When we lose a loved one, the reaction is extreme sadness and that sadness plays its role in the form of grief. Many times the circumstances of the death can cause undue mental distress for the bereaved. For example, many who lost loved ones in the September 11th tragedy may be struggling to rid their minds of negative images of how their loved one may have suffered and finally died that fateful day.
Such visual images, played repeatedly in the mind will greatly interfere with healthy grief healing. The goal of healthy grief is to be able to express the sadness, and over time, to finally integrate healthy memories and imagines of the loved one into ones everyday life. These healthy images can, in fact, be very comforting in spite of the fact that the ‘earthly miss’ will go on and on.
A technique known as reframing or cognitive restructuring is a most helpful and in fact, loving tool to diffuse some of the visual agony that plays in the mind after such a disastrous loss. This technique involves replacing negative images of the loved one with warm, loving and familiar images. As we know, we have to think! But, we can choose our thoughts. Such a strategy helps us do that.
Let’s practice: “Please close your eyes and let your mind sort through numerous loving and happy times and events with your beloved who died. Allow yourself to feel whatever sadness, sorrow, or smiles that might go along with your thinking.”
“When you’re ready, choose one specific fond memory/image of your loved one. See what he or she is wearing. See the expression on his or her face. See the picture as vividly as if your mind were a camera, capturing this picture for all time”.
“We will call this picture or vignette, “number one” and as you ‘see’ your loved one in your mind, you will make a association by mentally ‘placing’ this picture on your thumb. (Example: my daughter, who could not erase the picture of her brother dying in a burning car, chose to visualize Dave wearing his red plaid flannel shirt, coming through the door at home saying, “Anybody home?” This became her ‘number one’ picture.)
“Now, see your loved one at another time. Maybe it was when he or she was much younger. The important thing is that the visual memory be very clear in your mind. When you have gathered this image, make an association by mentally ‘placing’ your second picture on your first finger (I call this our ‘pointy’ finger.”)
“Using this process, you will create a total of five images, associating each image with a different finger. Remember to review the previous images each time before creating the new one.”
Sharon Greenlee, LPC 2011