Excerpt from Chapter 10 Multiple Losses and the Circle of Significance by Jane A. Simington
Margaret was 67 years old when her husband, Gerald, died from pancreatic cancer. She came two years later for grief counseling emphasizing that she felt a sense of failure and shame for being stuck in her grief process and for not being able to recover as did her sister Rose whose husband had died two weeks before Gerald.
I invited Margaret to participate in a grief-healing workshop and during the workshop to complete a Circle of Significance. Margaret spent a lengthy time pondering, writing in her journal and carefully designing each wedge. When we processed her Circle of Significance, Margaret described how the first wedge represented a three year old daughter who had died of pneumonia. The size of this wedge and the emotional load that accompanied the story indicated considerable unresolved grief around a death that occurred forty years previously. A second wedge depicted a farm the couple had lost from an unpaid mortgage. Margaret attributed the loss of the family farm to her husband’s heavy drinking which had started after their daughter’s death. She labeled this wedge, “Alcohol.” It had multiple subdivisions identifying her losses of dreams, respect, admiration and love for her husband. The third wedge represented the death of her close friend. This wedge too had several subdivisions. Margaret wept as she described how this woman friend had been her only companion and confident during the difficult years when her husband had emotionally withdrawn due to his own grief and alcoholism. A fourth wedge portrayed the death of her adult son from liver cirrhosis. His death predeceased Gerald’s by only three years. This wedge was also subdivided. As Margaret processed the subdivisions she talked about the numerous losses she had grieved as she witnessed her only son lose so much due to his uncontrollable drinking. The final wedge was placed for her husband. In response to, “Tell me about this wedge, she replied, “There is little left to say. I have just discovered it is not really him I am grieving. I grieved for him many years ago. It is all the other things that I could not, dared not, ever before let myself grieve. I guess I thought everything would fall apart if I did. I now know that Gerald’s death has opened all these old wounds. His death has brought me to a standstill. It has forced me to look at these things and find a way to heal them before I can ever hope to go on.”
When I asked Margaret to go back over the Circle of Significance and tell me about the stickers she had placed in each wedge to describe the healing she had done, she noted how affirming it was to know that even though she had a lot of grieving still to do she was pleased and surprised to be able to honor that she had made progress along the journey.
Neimeyer, Robert A., ed (2012). Techniques of Grief Therapy:Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved. New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.