Loss and the Quest for Meaning:
From Complicated Spiritual Grief to Personal Reconstruction



Presented by
Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD, and Carolyn Ng, PsyD,


Across the course of living we inevitably experience innumerable losses—of people, places and possibilities that were once central to the story of our lives. When these losses are tragic, untimely, and unanticipated -- as through the death of a child or the sudden or violent death of a loved one -- we  contend not only with anguishing emotions, but also with an assault on our assumptions about how the world is "supposed to" work. This shakes the existential ground beneath our feet, and in such cases, grieving entails an attempt to reconstruct a world of meaning that makes sense in our new reality.

In this day-long, experiential workshop, we will explore the practical implications of a "meaning reconstruction" approach to grief, whether the loss is related to a death or to a non-death event such as the loss of health, relationships, meaningful work, social connections or life-defining roles.

The workshop introduces a rich selection of practical tools and techniques to help us consider the impact of loss on our self-narrative... the story of who we are.  Attendees will learn and practice a variety of modalities that include arts-assisted methods, reflective exercises, interactive group work and symbolic visualization that can  ultimately help us restore a sense of coherence and meaning in the aftermath of its disturbance or decimation.

Grief statue


. Grieving the loss of loved ones through death, separation or estrangement

. Professionals working with end-of-life, trauma, loss and grief

. Academics studying loss, trauma and bereavement

. Deconstructing an inherited or embedded religious perspective

. Clergy working through separation from religious life

. Seeking to understand grief as an active process rather than an enemy to be feared or avoided



Morning Session - 9 am - Noon

PART ONE will introduce an approach to grieving as a meaning-making process, and will explore three common obstacles that impede our capacity to integrate the loss and move forward adaptively. We then use diverse media and experiential exercises to explore the loss epicenters along our lifeline, and the impact these have had on our sense of self, our world, and our future.

PART TWO will focus on the Complicated Spiritual Grief experienced by many religious mourners, and the impact of traumatic loss on our previous relation to belief systems, faith communitie and religious practice.  Alternatively, we will explore the parallel impact that Complicated Secular Grief can have on core beliefs of a more humanistic,  non-theistic kind, such as the erosion of our sense of justice, beneficence of the universe, or personal control.


Afternoon Session - 1:30 - 4:30 pm

PART THREE will explore bereavement as a process of reconstructing rather than relinquishing a bond with our loved one, and the ways in which -- both devoutly spiritual and entirely secular --  such bonds can be sustained in the person’s physical absence. We will then practice the life imprint technique, tracing the way the grieved-for relationship left enduring impressions on our way of being in the world, from our most basic mannerisms to our core values.

PART FOUR will explore how aspects of ourselves embodied in different roles, relationships, beliefs and values may stand in concert or in conflict with one another. We will work symbolically using representational objects to depict the state of our “community of self” both before and after a significant loss, and consider how we might use this work to spur help us reconstrut and recomposing life after loss.


To protect the privacy of participants who will be sharing their personal stories,
this workshop will not be recorded.



Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD, is professor emeritus in the department of psychology, University of Memphis, and maintains an active consulting and coaching practice. He also directs the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, which provides online training internationally in grief therapy.  Neimeyer has published 33 books, including New Techniques of Grief Therapy:  Bereavement and Beyond, and serves as editor of The Journal Death Studies. The author of over 500 articles and book chapters and a frequent workshop presenter, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaning-making process.  Neimeyer served as president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and chair of the international work group for death, dying, & bereavement.  


Carolyn Ng, PsyD, FT, MMSAC, RegCLR maintains a private practice for training, supervision and therapy in Singapore, while also serving as an associate director of the Portland Institute. Previously she served as principal counselor with the Children’s Cancer Foundation in Singapore, specializing in cancer-related palliative care and bereavement counseling.  She is a master clinical member and approved supervisor with the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC) and a Fellow in Thanatology with the Association of Death Education and Counselling (ADEC), USA, as well as a consultant to a cancer support and bereavement ministry in Sydney, Australia.  She is certified in solution-focused brief therapy and narrative therapy, and holds an MA in pastoral ministry from Trinity Theological Seminary.  She is also a trained end-of-life doula and advanced care planning facilitator.  



At the end of this program, the student will be better able to:


. Trace the direct and indirect impacts of loss in a personal lifeline

. Assess complications in grieving arising from challenges to a religious or secular meaning system

. Identify living legacies  engendered by important relationships that have ended, either through death, separation or estrangement.

. Construct symbolic compositions that capture one's sense of identity before and after a significant and unwelcome life transition