Monday, February 4, 2013

Parent Loss: Continuing Their Song

[Reviewed and updated April 4, 2024]

Be keepers of the memories. If their song is to continue, then we must do the singing. ~ Elaine Stillwell

A reader writes: When I found out that no more could be done for my beautiful dad, I realized how lucky I was that I had no bridges to build with my father. When I needed him he was always there: always letting me know he loved me, guiding but not controlling me, watching but never judging me, holding but never smothering me—not necessarily agreeing with me but always listening, always hearing me. The bridge was always there. I realized that the knowledge of his illness gave us the most precious gift and I embraced it with all my heart: TIME!! Time to say our goodbyes, time to thank him for being my dad, time to let him know he will live on in every breath I take, time to let him know it was ok—that he wasn`t deserting us or abandoning us. Time to look straight into his beautiful blue eyes and let him know he got it right. When he died, I felt as if at 50 years of age I’d suddenly turned into a ten- year old little girl who needed her daddy.

My mother was devastated by my father`s death. They had been together since childhood and they were soul mates. Even though she missed him dreadfully and the shine had gone from her eyes, she remained strong for us because that was her way: We children always came first with her. Barely six months after my dad had died, I went to my mom`s home and found her dead in bed. My world came crashing down around me. I was still grieving my father and now my mother was gone. So suddenly, without warning, I am without both my parents. I had no reason to believe that the six months after my dad had died was going to be the last ones I would have with my mom, too. Emotionally I just hit the floor, and most things from that time are a blur.

Whenever I`ve heard of people suffering a bereavement I`ve always been sorry and passed my condolences and truly meant it—but it’s only now that I truly understand the depth that grief can go. How it bites into your soul and does not let go.

I miss them both so very much. I need them every moment of every day. The hurt gets deeper and the pain of losing them both is stronger than ever. The void their deaths left in my world will never be filled. I’m just so frightened that I will forget, that people will forget! I’m afraid to stop grieving and I dare not let go of my grief—because if I stop it’s like saying it’s ok—and it will never be ok!!! NOT EVER!!!

My response: You have my deepest sympathy for your losses, and I hope you can feel my arms around you as I hold you in my heart.

You say that you dare not let go of your grief, because doing so is the same as saying it's okay that both your parents have died. I want to assure you that I have no intention of taking your grief away from you. This is your grief journey, and no one can tell you how you should or should not be doing it. At the same time, I also want to honor your willingness to reach out for support, so you won't be traveling this path all alone.

You also say that you are "so frightened that I will forget, that people will forget." I want to gently suggest to you that, even though both your parents have died, the love that you share with them has not died. You are still their beloved daughter, and they are still your beloved parents. That will always, always be so. Death may have ended their earthly lives, but it has not ended your relationship with them. Your relationship has changed, from loving them in their presence to loving them in their absence—but it certainly has not ended. Your father and mother will continue to live in a special chamber in your heart and in your mind, just as long as you keep their memory alive.

Sometimes in grief we make the mistake of measuring the depth of our love by the depth of our pain. We convince ourselves that letting go of the pain of loss is the same as letting go of our loved ones. You don't want to let go of the pain because you're afraid your parents will be forgotten, and of course you don't want to forget them—ever. But there are many, many things you can do to insure that your parents will be remembered, and to give testimony to your continued relationship with them. See, for example, Grief Rituals Can Help.

In his lovely book, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved, certified grief counselor Louis LaGrand says that our memories can be powerful sources of comfort and joy that connect us to deceased loved ones, “because the significance, insight, and identity of the deceased grow through remembrance. In that way, remembrance practices can become an integral part of family life from generation to generation.”

He offers several suggestions for imprinting and maintaining powerful memories:
Take an inventory of your inner self and recall the happy memories of love and belonging from your past, especially those involving your deceased loved one, and think of the wisdom and encouragement you gained. When you are ready, revisit special places, reread old letters, look over collected mementos, pictures, or scrapbooks, read something your loved one used to read, play some of your old favorite songs, think of a movie you watched together, or seek out friends and relatives who are willing to talk about memories of your loved one. Write down your most pleasing recollections, and then decide on a word or phrase that will bring those specific events into your consciousness whenever you need them. Start the habit of invoking those specific memories when you're feeling low. Remember, reminiscing is healthy—not a way of living in the past, but rather a way of appreciating all you have experienced and accomplished. 
How do you take short-term memories and make them a permanent part of your long-term memory? The answer is repetition (which actually causes structural changes in the brain). We have a tendency to remember what we keep thinking about. Rely on memory aids: a picture, a glass, a golf ball, a special book. Almost anything can be a cue for remembering a person, a trip you enjoyed, a special gift you received, something that was left to you, or something you learned that will be forever cherished (p. 168-169).
It has been said that we can bear any sorrows if we put them into a story or tell a story about them. I encourage you to find some ways to gather and share your parents’ stories, whether by talking with relatives and friends, filling a memory box with special items, making a photo album or book, keeping a diary or journal, starting an online memorial website in their honor, or even writing a book. Recently I even saw a board on Pinterest that is simply a collection of pictures, sayings, objects, and places that reminds the author of her father~ in her words, "to celebrate my dad's life, what he loved and how I remember him." (I was so inspired by this idea that I later decided to construct boards to remind me of my own parents: Remembering Daddy and Remembering Mother.)

In her lovely article, “Singing Their Song,” author and bereaved mom Elaine Stillwell writes, “We have to find that special way that will allow us to sing our loved one’s song loud and clear . . . Knowing you are doing something to keep your loved one’s memory alive keeps you passionately busy, allows you to tell your sacred story, adds joy to your heart, brings an array of beautiful, loving people into your life, and rewards you with a meaningful life again. Your loud voice will echo in many hearts making sure your loved one is never erased from memory.” (in Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 2, Issue #4)

My hope for you, my dear, is that your parents’ beautiful song will continue on forever, so long as you keep finding ways to do their singing. 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. My father died awhile ago and in his honor I wrote a children's book, "Bo John's Train," about his life and the impact he had on the lives around him.


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