Grief myths abound and have been passed down from generation to generation as they become “the truth. " The result for most who are mourning the death of a loved one is that they incur much more unnecessary suffering. These myths range from crying is a sign of weakness and you need to be strong to you’ll be your old self again in a couple of months and don’t cry so much.
However, the myth with the longest lasting and most hurtful consequences is: you must let go of and sever all ties to the deceased. Adherents to this monster myth have usually been heavily influenced by those in their support group who have grown tired of the ongoing pain and repetition of the grief process. Here are some important considerations for the inherent need to establish a new but different relationship with the deceased.
1. Historically, we have always turned to the wisdom of the deceased to use in present day problem solving and still do. We celebrate their lives, construct buildings and memorials to honor them, and in some cases even preserve their heritage and the place were they once lived.
2. It is wise to use the experiences and ideas of a deceased family member in making decisions and gaining insight on a particular problem. This is intelligence in action. It does not mean you must do what the deceased would do if you feel it would not be appropriate. It is using a resource like any other resource in decision making,
3. A person dies but it is normal that the relationship never dies. That’s the way our memories work, and there is good reason for that as suggested previously. So you don’t have to forget about or rid yourself of any reminders (unless they bring sadness). That goes against our very nature.
4. Each new relationship with the deceased will differ. Some will be stronger than others. Some will be more inspiring than others. Some will have very little interaction. The relationship is based on what is desired and ultimately on memories, legacies, and symbolic interaction.
5. There is clearly nothing pathological about establishing a new relationship with the deceased, as long as the mourner is going about the normal business of accepting the death, reinvesting in a new life, and not basing decisions on what the deceased would have wanted done. Nobody should rule a survivor’s life. The survivor makes decisions on what he/she deems to be the way to go. You simply don’t act as though the deceased is here and alive as in your old world.
6. Therefore, it’s okay to take some of the values, or favorite sayings, even mannerisms of the loved one and adopt them as long as doing so is not regressive or detract from ongoing personal growth.
7. Use whatever you wish that belonged to the deceased—clothing, jewelry, something the loved one made or purchased for you—as a way to maintain a connection and recall memories. Or, use a lighted candle at special family celebrations, have his/her favorite meal or dessert, make a memorial quilt, or even create a new tradition to honor the loved one.
In summary, establishing a new relationship with your deceased loved one is normal and can enrich your life. Let your wishes and creativity be your guides. Decide what is best for your memory recall and how you wish to honor the deceased.
Stay away from places, people, or reminders that bring sadness until you have more fully accepted the death both emotionally and intellectually. In the mean time, use the new relationship as an inspiration to reinvest in the next chapter of your life.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com