Staking out your grief

iCAP Services logoWhen recently travelling along the highways and small back roads across Europe, I often came across roadside memorials called ‘iconostasis’.

These iconostases, in the form of boxes, crosses, plaques or flowers, serve as a stake in the ground; a placeholder to remember someone who has lost their life.

Iconostases constructed as a memorialA quiet, modest ritual usually surrounds the erection of these memorials.  However, what is more important is the deeper meaning attached.

It’s a place where family and friends can display their grief.   Where they can show how much the person they lost meant to them.   They can remind themselves and the passing world that someone special once existed and was part of their life.

I’ve also witnessed throughout life, cultures teaching their ‘tribe’ to hold onto their grief; to have a stiff upper lip for the sake of their kids, their partners, their friends.

There is little ceremony surrounding their loss.  Loved ones die and are buried or cremated.  The ones left are told it was either for the best after a long illness or their mother/husband/child is in a better place.

They’re prescribed sedatives to help them cope and sleep.

Eventually they’re told by well-meaning friends and relatives to move on and begin a new life.

Yet, rarely are they given opportunities or encouraged to express their grief in a manner befitting their loss.

But how do you do that?

How do you create an iconostasis for your grief and place it where you can honour and remember it, rather than carry it around, hidden from view?

See if you can imagine creating a ritual around your loss similar to those listed here.

  1. Giving your grief a voice and an image by drawing what you are feeling.
  2. Creating/decorating memory boxes to keep safe special mementos of the person who has died.
  3. Painting a small canvas with their favourite colours and gluing photographs taken with the one who has died.
  4. Planting memorial trees/shrubs in the garden and watching life grow from death.
  5. Writing unspoken words to the one you lost and sending them skyward with balloons or seawards in a bottle.
  6. Writing down your anger/guilt surrounding your loss, digging a deep hole and burying it.

Death not only robs you of the person but also of the opportunities to share your life.

These can be as significant as attending weddings, experiencing grandchildren or taking that dream holiday on retirement, to simple things like swapping recipies, having that regular beer at the pub, or seeing first steps and hearing first words.

Have you considered conducting separate rituals for each lost dream as it comes to light?

Rituals in grief counselling are designed to help you cope with your grief, not forget about it.

The reality is that grief is forever, but over time changes in intensity if permitted.   Complicated grief comes from silently carrying it around and denying yourself the chance to stake it out.

Along the highway of your life, how many iconostases have you stopped to place as a reminder of your losses? What would it be like for you to stake out your grief rather than carry it around?

If you’ve staked out your grief in some way that was special and displayed your loss, leave a comment to let me know.

Tina Pitsiavas is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist in private practice in Wollongong and Sydney.

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  1. Mezza Dee says:

    Writing a card to my father about how special he was to me and placing it in the coffin, was my own way of releasing some pain and acknowledging grief. It helped me immensely on the journey of expressed emotions that was to come

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