Fear is an integral part of grief. When someone close to you dies, the world automatically becomes less of a safe, secure place. All bets are off. This death thing suddenly becomes too real, too fast. We all knew that 100% of us would die and 100% of us would say goodbye to people who are dear to us. But somehow we thought that if we didn’t think or talk about death, loss and grief, that we and our loved ones would be exempted from the rules. We all live with a certain amount of denial of the realities of death.
Then as we grieve our losses, we encounter other fears. The proven uncertainty and fragility of life causes us to consciously or subconsciously think about what possible unexpected tragic loss will take place next. Who will be the next to die? Who that we love and care for will we have stolen from us next leaving us to start grieving all over again? The thought of having to be thrown into a sea of emotional turmoil once again is unthinkable. We’re having such a struggle dealing with this current loss and its unbearable grief. How can we possibly stand even more loss and more painful grief emotions and experience? In fact, many times we are certain that we cannot endure any additional stress and pain of more loss or losses.
As time passes those initial feelings of fear and more impending doom also pass or lessen. But in place of that fear of more death and loss comes what can be an even worse fear. We begin to feel different in our grief as time passes and our grief journey continues. We don’t hurt as much or as often with the emotions of grief and again we start to conjure up new worries and fears.
As grief goes on and our lives and the lives around us continue, we think about the unfairness of life going on as usual without our loved one there. First we fear that everyone will forget our loved one. In our strained and stressed grief brain we begin to think how unfair it is that everyone else gets to go on with life as if nothing has happened. The acknowledgements of others expressing sympathy, condolence and comfort that come flooding in on us after our loss decrease. The wells of compassion we have begun to depend upon from those around us dry up. People still care, but they seem to express it less and less. Are they beginning to forget our loved one and how important their lives were and still are? Will one day there be a world where it will be as if our loved one never existed, never contributed to the lives of others and never had any value? The thoughts of such a forgetful world makes us feel our loved one and we are being abandoned and forgotten forever. We become desperately afraid and angry that anyone could not continue to be impacted by the absence of such valuable people as our loved ones.
Then just as suddenly another fear even worse than this first one comes to our mind. Maybe we are beginning to forget our loved one. Maybe in grieving in a healthy way and healing means forgetting our loved one completely, abandoning them in the shadows of the past and “moving on” without them. Is it possible? Are we abandoning our loved ones in the past and doomed to progress in healing to a point that sentences us to live without them at all? Now that is a scary thought for a grieving person!
But in becoming fixated on the fear that others and we will be doomed to forget and abandon those loved ones who have meant so much to us and made us who we are we forget two important facts:
- No matter how much time passes, mourners will never forget their loved one who died. Our loved one no matter how long or short of a time we had them in our lives, they changed our lives forever by being in our lives. They have given us such precious memories and gifts during their time with us, that we can never forget or stop loving them. True our grief may change, but our love for the one who died will never change. And what they gave us in living with us can never be taken from us….especially our treasured memories of them. Our loved one is too much a part of who we are and who we will be to be forgotten or abandoned in the passage of time.
- Death kills people and takes lives, but death doesn’t kill our relationship with the loved one or completely take them away from us. Death doesn’t end relationships; death changes the nature of relationships. No longer will our relationship have the physical aspect it had while the person was living. But the relationship continues with its spiritual and emotional attachments intact after they die. Our relationship moves from one dependent upon the physical closeness of the love one to a relationship dependent upon the memories of the loved one. Therefore, we never forget or abandon our loved one.
An important part of our continuing bonds to the loved one that dies is our remembering them and honoring their lives. Therefore, we have an ongoing need to remember or “memorialize” the person in special and meaningful ways. To meet this need to memorialize our loved one, we can and should develop rituals and times of remembrance throughout the rest of our lives.
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.
Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.
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