In the Presence of Grief.
Presence is a powerful therapeutic tool. Physically, it is "being there," relationally it connotes a commanding personality, and spiritually it is understood as a mysterious influence. Dorothy Becvar's book on grief blends all three of these qualities of presence. The book is a practical guide on "being there" in a meaningful way for those faced with the death of a loved one. It also explores techniques for those who would provide therapeutic or spiritual support.
Becvar opens her book with a neo-Buddhist narrative about the "horse on the dining room table." This story captures the interpersonal awkwardness often encountered with grief and loss. Guests in this narrative are intuitively aware of the dysphoric emotional energy associated with grief. They are also aware of the great intensity of emotion common to loss. Creating presence for a grieving friend is often challenging and emotionally draining. Common salutations and words of encouragement often seem trite and insulting. At the time that the grieving person needs emotional support, the unprepared world of friends withdraw in confusion and fear.
As I read this book, I discovered the distinction that depressed people tend to withdraw from the world and the world tends to withdraw from grieving people. Becvar frequently orients the grieving individual to this process. The book also orients the individual to common personal and family reactions to specific types of loss. This unusually thorough accounting of the experience of grief is a valuable reference for those who are trying to sort out the emotional dynamics associated with loss.
For the professional, this book provides a framework for remaining engaged with the grieving patient and family. Clinicians tend to see grieving patients as depressed individuals within a family system. Becvar encourages us to explore ways to facilitate the re-engagement of family and social support structures with the grieving client. Family-oriented ceremonies and healing rituals are potential vehicles for such reintegration. She also explores the value of religious and spiritual support systems for the grieving process. Fractured personal belief systems might be amenable to narrative therapy that recreates a "sense of meaning" around the loss.
This book is appropriate for both the individual and the professional. A warning to the individual facing personal loss: Go Slow! The first half of this book is an exhaustive guide for the professional but could be overwhelming for the novice. A range of experiences of grief are discussed, from those associated with an anticipated loss of a spouse to grief associated with a violent unexpected event. Individuals facing a personal loss would benefit by reading the chapter appropriate to their situation. Reading the book cover to cover may be emotionally draining for even the professional.
Becvar ends her book with a quest to reclaim joy. Her observation is that grief survivors often experience life on two different levels. As people move through the grieving process, their sense of loss commonly becomes balanced by a newly found narrative that creates a sense of peace. The presence of a therapist or a concerned family member may facilitate this process on both a personal and spiritual level. If you want to help a grieving family member or if you are interested in some useful tools, buy the book. I believe that you will find it a worthwhile investment.
Robert Houston, M.D. University of Wyoming Family Practice Program at Casper