February 20, 2019

From The Grief Files Part I: Mothers’ Journeys Of Letting Go, To Hold Better

I don’t believe in accidents. I never have. I believe that bad things happen to good people, but I have to maintain that God has a hand in showing us the path to our higher learning from tragedy. In the grief work that has become a major focus for my current practice, I am blessed to witness the migrations of mothers who mourn. They are– beyond courageous. They are–the subject of this post, because in being a parent, the process of “coming to terms” with the loss of a child has a complication that almost no one but another parent can understand.

Any mother will tell you it’s a thankless job. No matter how old your children become, somehow, they can always hold you responsible for not doing things their way, otherwise known as the “right way.” When they shine you are Mother of the Year, and when they flounder, it can always be traced back to something you did or didn’t do. There’s no day off, there’s no bonus or hazard pay, and there’s no pension, but there is an unspoken commitment to nurture and guide that transcends age and even our time here on the planet. When mothers come to me there are a lot of “should haves” and “what ifs” accompanying them, even when their logical mind tells them there is nothing they could have done.

Soraya’s story:

When I met Soraya (name has been changed) it was in a professional capacity. She was, without question, one of the most put together and respected women in the community. From all outside appearances she was succeeding in life, preparing for retirement, flashing a genuinely celebrity level smile and touching the lives of people all around her with charitable actions and genuine warmth. In the course of a “donation” exchange she casually mentioned to me that the past year had been the hardest of her life. This is the part in the story where you refer back to paragraph one above, because that introduction usually finds me asking questions that a much less nosey person would let pass answered. She told me her adult son had taken his own life, struggling with addiction and mental health issues, unwilling to fight any longer.

If you have known me personally, then you know I am the biggest Ghost Whisperer fan that has ever lived. Melinda’s catch phrase from the show seemed to have jumped mediums and came out of me at that moment. “I can help you,” I said. Soraya smiled and said she would think about it—-that she probably should—–that she keeps thinking it will get better—-that people have encouraged her to get some support.  We parted ways with no appointment and as God’s plan would have it, we found each other at various social encounters, and I’d ask her how she was doing, and she would say, “I should come see you.” It took six months, but eventually she did.

One of the remarkable elements of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) is its incredible client focus. The “INTENTION” or focus of the session comes directly from what the client feels is most pressing. I asked Soraya what the most painful elements were for her, lately. She said the things that all people walking through loss say: “I miss him. It’s not fair. Sometimes I think I see him–=” and then she said, “I don’t understand why he didn’t come to me. He has ALWAYS come to me in the past.” Soraya explained she was at one time a single mother and felt particularly close with this child.  As his internal struggle and irresponsible behavior had increased she had begun to protect herself and other members of her family by setting boundaries. We discussed how this was part of being an effective and truly caring mother. She agreed, but she was torn. “I told him he couldn’t live here if he was drinking. I wouldn’t give him any more money. I offered to get him help that he wouldn’t take. He was angry with me and I didn’t know it was that bad for him—-maybe if I had—–”

The intentions that Soraya chose were around forgiveness and deeper understanding. First, to let go of whatever distance between them that may have been caused by her healthy boundary setting, later to forgive him for succumbing to a disease that he could not control. Her imagery in the first session was of her trying to find a path, trying to climb over a mountain. She described her hands feeling heavy and tied. She described a path, finally, made of dirt. “There is nothing there that should be there, no rocks, no foliage, just dirt.” In the GIM process the Guide never questions the experience of a traveler. I wrote down “just dirt.” It was clear from her somatic experience that one of the pieces holding her back was the feeling that it was out of her hands. After the music process Soraya drew her first Mandala. “I can’t draw,” she said. I reminded her it wasn’t an art class and she couldn’t do it wrong. Her only assignment was to illustrate her experience in the music process to the best of her ability, in any way that felt right. She drew large, colorful flowers.  I was confused, but it was all about to become much more clear:

Me: “Tell me something about your Mandala. You drew flowers and specifically mentioned there weren’t any in your experience.”

Soraya: “My son loved flowers. He loved working in the dirt. He had made me a flower bed that I loved. He took it with him when he moved out, which broke my heart. When we looked for it amongst his things it was nowhere to be found. My husband made me a new one but I can’t even look at it.”

Me: “What’s in it now?”

Soraya: “Dirt.”

What is truly amazing about choosing the right music program for the right person at the right time is that the process then moves itself forward. The imagery that the music helps the brain to access in the subconscious is just what the doctor ordered. I gave Soraya a few assignments. One was to plant all the things in her life she wanted to “grow” in her new garden by writing them down and literally planting her written words. Another was to watch a well-known educational video by Kevin McCauley called Pleasure Unwoven about the disease concept of addiction.

Dirt became a recurring symbol in Soraya’s travelling experiences with music. It was a way she could connect with her son and make peace with his choices. At one point she agreed to do some planting with her grandson (son of her deceased son), which also felt like something that would create connection. The combination of the psychoeducation and connecting through the music and imagery experience helped Soraya to understand she really and truly had done everything a good Mother would and could do.  “I couldn’t have helped him anymore than I already did,” she said. “I deserve to be happy now.” And with that, Soraya did retire and start a new life. She has told me she will ache for her son forever, but she is no longer holding herself responsible for the consequences of his disease and now finds herself able to focus on pleasant memories and times they have shared.