Time marches on, life continues to move forward and we find ourselves wondering, 'where has the time gone.' It is hard to believe that six years have passed since Rachel's death, and yet there are times it still feels like yesterday. There are times when the tears still flow unbidden, when a jarring pain reminds me that I still hurt, that I still feel the ache of loss, that there is still something crucial missing from my life. I often hear people say comments like, 'Well, you should be over that by now, after all its been a few years.' 'Enough with the remembering already, get over it.' Or they have totally moved on with their lives and have kept you at arms length. Personally, I have not heard these comments directly, they have been cautiously, filtered to me from others.
There is a support group that meets regularly that I facilitate, and some of the questions that arise are: 'How long should I keep my loved one's memory alive? When is it TOO much? Is there an appropriate time limit for such things? Is it odd to want to remember them in special ways? In delving more deeply into the questions, you can hear the underlying misgivings that society imposes on personal grief. Often you will be surrounded by people who you care for and love, who you trust, and yet, these are the very people who will not dare to mention 'the name' for fear of causing pain. And if you dare to speak of your loved one, they deftly find ways to change the subject. Thus raising the question of remembering and memories--is it okay?
For many of us, it is the precious memories of our loved ones, that sustain us and helps us get through the darkest of days, it is these very memories, that help us get up each and every morning. The memory that we loved someone so deeply, that someone meant and means that much to us, and that they loved us. We want and need to let the world know that this person was truly important to us, that they were and still are an integral part of our world. Is it ever too much? That is hard to say, there are situations when the grief and mourning can and do become obsessive, for some it becomes all consuming. In an article by Amanda R. Bell, What is Traumatic Grief?, she writes: 'Traumatic grief is an extreme, unhealthy reaction to the death of a loved one, typically a spouse.' The person grieving, cannot accept the death of their loved one, thus closes themselves off from entering into the healing process. These individuals can often 'express suicidal thoughts and desires, have unusually strong reactions to daily life, and difficulty functioning.' It is always advisable to seek counseling or professional help, if your grief becomes too much for you to handle alone.
For the most part, it is not TOO much, and is a very normal part of our grieving and acceptance of our loved one's death. Many people and organization, have annual events in memory of loved ones. I, myself, will be attending a butterfly release this weekend in memory of Rachel and other family members; and this past weekend, Rachel was remembered in a memorial Mass on the anniversary of her death. These are just a few of the many ways that loved ones are remembered and honored.
As for time, is there ever a limit? As a bereaved parent, I know my loss is life-long, and if you ask any parent, they will tell you that they still remember, they will always remember, and their grief is forever. The same is true for so many others, be it a spouse, a close friend, a parent, a sibling, they all feel a sense of loss, even years later. There is no set time frame, no gauge to measure grief by, no linear chart that says on this date you will wake up and your grief is over, gone! Grief is unique, no two people experience it or go through it the same way. The key is to acknowledge the grief, to enter in to it, and to allow ourselves to feel it and express it. Get messy, allow it to transform you. Find others who are willing to enter into the darkness with you, who are willing to companion you on this long and arduous journey, who will cry and rejoice with you, sit quietly by your side, and hold your hand when needed. The good news is that in time, you find comfort in the memories, you find joy in the pain, and you begin to see with eyes that take nothing for granted. You begin to live again, knowing that you are loved ever more deeply, and that your loved one is ever more present to you, a part of your very being.
Feel free to do special things in remembrance of your loved one. It gives meaning and purpose to their lives and yours. A memory garden; a memorial plaque or stone; a gift given annually in lieu of a birthday or anniversary of your loved one; a scholarship fund; clothing or donations to the needy in memory of a love one; are just a few of many ways that loved ones can be remembered. Be creative, let your loved one guide you, look at what they loved to do; what charities held a special place in their heart; what were some of their hobbies; what causes did they feel strongly about. If their death was as a result of life threatening diseases or illness, find ways to increase awareness and help promote a cure; participate in annual walks, races, and relays. There are countless ways that we can turn our grief into healing; that our loved one's death can bring about good. The sky is the limit, and remember with grief 'everything is normal,' and odd behavior is to be expected. Just remember if anything becomes too much for you to handle, there is no shame, I repeat, no shame, in asking for help, ever! It takes more courage to admit we need help and to ask for it, than to try to go it alone. None of us needs to travel this road alone, there is always a willing ear, a helping hand, if we just ask or dare to reach out.
Our loved ones lived, they loved and they are very special to us. We have to right to mourn and grieve them, to remember them, to shed a tear or two for them, and to always keep them safe in our hearts. We are who we are because they touched our lives in their own very special way. For me that is the very reason, I choose to remember my loved ones in very special ways; why I share Rachel's story, and why so many share their stories with me and others. They are and will always be LOVE, a part of our very being, and with their guidance, a major part of who we become.
Blessings! and until we meet again.