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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Grief

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Jesus (John 16:33b)

Grief is something everyone experiences, so therefore is a topic for writers to fully understand if we hope to convey our characters' grief in a realistic way readers can relate to. I'll be starting a two-part series on grief today, focusing on the multi-dimensional aspects of grief today and the stages of grief next Thursday.

I'd like to start with two main classifications of grief a person can experience. The first is physical. This means tangible loss, like losing a loved one, getting a car stolen or your house burning down. The second classification is symbolic. These are abstract losses like getting a divorce or being demoted at work.

To quote Therese Rando, "No matter what, loss always results in a deprivation of some kind." (p. 13, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies).

Unpleasant losses are usually recognized as such, and therefore seem to be deserving of grief. These are the losses that are easy to write about. We've all been there, losing someone or something important to us. So we can pen these experiences into a novel without batting an eye. But what about losses resulting from what others would consider a positive event? Oftentimes these go either unrecognized or ungrieved or both. So lets camp out here for a bit.

When a couple has a child, they experience a relative loss of independence, increased responsibility, and decreased spontaneity. (Ask any couple with an infant if you don't believe me.) But having a child is positive, right? Still, these are symbolic losses the couple faces which might bring them to my office.

A child leaving home for college is positive, meaning the child has acheived a level of competency on his own. But this creates "empty nest" for the parent, a loss that needs to be grieved (in real life AND in our books!). When a person terminates therapy, this is considered positive because they have achieved their goals. But it's often sad, a loss of an hour a week with someone you've grown accustomed to, who knows you better than many others in your life. This is a loss...a deprivation.

Also important to keep in mind as we write about our characters' losses are "secondary losses." These are sneaky, often creeping up on us before we can identify them or be aware of their impact. Secondary losses can sometimes cause more impact in the long run than the initial loss. Consider a change in geography or alteration in family in-law relationships after a spouse's death. What about a loss of status in the community after a child's criminal conviction? Rando mentions a woman losing a breast to breast cancer and includes the following list of secondary losses, all of which need to be mourned on some level: loss of independence and control being in a patient role, loss of automony, loss of predictability, loss of boldily functions, body parts, productivity, pleasure, identify, intimacy, social contacts, self-esteem, mobility...the list could go on and on.

Question for You: Are there parts to your current manuscript you might should rework in light of secondary losses and losses that occur as a result of something most everyone would perceive as "positive"? How can considering grief as multi-dimensional improve the portrayal of your characters' grief?


Jody Hedlund said...

Thank you for your insights today. I will definitely be thinking about these grief issues as I deal with some of my character's losses. The key is finding our character's unique way of expressing that grief--usually in an unhealthy way, right? So that we can increase the problems!

Jeannie Campbell said...

having them express their grief in an unhealthy way - like turning to an addiction or something like that - definitely increases the problems. so i'd say that's a good start, jody! :)

Katie said...

SO good! You're giving me all kinds of ideas for my story! What a resource your blog is!!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.