A significant challenge of grieving is that we don’t have a lot of good models for grief, and we fail to talk with our loved ones about what to do after we inevitably die. When you’re without specific instructions about how to grieve someone, I suggest that you do your best to grieve them as you would want people to grieve you.
One of the greatest gifts you can leave your loved ones is the preparation of a model of how to grieve you.
In this exercise, it’s just a simple statement about how you wish them to grieve the loss of you. I believe that this subject is ideally an ongoing discussion that rarely happens in daily life. If you write it, it can be shared at any time with them while you’re alive, or it can be your obituary, included in a funeral program or handed out at a visitation, or attached to your will. There will be less confusion and wasted energy, so this type of instruction is a loving act.
A natural response to writing and posting something like this could be to take it as a cry for help, a precursor to self harm or suicide. My brother’s suicide has been well incorporated in my soul and I believe myself to be immune to thoughts or acts of suicide. The most dangerous thing I will do today is to cross a street. I am nowhere near dying, very happy and healthy. I am conscious and rational, although there could be some debate on either of those points. I simply believe that we should live each day as if it might be our last, and so I’ll write instructions for grieving me now:
Grieving instructions for Peter H. Ratcliffe
I believe that my life has been a gift, but I have always been attentive to an awareness that the gift of this life has always been finite, a limited time offer that must always eventually come to a physical end.
When the last grains of my grit have trickled through the hourglass of my life, I want all who have loved me to understand that, with your help, I have lived a truly gifted and wonderful lifetime where love and happiness were always central parts of my life.
Please know that as I left you, I was a very loved and fulfilled man with very few regrets. We have built some great love together, so let’s celebrate that.
My legacy, my ongoing journey of loving you and being loved by you is now meant, as I have written so many times, to become the responsibility of you, the next generations.
I want you to extinguish anger from your grief, because anger is a cancer of your soul that consumes love. I do not want any sadness for what you cannot change, only appreciation for the great love that we have shared.
It’s important to tell you that I would not wish my death to become sadness, anger or an excuse or a crutch for you to ever do less than your best efforts at life and happiness. I always expected great things from you, and you always delivered far more than I dared expect, because you have expected even greater things from yourselves than I did. Whatever you are, whatever you have become is not because of me, I simply sat back and watched marveling at how well you have each learned to love life.
I will have done the hard part of this process by being the one dying, and I ask you to cry only for a very short time and only if truly necessary and then please get on with the easier part, the fortunate and honourable tasks of remembering and celebrating the love that we have shared.
Do not focus on the single universal event that we call death. There are literally millions of things from my life for you to celebrate, moments, memories and emotions that we have shared, and all that laughter that we have shared is now embedded in your collective souls. Please laugh early and often, and feel no guilt because I am no longer available to laugh among you.
There are possibly even a few good lessons in those memories, both of how to do things and how not to do things. Share them with each other and with the next generations.
Most importantly, I wish that you gather and talk face to face more among yourselves, keep each other out of danger, build common love to fill any voids that my passing might create.
In honour of my memory, please find ways to better and more deeply love each other and teach the world around you to love more and to love better.
Be well and peaceful whenever you remember me, let the memory of me be a calm place in any storm you encounter.
You’re grieving someone and you have never talked about them dying, you’re not sure what path to follow what to do and feel, how to grieve them and find comfort for you.
Write your own statement of how you will want people who have loved you to grieve. Then follow that path any time you grieve anyone who didn’t tell you how to grieve their loss. After all is said and done, love is exactly about respecting and treating people exactly as you would respect and treat yourself.
For those anticipating grief
In the path of illness, when a terminal diagnosis or hospice care becomes a reality, you still have time to ask the dying how you should grieve them. There is no greater closeness in loving someone than the honest confronting of the inevitability of an impending death. It clears the decks and opens the doors to very deep connections and greater peace for the dying love one.
Be well and peaceful, seek comfort in great memories reflecting the lives you have loved and lost.