A myth that still permeates most of Western culture is that when a loved one dies, the relationship ends and we need to “let go and get on with life.” This suggests that memories of the deceased should be marginalized and moved to the deeper corners of our thought life.
In reality, we certainly need to move on, establish a new relationship with the deceased, and reinvest in our new life. Let me emphasize, we are programmed to establish a new relationship with the deceased through memory, new traditions and legacies. And it is healthy to do so.
Love does not die when a loved one is no longer physically present. He or she lives within our hearts and memories, and many believe, in spirit. Establishing a new relationship with the deceased is one of the tasks of mourning. Here’s how you can cement that new relationship.
1. To get started, be determined to follow three key rules. First, commit to reinvesting in life. Next, accept the reality of death both intellectually and emotionally (which can take considerable time). And third, never make a life-affecting decision based on what the deceased would want you to do if you don’t totally agree with it. Always do it your way.
2. Now start loading your memory bank. Review your life with the person you love and start choosing the memories you cherish the most. Imagine them in detail. If necessary, write them down to read at various times. Go slowly, the memory retention process to remember your loved one can take weeks or months to find the guardians. As you return to ancient places and pass through the four seasons, old memories will surface over time.
3. As you remember cherished memories, celebrate them by talking with others at special gatherings. Without fanfare, just start with “Remember when…”. and continue with the story. Much of the learning takes place through the history involved in memories. Also, use them as inspiration to accomplish some of your goals. Think of a memory involving a trait of your loved one that you would like to develop. Then decide what specific behaviors to employ to make that trait a part of your new life.
4. Use favorite symbols, photos, or sayings of the deceased as cues to remind them to think positive and/or invest in the future. Every time he sees you, use the occasion as a check on the attitude or thought he wants to develop. We all need a mission or purpose and we all have something to give back or teach our children or grandchildren. Your loved one can be a part of that new mission or dream with reminders, as you slowly reinvest in life.
5. Create new memories involving the deceased. When you start a new behavior motivated by a trait of the deceased, or succeed in using a memory as inspiration, that becomes a new memory. Remember it as a success story. Or, when you tell a story about the loved one helping others, use it as a new memory. You are moving into your new life with a part of the past remembered in a healthy way. If you wish, you can also create new keepsakes that involve new traditions where you honor the deceased.
6. Anytime you’re enjoying a meal or activity and the event naturally brings up a memory, share it. For example, sometimes when we are eating a certain type of food, my wife may say, “My father loved this type of bread (or this dessert”). This is a normal healthy comment. Like anything else, be judicious when openly using memory recall among friends or relatives. If she does it too much, some may feel uncomfortable or worse, mistakenly believe “he or she can’t let go.” On the other hand, always let it flow naturally, as you perceive the appropriateness of the comment.
Memories are great teachers. They allow us to realize that we are all one. Always connected. Spread the wealth and let others know that memories have great power to heal, motivate, inspire and enjoy. Treasure your memories and use them as the tool they were meant to be: a beacon of love to share, treasure and pass on.
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