Shattered Dreams and Other Metaphors of Grief and Bereavement

Ted Bowman Trainer • Author • Educator Shattered Dreams and Other Metaphors of Grief and Bereavement International Death, Grief and Bereavement Con...
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Ted Bowman

Trainer • Author • Educator

Shattered Dreams and Other Metaphors of Grief and Bereavement

International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference 2016 Do not copy poems without permission; for educational use in this session

2111 Knapp Street • St. Paul, MN 55108-1814 Phone: 651.645.6058 Email: [email protected]

note new email address for Ted 1

Words Words have power. Ann Sexton wrote: Be careful of words, even the miraculous ones. … they can be both daisies and bruises. . Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair(Sexton 1975, p. 71). Iris Murdoch, in a different form, asserted: Words constitute the ultimate texture and stuff of our moral being, since they are the most refined and delicate and detailed, as well as the most universally used and understood, of the symbolisms whereby we express ourselves into existence. We became spiritual animals when we became verbal animals. The fundamental distinctions can only be made in words. Words are spirit (Murdoch 1972). Is there a world beyond words? poet Wendell Berry asked. To which he responded: There is. Later in a poem about words, Berry contended that out of the silence: we must call all things by name out of the silence again to be with us, or die of namelessness(Berry 2005, p. 20).


Play Them Again

Once, after the composer Robert Schumann had played a particularly difficult etude, he was asked by a member of his audience to explain it. In reply, Schumann sat down and played it again. We could do worse than to follow his example when someone asks for an explanation of the poem or story told or read. Our job is not always to explain our words. Sometimes it is enough to play them again so that they are heard in all their tooth-rattling dissonance. The discord – like the silence – is their problem, not ours. When we try to solve it or clarify it “too much”; our words may lose their power. On the other hand, to follow the metaphor of another is to treat their choice of words as precious and nothing is so great a compliment as when someone treats one’s words as so important they want to hear more. Finding the balance between confusion and say too much is not easy. Adapted and expanded by Ted Bowman on a part of When God is silent (1998) by Barbara Brown Taylor. Cambridge: Cowley Publications, p. 116.


Challenge Of Transition The relation between change and transition is …complicated by the fact that some people actually utilize external changes to distract them from the harder business of letting go of their subjective realities and identities. They make changes so they won't have to make transitions. They walk out on their marriages, but take along the attitudes toward partners that destroyed their marriages. Or they continue to search for "someone to take care of me" after they quit their jobs because their bosses are not interested in playing that role. Or they move because their town doesn't have any "interesting people" in it only to find that their new town doesn't either. Such people may claim that they are "always in transition," but in fact they are probably never in transition. They are addicted to change, and like any addiction, it is an escape from the real issues raised by their lives. Tolstoy calls what people refuse to let go of their "truths" and their "conclusions:' He might also have called them "outlooks" or "assumptions" or "realities:" Those are the things that make people feel at home in the world because "they have [been] woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." People feel that walking away from them is walking away from life itself. Without them, the world would be strange and frightening. No wonder we hold on to them. But until we let go of them, we are held in an enchantment. Like Sleeping Beauty, we are unaware of what is really going on around us. At first that unawareness may protect us, but one day it begins to close us down, to put us into a sleep, to wall us off from life. If we are lucky, a transition comes along to wake us up. If we are unlucky, we sleep through the rest of our lives. from: The Way of Transition (2001) by William Bridges Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, pp. 17-18.


Metaphors Of Loss / Grieving

…grief never leaves only changes, it lessons in impermanence… waits outside doors keep a place Greg Watson at the table Susan Williams One morning, cereal. The next day, cancer. affectionate witness Richard Solly Thomas R. Smith …disaster sucks all the air from the room, swings shut doors in our brains’ corridors Heid Erdrich All I have is a broken voice, a heart immense with sorrow Wang Ping First, a stunning numbness Like touching a live wire… The smell of the snake just before the rattle… Thomas McGrath After she had cried a tubful of tears she lay in it for three days Florence Chard Dacey The dead get by with everything Bill Holm Grief The way it comes from nowhere, lapping at the end of the half-healing heart like a dog hoping to be loved Ethna McKiernan Trouble, fly All from out of our house. The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks We left the window Edited by Bowman and Johnson open for you. Susan Marie Swanson Write using metaphors to describe uncertainly, grief, disruptive changes.


Shattered Dreams Losing an Emotionally Important Image of Oneself, One's Family, One's Body, One’s Life, Even One’s Death

Losing The Possibilities of "What Might Have Been" Abandonment of Plans For A Particular Future The Dying of A Dream From Loss of Dreams: A Special Kind of Grief By Ted Bowman



Richard Kopp, in Metaphor therapy (1995), emphasizes steps for clinicians to use in following metaphors. Here are adaptations of his scheme: 1) Notice metaphors 2) Invite the client to explore the metaphoric image: “When you say ______ what image/picture comes to mind?” 3) If the client doesn’t understand or moves away from the image, say something like: “If I were seeing it the way you see it, what would I see?” 4) Practice curiosity – go further; invite sensory conversations: “What else do you see? What else is going on?” 5) Describe feelings associated with the metaphor 6) Invite transformation of the client’s metaphoric image: “If you could change the image in any way, how would you change it?” 7) Therapist-initiated transformation – “What if the metaphor or image was a ____________?” 8) Connecting metaphoric patterns and life issues: “What parallels do you see between your image and your situation?”(pp. 5-12).


Metaphors Related to Counseling Client-Generated Metaphors Six Categories Richard Kopp, Ph.D. and Daniel Eckstein, Ph.D.

1.Metaphors that represent one’s image of self. 2.Metaphors that represent one’s image of others. 3.Metaphors that represent one’s image of situations. 4.Metaphors that represent one’s understanding of the relationship between self and self. 5.Metaphors that represent one’s understanding of self and others. 6.Metaphors that represent one’s understanding of self and situations.

Kopp, R. & Eckstein, D. (2004). Using early memory metaphors and client-generated metaphors in Adlerian Therapy. Journal of Individual Psychology, 60(2), 163-174.



I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise. ____ From Constance. Poems by Jane Kenyon.(1993). St. Paul: Graywolf Press, p. 58. Has there been an "otherwise" day for you in the last months? If so, what part of this poem resonates with that event? Kenyon uses the word otherwise as a metaphor for “one day”. What metaphor might you choose for “one day”? Write a line or two of "otherwise" moments for you.


There are places I remember There are places I remember all my life Though some have changed Some forever, not for better Some have gone and some remain All these places have their moments Of lovers and friends I still can recall Some are dead and some are living In my life I loved them all And with all these friends and lovers There is no one compares with you And these mem'ries lose their meaning When I think of love as something new And I know I'll never lose affection For people and things that went before I know I'll often stop and think about them In my life I loved you more And I know I'll never lose affection For people and things that went before I know I'll often stop and think about them In my life I loved you more In my life I loved you more Songwriters Paul McCartney / John Lennon

Recall a place you remember. Either write about that place inviting those that hear or read your piece to picture the place OR write about what makes that place memorable. Is there a particular event, person, experience that makes that place memorable? If so, write about that.



It felt so cold, the snowball which wept in my hands, and when I rolled it along in the snow, it grew till I could sit on it, looking back at my house, where it was cold when I woke in my room, the windows blind with ice, my breath undressing itself on the air. Cold, too, embracing the torso of snow which I lifted up in my arms to build a snowman, my toes, burning, cold in my winter boots; my mother’s voice calling me in from the cold. And her hands were cold from peeling then dipping potatoes into a bowl, stopping to cup her daughter’s face, a kiss for both cold cheeks, my cold nose. But nothing so cold as the February night I opened the door in the Chapel of Rest where my mother lay, neither young, nor old where my lips, returning her kiss to her brow, knew the meaning of cold.

Carol Ann Duffy. Poetry Review, vol. 99:2 summer 2009, p. 5. Duffy repeatedly uses a common metaphor for experiences of death and bereavement. Is cold a familiar metaphor for your grief? What might you say to Duffy if you could talk with her? Is there another metaphor that you hear or use repeatedly?



Berry, W. (2005) “Words” from Given: Poems. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. Bowman, T. (1994) Loss of dreams: A special kind of grief. Self-published, go to Bowman, T. and Johnson, E.B., eds.(2010) The wind blows, The ice breaks. Minneapolis: Nodin Press. Bowman, T. (2012) “Poetry and Bibliotherapy” in Neimeyer, R. (ed) Techniques of grief therapy: Creative processes for counseling the bereaved. New York: Routledge Bowman, T. and Macduff, C.(2015) “Following the metaphor: Bereavement care Implications”. Bereavement Care. 34.3, pp. 110-114. Duffy, C. (2009). “Cold”, Poetry Review, vol. 99:2 summer 2009, p. 5. Frank, A.W. (1995) The wounded storyteller: Body, illness, and ethics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Kenyon, J. (1993) Constance. Poems. St. Paul: Graywolf Press. Kopp, R. (1995) Metaphor therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel, Inc. Kopp, R. & Eckstein, D. (2004). “Using early memory metaphors and client-generated metaphors in Adlerian Therapy”. Journal of Individual Psychology, 60(2), 163-174. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. McCartney, P. and Lennon, J. (1965) “In My Life”, from the Rubber Soul album Murdoch, I. (1972) “Salvation by words”. The New York Review of Books, June 15, The Blashfield Address delivered to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, pp. 3-5. Rosenblatt, P. and Bowman, T. (2013) “Alternative approaches to conceptualizing grief: A conversation”. Bereavement Care 32.2 Sexton, A. (1975) The awful rowing toward god. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Taylor, B.B. (1998) When God is silent. Cambridge: Cowley Publications.


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