In The Passing: Tips for Handling Grief with Clients

We were recently asked, “How can I approach the recent death of a parent?” Our response to that question is below. We offer these thoughts as a framing for working with this event in case they may be of benefit. We also recommend Francis Weller’s approach to grief and dying in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.

1. Recognize that emotions may come and go as the grief process progresses, and this in itself may be confusing at times (“I thought I was over it!” or “how could I be feeling that now?,” etc.). Just knowing that this is a possibility helps to support the flow of what’s arising for the person and can allow the emotions to be felt, expressed and moved through in ways that are healthy.

2. You may discover “unfinished business” such as conversations that were never completed, or never initiated. I’d recommend bringing those further into the light if and as they arise, and then finding ways of actually having or continuing that conversation. This could be through writing and reading letters aloud, speaking into the familiar presence of the other (this could be in nature, or near the deceased person’s favorite things, or a picture with meaning, etc.). This approach can reveal and move things that we couldn’t have thought our way through. Depending on the topic and intensity of the situation, this may also require some up front preparation or work as well.

3. Lean into all feelings that arise and let them inform the person, sometimes in ways that can surprise us and help us to grow, rather than letting our thoughts guide what feelings should or shouldn’t be here.

4. Be sensitive to the fact that this event may trigger other seemingly-unrelated and unprocessed grief. If you sense an over the top reaction to anything that seems to be happening now, it may be helpful to inquire into the familiarity of the feelings that are behind the reaction. There may be another story and experience that’s been outside of the awareness that could benefit from some attention.

5. Allow him/her to share final words to the deceased person. It may also be helpful to invite the deceased person to write a letter containing all the things that she would want him/her to know, now that they’ve passed. Have the…