The Circle of Grief
By Amanda Mears, MusicWorx Intern
We’ve all heard of and experienced grief in some form. Grief is a word that has been appearing more and more in discussions everywhere lately. On top of any personal grief that you may be dealing with, the pandemic and the civil unrest in the world brings on more. Grief is “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement,” and “a cause of such suffering.” “Deep” and “poignant” are good words to describe the experience; dealing with grief is a complicated process, and healing is not linear.
In my own personal experience, I have dealt with multiple types of grief as I began my internship. I have always thought that I could handle being in a therapeutic setting with clients who are at end-of-life or are in an extreme medical situation. I had this though until my last year of college when I had a very close family member go on hospice and pass away from cancer. Since then, I have been finding it difficult to work with clients in advanced stages of medical conditions. In this blog, I hope to share my experiences and how I have been dealing with my personal grief along with the collective grief we have all been experiencing.
Five Stages of Grief
Most of us have heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When first hearing about the stages, you might think that they happen all in order and they’re obvious. The thought that they will happen perfectly in order is completely wrong. Grief is complex, and someone who is grieving will feel different stages at different times; they may even feel multiple stages at the same time. Below is a poem written by Linda Pastan that shows her take on the five stages of grief. More information on Linda Pastan can be found here, and a link to purchase her book The Five Stages of Grief: Poems here.
The Five Stages of Grief
The night I lost you
someone pointed me towards
the Five Stages of Grief
Go that way, they said,
it’s easy, like learning to climb
stairs after the amputation.
And so I climbed.
Denial was first.
I sat down at breakfast
carefully setting the table
for two. I passed you the toast—
you sat there. I passed
you the paper—you hid
Anger seemed more familiar.
I burned the toast, snatched
the paper and read the headlines myself.
But they mentioned your departure,
and so I moved on to
Bargaining. What could I exchange
for you? The silence
after storms? My typing fingers?
Before I could decide, Depression
came puffing up, a poor relation
its suitcase tied together
with string. In the suitcase
were bandages for the eyes
and bottles of sleep. I slid
all the way down the stairs
And all the time Hope
flashed on and off
in defective neon.
Hope was a signpost pointing
straight in the air.
Hope was my uncle’s middle name,
he died of it.
After a year I am still climbing, though my feet slip
on your stone face.
has long since disappeared;
green is a color
I have forgotten.
But now I see what I am climbing
written in capital letters,
a special headline:
its name is in lights.
I struggle on,
waving and shouting.
Below, my whole life spreads its surf,
all the landscapes I’ve ever known
or dreamed of. Below
a fish jumps: the pulse
in your neck.
Acceptance. I finally
But something is wrong.
Grief is a circular staircase.
I have lost you.
Grief and Music Therapy
As music therapists, we have a duty to emotionally support our clients and leave our own problems at the door. Emotionally supporting clients can be tricky when you are dealing with your own grief and have to enter into a session to help out another person. Empathizing with clients may be difficult, or helping the client process may be too emotional. The biggest thing that I have learned so far is to be patient and forgiving with myself. AMTA’s Code of Ethics Principle #2 states:
As music therapists we are often confronted with much suffering and feel the need to assist in the alleviation of discomfort. By manifesting patience, wisdom, and genuine desire to help meet the needs of our clients, we offer compassion to those we serve. In addition, it is important for music therapists to extend compassion to themselves when confronted with their own human limitations.
To operationalize this principle, the music therapist will:
2.6 seek peer/professional supervision to assist with reflection and practice improvement.
2.7 practice self-kindness and mindfulness and extend compassion to self if faced with feelings of inadequacy or failure.
Since beginning my internship, I have had a few moments where I have been very emotional in a session and have felt like I had to “hold it together” to make it through. I brought it up to both my supervisors and my peers, and they responded with kindness by telling me that getting emotional is ok, and that being self-aware in these situations is important. After that, I have learned that practicing self-kindness and mindfulness truly is a helpful tool to use for myself.
Global and National Grief
This year has been an extremely event-filled and emotional time for the nation and the whole world. Feeling the need to grieve over our freedom lost to the pandemic is completely understandable. On top of that, the Black Lives Matter movement is bringing up difficult emotions; police and other governing and authoritative bodies are taking innocent lives, and the process for justice is frustrating and difficult. During this time, an important thing to remember is that you should forgive yourself. Forgive yourself if you feel like you’re not doing the best you can, and understand that a part of you is grieving. As music therapists, we tend to have a “save the world” complex, and, while that’s what I love about being in the music therapy community, please remember to take time for yourself and establish self-care routines to keep yourself healthy.