I feel like I am walking through mud. Three loved ones - my daughter, my father-in-law, and my brother - died in two months. The road is hard, yet I must keep going, for there is more grief work to do.
You understand this work if you are grieving. Grief is a series of processes according to Therese A. Rando, author of “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. " Developing a new relationship with the deceased is one of these processes. “You can have an appropriate, sustained, loving and symbolic relationship with the person who has died, " she writes.
I understood her point, but was confused by the word “relationship, " so I checked the dictionary.
Relationship is defined as a connection, association, or involvement; connection between persons by blood or marriage; an emotional or other connection between people. But I think of a relationship as interaction. I expect to see my loved one and for that person to see me. I expect to talk to my loved one and for that person to reply. I expect to share news with my loved one and for that person to respond. I expect to make plans with my loved one and for my loved one to help. I expect to spend holidays and birthdays and special days with my loved one.
None of these things will happen.
In order to have a relationship with the deceased “you must have a clear image of him, " Rando says, an image that includes positives and negatives. Here is where I ran into trouble. My daughter's childhood was a troubled one, my father-in-law had memory disease, (which was getting worse) and my brother and I were estranged. What could I do?
I read the relationship section of Rando's book again and one sentence stood out. “Part of developing a new relationship with your deceased loved one is learning what you can keep and what you must relinquish now that he is physically dead. " As the weeks passed I was able to choose memories to discard and memories to keep. I am still doing this.
Judy Tatelbaum's book, “The Courage to Grieve, " was also helpful. As she writes, “We are recovering when we can look at life ahead as worth living. " With full recovery, she goes on to say, we are able to look back at the past and know “we have fully grieved and survived the darkest hours. " Thankfully, my hours are getting brighter by the day.
Now I can talk about my departed loved ones without bursting into tears. I can laugh about the experiences we shared. I can find comfort in the happiness loved ones brought to my life. I can treasure the moments I spend with my husband, my remaining daughter, and my extended family. In other words, I am creating a new life.
When you create a new life you are creating a new reality. Granger E. Westberg writes about this reality in his book, “Good Grief. " As we struggle to affirm a new reality “we find that we need not be afraid of the real world, " he says. “We can live in it again. "
Copyright 2007 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance nonfiction writer for 28 years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, " written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from http://www.amazon.com A five-star review of the book is posted on Amazon. You will find other reviews on the American Hospice Foundation Web site (School Corner heading) and the Health Ministries Association Web site.