Staying in touch

by Rebecca Crichton

I don’t know about you, but I am feeling impacted by the difficult diagnoses, deaths, and grief in my life and the lives of many people I know.

A good friend died a year ago and I feel her presence in unexpected ways. Other people I have known have died more recently. I am deliberately avoiding using euphemisms like ‘passed’ or ‘lost to’ or even ones like ‘returned to the spiritual plane.’  I think it is good to be able to say the ‘D’ words – ‘Death’ and ‘Dying.’

It isn’t news that our society is uncomfortable with addressing the topic of end-of-life. Denial would be the operative word here. (Yet I see a real and significant expansion of the resources available for discussing and preparing for it, particularly among aging boomers and elders.)

I’ll start with an important caveat for what not to do when loss arrives in your life. Don’t ‘Get Over It.’ That bad piece of advice has punished and poisoned mourners for too long. What helps is the recognition that we ‘go through’ the feelings, actions, and other known effects of grief. One recent book—Resilient Grieving by Nancy Hone—reminds us that the grief stays but we ‘grow our lives around it.’

Increasingly, the topic of grief —the normal, expected, and often complex response to loss—is being addressed in new books and other resources. (Our website includes a Resource page devoted to End-of-Life.) As a long-time grief counselor and facilitator of grief support groups, I know how people benefit from sharing their stories and learning how others experience their own losses. Participants feel less alone and able to contribute to others at a time when they feel diminished and confronted by the death of someone they loved.

Grief groups, although focusing on loss, also have moments of deep connection and even humor. Those often come when people share the ways they have learned to live with their grief and how they have maintained contact with their loved ones.  

Part of healthy grieving includes finding your own unique ways to remember, tell stories, recognize, and incorporate aspects of the people you grieve.

There is another level of connection that many people experience but might not be comfortable sharing. They are in the realm Merriam-Webster refers to as “woo-woo.” These are the connections that include visions and voices, a sense of presence, or received messages.

The Restorative Nature of Ongoing Connections with the Deceased – Exploring Presence within Absence, the recent book of essays edited by Laurie Burke and Dr. Ted Rynearson, offers examples of how people grieve and heal through accepting ways to be close to their deceased loved ones.

I have heard stories about the appearance of loved ones at the same time they later hear the person had died. I know someone who feels visited by her partner whenever an eagle flies by. Another friend receives monthly ‘transmissions’ that she captures in writing from her husband who died 15 years ago.

None of these experiences frightened them. They were felt as reassuring, reminders of the depth of connection and shared love during their lives together.

Many people talk to those they are mourning. They might have special times when they converse, or a daily ritual of connection. Some like to report on their lives or ask for help with decision-making. An artist friend is creating Memento Mori—multi-media assemblages that honor her husband and mother, who both died within a few months of each other. Another friend is planting a memorial garden for her husband who died suddenly. She talks with him daily. A close relative often dreams about her parents, receiving what she takes as commentary on her life.

Whatever it is that you or others do to stay connected to people who have died and are missed, trust your own process for continuing your life, informed by the memories and intangible support of the people who helped you be who you are.