Sunday, March 14, 2010

Models of Grief

This week Kathryn and I saw a grief counselor for the first time. Though only an introductory meeting, the counselor offered a number of insights. One thought in particular has been especially helpful and thought-provoking for me. She said that there are essentially three models for grief: 1) getting over it; 2) filling the emptiness; 3) keeping the connection. Her observation is that while the third option is the healthiest, our culture is most prone to the second.

As I imagine what it will look and feel like for Kathryn and I to heal from the loss of our son, I am often torn. On one hand, I want to (need to?) remember him. On the other hand, I have not experienced an instance in which I think about Samuel that is not accompanied with sorrow. If healing from grief means the absence of sadness, but I cannot think of Samuel without being sad, does that mean that healing requires forgetting? If the answer is “yes,” then “getting over it” is the preferable model for grief. But, I do not want to forget Samuel. While I may slip into this paradigm from time-to-time, I know that it is ultimately dissatisfying.

At this point, I still cannot help but think of Samuel often. At a risk of stating the obvious, the sadness conjoined with every recollection of my son is not fun. Judy’s observation has helped me to identify my tendency to “medicate” the emptiness of grief. For me, I most often turn to busyness. Because my life is so full and my to-do list is never done, I don’t even have to try to fill the void created by Samuel’s death with activity. I know that “medicate” may seem like a scary word, but I believe that, in reality, we all do this in our own ways. Also, I chose it purposefully because it reminds me of the long-term dangers of the second model.

Going into our counseling session, I had observed these first two models in my life and in others’ lives. It had never occurred to me that keeping the connection – something that Kathryn and I have purposefully and repeatedly sought to do – is actually a model of grief. We have pictures of Samuel all over our house. Most of my bookmarks are the cards from his memorial service. We put a stocking up for Samuel at Christmas, and, as a family, bought gifts for others with the money that we would have used for Samuel. We have planted a “Samuel tree” in our front yard. We talk about him all the time, and at least one of the four of us prays daily for God to heal our hearts. His room is still in tact, and we still call it Samuel’s room. We are already talking about what we will do for his birthday.

I still have questions about what healing looks and feels like in this model of grief, but I am somehow comforted knowing that keeping our connection to Samuel is grieving, and that there is healing apart from filling and forgetting. This is what I hope for, what I want for myself and my family.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad that you have resolved to keep Samuel a part of your lives. It would feel like a lie to me if I tried to forget Eric. It is okay for him to be my fond memories. I hope that he is part of your fondest memories.