Beyond the pain of multiple losses – recovery, reconciliation or solution?

I consider 2007 the year of death. That year, my daughter, father-in-law, brother and ex-son-in-law died, all within nine months of each other. Since then I have been doing my grieving work. As you can imagine, the grief work associated with multiple losses takes longer than the grief work associated with one.

For me, that process was like traveling to a foreign country. I have seen beautiful things and terrible things. dr. Alan Wolfelt writes about the grieving process in an article titled “Reconciliation,” published on Hospice of Siouxland’s website. Many words are used to describe the final dimension of grief, says Wolfelt, words like resolution, recovery, reinstatement and reorganization. But Wolfelt likes the word reconciliation best.

“Reconciliation is a term that I believe expresses more of what happens as a person works to integrate the new reality of moving forward with life,” he explains. Wolfelt lists 15 criteria for reconciliation. One, the ability to enjoy things we used to enjoy, caught my attention because I can do it. Another, seeing the personal growth that came out of grief, also caught my attention. Multiple losses have changed me forever and many changes are good.

Bob Deits, MTh describes the grieving process in detail in his book “Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Rebuilding Life After a Major Loss.” Deits writes from a recovery approach and compares grief work to a crazy quilt. The bereaved have relapses, reversals and moving forward, according to Deits. But if you keep doing your grieving work, “you’ll make it,” he says. “You will stand tall. You will reach your destination.”

Hundreds of times I have asked myself, “What is my destination?” It’s hard to see through the darkness of grief and you may have asked yourself the same question. Although I have likened working through grief to walking the path of recovery, I know that I will never fully recover from multiple losses. My goal is to live with them meaningfully and joyfully.

In her book, “The Courage to Grieve,” Judy Tatelbaum uses the word “dissolution” to describe the final grieving work we must do. ‘It is never too late to complete our grief,’ she writes. The bereaved may wonder how they will know when their grieving work is done. Tatelbaum lists these signs of recovery, which I have paraphrased.

* You have accepted the reality of death.

* Your feelings of sadness have dissipated.

* You think less about loss and sadness.

* You have pleasant memories of your loved one or them.

* Your physical and emotional health has improved.

Looking back, I can see that I was working to resolve the grief. I prefer this word because of its definition, which includes the phrase “firmness of purpose.” I also like synonyms. Determination, determination. Perseverance. Persistence. These synonyms empower words, at least they empowered me. Have I solved my grief? No, but I’m getting close.

Just as Tatelbaum described, my feelings of sadness disappear. I think more about the future than the past. Several friends have told me that I look much better. In fact, one said I was “in really good shape.” Most importantly, I am slowly and patiently weaving the threads of the lives of my loved ones into my life. And that makes me happy.

Copyright 2009 Harriet Hodgson

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