I have presided and preached at a number of funerals recently. A contradictory concern I hear from family members is; a) how will I ever get the thought of losing my father/mother/partner out of my mind and b) what if years from now I forget her/him, how will I live with myself? While these concerns seem to contradict one another they speak to a common worry, namely that we wonder about our ability to focus, to focus on something other than the grief and to focus on the loss once immediacy of the initial grief has grown less intense. Our emotions are human, they need to take their course and we ought not impede or try to squelch these natural reactions to our pain.
But as we allow ourselves the time to feel the pain there will likely be a time of intensity that will be followed by less intensity, and so on. While this evolution is not always the case the ways of grief do have some familiar patterns. What I ask people at the most intense times and later in the least intense times is the same question, what do you most remember about her/him, what did s/he believe in, what activities remind you of her/him? Coming to that clarity is helpful in and of itself. It pushes away the stuff we say like “she was the best…” or “he was the greatest” when in time we realize that was over the top and maybe not all that accurate. Asking yourself specifically about someone focuses you on what it is that “sticks”, that lasting effect their life will have on yours.
I went through this with my mother, certain things she said and did really stood out. No one else said them. And I can draw a straight line between what she said or did and what I say and do. Additionally what I say to the grieving is this, one way to keep their memory alive is to make their words and actions come alive in you. There is a deep spiritual satisfaction that comes when you’ve done or said something others find meaningful and you can say, “That came from my mother.”
One last thing. My friends and family often tell me that while my theories have some merit I tend to overlook beauty. My mother loved lady slippers. It is not an existential experience but it was something she enjoyed, finding love and care as she looked at one of these fragile creations. So I think of her when I see these lady slippers and I am sure there is some part of creation that reminds you of someone each time you see it.
Grief is hard. It is also a part of life and as such there are things we can say and do that make the grief more healthy and life-giving. May all of us find things about those we loved we can celebrate, so that in the celebration more life comes to those who love us also. Peace.