A Review of a Case Study on Loss

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What I have been Learning

In my recent education into Mechanics, I was told that math was the language of physics.  Joy!!  Math is not my strong suit, so this has been…challenging. I have been studying some about Bernoulli’s principle, this explains how planes can fly. I have been doing Precalculus on the Khan Academy App.  I was doing a recent lesson and found out there is a such a thing as “complex numbers”. These so-called complex numbers can be either “real” or “imaginary”. Needless to say, I am in serious need of a break after each session (trial…and lots of error). 

The Case Study

This case study is on “loss”.  Please see the link above.  It focuses on a family of four (Dad, Mom, son, and daughter) where their daughter had recently passed away with leukemia.  The father had found a way through it.  The mom was still struggling.  The father could not understand why his wife was still having a hard time and it was causing some problems.  The mom sought counseling.

The counselor started with building rapport with the mom.  The mom, finding someone to listen, begins pouring out all her emotions.  The counselor begins with normalizing the mom’s grief.  She helps the mom re-establish a routine.  She then gets the father in on the sessions and gets them on a road to re-integrating as a family 

Psychological Applications and Insights

The mom is dealing with a great deal of pain and grief that come with the loss of a child. It hurts. Period. There is the emotional side of the pain and grief. Then there are the many aspects of loss. The mom is experiencing what is called “intrapsychic loss”. This is out of the field of pastoral care. It is described by Mitchell in All Our Losses, All Our Griefs in this way:

Intrapsychic loss is the experience of losing an emotionally important image of oneself, losing the possibilities of “what might have been”, abandonment of plans for a particular future, the dying of a dream. Although often related to external experiences it is itself an entirely inward experience. An external event may be paralleled by a significant senses of inner loss.” (Mitchell, page 40)

The mom is grieving the loss of experiencing the first boyfriend, high school graduation, college, all the dreams she had of seeing her daughter accomplish in life…all the “firsts” as is colloquially said. She is also grieving the loss of relationship with that daughter. My inclination in counseling tends to lean more towards a version of a Jungian approach. To put things in that language, the mom is trying to return to an “archetype” of a normal family.

Some other ways that counselors or even friends can help are:

  1. Be present. It is easy when someone is grieving this way to want to just “get them out of it”. It hurts to see someone in this type of pain. Try to just “be with them” in this moment.
  2. Encourage them to set small goals: “Get through today.”
  3. Encourage other family members to share how they are getting through it.
  4. Try to find a support group. It can help to share your story with others who have been there.
  5. Do an analysis of their support system. Anyone can ask this. Do you have friends, church members that are close? Those kinds of questions.
  6. Try to get the husband and wife to empathize with each other.
  7. Give them permission to grieve. Sometimes people know this, but it may help to hear it, to hear a reminder.

I believe the counselor in the case study did most of these things, but sometimes it helps to see it.

Some Theological and Biblical Considerations.

Looking at this from a Biblical perspective is challenging. There are few examples that are similar to this, but given the era of history that the Bible falls in, it is well documented that incidents like this happened. Jesus would heal a child that might have died in the New Testament. The Old Testament prophets typically did the same. The closest one comes to seeing this recorded is when David loses the child from the affair with Bathsheba and when he loses Absalom and Johnathan in the fights between his sons. Then there is also when Jesus died on the cross and it is said that God was in pain over his son’s death.

David would usually find a way with words through the Psalms. His pain comes through in the verses he writes. There is a whole book in the Bible that could be devoted to the idea of grieving, though. It is called “Lamentations”. The book is not an easy read, but it captures the heart of a grieving nation over the losses they had collectively been through.

Thoughts from a Science Perspective

On the one hand, some of what I have been studying yields some insight into this situation. People are complex. Numbers can also be complex, as I have found out studying pre-calculus. Complex numbers consist of real and imaginary numbers. They are even plotted on an Axis, too! In the world of psychology, there is a manual that describes all the psychological disorders. The one I used in graduate school separated them into different types of axis. Cool, huh?

From a psychological and a physics perspective, one of the questions you are trying to answer is, “How does a system re-adjust after a stress like this?” One physics principle that caught my attention in regards to this case…Bernoulli’s principle. Bernoulli’s principle explains how a plane can fly (what happens when air goes over the wings). It has another curious effect, too. It makes ping pong balls float. By using a hair dryer, the ping pong ball will float in the air stream of the dryer. It is weird. You can also suspend two ping pong balls for a short time. I know. You are thinking, “How did you get there with the death of a child?!?!?!?”

When something like this happens, we tend to view the person in some type of vortex of pain, a whirlpool, if you will. We fear that we will get sucked in if we get to close to them (I tend to act like this, at times). We see a whirlpool, and that is legitimate at times. In this case, though, the vortex of air was going straight up. The floor had fallen out from under this lady. She was bobbing up and down in column of grief. You remember I said two balls could be suspended for a short time?? The counselor stepped into the void with this lady and felt what she was feeling. Then, just like the ping pong ball, she got bumped out.

Another fun aspect of Bernoulli’s principle is you can take two balloons and suspended them from a string with the balloons hanging a few inches apart. If you blow air between the balloons, they come closer together. WEIRD!!! The science behind it is that what you are doing by blowing between the balloons is reducing the air pressure between them. The counselor joined with this lady, and helped to ground her. Then she got her close to her husband who was already grounded, and she “blew air between them”. The pressure had been reduced, and they came closer together. Was it perfect? Of course not! But…it was improved. Loss is hard, but we can help.

Loss creates a vacuum…a void. The person in that space feels…suspended. Step into the void, and feel what they feel. You may learn how to help them feel grounded again.

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