Authentic Movement in Grief Work by Germaine Fraser
I read in the Connections page of the community website you’re looking for experience or research on how others are using AM in grief work. I am one of the editors of the AM community blog and make my living as a conventional/holistic bedside-care RN in a northeastern hospital.
My hospital was deeply affected by the Haitian earthquake as we have many staff that are Haitian. I am trained in Critical Intervention Stress Management (CISM) and did several grief groups over the last 2 wks.
In spite of the conservative nature of most hospitals, I found my AM practice very beneficial, indirectly and directly. The deep listening skills cultivated in AM over two decades served me well during the sessions listening to the catastrophic experiences of my coworkers. In the sessions, I noted lots of respectful silences and stillness, sensing this as extremely supportive to the entire group. Granted, deep listening is not solely the auspices of AM, still I attribute its influence indirectly impacting those sessions. Watching body language and movement, even how people aligned themselves in relation to each other was very interesting (in one group in a circle, participants chose to sit in a semi circle not across from each other). I found a home-spun version of the form in the experience of debriefing myself after the sessions doing AM in my rather small living room space (circumstances are never ideal, are they, but inevitably don't really matter when one has intention).
Lighting a candle as my witness, I set a personal intention of caring for myself after witnessing the devastating testimony. I moved, breathed and sounded as I needed to to help me process the very intense work. It was very healing. An unplanned AM experience was finding myself at the end of the week at a live Afro-Cuban music concert in a small and intimate cafe, in the darkened room toward the back, releasing through my hands and torso what I'm sure was residue of the earlier grief experience. Eyes closed sitting next to an AM friend, I just let it move. The expression was contained to my immediate seated self at a table, but again, despite the circumstantial limitations, it rocked. Very cool. Very healing. My main impression of this experience was the softness and incredible articulation of my hands, how receptive and open and responsive they were/are. They waited and listened, skimmed each other repeatedly and opened their humbled, magnificent soles/souls to themselves and to the world so gently, patiently and with a great deal of love. – All to an amazing Afro-Cuban beat!
I frequently have AM moments in my role as a bedside nurse.
My first experience was 7-8 years ago when I first started considering using the form and presence in my work. During one night shift I admitted a 60+ yo man for heart palpitations. It turned out he had found his 30 yo son’s body hanging in the woods behind his house (“heart palpitations”… give me a break). This patient was in shock, able to speak, but barely. His eyes were 200 miles deep in his head. Very disassociated. All the nurses kept telling me to drug him to the max, but he refused everything and I couldn’t talk him into even the mildest medication. As sometimes happens, it was a slow night, so I decided to sit with him. I sat in a chair facing him in the bed, he was sitting pretty much 90 degrees in the bed, the room dark. I told him I was going to sit with him as long as I could and he was free to speak or do whatever, or not. I know Therapeutic Touch, a type of energy medicine, and I did this around his heart and down his right arm finally settling at his open palm. My fingers met his wrist and his fingers met mine and we just sat like that for a very long time not saying anything. I had an impression of our meeting relaxed hands as being a small wrought iron cage and that his heart had migrated down his arm to enter it; it felt like his heart was a small furry animal like a mouse nestled inside the strong cage, deeply protected. I was very aware of my spine and the need to maintain its vertical, which had to be righted several times during this period with him. Around 4am, realizing I had to go back to my duties, I spoke to him encouraging him once again to take some medication that would help him to rest. He agreed and I gave it to him. I was able to stop in on him before I left at 7a, at which time he broke down and began his next step in the grieving process.
Despite my efforts to keep my vertical I was undone by this experience (naïve to the powers of transferrance at this point). For months, I was unable to make any similar efforts in the practice at the bedside, my nursing was rote at best. What I learned from this was the importance of my own self care before, during and after such an effort, and the unwavering vigilance needed toward this end.
Another example of a grief based experience was a few years ago (and a lot more experience down the pike) working with an 80 yo neglect patient. This woman was in a type of coma, not able to communicate directly. Yet, she writhed in the bed with an open, soundless scream-formed mouth and no amount of intravenous narcotics seemed to obliterate her pain. When I was assigned to her as her primary nurse on an evening, I anticipated the challenge of caring for her having heard about this repetitive writhing and soundless scream from other nurses. Having had the earlier experience with the ‘heart’ patient, I knew this had to be different for me. I decided to stay in my ‘feminine’, preparing by doing a lot of purposeful walking around the circuitous nursing station very aware of my pelvis taking the corners and being quite springy in my hip sockets. That being established, I set my intention for myself to be of service to her as best I could, while staying close to my own truth. I initially spent a few minutes at her bedside watching and being with her. It was clear she needed to be seen, mirrored (although this made no sense to the logical part of me as her eyes were closed and she was in a type of coma). I only knew a few words of her language. I said (probably very poorly!) in her language, “I am here with you. All will be well” over and over (kind of singing it) while I did this butterfly-light type stroke over her chest and down her arm to her clenched fists, while writhing with her (her in the bed, me standing). I did this pattern for a very long time, maybe 7-10 mins (long if you’re in a semi private room with only a curtain separating beds). Something relaxed in her the more I was with her in this way. When her writhing became quiet and there was a significant decrease in body tension, I sat on the bed beside her and was quietly with her and myself for 5-10 mins (it must have been another slow night I guess!). I felt like I was getting the communication from her that she wanted and needed to die. She was a full code at that point in time. I, along with the help of many other concerned staff, was able over the course of the shift to arrange, despite a difficult and complicated family dynamic, that she be made a DNR. She without interference, died two days later.
The creative (unconscious?) seems to be AM’s foundation. When this is self-accepted, the form becomes quite spacious. I tried to stay true to it and myself by: making an intention for my practice, dropping into sensation in my body and my in-the-moment experience, witnessing another as best I could and responding authentically. For me, these are basic AM principles. My experience is when the form is well grounded/known and trusted in the self, it unwinds itself and finds it’s way as it needs to.
I deeply know the benefit of AM in this type of work and also realize institutions aren't ready for it as I have thought in the past to ‘deliver it’. But there I am. And this is what I know and understand. I bring this work (AM) as I can, how I can, having learned to be with more of myself outside the box (both hospital and AM form) through this incredible creative/spirit-based practice. Not as ambitiously routine as I had hoped for in earlier years as a practitioner (I think I used to imagine a big open well-lit room with aware, willing and somewhat well participants—you know, sort of like US! lol), but we do what we can, where we can, as we can.
Perusing the blog the other night, I saw I made a promise a few years ago to write about AM in Life and I’ve been thus far remiss to do so. Maybe this will be my springboard.
Wishing you well in your research and collection of stories, but especially in the evolution of your individual practice, as that is where the work is and also where the hope lies.