I always ask people who are grieving: “How would they want you to grieve the loss of them?”
Your loved one loved you. I am confident that they would wish you a grief with as little pain and as few sad days as reasonably possible. They would want you to focus on their life remembering the happy days that you shared, while still acknowledging but not focusing on the last days or minutes of their life when they died.
The path that your lost loved one would choose for you will always be simpler and more direct than the path that you will choose for yourself. Please consider following what you believe their advice would be.
Let me ask you to respect what you believe that they would want you to do in grieving this loss, and to dig a bit deeper into the thoughts that they would want you to carry and share about them, the things that you will teach others about the love that you shared with this loved one who departed. In this way, your grief will quickly come to express and reflect their soul, to remind you and others of why you loved them. This is part of the distillation of grief, where we begin to decide on the collection of memories and lessons that we will condense and then carry with us through our lives.
Importantly, this process of letting the deceased help to guide you through grief is responsible and respectful. Seeking this guidance is the first thing that their life will help shape for you after their death. You may get a sense of things to do, like a regular gathering of friends, a charity that they supported that you will now support in memory, a volunteer activity where their absence will leave a hole that you can fill. These are all positive activities that will continue to connect you to their spirit, to their love of life, and to others who have loved them.
Don’t be in too much of a rush, grief is a marathon that will wear you down. It’s easy to take on too much, then feel guilty when you can’t do it all and drop an activity. The last thing you want to do in grief is to disappoint yourself, and doing too much too soon can become as damaging as doing nothing. Take on only what won’t overwhelm you, only what you can feel a connection to, and only what makes you feel better for the time you spend doing it.
We they part of a foursome with you that played golf weekly? Book and pay for the foursome and the three still living members take alternate shots on the fourth ball. Every time I hit a tree and it bounces out onto the fairway, it’s my late friend Homer who gets credit for the lucky bounce and to this day I say “Thank you Homer”. It’s not a grand gesture, just a million tiny gestures of memory that enhance the joy that Homer shared with his friends on the golf course. “Thanks Homer” evokes a laugh and then we talk about Homer sharing the joy of having known him.
Hosting a dinner? Set a plate for your missing friend, ask everyone to write a simple quick memory that reflects that person you loved and leave it on the plate, to be read at the end of dinner. Dessert for the soul and an opening of the emotional gates that we want to keep open. Hopefully some cleansing tears, some laughs, and a whole lot of warmth.
If we create and organize opportunities for shared memories, we begin to structure our grief as something to be shared with others who loved this person. Sure there will be emotions and tears, but bringing those wonderful memories to the surface of the complicated soup that we need to distill adds value to our journey.
The real process we are starting here is one of including the ones we have lost in our daily lives. Admittedly that’s uncomfortable at first, but the more we do it the more we share memories and lessons from a good life that we have loved. Why would we bury those memories and lessons that were so valuable to us? How can we best carry and share the important value of that life with others close to us? Legacy is a word that fits what we are doing here, we are shaping and building a lasting legacy distilled from the finest parts of this person that we have loved.
Legacy is a primary responsibility of those who grieve lost loved ones, both building it and maintaining it. Everyone who has lived and loved deserves a well distilled legacy.