In the years after my brother died, I began to interact with a lot of people who were facing loss. As a counselor I sat across from more and more people in the gray days after someone’s death as they tried to pull the pieces of their life back together. I noticed something in them that I had seen in myself. After the initial pain begins to subside, many people feel a burst of panic. The weight of loss can be so constant in the early days that when it begins to lift, it’s easy to feel that something is wrong. That’s when we scramble to find some way to keep their memory alive. I was in college when my Dad died. He loved to find and collect Native American artifacts in his free time. When fields around our home were plowed up, they would unearth shards of pottery, scrapers, and arrowheads. So, I felt that a way to keep my father with me would be to make a necklace out of one of the arrowheads he had found. It didn’t take long for me to realize that wearing a chunk of rock around your neck was a very uncomfortable way to remember someone you loved. Also, it’s a look only a few people can pull off, and I am evidently not one of those people. Over time I realized what is now the fifth thing I’ve learned about grief.
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Just because you aren’t hurting as much as you did before doesn’t mean that your Dad, brother, or wife no longer matters. You aren’t letting them down. You don’t have to actively think about someone daily in order to remember them. I know several people who have unintentionally punished their family that was still living by choosing to live almost totally in the past. That doesn’t honor the people we have lost.
We don’t have to fight to keep someone’s memory alive, because they are already a part of us and of our future. I can’t imagine who I would be without the encouragement and example of my brother. I am a totally different person today than I would have been if I had never known him. I carry that with me every day and into every relationship. I don’t have to worry about keeping his memory alive, because he is a living part of me.
So, when you are ready, it’s ok to pack up their bedroom or to give their clothes to Goodwill. You aren’t pushing them away. You are who you are because of them, and living life is the greatest possible celebration of their memory.