"A long, happy and fruitful life"
These are the words that my Dad wrote a few years ago in his funeral wishes. It seemed fitting, therefore, that we had these words carved into the dramatic green slate headstone that now marks where he lies.
It's two years since he died, but the grief I feel is still achingly, crushingly fresh.
Many of us in the NLP community are called on to use our skills to help those experiencing grief, so I thought I would write this from my intensely personal and current perspective in the hopes that it might help others. Whether you are feeling grief, or helping others.
Firstly, it's important to recognise that grief is a very normal, indeed necessary emotion. It is an appropriate response to the loss of a loved one, or the end of a relationship. In this context, therefore, I am not interested in the approaches that were offered to me as 'taking away' the grief.
Rather, I wanted to find ways to manage my state when the grief was at its most intense. But much more importantly, I wanted to explore, understand and make sense of the shift in my universe that took place when my Dad died. I'm lucky - my Dad lived a long, happy and fruitful life (his own words) and died at 83 when he was still taking on new adventures, travels and projects as he had done all his life. Many people experience a much more traumatic loss than I did, losing a parent when you're young, or in a horrific accident, must be far more difficult to deal with.
However, I've learnt is that there is no yardstick for grief. No formula to calculate the depth of grief based on variables of longevity, relationship and cause of death. No league table of what makes my grief lesser or greater than yours.
We love. We lose. We grieve. We carry on living.
We do carry on living, but the loss changes our world map significantly. This took me by surprise, because I knew my Dad was nearing his life's end. I'd been lucky enough to take a father/daughter road trip with him two months before he died, and we talked for hours about his faith, his understanding of what, if anything, comes after death. Despite being deeply religious he was happily reconciled to the possibility that the answer might be “nothing”, whilst ready to joyfully embrace the alternative – that there might be something after death. I'm quite jealous that he now knows the answer. I still don't.
I remember having a conversation with my mother about 10 years previously when Dad's heart disease worsened. She was concerned for all her children that we were prepared for the inevitable. I had already given it some thought, and I liked to imagine that Dad would go out on one of his daily walks on the Yorkshire moors one day, and just not come back. Or he'd be digging in his beloved allotment.
I thought I was ready for the call. And I was, in a way. The whole family responded brilliantly. We were all able to be at his bedside and say our goodbyes in the final hours. In many ways it was a 'good death'. We then went into administrative autopilot as we organised a huge funeral, including 8 clergy and choirs from 3 cathedrals in a church that was fittingly eccentric - half covered in scaffolding whilst exuberantly decorated with fruit and veg for harvest festival, a massive marquee and a wake for 150 guests, barrow loads of coffee and walnut cake which is an essential component of all my family's special occasions.
We all congratulated ourselves on coping so well. I didn't give any thought to being ready for the aftermath. I was unprepared for the days and weeks and months of numb, raw grief. The floods of tears at unexpected and inappropriate moments. The reminders in the strangest places, like my train journey which passed through York and I seemed to see Dad standing on the platform as he always did when I went to visit. The odd look from the ticket collector as I sobbed while he clipped my ticket. The words spoken during “Thought For The Day” this morning that reminded me of how Dad reached his vocation. Every day in the shower when I switch on the waterproof radio that Dad once gave me for Christmas.
A kind friend and NLP Master Practitioner offered to take me through some Memory Re-Solution processes to clear the sadness. For those unfamiliar with Memory Re-Solution, it is an evolution of Wyatt Woodsmall and Tad James' Time Line Therapy. Memory Re-Solution was devised by Dr Susi Strang and Craig Wood. It places a valuable emphasis on eliciting your unique time-code storage system, which is not always linear. Using clean metaphoric modelling, you explore your rich three-dimensional memory map before beginning any intervention such as resolving negative emotions.
Memory Re-Solution allows the Practitioner to use the client's own metaphors when guiding them through the processes. I love the Memory Re-Solution process, and always take something insightful from it. This time, what I gained with piercing clarity was the realisation that this grief that I was feeling was not unhelpful or negative. It was normal, necessary and even healing. It wasn't appropriate to 'clear' it in the way that you might clear unwanted anger or guilt. It enabled my to embrace the positive intention behind the behaviour of grieving, and to make peace with my grief.
On reflection, and to enhance my own NLP practice when working with others, in the future I might choose to use Memory Re-Solution where the client feels that the level of grief is too painful for them (as measured by their own Subjective Units of Distress Score, or SUDS, not by any objective measure). I might also use it for 'emotional first aid' that I find works really well when someone is extremely un-resourceful. It is also particularly useful where the client had a conflicted relationship with the person they've lost, and in situations where there is any unresolved anger, sadness, fear, guilt or other damaging emotion OVER AND ABOVE the normal grief.
We are lucky to have so many versatile resources from NLP to help deal with the universal experience of death and dying. This is why I have chosen to explore this topic in my session at the International NLP Conference in May 2018 – “The Ultimate Well-Formed Outcome: NLP Support for Death, Dying and Bereavement”.
If you would like to explore more about this topic, please join us at the NLP Grapevine on September 28th. The Grapevine is our monthly practice group, held in Edinburgh, and is open to anyone with an interest in NLP - sign up to our mailing list for more details.
About Madeleine Allen: The author is a specialist in Leadership, Communication and Personal Development for business professionals. An NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner she conducts in-house corporate training (learn more at www.allentraining.co.uk) and public courses in NLP (learn more at www.brightlightnlp.com)
Bright Light NLP
Hello, we are Madeleine and Phil, and we want to help illuminate your future, so you can be the best you can be.