ArtSouth, The world upside down

ArtSouth, The world upside down

Ronald A. Westerhuis – Shine 2021

Part 2 of the ArtZuid series

This second sculpture reminds me of a world upside down. When grieving you can experience this, as due to a drastic loss your life has changed forever. Your world is quite literally upside down.

The American grieving expert William Worden distinguishes four grieving tasks, which you possibly might recognise. 

Task 1: Facing the reality of your loss
The loss feels so unreal, that our mind suppresses it in the first instance. Some denial can serve a purpose in that it allows you to slowly absorb the full weight of the loss. Mentally you know it, but the emotional awareness comes later. A friend once told me that when her father had passed away, she was angry at the world and the trees, as they went on living through the seasons and got new leaves. The world around her continues and her life stood still and felt upside down. After a while you will realise that the loss has occurred, which is the first step towards adapting and moving forward. 

Task 2: To work through the Pain of Grief
Acknowledging your feelings and working through a range of different emotions is important. Among others sadness, fear, loneliness, despair, hopelessness, anger, guilt, blame, shame and relief. Also physical pain can be a way to express your feelings.  These complex feelings can be confusing, tiring and also painful. 

Task 3: Adjust to an Environment without the Deceased
The permanency of being without what has been lost can be overwhelming. In the beginning everything will remind you of your loved one. With every song I heard, I could relate the lyrics to Paul, my partner who had died and I felt the absence. Interactions with others change as the environment reacts differently to a couple than to a single person. You may need to learn a wide array of new skills and tasks or outsource them. You miss the atmosphere you had together and also the future goals are not the same anymore. You have to adjust and adapt to the new normal, which entails reorienting and restructuring what you do without your loved one.

Task 4: To integrate the loss in your life.
This is about finding an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life. Your loved one will always be a part of your live, only physically your loved one is not there anymore. The connection will be shaped differently, they also call this the symbolic bond. Do you carry for example something symbolic, which reminds you of your loved one?
The grief will become less and doesn’t control your whole life anymore. Of course there will still be difficult days but you can begin to meaningfully engage in things that bring pleasure and open up to new relationships. 

There are many grief theories and none are proven to be the absolute truth. These are certainly helpful and relevant tasks, but if you do not feel like you have completed them that is not a reason to panic. It may mean you are still working through the process or it may mean that this is not the model that best reflects your own experience.  Grief is unique for all of us. In case you want help or would like to talk about it, feel free to contact me.

ArtSouth – Which face do you show when grieving?

ArtSouth – Which face do you show when grieving?

This series is about connecting the sculptures of the ArtZuid route in Amsterdam with grieving. Loss is inseparably connected with life. We prefer not to think about it. Mourning is the reverse side of love and losing somebody we love hurts, it doesn’t matter whether we talk about dying, job loss, divorce, health or future expectations.

I start with the artist Joseph Klibansky, who made the sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite from Greek mythology wearing an African elephant mask.

Looking at this sculpture I think: ‘Which face do we see when you are grieving?’

We can all interpret how somebody looks, however that doesn’t mean that the person also feels that way. Of course it is great if it reflects the inner truth. When grieving you try to keep your chin up, you don’t want others to see how sad you are.
As a volunteer, I support bereavement groups where the participants are asked to make a drawing of their face. On the left side of the face how they feel from the inside and on the right side how they portray themselves on the outside. Mostly these are beautiful, but also sad drawings, with a lot of insight, which becomes clear when the participant discusses their drawing. It clearly shows that the grieving from within is different than that which is projected out-with and that we are not always willing to show our inner side.
How do you feel from the inside and do you also show this externally? What kind of mask are you wearing?

The function of crying after loss

The function of crying after loss

Recently two women in my bereavement group shared; that since their husband died, there were many moments during the day where they felt a need to cry. This reminded me of my own tears during my grieving process. In this blog I’ll take a look at the cultural aspects and the scientific and psychological insights about the function of crying after loss.

Crying brings calm and relief
The psychologist Alex Goetz carried out research on the effect of tears on the body and mind. Sadness causes stress in the body and therefore crying can relieve this stress. The majority of people – me included, feel better after a good cry, I wonder if this is also your experience?

Are we allowed to cry?
This depends on the culture and the family in which we are raised and also how your parents dealt with emotions and crying. In your family or school was crying tolerated or not? Men and women have been brought up differently with regards to showing emotions too. Are we still saying “Boys don’t cry”? I think people are more aware of that label nowadays. In general I think to show your emotions these days is more acceptable and I think that this is a positive development.

Not able to cry
With loss there is a whole range of varying emotions; sadness, anger, fear. If we’ve learnt that we must keep our emotions under control there is a danger of repressing all these too.
My experience and that of other Psychologists know that a healthier approach is to acknowledge pain and emotions rather than to repress it, though this can be difficult. I support people with this in my practice. If you ignore emotional pain, it can disrupt your life by manifesting in other ways, such as physical pain, illness, stress and burnout.

Finding Balance
Sometimes it’s normal just to want to forget our grief for a while, so that we can put our tears to one side. To find a distraction like shopping or doing sport is a normal way of coping during grieving. Stroebe en Schut talk about a Dual Process Model where there is a seesaw effect between grieving and getting on with life. I wonder if you recognise that?

Communication and connection
What is often not talked about is that if you are sad and cry in front of someone , it reveals your vulnerability. It tells them how you are feeling, what you are going through and then they can give you the support that you might need. After all until you tell them, they don’t know the depth of your feelings. It can bring a deeper connection with those around you.

Finally
If anything in my blog struck a chord with you, and it would feel good to share this with a professional who can offer you a safe and confidential space to share . Please feel free to contact me on 0610144644 or drop me a line on welkom@palmyrabakker.nl for a free initial conversation.

The Anniversary

The Anniversary

Emotions around the anniversary of the death of my partner
Every year as the anniversary of the death of my partner Paul approaches, my emotions are noticeably very present. In the weeks leading up to it I’m more sensitive and more emotional and tears flow easily. It just happened when a friend invited me to meditate together on that day. I’m so thankful for my empathic friends. It touches me too that my brothers and sister make a point of calling me on the 26th of May to see how I am.

This year it’s eleven years ago! And some memories come up that make it feel like yesterday. The actual chain of events on that day is always very clear. What happened after that has faded more into the background. I know that I have integrated the loss into my life and I have found happiness in life again.

Waves of sadness
I experience sadness like waves, in the beginning constant waves that overtake and overwhelmed me. Literally I hadn’t had any control over my emotions and the sadness was intense. As time passed the waves become less intense and I found myself in calmer water. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays brings up a wave of sadness again. At these times the memories come back and the sadness is somehow present again.

Healing process
Recently during a five day therapeutic process, something inside me was touched and I cried for two hours solid about Paul. I noticed then, how angry I was that he had left me, I had buried the anger, even though I know he couldn’t help it. Nowadays I feel lighter and more free. I’ve let go of a heavy load and a change has happened.

My meaning
The way I have made sense of my loss was to follow a professional training on grief and loss, so that I could help others to make meaning of their loss.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” says Søren Kierkegaard
Life is far too precious not to be lived fully and I can help to guide you back to finding your lust for life.
I welcome your thoughts on how you’ve dealt with such a loss? Have you been able to make your own sense of it?

If you’ve been touched by my experience, you can contact me for a consultation.

Thanks to Hush Naidoo for the beautiful photo.

Saying goodbye during a pandemic

Saying goodbye during a pandemic

Reflection
This week it’s 3 years since my mother died. I look back with gratitude at our goodbye with all 5 children at her bedside. We had taken turns to watch over her for 8 days. Everyone was at her funeral; including nieces and nephews, friends and acquaintances. What a contrast to what is imposed on us now, standing at the side of the road or just paying our respects together on Facebook or zoom.

Current Situation
It is heartbreaking that we can’t visit our loved ones in a hospice or care home. Keeping a distance whilst we really want to be close. Due to government guidelines, saying goodbye has become very complicated. You can’t put an arm around your loved one, it feels difficult and painful and can leave us feeling powerless, bringing up emotions such as sadness and anger.

Saying Goodbye
In just a few weeks time our world has changed drastically. If someone in your close family is dying you can visit but you need to wear a Hasmat suit. It is unthinkable that you need to hold the hand of your father mother, brother, sister or grandparent wearing gloves.
In the Netherlands, burials and cremations went from max 100 to 30 mourners and some decide just close blood relatives as they find it difficult to decide, also you’d get a fine if you don’t obey the rules.

Comfort
However due to the smaller gatherings those left behind are experiencing a lot of warmth from friends who can’t be there, letters, flowers and stories. This kind of sharing offers a different kind of comfort and they look forward to the time where they can really come together to remember their loved one.

Contact
I wish everyone strength in this situation.
If you feel the need to talk about your experience of losing a loved one, feel free to call me without obligation.

If you feel like talking

If you feel like talking

I’m offering 30 minute sessions in English or Dutch, in these extraordinary times

 

The Corona situation

The world is in the grip of the Corona virus. The progression is fast and measures we need to implement change daily. Initially some people thought: “ This is just a flu epidemic, so why the extreme measures? “. In just a few weeks the world has changed drastically. The government has taken the necessary precautions in the light of the outbreak. We are restricting our movement and observing the instruction to “Stay at Home”.

The new reality 

We are living with new experiences; insecurity about our health and that of friends and family. Concern exists for our relatives in homes or hospitals who cannot receive visitors. We are missing caring for our grandchildren. We are faced with ourselves because we are quarantined at home and wondering how to deal with it. We begin to notice how much we need other living beings/people around us and what that gives us.

Some groups are even more vulnerable. Think of those who have dementia and can’t understand what’s happening are maybe starting to feel abandoned. The longer you stay away from your loved ones, you fear they may not recognise you anymore. For relatives it can be difficult and painful. I know this from experience.
What about the people dear to you in intensive care, who can’t (or barely) receive visitors. In these times you want to be close to them, feel their presence and maybe just hold their hands and let them know they are not alone in this. How painful it is if you can’t say farewell in person.

My offer

These are special times and this asks for a different approach. So I want to offer a 30 minute session to talk and to support you through this difficult time.

Contact

Please call me on +31 (0)6 10144644 to make an appointment or go to : https://www.palmyrabakker.nl/#contact and suggest a time that suits you best. Slots are available on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 – 11 am.