Navigating Turbulent Waters of Grief? Tighten the Life Vest on Your Relationship

For more than thirty years, I have been a professional, helping people as they move through difficult life experiences. I am also a bereaved mother whose son was killed when he was 13 years of age. My therapeutic practice and my comments to you, blend both my personal and professional experiences of loss and grief. As a therapist, when I work with an individual or a couple who have lost a child to death, I help them prepare for the rocks in the waters they will have to navigate. I explore with them the solutions that they think will work for them and I give them suggestions of what worked for me and for the many other couples I have helped through crises.
Losing a child to death is an extremely difficult experience. This experience can challenge even the strongest among us, ripping us apart at the very core of our being. When we feel torn open, raw and vulnerable, it is easy to strike out at others, to blame, to criticize, to be angry at them if they appear to be grieving too much or too little, or even if they do not grieve in the same ways as we do.
When I work with grieving individuals, I spend considerable time, discussing the importance of paying attention to how their relationship as a couple is being affected by grief. I help them find strategies to keep their relationship alive and as they heal from their grief, I encourage the use of techniques that can make their relationship thrive. Here are a few points.
1) At the initial visit I ask every bereaved person, who is in an intimate relationship, what they want their relationship with their partner to look like in five years. This is an important question for you to ask yourself. I believe that if we have a goal we have a greater chance of reaching that goal.
2) I discuss a model of grief I have developed based on my own research and clinical experience as well as on the research of others, including Karen Martin. This model is designed in a Figure of 8. In the top portion of the 8 I place the word Head. In the bottom portion of the Figure 8 I place the work Heart. I describe the need to recognize that people grieve in their own ways and that these ways of grieving can change over time, especially when we find that the ways we have been using do not work, or no longer work. Some people begin their grief journey in their Head. They try to logically figure out the grief process. They may read every book that has been written on grief and attend every workshop or conference. Others however, begin their grief journey in their Hearts, immediately experiencing all the gut wrenching emotions of grief.

The important point is that regardless of where you start on the Figure of 8 Grief Journey, you will soon likely recognize that you cannot resolve all the pain of your grief in that way. You will then begin to journey into the other portion of the Figure of 8. As you do so, your partner may also be frustrated with the ineffectiveness of his or her process and will change position to where you have been. As you can see, both partners are experiencing grief in very different ways. One partner is attempting to work through his or her grief by gaining information and using reason, while the other person in this relationship is exploding with emotion. It is not hard to envision how this back and forth movement from the Head to the Heart can cause chaos and confusion and tear a relationship apart.

3) Recognizing the Figure of 8 Process through grief and how your partner may be in a different place than you on the grief journey and attempting to mange it in his or her own way, as different from yours is extremely valuable. This awareness will keep you from judging and scolding him or her for not grieving correctly.

4) Support, love and intimacy are essential during these times. This is a time when both of you need to care for yourself and for each other and care deeply for your relationship. Five years from now, only the two of you will know how much your hurt through each step of the process. There is a deep, strange kind of intimacy in knowing that you have been hurt so badly and that together you survived and your relationship thrived. Only the two of you will be able to look back five years from now and know how much love that took and love each other all the more for having done so.

Dr. Jane A. Simington, PhD. is the author of internationally acclaimed books, Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul and Setting the Captive Free, two award winning videos, Listening to Soul Pain and Healing Soul Pain, as well as a number of cds. Visit her on and and at www.takingflightinternational online books.

This article was first published on the blog The Indestructible Relationship.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Jane A. Simington, Ph D, is the owner of Taking Flight International Corporation and the developer of both the Trauma Recovery Certification Program and the Grief Support Certification Program. As a therapist and professor, she combines her professional background in both Nursing and Psychology, with her own experiences of grief, trauma, growth and transformation, along with an extensive knowledge of energy-transfer-healing, dream interpretation, art and guided imagery, to help and heal people of both genders, across the life span, and across cultures.

Dr. Simington is a frequent keynote and conference presenter, focusing on her research and clinical interests in change and transition, dying, grief and trauma, holistic health, personal empowerment, spiritual well-being and team building with spirit. Jane is committed to giving powerful and impactful presentations that leave her audiences feeling inspired and with a solid take- away message to put into immediate action.

Jane’s work is featured in her internationally sold books, Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul, and Setting the Captive Free, the booklet, Responding Soul to Soul, the award winning films, Listening to Soul Pain and Healing Soul Pain and on the CD’s , Journey to Healing, Releasing Ties That Bind, and Retrieving Lost Soul Parts.

Dr. Jane A. Simington is 2011 YWCA Woman of Distinction for Health & Medicine, Global Televisions Woman of Vision and profiled as the “Nurse to Know” in The Canadian Nurse Journal, June 2011.