Research for the development of 'Coping Ugly'
My play, ‘Coping Ugly,’ began it’s life as a need to write something, anything about grief and it’s effect on different
generations. Immediately, I decided that in order to do that I needed five characters and those characters would demonstrate different reactions based on their generation….it didn’t work out like that as it happened.
As my research progressed, I came to realises two things. Yes, all people do react differently to the death of a loved one. No, those reactions were not governed by their age or generational experiences. It’s true that a parent may react deeply to the death of a child but the death of a parent can effect teenagers just as badly to the point that they could attempt to end their lives.
My research has developed and pushed my play through various stages and even given me the name. However, ‘Coping Ugly’ appears to be a living organism that insists on constantly changing itself without my consent – or so it feels. Every time I look into one aspect, I find myself with a list as long as my arm of motives and/or ideas that could be researched or used to explain certain character actions on stage.
With the help of my ‘Coping Ugly’ black book here’s what I discovered as I researched my concept…
The Kubler-Ross Model
The Kubler-Ross Model is useless when the death occurs from an accident or when applying it to the people left behind. There’s no such thing as a 5 stages of grief in my opinion. This model exists in an attempt to comfort people who are terminally ill and know they are going to die. It’s utterly irrelevant to accidents or coping with life after the death of a loved one.
George Bonanno & Coping Ugly
George Bonnano’s Four Trajectories of Grief disproved the Kubler-Ross Model, maintaining that people do not grief, they are resilient. The absence of grief/trauma symptoms is healthy as far as he’s concerned.
The four trajectories were:
- Chronic Dysfunction (prolonged suffering and inability to function- usually lasts years)
- Delayed Grief/Trauma (adjustments appear normal but distress and symptoms manifest months later).
Bonanno created the term Coping Ugly to describe his findings which maintained that grief and coping with grief could take many forms. Behaviours that may not be healthy ordinarily may be helpful in times of stress – such as self-serving bases. This was originally the basis for the premise of ‘Coping Ugly’ hence the name of the play.
Symptoms of Grief
To psychologist other than Bonanno, grief consists of anxiety, helplessness, anger and sadness. However, it can manifest itself in numerous ways. And from this list, I developed an understand of my characters behaviours in relation to the death in their family.
- Disinterest in personal hygiene/appearance
- Weight loss from lack of appetite
- Suicidal ideations
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Inability to concentrate
- Aggressive behaviour
- Recurrent illnesses
- Low self-esteem
- Increased feelings of depression/anxiety
- Feelings of guilt/shame
- Identity changes
- Panic Attacks
- Suicidal Ideations
Effect of Parental Death on Children
My next port of call was to narrow down the search. With 5 characters of varying ages, I need to know how they would react individually to death in certain situations. I discovered that when dealing with the death of a parent, children are very likely to react in the following stages and have somewhat contradictory responses to it:
- Great disturbance – inability to sleep, stomach upset, loss of appetite, depression and anxiety.
- Gradual reawakening/readjustment
6-9 year olds: personifies death (e.g. as a monster); fails to accept that death will happen to them; fears that death is contagious; develops increased interest in causes of death.
Teenagers: death is inevitable; universal, irreversible and questions the meaning of life; sees self as invincible; may feel guilt, anger and responsibility for the death; unsure how to handle own emotions. Increased chances of depression.
Effects After the Death of a Spouse
- Increased adrenaline – “fight or flight” response, shaky limbs, tingling lips/fingers.
- Exhaustion – result of insomnia or depression
- Digestive problems – lack of appetite, trouble swallowing, nervous stomach, ulcers, vomiting…
- Emotional Numbness – Dreamlike detachment, protective reaction.
- Anger – irrational anger over abandonment, disappointing dead spouse
- Alone and Incomplete
All of this led me on to Prolonged Grief Disorder and Complicated Grief Disorder….by this point, I’m staring at my book wondering just how much research I did. And remembering the huge pile of psychological journals I printed. So much paper. So much typing.
In short, Prolonged Grief Disorder is used when a person’s ability to function is effected and their level of distress over the loss of a loved one is extreme and persistent. While Complicated Grief Disorder is used when a person’s ability to resume daily activities and responsibilities is continually disrupted beyond a 6 month bereavement mark. This was an interesting discovery and essentially led to my complete understanding of the Father character…it also essentially created a non-active character. Oops. Need to fix that particular problem fast!
The further in I get the more research I find I need to do so my black book is no where near complete. The stages of research are still developing.
On that note, I’m off to look into the effect of brain injuries on children and to figure out why some people can see ghosts but others will probably never experience a paranormal encounter in their lives.