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«Terella Rosen, Living Beyond Suicide, Anglicare SA Michael Hawke, Anglicare SA Anne Flint, Anglicare SA Living Beyond Suicide (LBS)  LBS (a ...»

Living Beyond Words:

offering opportunities for

the creative expression of

grief after suicide

Terella Rosen, Living Beyond Suicide, Anglicare SA

Michael Hawke, Anglicare SA

Anne Flint, Anglicare SA

Living Beyond Suicide (LBS)

 LBS (a program of Anglicare SA) is funded by the

Department of Health and Ageing under their Suicide

Prevention Strategy. We have been supporting people

bereaved through suicide in South Australia since 2006.

 We provide support in a variety of ways - home visits, telephone support, practical assistance, printed resources, referrals to other relevant services, support groups and events such as the annual Walk Through the Darkness. The service is available from 10am-10pm every day at no cost.

Walk Through the Darkness Stigma  Part of why we have a public ceremony for International Survivor of Suicide day and also why providing support for people bereaved through suicide is so important is that suicide is a stigmatised death. Public attitudes and lack of awareness about suicide often prevent people from being able to tell their stories.

 Those supporting others who are bereaved through suicide may find that ‘thinking outside the box’ and helping people find new ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings creates opportunities for people to tell their stories in their own unique ways, using non-confrontational, gentle and creative means.

Give sorrow words… The grief that does not speak Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

Shakespeare, from Macbeth Creative therapeutic journalling  Anglicare SA’s Family Support program developed creative journalling workshops to support people through a variety of life experiences, including grief, trauma and mental illness, and have been running these groups for over seven years in locations such as community centres, prisons, women’s health centres, and domestic violence services.

 Groups that were run at the Victim Support Service for people who had been affected by homicide were found to be particularly beneficial for participants. Anne Flint from Family Support says that she has found that the more significant the trauma, the more beneficial it seems for people to write.

 Living Beyond Suicide collaborated with Anne to develop a series of workshops especially for people who had been bereaved through suicide.

The evidence  The benefits of writing for therapeutic purposes is supported by a wealth of literature, from poet Shakespeare to constructivist psychologist Robert Neimeyer.

 Professor of Psychology, James Pennebaker pioneered research in the 80s that showed writing in a journal about a traumatic event for about 15-20 minutes a day, for four days, significantly improved health and immune function for at least six weeks.

 Author, Stephanie Dowrick says, “Writing a journal can be life-changing, it is the key to discovering your own unique inner world. It lets you read your own life and see the world around you more richly, more deeply. Journal writing frees your spirit. It liberates insight. And soothes your soul.” Neimeyer, RA, van Dyke Stringer, JG, Pennebaker, JW (2008). Narrative medicine: writing through bereavement.

H. Chochinov & W. Breitbart (eds.) Handbook of Psychiatry in Palliative Medicine. New York: Oxford Pennebaker, JW (1989) Confession, inhibition, and disease. L. Berkowitz (ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology, 22, 211-244.

Dowrick (2003). Living words: journal writing for self-discovery, insight, and creativity. Australia: Penguin Writing therapy for those grieving a suicide  A study conducted in the US in 2000 had undergraduate students who had been bereaved through suicide within the past two years participating in a writing project in which they wrote about their experiences over a two week period. Compared with the control group who wrote about trivial events, the participants reported less suicidal grief at a six week follow-up. Some participants stated that the writing helped them “understand why the death occurred, helped them explore new avenues of thought about the death, and enabled them to talk about the death to others”.

 The researchers concluded that it is beneficial for bereaved individuals to write about the events and emotions surrounding a loved one’s suicide.

Kovac, SH and Range, LM (2000). Writing projects: lessening undergraduates’ unique suicidal bereavement. Suicide and life-threatening behaviour, 30 (1).

It’s not all about talking  Poetry, journals, blogs and letters are all ways in which the bereaved can express thoughts and feelings that may be difficult to express through speech.

 Award winning blog, “Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum” has been an important part of Lori Dwyer’s healing, since her husband suicided last year.

 Jesuit Social Services recently published an anthology of poetry created by survivors of suicide titled ‘Nothing Prepared Me For This’. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt expression of grief and hope that must have been very therapeutic for the writers.

Stepakoff, S (2009). From destruction to creation, from silence to speech: poetry therapy principles and practices for working with suicide grief. The arts in psychotherapy, 36, 105-113.

Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum - http://www.rrsahm.com/ Jesuit Social Services (2012) Nothing prepared me for this.

Living Beyond Words

Creating the space:

 Beautiful room – candles, flowers, artwork on the walls  Examples of others work to look at for ideas and inspiration  Safe place – group norms  Sharing is invited, not imposed  Quiet space – silence while writing, not a talking group  No comparing, no commenting  A focus on expressing where you are at but also looking forward with hope Resources  Beautiful journals  St Luke’s Innovative Resources  Stickers  Photographs  Glitter, coloured paper, textas, pencils, stamps, scissors, glue, ribbons, flowers, and anything else you can imagine!

What did we do?

 Group norms  Guided strengths-based activities designed to allow freedom of expression and creativity  Invitation to share  Tea breaks – time to reflect, share, gather thoughts and feelings  Debriefing A lesson learned Dear…  In our first group we did an activity where we asked participants to write a letter to themselves from the person who had died with a photograph of them on the page.

 This was way too intense and we learnt that we need to tread more gently and, while acknowledging the moment, keep our focus on looking forward and nurturing our participants’ sense of hope.

What does my new day look like?

–  –  –

 Robert Neimeyer and Douglas Smith developed the idea of ‘virtual dreams’.

 “Not everyone has access to dreams, but all of us can construct dream-like stories that can convey, explore, integrate and extend meanings of analogical relevance to our own losses.” Using dream stories or virtual dreams we can explore our losses and our feelings about them by the use of analogies and imagery, which can free us from what Neimeyer calls “the tyranny of the obvious”. Stories can be figurative as well as literal and this freedom can allow us to delve deeper into ourselves in a less confrontational way than speaking directly.

Reference: Neimeyer, RA, Torres, C, & Smith, DC (2011). The virtual dream: rewriting stories of loss and grief. Death Studies, 35, 646-672.

Virtual Dreaming  Pam’s story:

The sun rises, crisp and still cold over the thick forest. What have I lost? That sense of darkness, that emptiness I felt walking in the mountains – solid, old, apparently forbidding, yet filled with experience and meaning on closer inspection.

But I have left that mountain now, walked through that forest.

A child cries and I must attend to it. And there remains a barren and empty house where my heart once stood. The bird on my shoulder speaks.

Reference: Neimeyer, RA, Torres, C, & Smith, DC (2011). The virtual dream: rewriting stories of loss and grief. Death Studies, 35, 646-672.

Virtual Dreaming  Ella’s story: (a wasting illness, an early loss, an angel, a wrinkled elder, a coffin, a treasure box) He was a young man in his prime, flamboyant and colourful, open heart, open arms. But, troubled inside, he made an unwise choice and his heart became afflicted like his body, with a wasting illness. Innocence smashed to pieces. A loss experienced too early, he faced a path of uncertainty, pain and loneliness. But an angel came, in the form of a wrinkled elder, cradled his brokenness in his arms and showed him his true self: this was a blinding light! When his time came, his coffin was plain and poor, but because of the light it contained it was a treasure box, full of love and colour.

The invitation of a blank page Will you accept?

–  –  –

 Choose an element from each column and write them down. Or you can create your own if you have something in mind. You will then have 6 minutes to compose your own ‘virtual dream’ using the symbolic elements you have chosen.

 Any questions? Just ask  Conclusion  Feedback from Living Beyond Words groups indicated that participants found it beneficial in their grief journeys.

 Comments included:

“When I looked at the room and saw all of the brightness and hope, I thought that this wasn’t for me, but I am so glad I came” “I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this but I did and I loved it” “It was emotional but it helped to be able to share with others who knew how I felt” “I will definitely continue on with my journal”  LBS plans to run another Living Beyond Words workshop in December this year and will continue to offer them on a regular basis, including for specific groups such as young people, women and perhaps a specific men’s group too.


–  –  –

Living Beyond Suicide Anglicare SA 184 Port Road HINDMARSH SA 5007

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