REMEMBERING ISN'T DWELLING
People who do not know better tend to believe that remembering the deceased, remembering the life you shared in such vivid detail that it is almost palpable, is not good for you. It is a common misconception that this is dwelling and many feel that dwelling on the deceased constitutes complicated grief. It is important that it is understood that dwelling involves a lack of acceptance. What I mean by this is that dwelling on the deceased’s life in such a way that it is clear that you have not accepted their death is problematic. However, remembering the life of your loved one, in full light of their death and permanent physical absence from your life, is healthy.
The line here is not always easily discernible by everyone and it is hard at times to escape the longing and almost irrational desire for their return but it is an important aspect of healthy grieving that we remember our deceased loved ones. The time you spent with your loved one is what made up the relationship that you have now lost. This consisted of fights, celebrations, happiness and sadness and it is important that you remember ALL of this.
It is not unusual for us to ache and pine over the fact that we will never see our loved one again; that we will never feel their touch or smell their smell. Even though this is the most common way for us to act we must change to where we remember what we had with the deceased rather than mourn what we will not have (future).
How to Remember Healthily
The question remains, “how do we remember our loved ones?” The answer is, “any way you want!” I know that sounds overly simplistic but it is the core of healthy grieving. Just like you grieve in unique ways because of your special relationship with the deceased, you also will remember differently. Some people like to look at pictures and reminisce, some like to wear their loved one’s clothing, some like to establish mini-shrines to the deceased in their homes, some like to sit in their loved one’s favorite chair or even watch their favorite show. The key here is to do it YOUR way.
You may also find that what works at the beginning of your grief walk may not work the further along in your walk you are. For example, if you like wearing your loved one’s clothing because their smell is so absorbed in them you will eventually find a time when that smell has faded or even gone from the clothing that you cherished. It is important to find objects that will remain with time and wear so that you will not find yourself suddenly with nothing to initiate those memories. I recommend scrapbooking for those who want to keep photos to remember. Scrapbooking using the appropriate tools, papers, and inks will stand the test of time and also make a lasting memory that can be handed down from generation to generation to remember the loved one. For those who want to keep clothing or fabric items I recommend having something lasting made from those items: a pillow, a stuffed animal, etc. The smell may fade but the meaning behind the clothing or fabric is now attached to this cherished family memento.
In the event that you have an item of your loved one’s that you want to keep as a memory find a way to memorialize it. For example, if you have your father’s old, worn out pocket knife that you want to keep find a way to place it in a shadowbox or similar keepsake box to prevent it from getting lost or damaged. It can work the same way with a watch or wallet or even a key. The important thing is to find these special items and discover ways to keep them safe. Keeping it safe can sometimes be an issue as well; a safe works great but you can’t see the item so its true effect is minimized. Unless you plan on opening the safe whenever you want to look at the item and then immediately lock it back up, a safe or even a safe deposit box is not feasible. When I say keep it safe I mean in a way that allows it to be seen by you and others. The story and meaning attached to the item is worthless unless it can be shared with others. Imagine the joy that can be derived from telling everyone that sees the shadowbox containing your dad’s old, worn out pocket knife the memories that it brings.
In keeping things of your loved one’s it is inevitable that the unthinkable happens and the item is damaged or lost. This can cause traumatic responses and sometimes through the griever back into full blown grief like the person died yesterday. However, that is a risk that we must take in order to remember our loved one. We must always remember that the item we are cherishing is just that, an item. It has no meaning other than what we are attaching to it mentally. In the event the item is lost or damaged the griever must be ready to face the loss head on and continue moving. You DO NOT want to regrieve your loved one. Also, we do not want to turn the item into more of a religious object or talisman or idol. It is nothing more than a place to hang your memories, it is not a place to pin our constant thoughts, dreams, etc.
Building the Heritage
It is important that the memory of those that have died is passed down to future generations so that the heritage of our past can be continued in the lives of our children. Find ways to pass along the stories of deceased loved ones so that the children feel a connection to their past.
The times will come that were special times for you and your loved one. Birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays, special times of year, etc. are all events that will stir up memories of your loved one. As we begin our grief walk it is sometimes awkward to make it through these special times but with some planning and preparation these times can be as special as they once were.
Birthday of the Deceased – In the past you probably had some sort of routine you followed with making sure your loved one had a special day on their birthday. There is no reason why you cannot continue that special routine in their absence. Celebrate as usual but use the time to share meaningful memories of birthdays past. Buy a present that you know the deceased would have liked and give it to someone that is in need. Volunteer your time to help others in the name of your loved one’s birthday.
Birthday of the griever – You may have had many special birthdays because your loved one made each and every one of them special. Now in their absence you just don’t have the desire to even celebrate. There is no reason that the day cannot still be special to you in the name of your loved one. Go shopping and find something that you know the deceased would have bought for your. Find that special little gift and buy it for yourself in their name.
Anniversary of Marriage or Special date – Anniversaries are hard because they often bring up strong memories of the love and emotion that you shared with your loved one. To some this day becomes just another day; however, I would encourage that you still remember the day. Go to dinner with a group of people who understand the significance of the day. Buy a special gift for yourself in memory of your loved one.
Other Special Events – You will find that many other special occasions will arise when the absence of your loved one will be strongly felt. The wedding of a child that the loved one would have had a role in, the graduation of a child or grandchild, the birth of a grandchild or child; any event that is meaningful to you will have a sense of loss around it because of your loved one’s death. In times like this it is important that your loved one is included as much as possible. You could leave an empty chair for your loved one on the front row at the wedding with a ties or shawl that was meaningful to the deceased draped over the chair. The bride or graduate could wear a special memento of the deceased during the ceremony. At the birth of a child or grandchild you could remember the deceased by using parts of their name in the name of the child OR you could have a special blanket or stuffed animal made for the child from the deceased’s clothing.
No matter what you may face during your grief it is important that you use your imagination and find creative ways to include the deceased during those special times.