By John M. Stuart, MSW
The death of a spouse or a loved one is an emotionally challenging experience. While we welcome feelings of joy at the birth of a child, we often push away or deny sadness when experiencing the death of a loved one. Good grief comes when we embrace emotions of loss as a healthy and normal cycle of life, much as we embrace the emotions experienced from a birth. We often put time restrictions on how long we're going to allow ourselves to feel these emotions and we might even control ourselves as if we were on a strict diet.
In some cases, we may struggle with moving forward with our lives after the death of our spouse, friend or other loved one for fear of forgetting him or her. This is especially the case with a loss of a spouse, feeling our life can't go on. I had a client who physically manifested her fear and guilt. She felt guilty when she went out with friends and admitted to having a little fun.
Two years after her husband's passing she still sat faithfully in her dark room holding tightly to his picture. Her healing journey gained momentum when I asked her what her departed husband would tell her if he were able. Without hesitation, she told me he would tell her to put his picture on the fireplace mantle while moving forward from her dark room. Her husband's picture soon started going on the mantle more often as she began going out with friends and volunteering as a senior companion, lifting others. She accepted her feelings, and discovered she was not alone when attending a weekly grief support group. Although there were still days of sadness, my client accepted her bouts of grief as a healthy, and yes, normal part of life while truly living it.
Healing Through Memorializing
How we care for the remains of those we love is not only a personal preference, but it is the start of a journey to healing loss. In designing unique products, the memorial industry is taking notice that more and more people are choosing very personalized methods to memorialize a loved one.
For those who choose cremation, memorial cremation urns can become a way to honor a lost loved one. Scattering the remains of our beloved over a beautiful mountain landscape may also be a way of honoring his or her wishes. We let go of what we can no longer see with physical eyes while holding on to the love and fond memories we feel and remember with our heart.
While one person feels it's appropriate to wear small amounts of cremated remains in a cremation necklace for ashes, others may feel it's not. Both feelings are perfectly acceptable. Others may find closure by placing the remains in wooden urns, positioning them upon the fireplace mantle. Others feel closure by permanently placing memorial urns in a mausoleum or family plot while keeping some remains for cremation keepsakes.
Begin the Healing
We are each unique in the way we cope with the loss of those we love. This doesn't mean there aren't commonalities in the grieving process. Being suddenly overtaken with sadness is shared among those coping with loss. Good grief is when we don't beat ourselves up for having these emotions or feel obligated to hold on to them. Grief counseling lets us know we're never alone. Hospice social workers, chaplains, clergy, and spiritual counselors are excellent resources in beginning our healing journey.
John Michael Stuart, MSW has been a social worker since 1997. He has worked in nursing home, hospice and home health settings, including one of the nation's largest Social HMO demonstration projects where he coordinated care between physicians, patients and their families. John has had cerebral palsy since birth and has authored Perfect Circles, Redefining Perfection. He is also a public speaker and currently works as a home health social worker in Las Vegas.