When someone we love deeply leaves this earth, often the emptiness in our heart sits like a heavy weight inside of our heart or stomach area. As a grief counselor, mothers who have lost their child say they often feel as if they have no idea who they are anymore because all that they have known (or at least a part of it) is now gone. Where do I put my love? Where do I go with this ache and longing? After everyone around me goes back on with his or her lives and I am still sitting with this terrible missing, what do I do?
There are many ways to answer that question and for each person the answer may show itself differently. One thing is sure, grief is a process—it is like a long and winding road that has bumps and potholes but also has bridges and flowers by its side. At times it drops down steeply and is incredibly scary or it heads up a steep climb and feels impossible to ascent. It is a road no one wishes to travel, one that no one would wish even on their worst enemy. What my hope is as I work with people who incur terrible loss, is that I can guide and be a witness to the pain and that I can also help them find joy and hope again in their life, even if that takes a while.
One of the most important things I have seen help when someone has lost a loved one is to find a way to honor the one they lost. Let’s be honest, nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace or change the fact that the loved one has died. All that seems to be able to help would be for that person to return to life. Yet, since that can’t happen one thing I find feels good to the grieving, is to find a project or some way to honor their loved one.
My husband lost his wife and two young sons in a terrible car accident. All three of them played hockey. There was a fundraiser in the community and now every year a sportsmanship award is given in honor of them to the one person on each team that exemplifies certain outlined elements of sportsmanship. Another woman I counseled lost her baby girl at birth. The family (husband and two other children) created a garden for Julia at the gravesite. I know people who have benches placed in town where they live with the loved ones name on it. It doesn’t matter how large or small, the most important thing be that it is personal. Find something your loved one was passionate about and find a way to honor him or her using that passion. In placing your energy in something they loved, you can find a sense of being with them, even though they are gone.
Honoring can also be very personal. With clients who have lost a baby due to stillbirth I often suggest placing things that remind them of the baby (clothing they had bought, pictures taken in the womb) on a dresser or special place. It’s a way of having a special place to remember the baby they lost. Also, memory boxes are a way to preserve things that were important to the loved one that died.
There is no right or wrong in any of this. Grief has no rules. It’s only a process that each person has to ease into in a way that feels right to them. The honoring doesn’t take the grief away…it only gives you a place to put your love for a time. It’s something positive to do for the one you’ve lost. When grief gets really heavy, the tendency is to go down the long spiral of depression and pain that can be hard to emerge from. Some of it is very normal and shouldn’t be stopped, but when we find uplifting things to honor and remember the one we lost, we find a sliver, a morsel of hope and light amidst that darkness that surrounds. That is my hope…to find that small piece of light and then find it again and somehow find a way to let it grow. As the light grows, and the pain and sorrow eases or morphs into something different, then we find that our own peace is the honoring we give to the one we lost.
Updated: April 10, 2013