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May 17, 2016

Processing Grief

So often when our loved ones pass away we mourn their loss and depending upon our faith or belief of what happens when we die, we each grieve the loss differently. 

Sadness will often come upon us as we miss our family and friends from the experiences we are having in our life.  We miss sharing the anniversaries, holidays, and birthday’s with them.  We miss hearing their voice, their laugh and their unique perspective on life.  With all of this we are often left feeling empty, alone and sad.  All of this of course is normal, for the ones who remain to miss those who have died.

My perspective and what has helped me with the grieving process as my Mom passed away six years ago is the concept of bringing them forward.  What I mean with this is the idea that we include not only the memory, but also the personality of those who have passed in our present day life.  For instance, it’s the idea of say I’m walking through a store and I see something and I immediately think of my Mom.  When I was in the throes of my grieving just seeing this thing in a store that reminded me of my Mom would have triggered me to feel immense pain and sorrow.  But now, six years on, I still miss my Mom, but I can see something and think of her memory and what she liked in a sweet remembrance sort of way.  I can look at an object and just think how much she would like it, say something do with the beach or the sea – the color, the shape, etc. and just imagine her saying how she thought it was special.

What I am able to do now because of all of the sorrowful crying and missing of her, is to remember her as she was, and to pull forward those aspects of her personality and her humor and her style that helped define her as a woman, a sister, a friend and a Mother.   What I am doing is sharing this experience with my Mom in an internal knowing kind of way.  I am looking at a sunset or experiencing an event and saying – Mother would like this.  And then when I share this idea with the rest of my family they all chime in and say, yes, your Mother would have loved this.

Through this process I am involving my Mom in a way in my present day life.  I know she is not here, but I know how much she would enjoy something.  In this small way of including her in my life I don’t feel as lost without her physically being here. 

This may be just a game I am playing with myself, but it has given me perspective and has created a new narrative that I tell myself about my life now in my fifties without my Mom.  At each stage of our lives when people who are close to us die this causes us to reexamine our life.  Maybe you have experienced this after leaving a visitation at a funeral home.  Immediately you are confronted with mortality and poignancy and fragility of life.  At those times we begin to consider our age, what choices we are making, what we are doing and why we are making those choices.  Death has a way of making us pay attention to our lives.  I think this examination of our life also helps us to create the story of our life within the context of those who have already passed. 

In his book, The Orphaned Adult, Alexander Levy writes that “Since our parents "project an illusion of permanence, “their death forces us to confront our own mortality (we are next in line to die) and to adjust to our new identities as orphaned adults. Indeed, he argues that this stripping of our childish beliefs is the first step toward true adulthood: "Perhaps only after parents have died can people find out what they are going to be when they grow up."

I do think that until this happens we are always the son of, or the daughter of.  But once our parents pass we are now the oldest and no longer can we think, dream or fantasizing of “going back home”.  We are home.  

Since my father is still alive I am not as Levy says, “an orphaned adult”.  And to be honest, I’m not looking forward to that day.  I have no idea what that would feel like and I can only imagine that the self-examination which comes to those in this club is not always fun or even enlightening.

What I do know is that I have found a way of integrating the loss of my Mom into the vernacular of my everyday life.  I know that it has made my road of grief a bit easier by thinking of those things that she would enjoy or that I wished I could share with her on a daily basis.  I will say things like – “Oh, Mother would love this” to my sister.  We are bringing our Mom into our current discussion.  It’s this very familiar and soft way of including someone who is so dear to us into our present day reality even tho she is not here physically. 

I believe that if we don’t carry someone forward as in my example that this just makes us feel more lost, more alone and abandoned and truly like an orphan.  I don’t want to feel like an orphan, although I appreciate Levy’s reference - I am my parent’s son, I have a home and a family, I am not alone.

By including those who have passed in your life even if it is just once and a while, you will feel less lost and sorrowful.  Remember your loved ones fondly, full of life and at their most vibrant.  Bring their unique personalities forward as you live your own life and making your own mark on the world – just as they did in their own unique ways.

Helpful Resources:

The Orphaned Adult: Understanding And Coping With Grief And Change After The Death Of Our Parents - Alexander Levy
Robert Jackman, LCPC is a counselor in private practice in St. Charles, IL.  He works with adults, couples and adolescents with a special emphasis on positive psychology, encouragement of the authentic self, and healing from codependency and trauma. In addition he is a volunteer staffer with Victories for Men, a non-profit group dedicated to helping men develop deeper self-understanding, better relationships and brighter lives. He can be reached at: 

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