Has someone you loved died?

Has someone you loved died?

Did you fail grief 101?

Chances are you read or have been told about Elizabeth Kübler Ross’ useless at best and harmful at worst ‘stages’ of loss and grief. You will find she, and theorists before and after, believed that the bereaved should progress through the stages or phases or tasks to reach a full resolution of their grief. Success means ‘moving on’ with your life having reached ‘closure’. And you reach this place in privacy with the context of where and how you live not mattering a hoot. Failure to relinquish the dead loved one risks the grief (and you) being labelled pathological.

Now these theorists were not good observers of the real world. If they had been they would have spied people hanging about cemeteries or other significant places that had strong ties to the dead loved one and seen conversations going on between the bereaved and the dead that often consisted of filling the lost one in on life’s events since their deaths. These people despite appearing perfectly normal have not detached but rather are continuing their attachment with their dead loved one. Thankfully they haven’t read the rules of grieving.

In the late 1990s new theories emerged that challenged former grief theories but have never made it into mainstream knowledge or pushed Kubler Ross out of the way. This is a great shame as all of us would benefit from knowing more about lovingly guiding our grieving friends, family and ourselves through the pain.

A guy called Robert Neimeyer became the most prolific researcher on the theory of continuing bonds. He and his colleagues talk a lot about the quest for meaning. Apparently finding meaning is very helpful for the well being of the bereaved. I have difficulty understanding this concept but recently found an article that describes the act of understanding the story of the event of the death and creating a narrative of the ‘backstory’ of one’s relationship with the deceased can equate to finding meaning. Keeping the story alive and held within the body, heart and mind of the bereaved is an important aspect of this compassionate and wise theory.

So why does it matter? For me it matters as rather than the angst of feeling a failure at this grief thing, I grab with both hands the opportunity to continue my relationship with my children (albeit children that always remain the same age). I guess my dead grown up son Derek is our most lived with person. He tells us off if we pack the dishwasher badly and insists on that we park the car in the place where it is least likely to be scratched by other careless drivers. In the everyday world my children are not ‘relinquished’ but with me in pretty ordinary ways.

So are your dead loved ones part of your lives still? Tell me how!

This week I’m lending out my blog to my friends. Today’s post is by Sue, who’s writing a brilliant book about grief and motherhood.

12 Comments

  1. I haven’t lost anyone with whom I’ve maintained a close connection after they’ve gone. However, if I had lost someone I was very close to in life, then it would comfort me to keep them close after they’d gone, and I would would do it without shame. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to this.

    A lot of years ago our youngest brother was killed in a motorbike accident, and we all grieved hard for him. From that experience I can say that all that matters is showing up when a person has lost someone, and finding the right words to say matters much less.

    1. Yes, Katrina, it makes sense to keep them close. There’s a thing called ‘being there’ which I agree is more important than anything. Being there means giving full attention to the bereaved and responding in what ever way is appropriate at the time. Thanks for your comments.
      Sue

  2. Both my parents are gone. I am “okay” about my father. He had dementia and faded slowly with that and heart problems. I had years to prepare myself for his death. I’ll never be okay about my mom. She was always strong and healthy, plus people in her family live to very old ages. It was a complete shock to hear that she had pancreatic cancer at age 75 and was gone 4 months later. This was 12 years ago and while it’s not as painful every day, I’m not over it. I talk to her, despite not believing in such things. I know she’d be so proud of my daughters and her great grandbaby. My parents and I were a unit of 3, so it’s difficult, but I have my children. You don’t get over losing your mom though…

    1. Hi Paula, yes, some deaths you never ‘get over’ these people are too special to leave behind. I hope you can keep her with you and feel her presence in your life.
      Best wishes,
      Sue

      1. Grief is a natural emotion, and eventually we do all grieve over our lost loved ones. My father died when my children were babies, At the time I was too busy looking after a young family and being strong for my mother, so I put my own feelings on hold for a number of years.

  3. My daughter permeates my day and she speaks to me in strange and unexpected signs and communications. But not all the time. It is more like a new view upon the world, into which she comes and says “hi” from time to time, telling me and my wife that she’s ok. And that we are too.

    1. Hi Landzek, I love how your daughter speaks to you and how helpful that is in staying OK. It’s a relief to know she’s OK too of course. Thanks for your heartwarming comment
      best wishes to you,
      Sue

  4. I just want to say that this reminder was very useful to me, and I’m sorry for your tragic loss, Sue, grateful for the post, and I’m sorry for all those suffering bereavement. Nobody now speaks to me, and I don’t believe they ever did, though it did seem like it sometimes. My relationship with my dad was pretty difficult, and when he died I had a lot of personal work to get through. That helped me get a lot closer to my mum, who was devastated. Her death was pretty devastating to me, partly because she was struggling to recuperate from heart surgery, and had just got a little enthusiasm to live back, when she was hit by a car as she crossed the road and killed. The most difficult struggle for me, perhaps, has been losing a sister a few years later to leukemia, despite her courage and humour and our ability to say goodbye, and the peaceful nature of her end, because I went numb. All I felt was guilt that I wasn’t devastated, lost, crying, as I watched my relatives fall apart. This post made me connect with the depth of my sorrow, as well as remind me that there aren’t any rules and it’ll take its own course. Thanks.

  5. Hi Lettersquash,
    You have experienced a lot of grief and in difficult circumstances. I’m pleased my blog helped a little. Feeling numb is a way of staying sane of course until the brain and the heart have the strength to deal with the loss. It’s not surprising. The problem with feeling numb is that you miss all the good stuff as well. I really hope you and your relatives can come through this tking the spirits of your loved ones with them. Take care,
    Sue

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