This post is another side to the subject of memorialising. It looks at those who have very good reasons for not wanting to keep on remembering.
Living with loss does not only mean coping with the death of a person. It can also mean coping with the loss of what a relationship should have been.
I often write about ‘continuing bonds‘ and finding ways to remember and honour our loved ones. I think this is very welcome for those of us who have lost babies or children. As parents, we want our children to be remembered, however short or long their lives. There is easy evidence for this: Walk around any cemetery and chances are that you will notice that the majority of graves with the most decoration are the graves of children.
But not everyone who reads this blog is mourning a child, and there can be another side of remembrance, particularly for other relationships and particularly if those relationships were difficult. (This could also apply to our adult children, but I won’t go into that here.)
Of course we might love and cherish the memories of our parents, close relatives and friends, husband or wife or partner. Then again, we might not.
Sometimes there are people who we don’t want to remember.
Whose memories we don’t want to honour.
Who don’t deserve our unwavering love.
For some, “until death do we part” was a grievous life sentence, the end of which brings relief.
The person who died might be someone who hurt us or someone else; someone who abandoned us; someone who abused us, damaging us physically, psychologically or emotionally; someone who was controlling; or even someone we discovered was a different person entirely to the one who we thought they were.
Bereaved in different ways
When someone like this has died, our feelings can be quite complex. We might be relieved and we might even be glad.
Bereavement is defined in one dictionary as: A state of sorrow over the death or departure of a loved one. mourning. sorrowfulness, sadness, sorrow …
It follows that we might not even consider ourselves ‘bereaved’ because that’s not exactly what we’re feeling – at least not all of the time.
But personally I think we have been bereaved, no matter what type of person they were, no matter how they behaved, no matter their actions. If it was a wrong relationship, then we were bereaved of the right relationship.
The parent that abandoned their family is not perhaps mourned at the time of their death, but they were mourned many years earlier by the children and remaining partner who had to manage without them. The controlling or abusive partner is not perhaps mourned at the time of their death, but the lack of love and kindness in the relationship was mourned while they lived. And so on.
The legacy of this type of damaging relationship is obviously different to a harmonious, loving relationship. The memory legacy is very different.
There are no obligations to remember and memorialise
It is often said that our grief is as unique as our lives, and there is no wrong or right way to grieve. There is so much truth in this.
If our particular grief means getting rid of someone’s belongings, taking down photos, not visiting a grave, not making anything of anniversaries, then if this is right for us personally, then this is right.
There is no obligation for ‘continuing bonds’.
On the other hand, life is rarely that simple. The person who died might have also had some good qualities. Remembering those better parts might be beneficial for our own mental health. That’s something that we might think about as time passes, but the urgent matter is taking care of ourselves. Dealing with our grief – whether it is grief about their death or grief about how they lived or a mixture of both – is key to our own onward journey through life now.
Many people with complex relationships find that unravelling their story with someone else helps put things in perspective. Finding safe spaces to express ourselves can be more or less essential. That could mean getting some professional support such as seeing a counsellor.
Another complication can be how other people might put this deceased person on some sort of a pedestal. They sincerely might have no idea who they ‘really’ were. Whether they had any inkling or not, there is sometimes a view that we should “not speak evil of the dead”. We might find ourselves taking a deep breath and holding back our words for the sake of peace in our families or social circle. Inner turmoil might be the result; we are pulled in different directions by our own feelings and those of others. Again, we might need someone from the ‘outside’ who can help us make sense of it all and give us a very necessary escape valve for the thoughts that trouble us.
One example of this in practice could be not wanting to go to their funeral. Our personal and family circumstances might leave us without much choice, as it could impact on present and future relationships if we completely ‘abandon’ this person, especially if other people don’t know the background to why we are feeling as we are. Then again, we might believe as a point of principle that we shouldn’t attend. These are difficult issues that we will need to resolve the best we are able to, knowing that our resolution is unlikely to be perfect. We might look back eventually wondering if we should have done things differently. That is true of so much of life, isn’t it. But we can literally only do the best we can do at the itme.
We often hear about forgiveness being a way forward for those who have been harmed by someone else. This might fit squarely within our personal philosophies or religious beliefs. Then again, extending such forgiveness – especially if the person died without ever seeking it – can seem a superhuman task. It is rarely going to accomplished in one moment or one word.
Self-care. Not selfish but essential.
There is no magic wand or simple answers to solve any of this. I wish there was! We each walk our unique path in many respects, and it is not an easy nor a straightforward path. But what I do believe we all have in common is the need for self-care.
To be able walk forward in our lives, to live on in spite what we have endured and the losses we have suffered, requires us taking care of ourselves. It’s only as we find peace in our own hearts and minds that we are able to extend that to others, both the living and the dead.
And so I’ll finish here with a link to a page of readings on taking care of ourselves. You might not have expected for this to be the conclusion but I personally don’t see any other way forward, as there is no way back.
To walk forward in our lives, to live on in the face of the losses we have suffered, requires us taking care of ourselves.”