Capturing agency after loss

The experience of agency is so varied, and always present

You may have already noticed how varied people’s experiences of agency after loss can be across different areas of their life. In some ways a person might be feeling quite immobilised by grief, doubting so much that they used to feel they were assured of, and feeling fearful of taking any significant action. Or perhaps they’re afraid to “move forward” with anything new, like sorting through belongings or moving to new accommodation, because of the fear that this kind of “moving forward” might create further loss, or distance them from special memories of their deceased loved one.

Another kind of disconnection from agency that grievers often experience is around how they grieve or make sense of their loss. Often there are strong social influences making claims about how grieving people should and shouldn’t grieve, and leaving them feeling unsure of their own preferences or worried about the “normality” of their own experiences. And yet, in other ways or areas of their life, you might notice a fierce kind of fire. A new clarity about their values and a strong commitment and drive to take action, to advocate, to change things they used to tolerate.

No matter how much loss has taken away, there is always still agency. We can help our clients to capture and bring forward from their stories of agency the confidence to decide and to act, so that they can adapt their lives after loss. And we can help our clients to grow their sense of agency, so that they can get clearer about what they value and prefer, as they create their meaningful life after loss.

Explore agency with your clients

  • Where, even in the most restricted of experiences, both past and present, have you been able to find or create a tiny bit of agency?
  • What or who have you had to come up against in your efforts to claim or exercise your agency?
  • Where have you found grace in action during the hardest times?
  • How did you recognize agency when you came upon it?
  • Did you notice in your head, a thought that said, “Oh wait, I have some ability to take an action here!”? Or did you notice something in your body moved differently?
  • In what ways have you created or exercised agency, even in the face of limited support or evident obstacles to your exercise of your agency? How did you do that? What did you draw on? Do you have other stories of having created or claimed your agency in the face of significant obstacles?
  • How did you act upon that sense of agency? What was the first step – a decision, or an action, or something else? Even if it was just some very tiny action like taking a purposeful, very deep breath, what was the action?
  • How did your exercising of your agency help you to shift your experience?
  • If you did not realize you had the ability to take action prior, how might you remind yourself in future that you have the ability to take action – even if it is a tiny action like taking a deep breath?
  • Who has supported your agency in the past? How do they support your agency? What or who else reminds you that you can decide and act? How can you draw that/ them closer now?
  • How might agency become part of your creative approach to grief and life after loss in the future?

Agency is something we do together

Explore these areas of your client’s personal experiences of agency, but remember that nobody is an island. Agency and social life, including social justice are intertwined. Reflect on your practice:

  • Even as you support your clients to explore and exercise their personal agency, how can you as a practitioner be growing your awareness of the ways that social injustices restrict some people’s access to agency and choice?
  • How can you stand with your clients to deconstruct and challenge institutions and ideas that are obstacles to agency?
  • How does your relationship approach with your client support your client to exercise agency in any conversations and other things you do together?

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