In the end, grief is about how we remember. Memory is powerful. It shapes our lives in many ways. Memory impacts our emotions. Memory shapes the significance we give to current events. Memory influences what we expect from the future. So the effort to grieve well could be reframed as learning to remember in healthy ways.
Too often we try to define “getting over grief” as “moving past” our loss, which implies forgetting or not thinking about our loved one. We rightly resist this conception of grief. But unless we have a healthy alternative, we avoid one error and get trapped in painful remembering.
In this appendix, you should find a list of ways to remember your loved one in a healthy manner. Do not read this as a checklist to complete, but as a brainstorming venue to find ideas that match your preferences and situation. With each suggestion, it is important to remember that you are creating something special rather than sacred. If you venerate your method of remembering, it will add a pressure to do it perfectly and transfer the emotional attachment from your loved one to an object.
When you lose someone dear, you do become, in some sense, their historian. You carry their story, values, and accomplishments to continue the blessing God brought about through their life. But it is important to remember that God promises to equip you for this task in the same way He does for any other task.
Read Luke 12:11-12. The context of this passage is different from grief, but Jesus’ promise still applies. The disciples were fearful they would not know what to say when they faced persecution. After all, Jesus said things so well and was always able to answer the entrapping questions of his enemies. But they feared freezing up and forgetting all they learned from Jesus. But his promise to their fear was that the Holy Spirit would prompt their memory in the needed moments. That same promise applies to the fear you may feel about forgetting pieces of your loved one’s life. Your loved one is with God, and God is with you. There is a sure connection between you and whatever memory would benefit a given moment.
With these things in mind, consider the following suggestions as you develop an approach to remembering your loved one and, thereby, continue on your journey of grieving with hope.
Personal Journal: A personal journal simply involves recording your memories in a notebook, on a computer, or with the voice recorder on your phone when they arise. Do not worry about trying to develop a chronological or thematic order. That can often make a personal journal feel forced or like a burden. This is not a biography but a series of snapshots from your memory. This type of tool allows it to feel less like your memories are attacking you out of nowhere and then running off to hide. Each memory, even if painful or sad, becomes part of a permanent bank of memories. You do not have to fear losing them (we’ve already discussed how fear magnifies grief) because they are recorded. Now each memory can be a welcomed guest rather than a painful intruder.
Structured Journal: Many different structured journals exist. Some are meant to help you record your experience with grief. Others ask questions about your loved one for you to write about. If you lost a parent, you might get A Father’s Legacy or A Mother’s Legacy journal (which are usually completed by the parent as a gift for their children) and fill in the parts you know. This type of exercise doesn’t rely on spontaneous or situationally triggered memory. Such journals can provide a pleasant surprise of how much you remember and give you questions to ask family and friends to learn more.
Scrap Book: Part of the grieving process usually involves going through the loved ones things. In this process you will likely find pictures, letters, diplomas, certificates, and other things that capture the story of your loved one’s life. Putting these together into a scrap book can be an effective way to review their life in a highly interactive way that facilitates the grieving process. The end product will be something that you can share with those who would benefit from hearing your loved one’s story (children as they get older, grandchildren, or others going through grief).
Memory Box: As you go through your loved one’s things, there will be some precious things that wouldn’t fit in a scrap book. If you are not careful, there may be so many of these that space becomes an issue or that their prominence in your home becomes a perpetually painful reminder. Having a box where you keep these things will help you limit the collection to a healthy amount and give you something to get out and peruse on occasions when you want to reflect on their life. Some people like to have a special box made to feel like they are giving additional honor to their loved one and creating a family heirloom.
Family Gathering: If your loss was a friend, then the gathering might be with other friends. The objective would be the same; to remember your loved one in a healthy way through shared memory. In combination with some of the ideas above, this can be a sweet time of comfort for all involved. People might read from their journal about unique experiences, share pictures, or talk about items that had significance to the shared loved one.
The big take away from this appendix should be that while remembering may be painful it is not bad. It is a healthy and essential part of grief. Actually, there is no way to forget someone who has been a significant enough part of our life that we would grieve their absence. The objective is to remember in a way that fosters healthiness in our life and honors the blessing God gave us in our loved one.
If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Grief” post which address other facets of this subject.