Honoring Loss

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem.)

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.  Mary Oliver “Thirst” (2006)  from The Uses of Sorrow

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In the late spring of this last year I lost a family member. She was only 23 years old and had the entire world at her feet. She was beautiful, quiet, smart and loved by many people—friends and family alike. For the rest of my life I will miss her with all my heart.

As the tears feel as if they will never cease, I have to remember that she would not have wanted me to be unhappy on her account. But to grieve is the essential thing I must do now until I have purged as much sorrow and anger and disillusionment from my soul. Then and only then can I find a way to rebuild my relationship with this astonishing young woman.

How long do I need to grieve? My soul tells me “as long as it takes.” Usually that means until the mourning turns into honoring, which it will do over time should I make that next step in my process my eventual goal. It’s tricky. Grief has me right now by the neck, and I know I will miss this lovely girl forever. But I also know from experience that in time I will be able to look at this young lady’s life in its entirety, not just at her death alone. And when I am able to do that, then I can honor everything about her all the way up to and including the day of her passing.

Once I am in the place where my grief welcomes the joy of her spirit, then I can celebrate her life, her memory and how she positively affected our family over the few years of her life. How to celebrate? Everyone has their own way. When my mother died, I began to cook all of her favorite recipes until I had gone through them all at least twice. I love to cook; this is because the kitchen was my mother’s workshop—where her creativity came to the fore. And even now, three years later, I still feel the closeness I felt when she was alive when I am preparing meals for my family as she did for me.

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Here are a few ways other grief counselors have suggested for honoring the loss of a loved one.

  • Plant a garden (in your front/back yard or community)
  • Release beautiful Sky Lanterns in their memory on a special day
  • Make a memory Shadow Box
  • Take memorial pictures at cemetery or cremation site or with urn
  • Make a scrapbook / photo scrapbook of items worn/used or bought for the deceased
  • Make or buy a piece of jewelry (bracelet, necklace, ring) with your loved one’s name and date
  • Get a Tattoo of your loved one (name, photo, date)
  • Take photos of something in nature that help you feel closer to your angel (light, butterflies, flowers, dragonflies, etc…)
  • Make a charitable contribution in your loved one’s name to your favorite charity or organization
  • Collect Soy Jar Candles with scents that remind you of your loved one
  • Create a place in your home for your child’s special things
  • Purchase and name a crater on the moon after your loved one
  • Name a star after your loved one (unofficial, but still cool)
  • Start a charity or non-profit to help others in your situation
  • Keep a blog and write your heart. You can even make it private if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your journey with others
  • Do a balloon release on their special dates, or any day
  • Participate in March of Dimes walk in their name
  • Speak to your hospital about starting or being involved with the bereavement support program available
  • Create or order a custom piece of jewelry with their name on it, and possibly charms that remind you of them
  • Plant a tree
  • Donate memory boxes to your local hospital
  • Donate to a local charity in their name
  • Do a butterfly release
  • Take a creative Photography course
  • Speak their name to anyone willing to listen
  • Celebrate their birthday, in a big or small way, whatever you might feel comfortable with
  • Collect little things here and there that remind you of them
  • Write a letter to them
  • Take a creative writing course, or just start writing
  • Send notes on helium balloons to them

But most importantly, allow yourself all the time you need to fully grieve so that when you are ready to fully celebrate that person’s life, you can go all the way!