"Unable are the loved to die.
For love is immortality."
-- Emily Dickinson
Our family has suffered a tragic loss. Our niece's 30-year-old husband was killed in a car accident just two weeks after celebrating their baby's first birthday. We spent Sunday with our niece and are readying to host out-of-town family members arriving for the celebration of his life.
This blog post obviously has nothing to do with eating disorders, but before guests start arriving I wanted to write an open response to a question our grief-stricken niece asked on Sunday. Distraught with the knowledge that her little girl will not remember her loving daddy, she asked how to help her daughter "know" her father as she grows.
I write this now so that I can share it with my niece once she is not in the overwhelming process of planning a memorial for the man she loves. When the time is right, I will share with her how it is possible to continue our bonds with those who have died, even with those of whom we have no conscious memory or have never even met. I know this to be true because our grandchildren, who were born many years after Andrea's death, have a deep and abiding bond with their Aunt Andrea. We and their mother have never stopped expressing and celebrating the love we feel for Andrea, hence it is natural for Fischer and Trinity to do the same.
Ever since the early 1900's when Freud presented his "detachment theory" of grief recovery, many professionals council the bereaved to "let go" of their attachments to those who die, and to break these bonds sooner rather than later. Current wisdom now recognizes how damaging this attitude can be and that a loving bond with those who have passed--one that matures and changes over time as in any relationship--is actually a far healthier response.
Coincidentally, I happened to read an apropos article a few days ago titled, "Forever After. Helping children re-connect with loved ones who die" by Shea Darian (Lilipoh Magazine, Spring 2012 Issue). It reminded me of Freud's dubious influence in the realm of grief and of many other lessons I learned during my one-year grief counselor Internship with Hospice. Ms. Darian provided numerous recommendations on how to "cultivate these ongoing connections" and in reading them I realized that they are what our daughter and we have done for our grandchildren. The beauty is, they are things that we as adults can also do for ourselves. We, too, can benefit from learning how to re-connect with loved ones who have died for our own emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Darian's recommendations:
1. Simple remembrances. Simply remembering with a child or young adult their fondest moments with the loved one can be a way of memorializing the friend or relative who died. Such reminiscing allows a young person to express what will be missed as they meet life in light of the loved one's physical absence. ... Gifting the child with a physical possession of their loved one can bring cherished memories back into focus, especially if it's an object the young person and their loved one used together--a comforter, a cherished book, gardening tools, etc.
When the child has no memories of any moments, then it is we who share our fondest memories out loud while expressing what we most miss in our loved one's absence. Jocelyn has the big box of stationery, stickers and stamp pads that her sister had collected, mostly with Winnie the Pooh motifs. Our grandchildren love using these items, doled out in small allotments, as they hear stories of what a fan their Aunt was of all things "Pooh."
2. Actions speak louder than words. Many times, we think of grieving and remembering our loved ones who die as something we need to "talk about." However, some people, especially young children--who experience the world primarily through their physical bodies and senses--are prone to "act out" their grief and remembrance. If the child is willing, physically participating in activities they once enjoyed with a friend or relative who dies can help to process pain and grief in a more holistic way. ... Taking a hike or participating in a "fun run," playing at a favorite park, singing, reading, gardening, cooking, playing catch, honoring a daily ritual at mealtime or bedtime--or whatever activity the child and their loved one enjoyed together--can speak to a young person's heart and mind in ways that words may not communicate.
When the grandkids visit we usually cook together, go for long walks and read the books from our daughter's childhoods. These were activities that Andrea loved so it comes naturally to mention which recipes were her favorites (Trinity loves pie crust cookies, just like Aunt Andrea), which stories she and their mom enjoyed best and which walking paths were favored over others.
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There are 6 more helpful suggestions from this article, but I realize they'll have to wait until next week. Not only is this post getting waaaay too long, but I must get beds made up and food prepared. We have a life to celebrate, honor, and remember.
Sending blessings until next time,