Working With The Themes of Grief
During my Master’s program, I came across a research project completed by Susan Carter (1989), entitled “The Themes of Grief.” Utilizing content and thematic analysis, Carter identified nine (9) core themes inherent in the narratives of her study population of grievers: Being Stopped, Hurting, Missing, Holding, Seeking, Change, Expectations, Inexpressible and Content.
Clients presenting with the phenomena of grief seek support and a way to come to terms, work through – process and reconcile oneself with the traumatic lifetime events/losses they have endured. In 1993, I revisited Carter’s study and theory of ‘The Themes of Grief’ and created a grief assessment instrument utilizing the core themes and their content referred to as TOG (MOT – 1995). I also prepared a poem as a handout for use with grievers to introduce them to Carter’s concept of the themes of grief.
The goal was twofold: to generate an objective measurement of the client’s presenting bereavement response according to the depth of content noted within each theme. This tool and the scores represent my meager attempt to reflect the depth of a grievers experience concerning the vast phenomena of grief endured at a particular moment in time. Subjectively, clients state that working with the themes of grief is beneficial towards facilitating, understanding and reconciling themselves with the loss at hand.
I continue to use TOG as a research grief assessment tool (MOT, 1995) in my practice and would like to share the poem, Healing + Recovery (1993) utilized with grievers to introduce Carter’s nine themes of grief as identified below in italic, bold print:
Healing + Recovery
Springtime is an action – in silence I hear sound
In myself, in God’s nature – stirring all around.
Moss erupting and visible – ice cracking, river opening.
Stop. Unbalanced – come to terms – hoping I’m coping.
I tremble, deeply aware of an awe – flow inside
Definitely present and fully alive
Through the pain of it all, will I survive?
Feeling chaos, will I flourish – have a chance to thrive?
What is – is just what I witness
There is a lot to say about what this just is
I’m glad I’m a peaceful child aware of God love
With the beauty of it all – straight from above.
There are many states of death that I now know
But those unmended – leave a mess – take a toll
Catalysts can be unresolved grief
Pain and sorrow – deep – beyond belief.
The nine themes of grief that we all endure
Are full of emotion – that’s for sure
Being Stopped is an interruption in our present existence
All encompassing – a need to separate – pain, resistance.
When I’m Hurting I’m full of intense painful emotions
That requires compassion and true devotion
When riding a roller coaster or surviving a crush
Impact hits hard – an overwhelming, confusing rush.
I’m at risk, vulnerable and my body feels like a rock
Raw, naked, and fully exposed – psychic shock
Something is Missing from my life – from me
I’m confused – not clear, scared – not free.
A vacuum fills my heart and I feel lost
Attachment, bonding – find it, care about the cost
Holding tight to my memories involving love and hate
Dealing with this ambivalence and pull of fate.
Seeking truths that come out of the depths I feel
Caught in phenomena that seems unreal
I attempt to find the words to express and share
To anyone who can get close enough – to listen and care.
Burden carried alone becomes a heavy walk on a journey
Self-doubt – can I handle this – let it lift and hurry
This road is unknown and I feel so alone
My hearts broken – I struggle to hang onto love and home.
Privately and intimately I begin to connect
Reluctantly face my pain, wishful thinking and regret
Change has already occurred and in the midst of this grief
Forces so powerful they stop me – beyond belief.
Denial that once protected me from my intense feelings
Slowly gives way to feelings that are revealing
Like a run-away train on a fast moving track
Where am I going? Get a grip – I want myself back!
With Expectations of myself and others in sight
The burden I carry appears chaotic – definitely not right
I recognize the need to move this grief and recover
I need compassion from family, friends and lover.
I engage in this struggle – I cling and let go
Sometimes it’s Inexpressible and rivets my soul
Face this pain, seek the truth is all I can do
Tell my story to someone trustworthy and true.
Slowly but surely with the passage of time
Feelings find words – yours and mine
Looking back on old wounds – I now see my scar
Only now it’s healing, durable, illuminating from afar.
The only way I know is to detach from the loss
By getting out of denial and face the pain at all cost
Trust is the key – in myself and God – is my way to go
For with love and understanding in hand – I reap what I sow.
Fully present with myself and another – deep sharing
Is a humbling experience – empathetic caring
Attempting to feel while I try to understand
And know what really matters – as best I can.
A blessing in disguise – facing this grief token
Listening in silence to valuable survivor words spoken
Context is nothing more than a story to tell
Some we share easily; other’s feel like hell.
All experience holds a valuable slice
Part of one’s journey – alone or with others – life.
Capture the wisdom; find the lesson of what I need to know
Move from a disintegrated essence into my embodied soul.
Search for deep personal meaning and a friendly hand
Live by hanging onto hope – do the best you can
When frightened and scared remember – someone can hear
Words that express sorrow and help to shed a tear.
No matter how young or old – we can be daring
Concentrate and communicate by sharing and caring
Living in the past or future creates chaos somehow
For time is meant to be lived in the now.
Three forces finally do combine
Process and love over time
As the themes of grief revolve
Healing and recovery evolves.
Loss and grief can lead to good I’m told
To lose pure love is a treasure to behold
About the time impact has lifted
Understanding is now catalytic.
During any journey – walk tall
Never be afraid to tell it all
Speak your truth of the moment and pray
Talk to God – clear your own way.
Author: Dr. Linda AK Thompson, PsyD, CCC, FAAETS�
Owner, Matrix of Trauma (© MOT ™): Research, Advocacy, Healing
- Carter, Susan (1989). The Themes of Grief. Nursing Research, 38, 5354-358.
- Thompson, Linda A.K. (1996). The Matrix of Trauma: A dissertation – partial fulfilment for requirements for degree of doctor of psychological traumatology in psychological assessments and etymology. © Unpublished/Sealed. Summit University of Louisiana, New Orleans: Louisiana.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA