Landscape of Loss

The tsunami temporarily shifting the earth on its axis provided a metaphor for bereavement. The landscape was destroyed. While there was the promise of rebuilt lives and renewal of towns and resorts, the immediate effects were catastrophic and the clean up repair was going to take years. In bereavement, the landscape of a person’s world is altered inexorably.  While their geographical and social location remains intact, emotionally they are forced to migrate to a new territory and relearn their lives all over again, adjusting to the absence of the loved one. If the loved one was someone who affected to identity of the mourner, like a spouse, sibling or parent, the adjustment extends to formulating a new identity. I was asked by her company to see Annie a nursing sister who has suffered a “few losses last year” and was not “coming right”. This is her story. Annie first lost her mother. Some weeks after that the building in which she lives caught fire because someone went to sleep with a burning candle. Four flats burned down because only the third fire engine that arrived on the scene was functional, the first had no water and the second had no working pipes. The person who caused the fire died screaming for help. The lady in the nest flat refused to believe she was in danger and my client had to kick the door down in order to save the stubborn woman and her three children. Shortly after this the Annie’s sister died in a car accident, pleading with Annie to help her while she lay dying waiting for an ambulance. Then her brother in-law died. A person who devoted her life to looking after people was powerless to help her loved ones, encountered traumatic losses and no one could understand why she was “just not herself”. It is as if our society, grief and mourning are illnesses that need to be treated. In order to qualify as normal, we have to keep our feelings hidden and mourn as if it is something to feel ashamed of, because normal people are brave and just get on with life. There is no pausing to honour the dead, to comfort and support the mourners as they pick up the pieces and relearn and rebuild their lives. People are encouraged to forget, pack their loved ones away with the photographs, move to a new home and forget. My advice to Annie was to remember, and return her loved ones to their rightful place in her life, honouring them with her grief, taking their photos out of the cupboard and tell their stories. Annie is now back in the world of the fully alive.

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