Instead of insisting that you must simply ‘learn to let go’ of the person you love after their death (as many of the earlier theories suggested), this idea of continuing bonds allows you to forge an ongoing relationship with them – even despite their death.
(Notice I didn’t write ‘the person you loved’, in the past tense? For this theory recognizes that even though that person’s life may be over, your love for them, and your relationship to them, are not).
Who knows what death is? …
The jury seems out; and each religion seems to have their own concept of truth on this one.
But perhaps this can be said:
whatever death might be, it seems that love is stronger.
And so maybe our emotional bonds with our loved ones stretch beyond the shores of the living, to whichever lands the deceased might have traveled to.
This idea of ‘continuing bonds’ enables us to keep those connections alive. To build bridges across the unknown. To feel ‘normal’ about having the odd ‘conversation’ with our loved one after their death. To weave their memory through our days and to accept that we’re forever changed simply by having known them (and so, in that way at least, they do continue to live alongside us).
I’ve known many people who feel great relief from these ideas – who no longer feel guilty for ‘failing’ to live up to the more rigid standards that earlier grief theory set for us.
Interestingly, just as the theories of grief have evolved, so, too, have our ideas about dying itself – and where and how we might do that, too.
Grassroots organizations such as HOME Hospice are springing up, supporting the ability to choose to die at home again, surrounded by love and a sense of home (for those of us who might prefer that).
And other groups like Life Before Death, The Groundswell Project and Dying Matters are inviting us to come together and talk more openly about dying, creating a legitimate space for death in our lives again.
(Check-out Life Before Death Campaign’s Let’s Talk About Death video for a quirky reminder that ‘talking about death won’t kill you’. Or you can even find DEATH on Facebook).
So, back to the original question:
how might we grieve in a death-denying society?
In any way that makes the most sense to us, it seems.
Any way that can span the unknown distance between life and death…
between one heart and another…
So how have you perhaps spanned that distance even after your loved one died?
Or does that space feel too wide to cross?
Please feel free to share your experiences and ideas, so we can perhaps learn from one another, and maybe even start to break through that social taboo of death-denial together.
Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy, the author of a private practice blog, and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.