Continuing Bonds with Loved Ones Who Have Died

By Valerie Maury, Family Support Specialist

Valerie Maury“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die” – Thomas Campbell

Experiencing the death of someone we love is new territory for so many of us going through it.  We don’t know how to do this and need help,  guidance and ideas from each other. Our society still expects us to “get over it”, or at least “get through it” in a set amount of time. Instead of the old theory of detaching or getting over grief, the continuing bonds model of grief suggests that our relationships continue to grow and evolve, even after someone has died.

We learn as we travel this road of grieving a loss that our loved one’s physical bodies may die, but our relationships with them never do. We keep the relationships alive by allowing ourselves to talk about them and tell their story. As I tell others about funny, wise or emotional times with my father, I realize more and more how lucky I was to have had him in my life, and in some ways our relationship gets stronger.  I miss getting his feedback as I talk, but he is still so alive in my mind that I know how he would react.  His personality and beliefs have been integrated into my personality. I’ve lost other people that I love since he died, but his loss was the first big one, and it taught me how to lose someone and continue to have that loving relationship. In fact, our relationship may be better now than it was when he was alive, since now he never disagrees with me!

Here is a website that has an article with some great descriptions of the ways that people grieve and stay connected, including certain celebrities you may recognize:

http://www.hellogrief.org/the-way-we-grieve-now/

The article emphasizes that there really is no “normal” way to grieve. In some ways grief is easier when society dictates that we wear black for the first year of mourning and then purple for a year.  These outward manifestations of grief helped people to acknowledge and support us through our loss. Here is an article about that topic:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jana-riess/lets-bring-back-mourning-clothes

Here are some ideas on how to continue your connection with your loved one. By yourself, or together with family and friends, find ways to stay connected to loved ones who have died. We always love to have you share what’s worked well for you, too.

  • Visit a place where you feel close to your loved one’s memory.
  • Write them a letter. Save the letter in a secret place or throw it away.
  • Send a card in their memory to others who are grieving the loss.
  • Make a donation in their name.
  • Volunteer with a cause they would have supported.
  • If you’re an organ or tissue recipient, send a card or a letter to the family of your donor.
  • If you’re an organ donor family, send a card or letter to your loved one’s recipients.
  • Send flowers to a nursing home, hospice, or homeless shelter and sign your loved one’s name.
  • Make plans with family and/or friends to have dinner at you loved one’s favorite restaurant (even if your loved one was 6 and his favorite restaurant was Chuck-e-Cheese).
  • Make a playlist of songs that remind you of your loved one.
  • Remember to tell stories about them at holiday meals like Thanksgiving.
  • During the holidays, have a bell somewhere in your home that anyone can ring to signify they’re thinking about the person who died.
  • Pull out old photo albums and look through them with younger family members, telling stories.

For more information on coping with grief and getting help visit our Donor Family Support page.