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For more on grieving see the longer section below.
For pointers to Michael White's Narrative Therapy see here.
When a person hears of a new idea, they go through the following responses (often over some years):
Stages may just sound like they are.
The 5 stages above are often thought of as sequential but:
But perhaps in looking over extended grieving for someone who is in the process of dying (rather than in recovering from grief for an unexpected death), a common thing is to see either Denial or Acceptance, but sometimes to see both in the one person, depending on whom they are talking to. The underlying issue is not being able to bear to acknowledge to someone else that the death is going to occur: and that can depend on who that other is.
So a) One person can be in two stages at once, depending upon their co-locutor; b) The problems come from two people not being at the same stage; not having the same attitude to the situation. There is no rule as to whether it is the survivor or the dying who exhibit one or the other, and many problems around such dying is the mismatch in attitude between the two involved.
Perhaps people whose employer suddenly goes bust may often be like this (unless they are financially very threatened already).
What needs to be constructed? Firstly: grief is most disabling in the first instance to the extent that previous habits, ways of living, are disrupted by the death of someone else. So all those habits must be re-planned: invented differently, practised, adapted; and this is independent of whether the dead person was emotionally important.
We can approach this from another angle. Stage 5 "Acceptance" sounds completely passive, yet reconstruction must be active. So there seem to be two quite different final stages: (1) passive acceptance, which is perhaps little different to Despair or Bewilderment; and (2) active acceptance which means moving into a new re-planned way of living, which requires the person to be active and creative: "Reconstructed". This isn't just about stages of reaction to grief, but also to other kinds of changed circumstances.
I am writing this paragraph on 31 May 2020, just as the UK is making the first steps out of lockdown from Covid. This issue of passive acceptance vs. active acceptance can be seen in how different groups have responded to the lockdown.
Type I: Highly active reconstruction The documentaries and news pieces on life in intensive care units during the peak pandemic show high stress, but also a very high rate of adaptation as organisations and units invent the necessary procedures and rapidly improve them as they learn more about what does and doesn't work. In my university, Teachers have similarly had to invent, agree, and carry out a completely new way of doing examinations with large numbers of anxious students at very short notice, and managed to pull this off with no significant breakdowns. This too, is doing one's regular job under suddenly very different conditions, and managing the innovations necessary: change at perhaps ten times the normal pace of change.
Type II: Business more or less as usual: work hours similar to before; distancing, but the nature of the job not different. This has been true of the jobs deemed necessary like opening food shops, waste disposal. In my university, Researchers have continued their work from home with little dramatic change. A similar amount of accomplishment in similar time scales, although many small adaptations (shooing the kids out of the room while having a work Zoom; getting used to planning participation in academic conferences as remote live events rather than face to face ones).
Type III: No work, just enduring life at home day and night. Basically waiting for things to "return to normal", but generally not expecting that their life will be changed: just suspended then resumed. This tactic is often useful in real life, even if on a shorter timescale. I climb a mountain not by savouring every moment, but by plodding on trying to think of something else until the reward of arriving at the top. If a train breaks down or is blocked for several hours, that may ruin the whole day with missed meetings and connections, but the next day things are back to normal: not usually a cause for radically changing my way of travelling. However this is not creative and constructive, just passive endurance. As a senior doctor in a covid documentary said, his family hasn't considered that there may not be a normal they will soon return to. Assuming that there will be may be a weakness. If that turns out to be how it is, then those of us in endurance mode will have missed a chance to start inventing and implementing new ways of living and working.
Thus the modes and categories thrown up for grief seem more general than just that specific case; and suggest a general structure of comparable alternatives.
Yet a third angle is that of Michael White's Narrative Therapy (see below), which addressed grieving not by interpreting "Acceptance" as forgetting the dead person as if they "had been disappeared", but on the contrary "saying hallo to them" and actively constructing a narrative about their role and continuing influence on the bereaved. This is obviously related to hero worship (often a one-sided relationship), and to gratitude exercises about past events, and is realistic in not confusing physical death with the cessation of their meaning for the lives of those to whom they were important, and whose effect in shaping them remains. It implies that "acceptance" should not be equated with amnesia and the "Despair" stage, but again with active reconstruction: this time a reconstruction of personal meanings rather than of new plans of action.
One big feature missing from the five stages above is "Dissociation": a bit like denial, a bit like despair; but really characterised by a surprising lack of feeling but also of engagement: likely to hardly do anything. In another way, though, this is the opposite of the five stages above which ARE all emotions. This sixth is its absence: the absence of both feeling and of disposition to act.
"I just want to go back to how it was before that date". Not actually denying the change factually, but not able to think of the future or of any goal to work towards. I.e. not deny the fact; but deny the need to re-plan. Denial of planning rather than of facts.
Scapegoating: Another point, exemplified by scapegoating of Korean immigrants after the great Kanto earthquake, is perhaps a kind of "Anger" directed to an inappropriate target, just like anger in the face of a cancer diagnosis.
Thus it is not just about grieving: the same stages may apply more widely; and not only to situations that require a long adaptation, but also to those that require an immediate response,
The list of books is useful because, although some of them are hard to get, most of his papers are very hard indeed to access.
For Narrative Therapy, the unit is the story (or narrative). Generally this narrative is a partly social and partly individual construction.
This definition of Narrative Therapy derives from this four page 1998 paper by Sween, where it is one of seven alternative three-line explanations of Narrative Therapy.
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