Those mourning the death of a loved one are often told to find closure, let go of the deceased loved one, and go on with their lives. For most, this admonition is tantamount to saying forget about the person. In truth, no one ever forgets the beloved and never wants to since our memories and our love will never allow it. Thus additional stress is heaped on the mourner as a conflict arises between the carrier of the “forget message” and the survivor.
Only until recently was the go-on-with-your-life-and-forget-your-deceased-loved-one message endorsed by counselors and mental health experts. It finally was realized that we never forget our loved ones, they are close to our hearts, and in fact it is healthy and important to establish a continuing bond with them, if it is desired. Actually, it is natural to think of them at family celebrations, holidays, and anniversaries or to remember them at other times for what they taught or helped develop in us.
Obviously, this new way of relating is different (no physical presence) as it must be, yet it can still be nourishing and comforting. Nevertheless, there are many associated with the mourner who still fear that holding on to the deceased in this manner is pathological, a precursor to additional suffering and emotional problems. Not true, as long as the following three guidelines are honored.
1. First, the survivor realizes that the loved one is not coming back in physical form and acceptance of the death has occurred on a deep emotional level. The latter may take considerable time for some to reach. Acceptance of death on an intellectual level is common and relatively easy to attain. Acceptance in the heart is something else. The time frame for emotional acceptance varies from person to person.
2. Second, there is nothing inherently wrong when a problem arises to review what the deceased loved one would do to solve it. In fact, considering the wise opinions of others is an intelligent choice in decision making. We constantly call on the wisdom of philosophers, theologians, and leaders who have died. We even visit the places where they used to live.
However, in the final analysis, the survivor must make decisions on what he or she thinks is appropriate for the situation. These judgments may or may not agree with the thinking of the deceased when alive. Never make a decision based on what the deceased would have wanted, if you think a different solution is more appropriate. Your thinking now is what counts.
3. Finally, you realize that with your loved one gone, life will be different. It is, in fact, a new life, one that will have its own characteristics, another chapter in life’s journey. Furthermore, you accept that it is unwise to live in the past, and must continue to make a meaningful life of your own. It may imply finding
new interests, commitments, developing new skills, and a continuation of learning.
In summary, developing a new relationship with a deceased loved one is healthy and important. It is based on accepting that a life has been lived and the loved one has died, that all decisions affecting your new life must be based on what is good and right for you, and that you are committed to finding meaning and purpose.
As part of your reinvestment your loved one can live on in your daily memories and in the traditions and celebrations you may wish to observe during the year. You can speak to him/her as you wish–and many people do. As the months and years go by, you may wish to alter the frequency, content, or privacy of the relationship as you see fit, and as your new life unfolds. In any event, love always lives on.