"As we set today aside to honor and thank our veterans, let us be mindful that we should do this every day of the year and not just one." - Beth Pennington
In honor of Memorial Day, one that gives national recognition to those we have lost while serving our country, I want to create a space to talk about how we remember our loved ones who have passed; wether that be while in the military or not. As the quote states, just like we should remember our veterans regularly, healthy grief involves frequent remembrance of our deceased loved ones. Before jumping in, I want to say thank you to all of those who have served and continue to serve our country. I am forever grateful for what you have done and continue to do for our freedom(s) and us as a nation.
You may be wondering, "Why create a space for talking about how to remember our loved ones? Don't we do that naturally?" Not all the time, no. For some, there can be obstacles and fears keeping them from remembering and/or learning how to remember their deceased loved ones.
***Please note, if someone is battling obstacles or fears around remembering their deceased loved one doesn't mean they don't want to remember or love the person any less. It simply means they are in a different part of their grief journey.
"Remembering makes it real."
Two of the biggest obstacles I hear from clients when talking about remembering their loved ones are those of not wanting to "move on" and not wanting to accept a life without his/her/their loved one.
These obstacles typically show up for those who are earlier in their grief journey. In other words, they haven't done the meaning making and continued bonds grief work (stay tuned for future blogs discussing this approach to grief), allowing them to easily access how they like to/would like to remember their loved ones. Now this doesn't mean those in this space don't remember their loved ones; they certainly can and do! It may just be harder to access or be a bit more challenging to navigate than someone who has found meaning and established continued bonds.
What have been or are currently obstacles interfering with your ability to remember your loved one(s)?
"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela
Fear is such a powerful thing and, often times, is the piece that keeps us from living our lives. This can also be said about grief; we find ourselves unable to live life while carrying our loss with us for the fear of others not remembering our loved one or for the fear of ourselves not remembering what it's like to have our loved one physically with us. I will talk a little more about how these fears show up in grief journeys and what to do with them throughout the rest of the blog.
Now that we understand a bit more as to why remembering our loved ones can be challenging, let's dig into the whole purpose of this blog...how do we remember our loved ones? As we explore some of the most common ways to remember our loved ones below, please remember to honor your grief journey. If any of these feel like too much or don't resonate with you, that's okay! Honor that!
While there are many different ways to remember our loved ones, I want to dive into three of the most common/powerful:
Saying their name
"When you ask about someone who died by name, you honor the life they lived." - Speaking Grief
What a gift we're giving ourselves, or the individual who is grieving, when we call the deceased by his/her/their name? For many of my clients, this form of remembrance stems from the fear of others not remembering their deceased loved one(s). When talking about those who have passed, we typically address the deceased through naming the relationship to the individual and not stating their name. "My dad died". "My wife passed away three years ago." "How are you doing since your son's passing?" While there is nothing wrong with these statements/questions, they can build or reaffirm that fear of others not remembering. We can begin to break this fear by saying, "My mom, Rachel, died." Or by asking, "How are you doing since Chris's passing?"
How can you start speaking your loved one's name? If you are supporting someone who is grieving, how can you start speaking his/her/their deceased loved one's name?
"Ritual gives words to the unspeakable and forms to the formless. It brings the non-physical into physical form so we can see it, touch it, feel it and process it. - Terri Daniel
Rituals can be a common practice we engage in outside of grief however, rituals in grief can have a very different impact. Often times, rituals in grief allow us to make meaning of our grief/loss and understand how we go about our life while carrying our loved one with us (Feldman, D.B. 2019). Rituals speak to and challenge the fear of forgetting what it's like to physically be with our deceased loved one. As the quote states, it allows us to bring a different form of understanding to what's unspeakable, formless, and non-physical.
What makes rituals so powerful you may ask? Symbolism! The impact lies in what meaning these rituals hold/provide.
My late Grandma's favorite flowers are yellow roses. Every spring, when our yellow roses bloom and we see them each morning we acknowledge them and say, "Good morning, Grandma Harry/Mom (in my Father's case). For us, this ritual symbolizes that Grandma Harry is still with us, showing up throughout our days, and providing us with a little bit of brightness in each day.
In creating space for talking about/learning how to remember our loved ones, I'd like to invite you to engage in an exercise with me to develop your own rituals. To understand your own rituals or how rituals fit within your grief journey, let's explore the following questions:
What are your rituals?
How do they help you make meaning?
What does the ritual symbolize?
Other questions for consideration to expand on your understanding:
When and where does or will your ritual take place?
Who is or will be present for the ritual?
(Feldman, D.B., 2019)
"Things end but memories last forever." - Unknown
Sharing memories is a great way for us to feel connected to our loved ones, including those who have passed. Often times, in grief, memories are spontaneous; we’ll be going about our daily routine and suddenly we hear or see something that may trigger a memory. This occurs with both pleasant and unpleasant memories. In experiencing unpleasant memories, it’s not uncommon for us to want to block out or forget those memories. These instances may be tapping into unresolved issues with the deceased, making the grief journey/process a bit more complex (stay tuned for a future blog discussing addressing unresolved issues with the deceased while grieving).
So what’s the best way to share these memories? Really, that’s up to you! I know, I know. Helpful right? But think about it, what better way to walk through your grief journey than in a way that makes sense and feels right for you? For some ideas: with pleasant memories, you may choose to call another loved one to reminisce together or you may choose to share the story on social media. With unpleasant memories, you may choose to write a letter to your loved one asking questions that come up with the memory; you may choose to call a loved one for support.
How do you share memories of your deceased loved one? And/or how would you like to share memories of your deceased loved one?
Regardless of where you are in your grief journey, remembering your deceased loved one will happen; it's a natural and healthy part of grief. What it means and how you choose to remember him/her/them is what varies from person-to-person.
Honor your grief journey by remembering your deceased loved one(s) in a way that feels right for you!
Here's to living a better life as your best self.
Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT
- The Pennsylvania State University (2021). Say Their Name. Speaking Grief. https://speakinggrief.org/get-better-at-grief/supporting-grief/say-their-name
- Feldman, D. B. (2019, September 28). The Power of Rituals to Heal Grief. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/201909/the-power-rituals-heal-grief