Contrary to popular myth, grief is not about letting go of our loved ones, it’s about learning to hold onto them in new ways as we move forward with our lives. Often our society expects a brief time of grief after a loss followed by a quick return to normal as we somehow let go and move on. If we dare to open up and talk about the challenges of our grieving several months later, we are typically met with awkward and impatient responses that send the message, “haven’t you gotten over this and moved on yet?” The reality is grieving takes time and is more like a journey into new places than a brief episode with a definite ending.
With gentleness and patience, we can learn to hold on to our loved ones in new ways that feel comforting and good. We can do this through the stories we share about them with others. We can also find that certain of their possessions take on a sentimental value because they remind us of something we cherish in our loved one. We visit the cemetery or keep the ashes in a special place because it helps us to feel near to them. We engage in rituals of remembrance like planting a tree or installing a memorial marker or toasting them at a family holiday gathering. Montgomery Hospice offers annual opportunities like this with our Tree of Lights ceremony at Brookside Gardens and our Cobblestone dedication at Casey House. We can also hold onto them when we take inspiration from their lives and take up a cause in their memory. Sometimes, we even find that we talk to them, either in our minds or out loud, and this can bring comfort and a sense of their nearness. The fact that many people actually have bits of conversation with their loved ones may be one of the best kept secrets around. These are a few of the ways we can continue to remember the special bond we share with our loved ones as we move forward in our living.
It needs to be said that sometimes, and for some people, it may not feel good to remember and focus on a loved one too much, especially in the early days following the loss. With the initial shock of the loss and intense feelings surrounding it, just to focus on other things for a while can feel like a relief. This is often a normal part of grief and a healthy way to deal with overwhelming circumstances. Rather than grieving all at once, we tend to do better by grieving in smaller, more manageable doses over time.
It is also good to remember that holding on to a loved one is not about trying to freeze time and live in the past. It’s about learning new ways to remember, honor and cherish our shared journey. It’s about affirming that our loved one’s presence will be with us in meaningful ways as we begin to take tentative steps forward. Holding on is not a fearful, desperate clinging to the past, but a hopeful and life-affirming step into the future. When we lose a loved one, our world feels shaken and even demolished forever. It will never be the same as it was. Yet, moving through the journey of grief, we can begin to find that a new world comes together in our living, and that our loved ones will have a deeply meaningful place in it.
by Kip Ingram, Montgomery Hospice Director of Bereavement Care