Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive
It is the inevitability of loss that unites us all. And yet it is loss that can also separate us – not just from our lost loved one but from our family and friends. Sometimes the isolation arises through others simply not knowing how to interact with someone who is grieving – as Sheryl Sandberg wrote about in 2017 in “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy” after the death of her husband.
It is also true that we experience loss in different ways and the way that we feel we need to deal with life's toughest challenge can sometimes upset expectations.
“Isn't she over it yet?” “You need to get out more.” “Perhaps it's time you tried finding someone new.” These are all judgments and pieces of advice that are mostly well meant but are often wide of the mark and unwelcome. Is it so wrong to want to keep a lost loved one in our lives?
“We are the only animal species that possesses – and is possessed by – history, personal and cultural. We are never entirely free of the past. The physical death of the beloved is not the end of our attachment to him or her. Their presence is always with us.” (“No Voice Is Ever Wholly Lost” 1996)
For Kaplan, mourning is not about detaching ourselves from the ones we have lost, it is about finding helpful and satisfying ways to stay connected. And it is from that idea that Allison Gilbert ventures forth with a slew of excellent, practical, suggestions for staying in touch. She prefers to emphasize commemoration over sadness and preservation over relinquishment.
1. Cook: Preparing a dish associated with your loved one can help make you feel closer to them. And it can create an occasion to talk about them. A related “Forget Me Not” is to assemble and digitize recipes associated with your love one.
2. Write it Down: Gilbert suggests recalling and writing down words and phrases used by your loved one. She suggests finding a small note book that can go wherever you go. (Or, if you have a smart phone you could use its “voice memo” app to orally record you recollection.)
3. Build or Designate a Refuge: Sometimes is helps to find or even create a special place to remember a loved one. You can choose to place items there or just know that that is your spot for quiet meditation.
4. Craft their image into art: Using an image of your loved one you can (now) have it printed onto any manner of permanent keepsake. (There are dozens of online photo printers who offer an enormous range of printable products.)
5. Invite Stories: using Facebook or a website (or just plain email or texting) ask people close to you or your loved one to share their memories. (You can do this with video or audio, encouraging people to use their smart phones and emailing, texting or posting the results.)
6. Hire a Personal Historian: Personal historians (Gilbert says) can help craft your family's story so that it's intelligible and captivating with a book, a video or a family website from the material they've collected or helped to catalogue (her words not ours we promise!).
7. Share Their Objects: Maybe the person was a collector or an artist or maybe you just have lots of their letters. Gilbert suggests that you can share those items broadly with family and friends. It may be the object itself or it maybe a printed or digital facsimile.
Gilbert has, of course, many other ideas associated with using photos, slides, audio and home movies – you have found this site after all so I am guessing you are already way ahead on those ideas! But however you choose to preserve or commemorate your loved one, remember that one of the keys is – as Cheryl Sandberg found – is to respect your feelings.