The death of someone we love leaves a hole. We can’t bring people back, but we can find out more about who they are and how they came to be important to us. Through “reframing” (“The Challenges of Losing a Loved One to Death”), historical exploration, and art, we can preserve, even grow, our connections to them.
We can reframe our relationships with people who have died by looking at the memories and achievements they left behind. We primarily know living people through our connections to them as their child, parent, co-worker, or friend. When a person has died, we often get to talk to others and see the person differently through their eyes. Or we may discover some way in which the person made a contribution to our world. Even if we only review what we already know, death brings a new perspective on a person, a chance to cherish or forgive, to remember and heal.
We can also put people we have lost in perspective by examining their place in our personal, family, or professional history. This illuminates the importance of people who have died to our ongoing life, and it reminds us that all of us have a purpose. Our lives will have meaning for those who come after us, just as our loved ones’ lives are important to us.
When my father died, I went through old family letters and memorabilia he left. It was comforting to learn about my grandparents, whom I had never known, and understand more about where my father came from. I realized that the ways his family helped form his character influenced how he helped form mine, and I, in turn, was passing that heritage to my children.
Finally, we can deepen our connections to people even after their deaths by memorializing them through art. This doesn’t require creative genius: putting together a memorial service, creating a scrapbook, remembering a loved one in a letter, and even choosing and arranging flowers just right at a grave site all help us engage with people who have gone and make them present for ourselves and others. We deepen our relationship to lost loved ones as we respectfully consider how they might have observed and reacted to what we are doing.
One of my favorite traditions that seek to make the dead present in spirit is the Mexican Day of the Dead, in which people create private altars to their dead and bring the things they liked to eat and drink to their graves. Considering what people would like if they could still attend celebrations is a wonderful way to remind ourselves of the ways they were present in our lives, and to renew our connection with the unique spirit they shared with us while they were here.
Stathas, John. “The Challenges of Losing a Loved One to Death.” Lake Oconee Breeze. 5 Sept. 2013.