This Workbook was originally written to accompany What Obituaries Don’t Tell You: Conversations About Life and Death (Weymouth, 2013), but as many people pointed out to me, there are other losses that may be even more difficult to get over than a death. The workbook has therefore been expanded to include other kinds of losses that you have experienced and want to work with and process. It is divided into three main sections:
Section I. Loss through Death
Section II Other Losses
Section III Resources and Self-Help Techniques
The Workbook can be used with other books, programs, classes, groups, individual counseling, or as a stand-alone guide for individuals who want to process their own experiences of loss, grief, integration, and recovery. However, this is deep and challenging work that is most likely impossible to do alone. The important milestones in our lives are made more significant by inviting people to participate and be witnesses to the events. You may not want people to see your grief, you may have to search for the right people and the right group, but persevere. As much as I value teaching people self-help techniques, I am quite sure that trying to do all the grief and recovery work by yourself will not give you the healing that you want.
A Word to Readers, Instructors, Facilitators, and Students
There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
Winnie the Pooh
The questions in the Workbook take you on a very personal journey about the process of dying, death, loss, integration, healing, and recovery. This is not an academic exercise in looking at death from a distance by studying cultural practices, but is a deeply personal process by looking at specific deaths and other losses, and how they have affected you, your family, your loved ones, your community, and in some cases the whole world.
The way that you decide to use this Workbook will depend, of course, on why you are using it, whether it is for personal healing, a class you are taking or teaching, or in a group you are a member of or are facilitating. Even though the use of the material will be specific to your current purpose and focus, the material is timeless as different parts of it are more or less relevant at different times in one’s life.
Some people object to the words healing and recovery, believing that you never heal or recover from a loss, and in some cases I would agree that full recovery and healing may not be possible. Certain losses are so tumultuous that they change the landscape of our lives forever, and those of future generations. Certain deaths are so traumatic that, as Pauline said in What Obituaries Don’t Tell You, “The death of one’s child is something we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of our lives. It never gets better, it just gets different.”
Deaths are not equal. We place deaths in different categories: timely, untimely, tragic, violent, unforeseen, deserved or undeserved, or those that seem so senseless that we can’t help but ask, “What were they thinking?” The type of death, the relationship that we had with that person, our previous experiences with death, our beliefs, our thoughts and feelings about our own death, and our ability to put ourselves in the place of others whom we don’t even know, are all factors in how we respond to and process a death.
If you are working with a death, the Workbook starts by suggesting that you choose a story from What Obituaries Don’t Tell You, or another book about stories of dying and death, to write about and then discuss, as it may be easier to read about someone else’s experience to begin with. The material then moves into discussing one’s own experience with a death by answering the questions in that section.
If you are working with the section on loss, one recognizes that losses are not equal, either. We place loss in different categories as well, from the trivial to the tragic. However, what one person may find trivial may be tragic to another, and vice versa. The lesson here is one of no judgment; neither judging oneself for how you feel, or judging others by thinking that they should be feeling and reacting in ways that they are not.
Throughout the course of working with the material in the Workbook, strong emotions will arise so it is important for instructors and facilitators to provide a safe space for participants. This works best with a small group of people who build trust with each other by agreeing on certain ground rules such as whatever is shared in the room does not leave the room, respectful and attentive listening with no cross talk or unsolicited advice, and allowing people to remain silent if they choose.
Classroom instructors, group leaders, and therapists need to discuss support systems and networks for people using the Workbook. People doing some of the work by themselves also need to have a support network in place. These may include a family member, a friend, the clergy, a doctor or nurse, a counselor, and/or a pet. If using the Workbook in a middle school, high school, college, or university setting, it is a good idea to alert the nurse and school counselor so that these professionals can be resources if they are not, themselves, the class instructors.
The losses experienced in life are mini-deaths which require an acknowledgement of the loss; a recognition of what role that which was lost played in our lives; the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical ramifications; and the need to process it just as one needs to process any death.
One Last Thing
Because of your commitment to doing this work, you are now a light in the Universe and simply by your presence you radiate healing to others who long for it.