Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 2
Part 1 of this series on dealing with death in the family examined the real nature of grief; here, we look at what coming to terms with loss of a family member really means.
What are some of the things that actually go on within the psyche of a person dealing with death in the family?
The Inner Image of the Family Member
Self psychologists like Heinz Kohut see us as carrying within the psyche what they call the imago of loved ones, a kind of unconscious model or image of the family member, and of how we have experienced him or her. When the individual dies, this inner partially unconscious image undergoes very powerful transformations.
An essential part of grieving is to find a way for psyche to move the departed individual from the realm of the living, to the realm of those who have passed. This is an essential part of the grieving process, and is reflected in the dreams of those who are in grief.
That Which was Not Resolved
One of the hardest things to come to terms with can be the shadow of the deceased family member. When an individual has passed it can seem unloving or disloyal to accept and face the aspects of the relationship with the individual that were painful to us, or dark.
To confront this reality may take us inside the entire shadow life of the family. The grieving individual may need to confront and accept the ways in which the family as a whole required him or her to fit into a role that was inauthentic and that kept the individual from living contact with the true self.
Depth case studies shows us that, sometimes it is only the grief of a great loss that can stir the forces inside an individual that lead to claiming his or her authentic individual life. Jungian analyst James Hollis writes about an individual’s journey through grief that led him to face the ways in which his family of origin had disempowered, de-valued and used him, and how that pattern had been perpetuated in his marriage to a woman who died of alcoholism in her late 30s.
“Only great loss… provided the catalyst to encounter another loss which lay so deeply as to be unconscious–the loss of his own journey. Only grief could stir him to finally face his estrangement from himself. And only the betrayal of Anne could have led him to see the exploitative nature of his family relationships.
By dwelling in these dismal swamplands, and working through their grievous woundings, Devin recovered the life he was always meant to live — his own, not someone else’s.”
SInce deep in pre-history, we humans have used ritual as an archetypal means of dealing with death in the family. We know that humans have engaged in ritual around the death of loved ones for at least the last 100,000 years.
For many people the rituals of one or another organized religion fulfill this need, at least in part. Yet, often individual created rituals in the midst of grief can also be of fundamental importance, and do much to heal the soul. Individual ritual can participates in, and opens up, the archetypal character of human grief, the healing that can flow through it, and the on-going movement of life.
Grief counselling from a /a-midlife-transition perspective assists the individual in accessing healing from the depths of psyche in the grieving process.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst