Grief: Remembering Forever

It was something he hadn’t experienced before. I was a bit surprised by that, but it’s probably not uncommon. He told me that at age 26, it was the first time he knew someone who had died. Of course, I know that my life was a bit unusual in this regard. By age 26, I had tended to the passing of more people than I could count, both from old age and sickness as well as from HIV/AIDS.

It was his grandmother who had passed. She was 97. “I didn’t know her well. She was a formal Southern woman whom we always addressed as ‘ma’am.’ She was kind to me, but I don’t feel like I really knew her. So, I’m not sure how I feel about her death.” He paused for a moment and then continued. “My father’s taking it hard. I don’t really know why. It was his mother, but she was 97. It’s not like we didn’t expect that she would die soon.”

Loss is something we all experience. The only way one comes to understand loss is to experience it. I wasn’t sure how to process my experience of multiple losses in my 20’s. It had taken a toll on me. That’s probably why I did my doctoral dissertation on bereavement. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was probably trying to sort out my own issues by doing research.

At the time I was doing my dissertation research – around 1989 and 1990 – the literature on bereavement was a bit different from today. At that time, there was still a general assumption that one would recover from loss. The work of object-relations psychoanalyst John Bowlby was popular. His contention was that most people, in about a year or so after the loss, would recover and re-integrate life in a new way without the person. Today, that’s not the prevailing opinion held in psychology about bereavement.

While it is true that people re-integrate their lives after a loss, the period of time can vary a great deal from one person to another and from one loss to another. There are many factors that come into play. My short-hand for this is to expect at least a year to get past some of the most challenging aspects of bereavement. But even though we are able to get on with life, the grief from the loss of someone significant in our lives really never ends. Instead, we just learn how to live with it.

Sometimes, occasions bring back the feelings of grief, like a birthday or holiday or anniversary. Other times, we’re caught very much off guard by having a vivid memory of the person who is long dead. There are times when a fragrance or aroma will bring back a memory or a particular food. Of course, songs have lots of memories, too. Even though my father’s been dead for twelve years, I can’t hear the Christmas carol, Angels We Have Heard on High, without hearing him singing in my ear. (Dad never had good pitch, but he loved to sing!)

I tried to explain some of these things to the young man. As I did, he had something of a blank look on his face. I knew he didn’t understand. He couldn’t. He hasn’t experienced it for himself.

I asked him if he and his father were able to talk about personal things. He said they could and that he always enjoyed talking with his father. I suggested that over the next year or so that he ask his father about how he’s doing with this very significant loss, to try to be there for his father and just listen. I suggested that he ask his father what he misses about his mother and the things that he thinks about. I noted that he shouldn’t be surprised if it’s odd little things that he calls to mind. That happens for most people.

I hope that this young man will be able to learn more about bereavement from his father’s experience of loss. That way, he may be more prepared for this process when he experiences it himself. When we talk about our losses and the experience of bereavement, we not only help ourselves but prepare others who will also experience grief throughout their lives.

I shared with him something I included in my dissertation – which is something I remind myself often about bereavement. It’s one of the important lessons I learned about bereavement during the days of the AIDS crisis. It’s the closing scene from Harvey Feinstein’s play, Torch Song Trilogy, where Ma says to Arnold, “Give yourself time, Arnold. It gets better. But, Arnold, it won’t ever go away. You can work longer hours, adopt a son, fight with me…whatever, it’ll still be there. But that’s alright. It becomes part of you, like wearing a ring or a pair of glasses. You get used to it and it’s good … because it makes sure you don’t forget.”

Grief: while we find ways to reorganize our lives without our loved ones who have died, there’s an ache that stays with us. It becomes part of us. It’s good. It makes sure we never really forget the life and the love we shared.

© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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8 Responses to Grief: Remembering Forever

  1. Carrie Gaye says:

    Thank you, this was a sensitive article. But I would like to respond to it.

    The pain I have experienced since the murder of my daughter is not good, and not useful in any way. It has been only three and half years but it feels like a century; I barely remember my life before this happened. I have to keep myself constantly distracted from the spears in my mashed-up heart. Many of my abilities remain intact – I am still able to help others and my beliefs about how to work with people compassionately are entrenched, almost second nature. But I have changed at a cellular level and it actually feels as though parts of my brain (or at least, aspects of my intellect) are missing. I was shattered at the loss of my elderly mother, who died in some physical distress. But over time, there was resolution. However, particular losses are more complex for numerous reasons. I am not speaking for everyone who has lost a child in traumatic circumstances because it would not be appropriate to generalise, but I can describe my own feelings and those of many others by explaining that when a loved one is taken through brutality, much of the agony we feel is on their behalf. Apart from the terror and pain they experienced, and surely their awareness that this awful event was going to steal them from their young children (as was my daughter) or other loved ones, we cannot know of their feelings after death. We are tormented by the possibility that they continue to suffer their own anguish ‘elsewhere’.
    A small number of people bereaved in this way are able to find solace in their faith and are convinced of their child’s transition to a place of peace. But for many of us, the wish to protect our child doesn’t end with their death; in fact (albeit irrationally) it is heightened.

    I have always held a Shamanic view of existence, and I see an excellent Shamanic healer who has been a great support to me. In time I may be able to accept fully that my daughter is no longer suffering. My belief that death brings freedom and adventure in multiple dimensions is now frequently contradicted by fears.

    Carrie.

  2. Lynette M Crowley says:

    Lynette M Crowley says:
    September 12, 2014 at 12:16 am
    Dear Friend
    I understand..
    Jesus understands your grief..
    Life is short..
    To die in love, is to live in the hearts of those we leave behind..
    God bless you..
    Jesus, I trust in You
    Live in Christ

  3. Pingback: Grieving is for Life

  4. We are one body in Christ

    Lynette
    Yours in Christ

  5. Polly Bolger says:

    I lost my husband to cancer 13 years ago, he was 34yrs old. Following his death I found solace in the music of Andrea Bocelli, in particular his song E Mi Manchi Tu, which means And I miss you. I don’t speak Italian but the words and the melody comforted me beyond what I could understand, it was as if they were sending a message. Having listened to the song on replay for days I decided I had to translate the words to English, when I discovered they were already done in the booklet of the CD. The final chorus sings
    “And we miss you,
    It has no end,
    This memory that is,
    Our love for you.”
    These are the words I chose for my husbands headstone, with love from me and our children. The entire song is a lament to a lost loved one and it echos my heart’s sadness. So yes Lou, I agree that this ache will remain with me forever and I miss David each and every day but I believe I would not have the life I have but for him and the love we’ve shared. His memory inspires me to continue on with my life and support and encourage our children to grow and become all that they could ever hope to be. They make my heart smile each and everyday.

    Carrie, as a mom, my thoughts and prayers are with you now. There are no words of comfort I can offer only that I am so truly sorry for your loss.

    Polly

  6. Lou says:

    Polly:

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful reflection. I appreciate it particularly today as I remember my mother. Today would have been her birthday.

    Lou

  7. Trevor DeVooght says:

    I reread this today after observing my wife, Sophie, having a moment grieving her father’s death the other day.

    Michael died in early April last year. He was sixty-three. His favorite band was The Beatles, so on his birthday a couple days ago Sophie shared “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Of course, Michael didn’t see sixty-four. The loss was compounded by his having become recently more engaged as a father after years of relative silence toward his children.

    Part of me is unsure how to help her. I’ve never lost someone very close to me. I didn’t know Michael very well. I do, however, feel the gravity of Sophie’s loss whenever she vocalizes her memory of him. It’s almost palpable. For her, I believe it’s a mix of adoration and absence and the thought of “dammit, you’re not here”.

    I just try to be present and hope the grief passes a little easier. That seems to be enough for my part, but I sense it’ll never really go away. Like you wrote, maybe in some way that’s a good thing. Hopefully the sadness will recede leaving just the pure feeling behind the good memories of one loved and lost.

  8. no name says:

    I lost my dad 2 1/2 years ago and it completely changed everything in my world.I’m 21 he was 69 and he was the closest person to me.everything suddenly meant nothing and Ive been numb for 2 1/2 years.people don’t help they just make it worse.relationships don’t help.counseling and medication doesn’t help. Nothing anyone can day helps, they’re just words and they cannot bring a person back from the dead.lets just say I struggle hard and sleep is my only relief.its hard to be an adult.I just force myself through the day and no ones there for me when I cry.I can’t wait to die because this is the most painful thing that could ever be dished out to someone.to anyone that’s ever lost there everything,i feel you and I’m sorry your expierancing the most painful thing life has to offer.other people don’t understand.unless they’ve been through it so never listen to them when they say cliché ” get over it” type things.they don’t know what they’re talking about.just do what ever you have to do to keep breathing…….. keep living…. its so hard..may the only time any one ever look down upon you is when its your loved one looking down on you from heaven,fuck what any one else has to say.

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