The Birdhouse Project
July 17, 2012
When I heard about the Birdhouse Project, I was skeptical. I woke up early on Saturday morning and made the drive out to George Owens Nature Park not knowing what to expect. And I must say, I was pleasantly surprised!
After losing his teenage son to a car accident, Kris Munsch felt like his life was in ruins. There were times when it didn't seem worth the effort to pick up the pieces. The Birdhouse Project is his creation, the result of careful contemplation, but also of deliberate doing. While many theories of grief management stress validation of emotion and waiting until one is ready to move forward, Kris's method encourages the person who is grieving to initiate the process of healing immediately, even if it's painful.
And so it is that, 9 months after my mother's death, I finally found myself trying to do something about it, trying to really work through my pain. I didn't stand up and introduce myself. I didn't recite my life history to a room full of strangers. I considered. I wrote. I assembled. I took something tangible with me when I left that afternoon, and also something too big to be contained in a single object.
This is how the Birdhouse Project works:
Each participant is given pieces of wood already cut to the required specifications. Each piece is representative of something integral.
Foundation: The foundation is what the participant is at his or her core, what cannot be taken away even when the world seems to fall asunder. This is the strong base of the birdhouse.
Crisis: This is the collection of emotions that the tragedy evokes in the participant. It forms one of the side walls of the structure.
Regrets: This is the list of things the grieving party regrets about the tragic situation they must now confront. Like the Crisis wall, it is peripheral.
Affirmation: This is the back wall of the birdhouse. It's a list of those things a person does to minimize the impact of grief. I think it should be an affirmation of self. We sometimes feel tempted to get affirmation from the wrong things, but this never leads to real growth. I was a little surprised, but also comforted to discover that I wrote a lot of the same things under affirmation as I did under Foundation.
Goals: The Goals piece is the front wall of the birdhouse, the one with the hole in it. If you peer through, the first thing you see is the sturdy back, the affirmation piece. The symbol is fairly intuitive; goals and affirmation of self are more significant than regrets and the feeling of crisis, which we can ultimately gain some emotional control over through setting meaningful objectives and knowing who we are.
Shelter: The Shelter is the roof of the birdhouse. Written on it is a list of those things and people we are inclined to protect. It was interesting to see how this list contained different things for different people. At the point of crisis, we sometimes feel the need only to protect ourselves against the onslaught of the world beyond. We can also come to feel the need to shelter memories, family, friends, and other things besides.
Perch: The Perch is an invitation for others to come near again. It makes the promise of new life possible.
Once completed, all of the pieces are nailed together except for the shelter. It's screwed on so that it can be more easily removed, so that the participant can reflect on what he or she has written.
The above picture is my birdhouse. It's not perfect, but I don't think it would be mine if it was. I don't have a place to hang it now, but I know I will someday. By then, I hope to have it painted!
North Independence Branch