Rain and sun bring growth

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”                                                                       

~Robert Benchley

 

Regardless of what you are told by well-meaning friends, despite what you may see on The Hallmark Channel, there is no “moving on” after the death of a loved one.  There is no “getting over it”. There is no “closure”.  

 

What there is, within this painful, chaotic, confusing experience of grief, is “moving forward”.  Moving forward with your loved one.  Integration of your loved one into the new life you will slowly build for yourself.  

 

Your loved one’s body, his form, her life, as we can see/feel/touch it, has died.  But what made him who he was, at his deepest core, what made her yours in that special way, has not died.  It can never die.  It lives on, not just in memory, but inside you, and outside of you as well.  The challenge, especially in these first raw, numb days and weeks following their death, is to learn to see it, to recognize it, to connect with it, to forge a new relationship with it.

 

***

 

Susan’s daughter, Cathy, died suddenly at age 33 of a rare, undiagnosed liver disease.  About two months after, Susan came to see me for grief counseling because of the anger that was overwhelming her every day.  Slowly, we explored that anger and the aching kernel of sadness that was its core, a core which held the image of her precious daughter as she had been when healthy.  Susan clung to that image, not as a memory, but as a still-living entity, refusing at times to acknowledge even that Cathy was truly dead.  

 

Each time I suggested ways to connect with Cathy outside the physical form for which she longed, Susan refused to even try.  There was always a reason that, while those things might work for others, they would not work for her.  Her insistent refusal to re-forge her physical relationship with her daughter into an on-going, non-physical one, resulted in Susan being locked in a prison of anger and pain that separated her from Cathy even more than was necessary.

 

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Susan’s suffering pushed her to a breaking point and she agreed to try a meditative visualization exercise with me.  She had been able to successfully adopt focused breathing as a tool to help cope with anger, and so was able to breathe herself into a relaxed state as she sat before the soft lights of a Christmas tree in the safety of my office.  From there, she allowed me to talk her through “The Train Trip”, a visualization in which Susan boarded a train with Cathy who was whole, health, and happy just as Susan so longed for her to be.  

 

They rode together for some time, Susan telling Cathy all the things that had happened since her death.  I encouraged Susan to focus on Cathy’s beloved face, to see every crinkle, every freckle, to take in the touch of her hand and the scent of her skin just as she had done when Cathy was a baby, encouraged her to memorize every physical trait and attribute in the greatest of detail.  

 

Then, I asked her to look continue looking at Cathy, but to now focus on all the “invisible” things she loved about her daughter — her charismatic spark, her generosity, her passion, her sharp wit, her great capacity to love — all the things that went beyond her deep green eyes and bright red hair.  

 

After a few minutes, the train slowed down and Cathy told her mother that it was time for her to go.  Susan said she would go, too, but Cathy told her that it was not yet her mother’s stop, that she had other places to see before she could leave the train.  Cathy told Susan that she would always be with her – not just inside her as a memory, but really with her, beside her to experience and see all the things and places and people that Susan would encounter during the rest of her journey.  Cathy told Susan that only her body would be absent, and that while she knew her mother would miss that part of her, she reminded Susan that all the other, invisible parts, the ones that made Cathy who she really was, lived on both inside and outside her mother, and that Susan would find those pieces again and again if only she would be brave enough to look for them.  They stood up and Susan gave her daughter a long, tight hug, promising to carry Cathy with her for all the rest of the trip, then she watched her daughter leave the train and walk away.

 

The effect of the visualization on Susan’s grief experience was very evident during the following weeks.  While the exercise had been painful, it had unlocked the door of the prison in which she had confined herself to live with only the memory of her daughter.  Susan told me that she had made it, “almost a kind of game” to find her daughter in the living world around her.  She began first, with Cathy’s daughter, “because she looks just like her mother”, then extended it further and further into the world, amazed to find Cathy’s unique laughter in the melody of a song she’d never heard before, or the green of her eyes in the Spring-budding trees.

 

“She really is still with me,”  she told me one day not long before our last session.  “And I don’t ever have to let her go.”

 

***

 

Your loved one’s body, precious as it was, has died.  You loved one’s being lives on.  Look for it — in nature, in art, in the eyes of both strangers and loved ones.  And especially inside yourself.