Monday, July 29, 2019

In Grief: No Sense of "Collective Closure" After Dad's Death

Image by Ian Lindsay from Pixabay
Reviewed and updated July 28, 2022]

When words are inadequate, have a ritual.  ~ Author Unknown

A reader writes: As soon as they learned that my father had died, the most beautiful flowers and lovely cards from friends and relatives around the country began to arrive at my door. Knowing that so many people are there for me and that all of them care means so much to me.

Still, all of this is so very, very odd-feeling, and I hope you can help me to understand why. My step-mother arbitrarily decided that, in her opinion, my father didn't know enough people in their town to make having a funeral or memorial service for him there "worth the effort." She had his body cremated virtually instantly, and she says we'll probably scatter his ashes over Long Island Sound sometime this summer.

Because all of his happiest memories involve the time that he lived in that area, it does make good sense and it is certainly fitting to do that. I think he'd like the idea. Still, there is no traditional "gathering of the family" to be together now, immediately after Dad's death, to share and process our own individual and collective feelings about that loss. My sister and her children are in Canada, my brothers and their families are in Texas, and I'm in Connecticut. My step-mother is in Maine. Having no sense of "collective closure" makes it all the more difficult.

My response: From what I read in your message, you are reacting to the fact that there was no family gathering, no funeral, no opportunity to honor the memory of your father.

As I'm sure you know, funerals are ways that a community says, "Your loved one's life counted. You are not going to be alone to get through this.  And most important, your loved one will be remembered." I think you are reacting to the fact that you’ve been deprived of the comfort, social support and collective memory-making that a funeral for your dad would have provided. In that sense, your reaction of "having no sense of ‘collective closure'" is accurately described and perfectly understandable.

What to do? First of all, I want to validate your feelings by acknowledging your reaction as normal under the circumstances, and I can certainly understand why you would be feeling as you do. I also want to gently remind you that, important as it is, the funeral service marks only the end of the beginning phase of mourning. There are still many other ways that you can honor and remember your father, and you are limited only by your own creativity and imagination.

For example, since you don’t have a grave to visit, you might create a special place of remembrance in your home or garden where you can go to reflect upon your dad's life, your memories of him and what he meant to you. Even though you were unable to do so at his funeral, you might still find it helpful to write a eulogy for your dad (or a letter to him), expressing your thoughts and feelings and recalling the special memories you have of him.

You could also write to family members and friends who knew your dad and ask them to reminisce and recall what was special about him, then put those stories in writing and send them to you. As a bereaved individual, you have the right to hear from others the wonderful stories about your dad that have yet to be told, and you may receive some precious gifts as a result of your efforts.

You might also keep in mind that a memorial service can be held at any time and at any place following the death of a loved one ~ even months afterward. Maybe you could plan such a service far enough in the future that all important family members would have time enough to plan to attend.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind, but I also encourage you to visit the Memorials, Funerals, Rituals page on my Grief Healing website, and you’ll find a long list of useful resources that may help you decide how you might construct the commemorative rituals that you need and deserve.

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