A number of years ago my stepmother, Marie, age 62, died after a massive heart attack and a six-month illness. I am of the age when losses become part of everyday life. Many of us are in some stage of grieving. What has been interesting for me in this process is the almost immediate shift I made to maintaining a connection with my stepmom that allows the relationship to continue in a different way. This different form of connection is a mental and spiritual process.
Unfortunately, connecting with the deceased has too often only been publicly discussed in exotic forms, such as séances, or psychic communication with the dead. The connecting I am describing is a quieter, more natural experience. Marie’s minister spoke of her love of flower gardening at her funeral. I now think of Marie fondly when caring for my own flowers. I am maintaining a connection with her through this shared pleasure. Through the various and fluctuating “stages” of my grieving I connect with her again in pleasure when browsing in antique shops (she was an antique dealer). I connect with her in amusement when I spend a lot on something I want. She would be both shocked and amused at my self-indulgence, as she was an avid bargain hunter. The most rewarding place I connect with her is when I meet someone new and carry it off well, since I was not as extroverted as she was. I can connect with her warmth and enjoyment of others, as well as her lack of pretension, snobbery, or judgment of others. These were her greatest gifts, and the connections I value the most.
I believe this process of continued connections in grieving has not been given enough attention. Instead, too much focus has been placed on defining the stages of grief. This focus has lead us to sometimes think the correct way to grieve is to stop thinking, or feeling about the deceased person after an acceptable period of mourning. Encouraging a premature ending to thinking about someone deceased could actually lead to complicated, or prolonged grief reactions. Supporting and encouraging continued connections is a helpful way to build in comfort with and acceptance of the grieving process.
Common ways others maintain connections with deceased loved ones are cooking favorite “handed down recipes”, sometimes in handed down pots and pans; sitting in the loved one’s favorite chair; having a mental conversation with the loved one while taking a walk; telling a favorite story about the loved one, or visiting his or her favorite place.
One of my favorite movies, Titanic, illustrated the important and enduring nature of continued connections. Rose maintained her connection with Jack, as expressed in the theme song, My Heart Will Go On:
Every night in my dreams
I see you, I feel you
That is how I know you go on
Far across the distance
And spaces between us
You have come to show you go on
Near, far, wherever you are
My heart will go on and on.