When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, parent, or friend, your grief may take many different forms. It can be debilitating, causing your life to come to a screeching halt while you endeavor to sort out your feelings about the loss of a person who was such an important part of your life. At the same time, it might be a relief, a rejoicing that your loved one is no longer suffering from illness or pain.
Complicated grief is a complicated mixture of emotions, and it can keep us off balance and further the grieving process in ways we didn’t expect. This can go on indefinitely. There’s no timeline for grief—it continues for as long as we need to process our feelings and adjust ourselves to life without that person. If we experience regret over things we may have left unsaid, if we had unresolved issues with that person, it may take a while to come to terms with that.
Honoring Those We Have Lost
One thing that often comes up among the people I work with is their desire for a real way to honor their lost loved ones. Doing something concrete and meaningful that pays tribute to the life that was lost is one way people are often able to find closure. If the person who passed away didn’t leave a clear legacy to carry on, such as charity endowments or a pet cause, a bereaved person can still honor their memory by taking what they remember to be the best part of their loved one and making an effort to share those qualities and attributes in their everyday life. There isn’t much more of a fitting memorial to a loved one, in my opinion, than the continued sharing of those things that mattered to them most.
Do good works and service.
Doing acts of service in the name of your loved one is a great way to honor their memory. Not only does it generally feel good to help others, we all have something we can give, whether this something is money, time, advice or mentoring, or even simply a listening ear. Each act of service can be a tribute to your loved one, and this tribute can help you to find a purpose for your grief.
Carry on their work.
If your loved one had a cause that was important to them, you can honor their life and memory by continuing their work. Working on issues your lost loved one felt passionate about is a wonderful way to remain connected and help keep their memory alive after they have passed. Directing your grief and loss into something real and positive that can make a difference may not only help you work through your pain but also establish something lasting that will keep their cause alive.
Develop what they admired.
Which of your particular strengths or qualities did your loved one see in you and admire and point out? Consider trying to direct your energy into developing those qualities to honor your loved one as you go forward in life. If your kindness was what drew them into contact and friendship with you, then continue to be kind. If they admired your honesty and forthright attitude, continue to be genuine and authentic with those you meet. This type of personal development serves both as a way to grow and develop your own goodness and to keep your loved one close in mind and heart.
Directing your grief and loss into something real and positive that can make a difference may not only help you work through your pain but also establish something lasting that will keep their cause alive.
Develop in yourself what you admired in them.
A friend of mine recently lost a friend and coworker to a tragic car accident involving a drunk driver. She was understandably angry and bitter about the driver, as their actions led to the loss of her dear friend. When we talked about her feelings, I encouraged her to channel her anger into a positive direction and to think of the legacy her friend had left for the world.
As it turned out, the woman who died had been a social worker and advocate for the poor who was known for her warm and giving personality. She had radiated joy and happiness to everyone she met. My friend resolved to transform her anger by spreading the warmth and happiness her friend had embodied, and her grief began to change into resolve when she realized that anger and bitterness were likely not the inheritance her friend wanted to leave.
It’s not easy to see beyond the pain when we lose someone we love. It’s certainly expected that we are likely going to be in a place of hurt and anguish for some time. I want to restate that no one can put a timeline on the grieving process, as each person must be able to fully grieve for as long as they need to. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds, not for everyone, but time can often be helpful by changing your perspective and helping you realize you do have the ability to live without that person in your world.
Finding ways to honor your loved one’s memory, and giving a purpose to your pain by learning to transform negative emotions to positive results, are positive and helpful steps toward making peace with the fact that your loved one is gone. If you struggle with the grief process, or with finding ways you can keep your loved one’s memory alive, a compassionate and qualified counselor can offer help and support.
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