As we approach the end of another year and the festive season, memories of the past few years flood back. For the last two years, we have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic, with the festive season being marred by the effects of the pandemic – celebrations were curtailed and many people experienced financial hardship.
Recently, after our department meeting, I had the chance to catch up with my fellow MSW colleague, Xian Xiong. We pondered about the last few years and how this was the first time in a long while that we were able to hold our department meeting in person, which felt very meaningful. Xian Xiong also shared about his interest in Narrative Therapy and how it had not only helped the patients and families he was working with, but also proved beneficial to his personal life.
While reflecting on the events that had happened over the last three years, we thought about how difficult things must have been for our patients and their families. During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families were separated due to the stiff safe distancing measures; this was followed by fears of catching the virus when the measures were eased.
As we chatted, I recalled how Mdm B, a caregiver of our late patient, used to share about how the festive season always made her think of her late husband, as it was the time of year that they always spent together as a family. She shared that the first Christmas without her husband was the hardest, as all the emotions that she thought had settled, came bubbling up.
Even though it had been more than three years since Mdm B’s husband passed away, she still noticed herself thinking about him more during the festive holidays and special occasions, like his birthday and their wedding anniversary. Above all, Mdm B finds meaning in remaining positive in her daily life and helping others. In her free time, she helps to buy groceries for her elderly neighbour and helps out with her church’s activities. When she is down, she always thinks about what her late husband would have wanted for her; he definitely would have wanted her to be happy and always reminded her to help those in need.
Perhaps Michael White, the creator of narrative therapy, says it best: “The most powerful therapeutic process I know is to contribute to rich story development.”
Reflections from Xian Xiong, on Narrative Therapy
Narrative Therapy provides a safe space for us to invite individuals to share their preferred stories. Sometimes with grief and death hovering around, these preferred stories are pushed to the back of the mind and buried away. Preferred stories are rich with values and beliefs that are dear to the individual and their family.
As one’s values and beliefs are inherited from the previous generation and passed down to the next, therein lies an opportunity to remember and honour our loved ones. For instance, the question “What do you see in yourself that you see in your loved one?” attempts to identify the values that are passed down and the emotional connection that solidifies the relationship. What usually follows is an opportunity to delve into their shared history and memories, to kickstart the process of remembering and honouring.
In relation to Mdm B’s situation, the idea would be to enhance her memory of our late patient. Metaphorically, we want to capture these memories and frame them up, as a memento of sorts. Questions such as, “How does your husband help out during the Christmas period? Does he personally ensure that there are presents for everyone? Does he put up the Christmas tree? Does he help to prepare the food?” can help to uncover values in actions.
This will be followed up by, “What or who do you think motivates him to perform such tasks?”. As Mdm B has pointed out one of the values – lending a helping hand – the legacy of the patient can then be reinforced by asking, “What do you think your husband would want you to do on behalf of him?”. This will open up and present various possibilities for Mdm B to choose how she wants to honour her late husband’s legacy.
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