Thursday, 17 May 2012

Grasping The Intangible - My Dad lives in the attic

One of the many things on my ‘to do’ list is to write an article, based on this title, on loss and death anxiety relating to people with learning difficulties.  As this is also ‘Dying Matters’ awareness week, I wanted to share some stories that I have used to explore these themes in Dramatherapy groups.

I have found that within organisations for people with learning difficulties, staff try and prepare individuals for some changes in their lives, such as staffing, going on a trip or new activities.  However the same does not seem true of death – a very permanent change!

In our society, we rarely speak openly about death - perhaps this is to protect us from our own feelings.  I have worked with people where death and other aspects of loss have evoked strong feelings of confusion and anxiety, perhaps even anxiety around their own death, and sometimes it has seemed as if their other anxieties may be linked to this.  I think we have to work towards facilitating an individual understanding of death, looking carefully at our collective discourse and speaking more openly about our own feelings and uncertainties.  We can rely upon the time-honoured techniques of storytelling and ritual to help us explore and experience our sense of loss in comparative safety.

A personal vignette

When I was three years old, my best friend at nursery school died from complications resulting from her having a hole in her heart.  I still have vivid memories of her mother coming into school, sitting on a chair as we sat on the floor cross-legged in a circle around her.  She told us the story of how the angels had come down while her child was on the operating table and carried her away.  They had taken her and now she was free from pain.

I remember feeling sad and at the same time comforted by these words.  I went away with these images bubbling around in my three year old mind and decided that I wanted to become an angel and take away people’s pain.  I understood you had to die to become and angel and I somehow knew that if I lay in the road, this is what would happen to me.  My memory of being dragged away from the middle of the road is less clear, but I think that this was my one and only attempt in pursuit of this idea.

How could that grieving mother have known the consequences of her words to my three year old mind?  Was this story intended to help us to understand what had happened or was it an explanation that she felt able to pass on to children? Was she protecting us from the sadness of the situation or protecting herself from our expression of grief?

The Stories

This is a list of some of the stories I have used in Dramatherapy sessions.

Please click on the links to read the stories.

Just Enough 

How Night came into being

The Raven and the Whale

From ‘Songs of Enchantment’ By Ben Okri

The Woodcutter

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