke MSW, LCSW, PhD California State."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bringing the dead to life. Telling stories, constructing legacies and re-membering in grief counselling Lorraine Hedtke MSW, LCSW, PhD California State University San Bernardino

2 A Narrative Perspective We live through stories People are brought to life through stories We are spoken into existence A person’s stories do not die

3 How We Talk Matters Our talk can disconnect us from those who have died Or -- We can bring the dead to life again

4 Your Professional Role To be a story-teller To be a listener to stories To ensure the words of the dead to not die with them To look after the stories of the dead To bring a person back to life through story

5 Donna “I think I am going half-nuts” Took care of her father Ernie for many years Shared love of gardening Talked about loosing her “best friend”

6 The Story of Grief Psychology The relationship was over She should get over her sadness Grief is a journey Move towards acceptance Grieve properly Grief is like an illness to get over Let go

7 Freud Decathexis Removing attachment is the goal of grieving His assumptions created norms for grieving Little possibility to grieve differently

8 The Effect of These Assumptions Stories that connect us to the dead are squeezed out Talking about the dead becomes suspect Being “in denial” Complicated grief

9 My Assumptions Modern grief psychology has mistakenly: Separated the living from the dead Encouraged people to move on Set tasks or stages Required letting go Valued acceptance of loss Cuts off emotional resources This produces more pain

10 Talking to the Dead Is very common Is driven underground Has to be kept secret

11 The effect of the dominant story on Donna There must be something wrong with her Not adjusting to reality Not completing unfinished business Unable to find closure

12 The Idea of Introduction A relational practice The dead cannot introduce themselves We can speak on their behalf

13 A Narrative Approach Use the power of introduction Focus on the on-going life of stories Fold stories into life Make new meanings Hold on to the best of relationships Grief is about two people

14 Where Donna started “I thought it (our relationship) was over. And that was it. It was over. And I had to move on with it being over and I didn’t want to. And I fought it and I went half way nuts. I would find myself driving where I didn’t know where I was going. I was not keeping my house done. It was insane.”

15 My Questions to Donna Introduce me to your father. What did it mean to have him as your father? How was he with others? Tell me about a time of special connection. What did you learn from him?

16 The Effect of this on Donna She built a new story of her father His memory inspired her She had a sense of him walking with her through hardships She restored memories She found other places to talk about him She developed rituals of connection

17 In Donna’s Words “… in the group we learned that it’s not over. It’s changed, but it’s not over. Not that you are going to forget the loved ones, not that you’re going to discount them at all, but to step back into the world and share them because they are coming through you. You have to share them. Some of the silly nonsense that my dad did with his Christmas stocking - how he would put vegetables in our stockings to tease us. I start thinking about the fun things we did at Christmas. And the traditions that my mother did that we have carried on and that I will continue to carry on.”

18 Donna

19 Martha’s story When the bereaved has no memory of the dead Martha’s father died when she was 13 He had been away for many years She remembered little No one spoke of him after he died

20 In the Bereavement Group Martha was hesitant to speak People might judge her father He had been in prison for drugs Her mother had divorced him He was brutally murdered

21 Changing “I only had nine pictures. It was all I had of the physical things I have of him. I started to feel like there was more to him that I wanted to know. So I thought, ‘I have an auntie who’s alive, his sister. I have an uncle who’s alive, his brother.’ There’s a whole new world out there. Like more to him.”

22 What Introduction Meant to Martha Desire to connect with her father Learn multiple stories Grow new relationship with her father’s family

23 Meeting her father’s family “So I actively went out, that was actually very hard too, cause I hadn’t spoke to them in so many years. Since my dad’s death, it was kind of hard, difficult for my uncle. OK, so where do we start from here. That’s our connection, my/our father. When we made that connection, it was a holiday. It was nice that it was a holiday there was food and people gathering to be thankful anyway. So it was a good opportunity. What I am so glad or happy about – I guess I had some anticipation about how they were going to receive us or how were going to feel – but once we were there, I felt comfortable. I felt the love that was there.”

24 Remembering him “I remember sharing with them [her father’s family] that all these years, that I felt like I was the only one who remembered him, because I didn’t have nobody (sic) to talk to about him. I always had him in my heart, but I felt like I was the only one, because everybody moved on with their life and nobody thinks about him and nobody cares and nobody talked about him. Life goes on. And so when I met them, and I saw my Auntie again, we just automatically just bringing him up. It was kind of like reassuring for me. I thought, ‘People do remember him’. And he is remembered.”

25 The Effects for Martha Joyful family reunion Her father came alive for her His voice lived with her “I think bringing him back to life kind of allowed him, I guess, for his voice to be heard - its kind of odd how that happens when you are talking about a person and all of a sudden when you start sharing about them – its bringing their voice back, kind of.”

26 Might this be Disturbing? “I do think that I did cry more. Probably during those six weeks, but it wasn’t like crying for depression. It was like crying for joy. I think in the beginning I did feel a sadness I think cause I missed him and I wish I could have him physically. Like I could touch him. At the same time, it was just tears that ‘I am so happy, Dad, to have you around. I am so happy that I don’t have to give you up. I am so happy that I don’t have to keep you in my box (with my pictures). I am so happy that I can just talk to you whenever I want. That I can pull you out whenever’. Those tears were good tears.”

27 Martha’s father Ricky

28 A Third Kind of Introduction Introducing the dead to new people Took place at a workshop Interviewed Kirby Audience of about 50 counselors listening

29 The Story of Kirby & Beah Beah died when she was 16 years old Young woman who was full of life Took a stand on issues Stood up for others Close connection to her brother Kirby’s son and moon

30 Effect on the Audience Invited into a sacred place Deeply moved by Kirby’s introduction of Beah Their own lives are transformed

31 Facilitating the Audience’s responses I spoke about how meeting Beah impacted on me Michael White referred to this as ‘transport’ Asked the audience how they were transported How has your life been changed as a result? I asked Kirby how he was impacted by the audience

32 The Audience’s words “I’ll be going home tonight to the sun in my life, who is my 16-year-old son, and will be looking at the time I spend with him in a really different way thanks to you and Beah.”

33 Another woman’s response “I want to thank Beah for showing me about girls who keep going on. I am really interested in how girls make it and how they have voices and make space for themselves. Every time I read in the paper about a girl dying suddenly, I feel like another light has gone off. Now I am seeing that is not the way it is—it doesn’t have to be that way. So now I feel safer.”

34 And still another’s response “Thank you for sharing your daughter. I am also a counselor and just the way that she stood up for others who didn’t have a voice. I’m a coordinator of our Bully Prevention Program. It is so nice to see girls, like your daughter, who have voices, standing up to help those who don’t have voices. I’d like to share her story with students, if that’s OK with you?”

35 Kirby’s Response “Remembering... Appreciated... Feels good to share. Feels great! I want to shout “Beah” from the rooftops. The last thing I want to do is move on. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

36 Beah – Kirby’s Sun!

37 Concluding Comments We can bring the dead to life Introductions can be life changing Lost stories can be reclaimed The dead can be introduced to new people No need to concentrate on loss Instead hold stories close Introduction retains relationship


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