Grieving Brings Perspective

I have been grieving for a month – grieving the loss of one of my best mates in university. Even though there are years between us, his death has still hit me very hard. Death brings many things, from the space left behind by the lost loved one, to the reflections that significant loss can bring.

Meeting at University

We met at the start of our first year in university. We had rooms a few meters apart and we introduced ourselves in those first few intense days. There were so many people to meet and there was mentally coming to the realisation that we were finally in university! For both Jim and I, university was a larger-than-life dream which seemed almost unattainable from our childhood vantage points. We had both been raised in low income families. No one in my family had ever gone to university and I would guess this was similar for him. We arrived idealistic and excited at the opportunities that lay ahead.

Our Shared Perspectives and Experience

I am not sure how we realised that we had so much in common, but perhaps it was because it was so easy to talk to each other. We both had a strong sense of justice, especially social justice. Seeing how those without power were manipulated at our university brought a shared sense of wrath – words weren’t necessary. We became very close.

Sharing Our Dreams

We both had many dreams for the future. Being young and idealistic has its benefits – especially when you are trying to get through university without money. Jim and I spoke of the lives we wanted. We both wanted to live in such a way that we were able to make positive impacts in the lives of others. Many late night study sessions were full of our hopes and dreams. He inspired me and I hope I did the same for him.

Going on with Life

Jim finished university two years before me and then he went out into the wide world. We kept in touch a bit – this was before the Internet was popular – but eventually we lost contact. Before losing contact, he was the best man at my wedding and he shared his news that he was getting married. I was studying in Mexico and months away from moving from North America to Australia (and then New Zealand), so I missed his wedding. We re-connected on Facebook around 2009 and it was as if there had been no pause in our relationship. Friendships can be like that.

Jim’s Death

Jim’s widow advised me that he had died of a heart attack. He had three young girls and a devoted wife. This news hit me hard. I am finally coming out the other side of this grief.

My Reflections

I have spent just over a month reflecting on Jim, his influence in my life and what all of this means to me now. We were young and optimistic together, so these memories allow me to not only reflect on Jim and our relationship, but also on my own life. We both wanted to help others and – in different ways – we allowed things in life to distract us from those dreams. If someone had told him that he would be dead at 52 and his professional dreams would not be reached, I know exactly how university Jim would have responded. He made so many sacrifices for his dreams. Of course many things went well – his lovely family, for example – but his career never really happened. This makes me reconsider my own dreams and how they have played out in life. In addition to sadness, I am also newly driven to become what I had imagined those late nights studying in cafes with my dear mate, Jim.

Goodbye, Jim

I will always remember your genuine smile. Your kind words and stability were what I needed when I first began university. You continue to be a model of how a man can overcome adversity. Thank you for all you have meant and continue to mean in my life. In some way, when I help others you will be helping them, too. Sleep, old friend!

Reconnecting With Shared Memories

People respond to separation in different ways. Some hold tightly to every memory, every momento. Others try to remove all things that remind them of the lost loved one. Coping strategies depend on individual personalities, the type of relationship, whether the loss was a surprise, whether the person mourning instigated the separation and and host of other variables. If you have been left by the person you assumed was your life partner, for example, you might want to forget everything possible that was shared. Some people take this approach, too, when someone dear has died and the survivor cannot cope with the loss.

Memories Reinforcing Pain

When I was first single, I tried to put aside every shared memory, but I discovered that these efforts created a massive hole in the middle of my life. I had been a dozen years with my partner, we had travelled to multiple countries, we had a son together, we had created several homes – so many parts of my life were intertwined with hers, that when I attempted to extract all memories of her, my life was incomplete. I mourned not only the loss of my relationship, but also a large part of my life. My memory is quite good and I can look around my house and remember when and where almost everything at home was collected from around the world. This sort of memory is not helpful when you are trying to forget. I found myself wandering around my home trying not to focus on the things around me.

Realising My Memories are Mine

Then I got angry. These are my memories! I did these things! Whether or not she was a part of it, I had lived this life in these places! I then realised that I did not need to forget about the past. I could hold onto what was mine. I could cherish the memories and moments. This is an important insight for moving on with your life. Your acts of kindness, your bravery, your adventurous abilities to jump into the future – all of those things that defined your past are still yours! For years, I dreaded various anniversaries, but now I am able to remember fondly the joyous parts of those events.

Taking Control of Your Future

Finding peace is not always easy, but it is within your grasp. No one else can give you peace. Others can hold your hand or listen to your difficulties along your journey, but the person who ultimately decides if you will have peace is you. Part of peace is gratitude and being able to compassionately, lovingly and gratefully remember the good times in your life is a step towards peace.

A Shared Memory for Me

An example from me? There are many, but one is this photo that I took on my anniversary a few days ago. It was the first thing my ex and I bought – two coffee cups – while travelling together across the USA to start our life together in 1996. We stopped in Taos, New Mexico, and saw these cups. It felt so strange to be buying something together. A symbol of our future. I don’t know if she still has her cup. I kept mine in the cupboard for years, but eventually dusted it off and when I see it, I can joyously reconnect with shared memories.

Taos coffee cup and shared memories
Taos coffee cup and shared memories

Counselling Assistance

There are a number of ways to help yourself reconnect with avoided parts of your life. A first step is to process your pain and begin to imagine a beautiful life of your own, without your loved one (or in which memories of your loved one are integrated into your life). If you need help, contact us.

Wellington Grief and Bereavement Counselling

Listening to my heart

My heart has been drawn to grief and bereavement work for a number of years. Counselling is my passion and within this I have felt the pull towards helping those suffering through the loss of loved ones. How does this look?

Grief and Bereavement Counselling

There are a number of counselling techniques and modalities that can help those learning to live with loss and one of the ones I have been recently exploring is “Re-membering” from Narrative Therapy. I will write a bit about this, but this approach allows individuals to focus on the memories of the lost loved one (or the person with whom the relationship was problematic). I will be working on this topic on this site a bit.

Wellington Counselling

If you have experienced a loss and are having difficulty coping, contact us to see how we might be able to help. You don’t need to suffer alone!

Music Therapy for Coping with Grief

If you have suffered enough in life, you will look for ways to cope that are different from the efforts that haven’t worked for you in the past. For some, going to a counsellor is a new experience that they never would have tried before substantial suffering. People attempt many different things to cope and this includes when feeling overwhelmed by grief.

Grief Coping Strategies

Some people write letters to those they have lost. Some create or renew ceremonies to remember the person lost. Some want to speak to lost loved ones. There are many things possible. Some sing. While I have never sung to a lost loved one (yet), I have certainly spoken to them. One of the many things I love about Narrative Therapy is Re-membering – an attempt to re-integrate the lost person into our lives, rather than attempting to “move on” without them.

Singing to Those Lost

While this may seem a novel approach to grieving, actually it is not. We have screamed, sang, cried, wailed and expressed ourselves verbally in grief since before we were human. Other mammals do this too – a mother cow will bellow for her calf for days, for instance. OK, so we have sang for a long time, but is there any research behind it?

Research into Singing as Grief Therapy

Is it researched? The short answer is “yes”. Providing only one example, a screenshot from an article about teens grieving through music follows. Googling this article will take you down many paths, if you wish to pursue this topic further.

Grief Therapy Through Song
Grief Therapy Through Song

Grieving Through Song

Music therapy for grief can follow the grieving process (as mentioned in the research cited above), or it can be part of a ceremony, such as Re-membering in Narrative Therapy. What works for you can be determined through your own self-help efforts, or can become part of therapy.

Other Therapeutic Uses for Song

Who of us hasn’t listened to music when we were sad – or perhaps become sad by listening to music? Once, I had an especially terrible week where everything that could have gone wrong seemed to. I found myself alone, as my son was staying with his mum. A gloom settled over me that I hadn’t felt in the many years since the end of my marriage. I needed something, so I picked up my guitar and sang to myself. It was incredibly therapeutic and helped me settle my mind. One of the goals of counselling is to learn coping strategies and I realised that I had learned self-soothing, as I sang and played that cold night.

Saying What Needs to be Said

If you are deep in grief at the moment, you may want to hold off watching the video below until you are in a better place. This video touched me deeply, both as a son and father – and also because I lost one of my best friends within days of first seeing this video online. James is singing to his terminally ill father, who is sitting by his side. A very powerful way to use song in the grieving process!