A Small Hope: Co-creating a Narrative of Grief – Part I *

A Small Hope: Co-creating a Narrative of Grief – Part I *

by Sasha McAllum Pilkington
In the shadow of grief, Sasha Pilkington helps a couple embrace the gift of life along with their impending loss.


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This story is dedicated by “Claudia” to “Tom” in memory of his loving ways.

I would like to thank “Claudia” for her generosity in joining me in adventuring into new territories. There would be no story without her.

I would like to thank Aileen Cheshire, Catherine Cook, William Cooke, and Peggy Sax for their insights and helpful suggestions, and David Epston for his editorial support.


Grief can be excruciating. The pain of loss may be overwhelming at times and its duration and intensity can be a shock to many. However, it is not always so. Relationships are shaped differently and there are many possible stories that can be told of such an experience.

The following illustration of Narrative Therapy (2) was originally written as a therapeutic document for a woman who had been forced to contend with the death of her partner while she parented their young children. “Claudia” (3), as she chose to call herself for this article, was experiencing significant loss. At the same time, she was struggling to find compassion for herself. I hoped that if Claudia viewed herself in a story of our conversations, the narrative might lend strength to the new understandings we were co-constructing. Claudia was enthusiastic about the idea of co-creating such a document and after going through a careful consent process, we agreed that we would record our conversations and write a story from the transcriptions.

the pain of loss may be overwhelming at times and its duration and intensity can be a shock to many
Our purposes for writing a story evolved. As time passed, Claudia wanted to share her knowledge of grieving with others. When we discussed the possibility of sharing the story with a wider audience, I hoped the story might show the unfolding of therapy, and in particular, narrative practices that companion a person (4) and invite them to explore new meanings of their experience.

I have therefore added footnotes to the story [Ed. Note: Please see the original article for these notes]. The footnotes explain more of what I was thinking as Claudia and I spoke, and why I asked particular questions. They also include some thoughts on narrative practice with people who are suffering as they live with loss. You may choose to read the story and the footnotes together or separately.

For those of you who are interested in experimenting with writing a story, in contrast to other forms of therapeutic documents, please see an earlier paper I have written on writing narrative therapeutic letters. I have described the process of story writing and some of the possible benefits within that paper.   

A Cupful of Time Folded in with Love

“It’s urgent,” the community nurse told me solemnly. “Yesterday, Tom was told he was bleeding internally by the doctor at the hospital. When he heard nothing could be done to stop it, he asked his wife Claudia to take him home. Understandably, they are reeling; this has all happened so fast. We’ve offered counselling support and Claudia has agreed. She’s asked if you could ring after 10 o’clock so you don’t wake the baby from her morning nap.”

I walked back down the hallway towards my office reflecting on what it might be like to receive such news. Just after 10 o’clock I telephoned. Claudia answered. “Hello, it’s Sasha speaking. I’m one of the counsellors from the hospice. I understand you might be interested in meeting up with me. Have I got that right?” Quite often people have another understanding from a referrer, so I was tentative to give Claudia space to say what she wanted. (5)

“Yes, that would be great,” she replied.

“How would tomorrow suit you?” I asked, thinking of the urgency of the situation.

“Look, it’s very kind of you. I know it’s Friday tomorrow but it’s going to have to be next week. I’m sorry. I promised our five-year-old, Imogen, I would bake a cake with her tomorrow. It’s her birthday and I promised,” Claudia apologised in a rush.

“Are you the kind of mother who honours promises?” I asked with a smile in my voice. (6)

I heard Claudia let out a long breath. “She’s been looking forward to it all week.”  

in the back of my mind, I was thinking about Claudia prioritising a promise to her daughter when she was possibly having the worst time of her life
Warmly, we now began to make a time to meet up. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about Claudia prioritising a promise to her daughter when she was possibly having the worst time of her life. Images of baking with my own young daughter many years ago floated through my mind. I wondered, “What might Imogen remember of this time when her Daddy was dying and when promises were kept to her five-year-old self? What might she say about the way she was cared for by her Mum at such a terrible time?” I also appreciated Claudia’s ability to put me off and say what she wanted. I was well aware it wasn’t easy to delay health professionals, especially to honour the wishes of a child.

I looked forward to meeting Claudia and Tom, and learning more about them.

A Surprising Renewal

I parked the hospice car down the road from the house, worried that the signage on it might communicate to the neighbours something Claudia and Tom wished to keep private. It wasn’t the anonymous unadorned car I usually drove. A young woman opened the front door of Tom and Claudia’s home and, as I looked at her animated face, I realised I knew her.

“Do you remember me?” she asked, wide-eyed, as if she could hardly believe who she was seeing.

“Yes!” I replied, flooded with memories. It was nearly 20years since Claudia and I had last seen each other. Her father had been dying at the time and Claudia was caring for him. I was working as a counsellor in a university counselling service and we had met together across the last 18 months of her father’s life. I easily recalled Claudia’s devotion to his care at a time when her contemporaries were more focused on parties and the opportunities study could provide them.

I walked further into a room that had ushered in many unfamiliar health professionals over the prior week, full of gratitude for this chance reunion and hopeful that it might make some difference for Claudia and Tom.

Claudia invited me to come into a bedroom for some privacy and together we sat on the bed. She was dressed comfortably in shorts and a T-shirt with her long, fair hair tied back off her face. Clothes that would be practical for parenting work and caring for Tom, I thought. There were dark circles under Claudia’s red, lidded eyes, easily visible because of her fair skin, and her face had a hollowed appearance in spite of her warm smile.

Claudia explained she had been up all night with their baby who was sick, and on top of that she herself had toothache. “Somehow, I am going to have to fit in an appointment with a dentist, but I don’t know how I’m going to find the time,” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in dismay. After talking further, Claudia led me into a small, darkened room to meet Tom. He lay on a single bed unmoving and silent. Claudia touched Tom gently and he turned his head towards us. “This is Sasha,” she said. Tom looked up at me and we exchanged a greeting.

I sat down on a chair facing Tom while Claudia ignored the other chair which was placed near his pillow. Instead, she sat on the floor with her arm resting on Tom’s shoulder. Tom’s skin was a faded tan colour, suggesting to me he had once spent considerable time out of doors. In response to my greeting, he slowly shifted in the bed with jerky movements. Once he had settled, I leaned forward looking at him. “Tom, it’s lovely to meet you.”

He was a tall man I guessed, with fair hair and a kind face, softly lined around his eyes and mouth. “I’m aware talking can take a lot of precious energy. Is this an OK time for the three of us to talk together, or would you rather we spoke another time? I want to do whatever best suits you and Claudia. I can easily fit in either way,” I offered, smiling warmly at him.

“I’d like to talk for a bit. I won’t last long. We’ve been looking forward to it,” he responded, glancing at Claudia.

“When you find yourself beginning to tire, will you notice and be able to let me know?” I inquired, thinking I would need to be alert for any signs I was extending the conversation longer than he could comfortably manage.

“Claudia will know. She’ll tell us both.” Claudia nodded, her face soft and relaxed.

“Thank you.” Sitting back in my chair, I made myself comfortable while I looked from Claudia to Tom. “Illnesses have a way of taking over people’s lives and yet people are so much more than the illness they are living with. Would it be OK if I asked you a bit about yourselves and your lives before all this happened?” (7)

“Gosh it’s so nice to be asked that,” Claudia exclaimed. “It makes me feel like I matter, we matter. Tom’s a teacher and you probably noticed the garden. He grows plants from seed and often ones that are good to cook with.”

In a faltering voice Tom contributed, “Yeah… I’ve taught younger age groups and I love to garden and cook.”

“Food is very important in this house!” Claudia laughed.

I considered asking Tom about how he lived with cancer but decided to pursue getting to know them more a bit more first
Tom quietly added, “In the last year I’ve worked tutoring from home … it’s been ideal with me having cancer.” I considered asking Tom about how he lived with cancer but decided to pursue getting to know them more a bit more first. Claudia continued the conversation in a lively manner sharing with me stories of her work and interests.

“Tom, if I were to know Claudia as you do, what might I come to appreciate and respect about her?” (8)

Tom looked at Claudia as he answered me. “I love Claudia very deeply. She is kind. Really kind. I saw that from the first. She is honourable and dedicated to the people and things she believes in. Her loyalty is like none other and there is nothing I wouldn’t share or confide in her. Claudia is a wonderful, loving mother. Knowing that makes it easier for me to be sick because I know I will be leaving the girls in her care.”

“Could you tell me a story that illustrates some of these attributes you love and appreciate in Claudia?” (9)

Tom spoke of the care Claudia had given her father as he was dying. “She will always have your back,” he told me.

“What difference has Claudia ‘having your back’ made to you?”

“It has given me a whole new life that I wouldn’t have had without her. It’s meant I can be myself and pursue my interests. It has meant I have had the joy of becoming a father.”

Claudia responded by clasping Tom’s hand. “I love you so much,” she whispered.

After I asked Tom a few more questions, I turned to Claudia.

“Claudia if were to get to know a little of the Tom that you love so much, what might I come to respect and appreciate about him?”

“You’d appreciate his authenticity. Tom is real. He has a wicked sense of humour too! He’s always polite but he doesn’t suffer fools.”

“Would it be OK to ask you for a story of Tom’s authenticity and his wicked sense of humour?” I grinned at Tom and his eyes twinkled in return. Claudia launched into some stories with enthusiasm. Tom lay back quietly enjoying her words.

as the conversation progressed, it turned quite naturally towards the cancer
As the conversation progressed, it turned quite naturally towards the cancer and what they had been going through. I looked over to Tom and inquired, “What do you give weight to in your days as you live with this cancer?” (10)

“My family, being a father, I like to be involved with the girls,” Tom confided. A small smile emerged on his face. Tom tried to raise himself in the bed but, before Claudia could help him, slipped back down and, seeming to give up on a sitting position, rested his head on the pillow. When he looked comfortable again, I asked, “Could you help me to understand a little of what it means to you to be a father?”

“I love it! I wasn’t truly happy until I was a Dad. I took one look at Imogen, our eldest, and I fell in love.”

I was aware Tom’s words might carry meaning that could be passed on and retold down the years, perhaps providing solace for his girls.

“Could I ask you about this experience of falling in love?”

Contentment seemed to flow over his face for a moment, relaxing the lines as he contemplated my question. “Sure. I didn’t know what happiness was till Imogen came along. She made my life complete.”

“What did Imogen’s birth give you that has you experiencing this sense of completion and happiness?” I responded smiling.

Tom pondered, “I think it was a proper purpose....”

Claudia joined us. “...Being parents connected us to what’s important...I think Tom’s found a role that really fits him. He’s a good father.”

Tom’s quiet voice gained strength and the corners of his eyes turned up. “…And then Libby was born and I felt overwhelmed with wonder.”

“What had you overwhelmed with wonder when Libby was born?” I asked, collecting stories again. (11)

“Libby having her very own personality and the way she could let her feelings be known,” he responded with a chuckle. Claudia joined in, “He sent me a message when I was at work that said, “Baby does not want to sleep in the bedroom today. She was very vocal on the matter!” Claudia laughed. “Tom always appreciates her strength of character and being able to understand what she’s trying to say.”

Enjoying their delight, I responded, “What is important to you both that the experience of parenting has connected you to?”

I would return to the detail of what they treasured at a later date
“Our values and beliefs,” Claudia told me. Tom nodded, meeting Claudia’s eyes. “What we treasure.” I was keen to ask them more about their values and beliefs, but I didn’t know how long we might have for our conversation. Tom was likely managing fatigue and so I decided to pursue another path. I would return to the detail of what they treasured at a later date.

“Would it be OK to ask how this giving weight to what you believe in and treasure shapes your experience of living with cancer?” (12)

“It’s given us good times, wonderful times in amongst the hard stuff. The girls make each day worth living for,” Tom answered.

“We spent one morning just watching Libby learn to roll,” Claudia laughed.

Our laughter was cut off by sounds of crying from the room upstairs followed by shuffling as Tom’s mother walked quickly to attend to Libby.

Claudia tilted her head as she listened for signs Libby had been soothed. Tom stilled listening as well. “How will I do it without you?” she whispered, looking back to Tom. Tears began to flow down Claudia’s face. Stifling sobs, she rested her head on Tom’s chest and stretched her arms out as if to cradle the entire length of his body.

“I’m still here now. I’m still here now,” he crooned, patting her back.

“How will I raise the girls without you?” Claudia reiterated.

“I trust you. You will do a good job,” he said, trying to placate her. Tom continued to pat Claudia’s back in the age-old rhythm of comfort. I remained quiet, touched by her pain and his attempts to console her. (13)

After a time, I asked him, “What is it that you know about Claudia that allows you to trust her?”

Tom began to describe his faith in Claudia, gently patting her back all the while he talked.

“Could you tell me a story that illustrates this trust you hold for Claudia and her parenting?”

Tom expressed his admiration for Claudia as a mother. “She always puts the girls first.” He told me stories of her kindness and her beliefs about mothering, explaining how important their shared parenting beliefs were to them. As he spoke, Claudia listened silently, intent on his every word.

“How might you like to carry these beliefs you share forward so Imogen and Libby might know something of what is important to you as a couple and as a family?” I responded.

Claudia suggested they create a family charter that recorded their values. (14) Tom was enthusiastic about such a project and together we discussed what might be included in the document.

I checked with Tom as to how his energy levels were at regular intervals. Mindful that it is hard to send someone away, when I noticed his eyelids start to droop a little, I began to bring the conversation to an end.

“How has this conversation been going? Have we talked about what you hoped we might or have I taken us off track?” I checked.

“It’s been good,” Claudia said.

“Thanks. I liked talking,” Tom said warmly.

Claudia showed me out a few minutes later.

A Small Hope

Over the following week I heard that Tom had stopped eating and was now unable to leave his bed. The nurses told me that Claudia had insisted no one speak to her about his symptoms or deteriorating condition.

At the end of the week I went to see Tom and Claudia as we had arranged.

Claudia and I sat outside in the garden at an old wooden table. Tom was inside sleeping, too sick to talk. The garden provided a quiet private place away from the activity of the household as the extended family all worked together to care for him and the girls. Tired, harrowed faces had welcomed me and in the heavy movements of the family, I thought I could feel unspoken sadness weighing down their every step.

Claudia looked up as the leaves ruffled in the moving air. “It’s been a better week.”

“When you look back on the last two weeks, do you have some ideas about what has contributed to this week being better?” I asked, incorporating her words into my question.

"I’ve stopped looking ahead,” Claudia replied
“I’ve stopped looking ahead,” Claudia replied. Not wanting to presume what Claudia meant, I responded, “May I ask, where do you look when you’re not looking ahead?”

“No one can know exactly what’s going to happen, can they?” Claudia replied. “Now I only think about today and I have some hope.”

“Could you help me to understand a little of what this hope (15) is to you?”

Claudia paused, bowing her head.

“It is only a small hope,” she said in a quiet voice as if confessing something. “…To be with Tom, for another day or maybe even a few days.” Claudia looked up at me with tears gleaming in her eyes.

“May I ask what difference this small hope makes to you?” I replied, moved by the humility of her hope.

“It means I’m not crying all the time. I sat by the window and told Tom what I saw outside. We spent some time talking quietly together once Imogen was at school. I made him a little something for lunch and we sat together. He told me being together like that was ‘perfect,’ and he has never said that before.”

“As you look out the window describing the view to Tom, what does this small hope do that has Tom finding your time together perfect?”

“I can enjoy the moment and he feels that. It helps me forget what is coming,” Claudia explained.

“When you spend these moments that the small hope has given you, what has been made possible that hadn’t been there in the week before?” I knew that the week before had been distressing for them both.

“Close time together. Over the past few months, we’ve been arguing because of the stress and that isn’t us,” was Claudia’s reply.

“How did you come to find closeness in sharing the view from the window and talking and bringing Tom food?”

Claudia told me with eagerness now edging into her voice, “It’s what we’ve always done together, enjoyed the simple things. We like to enjoy those things that money can’t buy.” Claudia continued telling me stories illustrating this.

“What else do you do in the day that speaks to the closeness you share as a couple, and as parents together, and brings you closer to Tom?”

“Gardening,” Claudia readily answered. “I feel close to him when I do his garden and I will keep doing it. I just couldn’t do it before. I was too shocked. Now I have some hope and it gets me through the day.”

“How important is this hope in keeping you close to Tom and getting through the day?”

the time is so precious. And I don’t want to cry every minute
Firmness was in her voice as she stated, “Very, very important. It means I can enjoy some time with Tom and that is the most important thing to me. The time is so precious. And I don’t want to cry every minute.” We carried on talking about how Claudia and Tom were enjoying the window of time they still had together when Claudia confided, “Did you know I’ve stopped the nurses telling me about Tom’s symptoms?” She glanced up at me and paused, “Maybe that means I’m in denial, I don’t know.”

“What sort of talk are you encouraging or hoping for when you halt discussion about Tom’s condition?” I asked.

Her reply tumbled out. “I know what’s coming...I just want a little longer, just a little longer with him without thinking of that. It’s always there in the background but I don’t want to go there before I have to.”

I could easily understand why Claudia might want to protect the hope that was allowing her to savour time with Tom. To me it was not denial of his approaching death but rather embracing what was most important to her — close time with Tom before he died.

I left that day not knowing when Claudia and I would next meet. The uncertainty Tom and Claudia were living with made it difficult for Claudia to plan. We had agreed she would call me when she next wanted to meet.

The following week I heard that Tom was dying. The hospice nurses were visiting daily and every effort was being made to keep him comfortable.

One morning I arrived at work early. I sat down at my desk noting the light was blinking on my answerphone. I punched in the numbers to access my messages. There was just one. One of the hospice community nurses had called to let me know Tom had died. “Claudia would like to see you,” she said.  

I didn’t know how talking about Tom dying would be for Claudia or what language she preferred to use
“Such a lot has happened since we last met. Would you like to talk about the last fortnight or is there another place you would rather begin?” I asked, seeking to create some space for her to guide me as to how she wanted to begin our conversation. I didn’t know how talking about Tom dying would be for Claudia or what language she preferred to use. (17)

Claudia spoke slowly contemplating her words as if they were transporting her back in time. “I moved Tom back into our room after I saw you. I’m so glad I did. It was much nicer for him.” She smiled tenderly. “I lay beside him on the bed that last week as he was dying. I told him over and over, ‘You’re loved and you’re safe.’ It was just him and me when he died…” Claudia paused, her eyes staring unfocused. Returning her attention to me she resumed speaking. “The family had left for the evening to give us some time alone together, but I called them when I realised he was dying. They came straight back. In the end, he died like he’d wanted.”

I imagined Claudia reassuring Tom with her love. “May I ask… what difference did it make to Tom to feel loved by you as he was dying?”

Claudia sat back in the sofa. “I guess he could bear it. He’d had a tough childhood because he was different, and he was bullied a lot. But when he died, he had a family. He was loved. He had all the things that were really important to him.” She glanced at a photo of Tom and the girls on the wall. I too looked at the picture of Tom holding Libby while Imogen wrapped herself around his legs.

The slow pace and rhythm of my words matched Claudia’s as I returned my entire attention to her and expanded my previous question. “What did it mean to Tom to have a family and to be loved as he was dying do you think?”

“Everything. A chaplain visited Tom at the hospital just after we heard the news he was going to die. The chaplain asked Tom, ‘Has it been a good life?’ and Tom said, ‘Yes. It has been a good life.’ It comforts me to think that. He always said he’d got a life through me he’d never expected to have.”

I leant towards her as I replied, “What was it that he got from his relationship with you that made his life good?”

“He said he learnt new things. He became a father. He said because of our relationship, he got to have a life he wanted but never imagined having.” Claudia’s body stilled and her mouth turned down. I responded tentatively, “Would you mind sharing with me a little more about this good life that your relationship gave Tom?” I hesitated. “Might Tom have said it was a longed for life?"  

“It was a longed for life,” Claudia replied emphatically. She wrapped her arms around her body as if to hug herself and began to recall how she met Tom and the friendship they shared. The words came out quickly matched by the tears that fell from her eyes. After a few minutes of talking, Claudia slowed, releasing her arms from her body, and sat back on the sofa. “He said he’d always been on the outside and never felt like he belonged. It all changed for him when we were together. We both valued friendship and loyalty and it built our relationship.”  

I was spellbound by what they had given each other
I was spellbound by what they had given each other. “People mean many things when they talk about friendship and loyalty. What were yours and Tom’s understandings and how did they show in your relationship... that had Tom moving from feeling on the outside to stepping inside and experiencing belonging, friendship, and love...a longed for life?”

It was a long question and I said it slowly with expression. Claudia stared at me attentively. Eagerly she replied, “We had each other’s backs. Even if we didn’t agree, we always loved each other. We respected our differences and opinions. Our love was always there even in the way I cared for him. When Tom got sick, he said it changed how he dealt with having cancer.”

“How did this love you shared and the loving ways you cared for Tom influence how he lived with the cancer?” (18)

Claudia leant towards me, seeming oblivious to anything other than what she was about to express. “It meant he could go on enjoying his life. We were good at loving each other. We both changed and grew because of the relationship. I will never have another like it. It kind of gives me more to hold on to, and I keep saying to myself how grateful I am for my relationship with Tom, but it’s also so much more to lose.” Claudia lowered her voice, her passionate tones fading rapidly, and almost whispered, “I’ve been on the edge of a cliff for so long knowing there was a chasm ahead of me. I know I’m falling into it now but there’s this numbness. I hate it. It disconnects me from Tom. It’s like this isn’t real and it is.”

I reflected on the enormity of such a loss and Claudia’s ability to express gratitude at such a moment. “When you’ve had such a special relationship which both gives you more to hold on to and more to lose, how do you understand this sense of numbness?” Claudia nodded when I gave weight to the words “more to lose” and then replied hesitantly, “It’s an anesthetic. My body being kind maybe.”

I wondered if the numbness was an expression of their close connection, and the magnitude of the loss Claudia was experiencing
“What does this sense of numbness speak to about the relationship you have with Tom and the magnitude of the loss do you think?” I wondered if the numbness was an expression of their close connection, and the magnitude of the loss Claudia was experiencing.

Claudia straightened her back and lifted her chin. “Tom dying is bigger than any loss I have been through before. Other people I have loved have died but nothing compares to this. Nothing!” She uttered the words emphatically as if arguing with an unseen audience. Then, making eye contact with me added, “Does that make sense?”

I nodded as she spoke, reflecting that she was in a much more informed position to speak of this than I was. “Losses are not the same, relationships are different, and circumstances are different. Would it be OK to ask what it is that contributes to Tom dying being an incomparable loss, the biggest loss you have ever experienced in your life?” I wanted to fully acknowledge her experience. (19)

Claudia wriggled back on the sofa unfolding her arms. Her chest rose as she took a deep breath. “He has been the most important person in my life. He is my best friend. I don’t want to forget.” I remembered how upset Claudia had been by the sense of disconnection she was experiencing. “Could you help me understand more of what you don’t want to forget?”

“There will never be anyone like him again for me. It would be like forgetting who I was to not remember or think of him,” she responded, looking up at me seeming to seek reassurance. I nodded. “When you have shared so much, I imagine Tom is an important part of who you are.” Claudia sighed relaxing her body and moved back in her chair with a hint of a smile.

“Would you mind telling me more of who Tom is to you so that I might get to know him a little better through your eyes and perhaps understand more of what you might like to carry with you and remember?” I reflected on the ever-present pressure on people to “move on” and “say goodbye” and thought how sad it was that she was forced to justify her desire to remain in relationship with Tom.

Claudia seized the chance to talk about Tom. “He loved the natural world. Tom knew so much about the Warkworth area, the plants, and even insects. It used to surprise me at times what he came out with.” Her eyes sparkled as she continued to share her knowledge of Tom and how he was special to her.

“What might Tom be saying about how he would like you to remember him?” I finally asked.

“He’d want to be close to us. He would want the girls to know him and to know how much he loved them,” Claudia replied.

If you were to hold Tom close in your lives, how might that influence the way you experience this loss do you think
“If you were to hold Tom close in your lives, how might that influence the way you experience this loss do you think? Is that something that might fit with how you want to remember and connect with Tom?”

Immediately Claudia reacted with energy. “It fits definitely. It’s what I want, and he would have wanted. I think it would help me.”

Tears edged their way out of her eyes as we began to explore how she might go about this.

I then thought of the family whom I had met when Tom was alive. “Who else loved and cared for Tom? And what role might they have in supporting you in keeping Tom close?” (20)

Claudia answered with a smile. “All the wider family loved Tom. His mum is a great support with the girls and she talks about him with me. I want people to talk about him. It helps me feel connected to him. I like hearing how he mattered to other people.”

“How are we going with this conversation?” I checked. “Are we talking about what you hoped we might or are there some other things you think might be important to talk about?” (21)

“It’s such a relief to talk about him and what this means to me. I feel closer to him,” Claudia confided.

As we continued to talk the conversation moved towards the girls, and how Claudia could support them. I left half an hour later having given an assurance we could meet again in a week. This was a crisis and I wanted to do all I could to support Claudia. I reflected on the prescriptive ideas that could put pressure on Claudia to conform to thinking she had to “say goodbye” to Tom and “move on” and the ridiculously short time frames that accompanied such concepts. Such unhelpful ideas often had people judging themselves as failures. I would support Claudia to counter them where I could. It isn’t easy to stand against an incoming tide.

…...to be continued in Part II   


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* This article, the first of two parts, was originally titled, “Narrative Therapy with Someone Experiencing Significant Loss and Grief: An Illustration with Reflections on Practice,” and was published in the Journal of Contemporary Narrative Therapy, 2021, Release 1, 59-87. The ‘practice notes’ (referenced in parentheses) can be found in the original article.  

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Sasha  McAllum Pilkington Sasha McAllum Pilkington is a narrative therapist working for Harbour Hospice in Tamaki Makaurau Auckland. She has contributed articles to various publications on counselling practice in palliative care. Sasha has an interest in illustrating as well as discussing narrative therapy practice. Her work seeks to show the rich stories that can come forth at the end of life as people seek to find ways of approaching death and storying loss in ways that matter to them. Sasha has presented workshops in Aotearoa New Zealand, Norway, USA and Canada, and online through “Re-Authoring Teaching” on therapeutic conversations in palliative care.