An Archive of Memories: Healing After Repressing Loss
Over the years I have combed through historical records on anything and everything. It is rare that I become sensitive in regard to most. Recently, I learned about the early death of two young boys. The boys did not die together, and I read about both of them on the same day. They both died many years ago. One was a teenager who froze to death while lost in the mountains, and the other was a nine year old boy who was run over. The nine year old child died at such a young age, leaving behind his family and friends. Thinking about his death, and considering those left to deal with the loss made me sad for several reasons.
How do children deal with loss? It is complicated. How do adults deal with explaining that loss and comforting their children? Sigmund Freud was an expert in this field. As one of my favorites, he was a master of dreams, healing, and the analysis of the mind. Not long ago, Chris VerWys presented a paper on the Freudian Levels of Mental Awareness. VerWys presented his research as part of the Department of Cognitive Science with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In his paper, VerWys identified the three levels associated with Freudian theory.
These levels were: conscious or what we are aware of; preconscious or memories which are easy to access; and the unconscious. The unconscious includes “censored and repressed memories.” Hum? Maybe the unconscious is an archive of memories with restricted access? Maybe the inner vault of the mind? VerWys says that “our earliest childhood memories may be locked in the unconscious, yet might still influence our everyday behavior.” He also said that Freud believed that “understanding the memories trapped in the unconscious” was critical.
In 2003, Nancy Weitzman published a paper titled The Three Stages of Grief. The paper was published online by Suffolk County Community College. In her study, Weitzman identified “three stages of grief that are experienced by” those “left behind.” She said that “these stages include many emotions.” “Each stage” (such as “numbness, disorganization and reorganization)” needs “to be felt and lived through in order to successfully proceed to the next stage.”
The research says that for most “there is no formalized way to sever the relationship you have maintained with the deceased.” I assume there are various forms of closure? What if a child does not attend the funeral? For that child, “the body may be buried, but the emotions of those who love the deceased continue to survive.” Weitzman’s research concludes that “recovery from grief will happen most quickly and successfully if you allow yourself to feel everything you feel and do not repress your fears, your panic or any of your emotions.” If the grief is unresolved emotionally, it is difficult for healing to begin. According to the paper, “unresolved grief will turn into delayed grief.” In children, this can apparently be tricky. Here is what she had to say about children coping with loss.
*****”Children can read their parents usually quite well. They know when their parents are upset, angry, confused or lying to them. Deception can harm a child and should never be considered acceptable when dealing with your children for any issue. When the parents have difficulty facing a death, it will be difficult for the children as well. When the parents can accept a death and their feelings about the death, the children will begin to come around and be more comfortable with it as well.”
*****”They should always be told the truth and they must know that their deceased loved one is not coming back to them for any reason. The death is final. Should the child attend the funeral, it is helpful for them to know that the deceased is buried in the earth – the finality is clearer for them when they witness a burial.”
*****”Encourage the child to write a letter to the deceased. Keep pictures around of happy times and of visits to places that were enjoyed. It is important to have reminders around for the child and for the entire family. When a cemetery visit is planned, take the child with you and read the gravestone to them. Help them understand the meaning of remembering their loved one.”
I think these seem like great steps toward healing old wounds, and getting access to the archive of repressed memories. Writing a letter to the person you lost, visiting their grave site, sharing happy memories with others who loved them. We need to remember…
Sigmund Freud by Chris VerWys- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)-Department of Cognitive Science
The Three Stages of Grief by Nancy Weitzman- Suffolk County Community College
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