Historically, the advice given to those who have lost a loved one was to forget the deceased, quit “spending” so much emotional energy on him/her, “move on” with life, and find another relationship to “invest in.” Robert Neimeyer has a good description for this – love was being treated as if it were money that could be easily re-directed from one investment (relationship) to another. However, for a person who has lost a loved one, such advice seems ridiculously simplistic and cruel. How can we so readily forget someone we love, and besides, why should we? That person was an important part of our lives. How can we be expected to just walk away from those emotional binds? Thankfully, we now realize that “forgetting and re-investing” is bad advice – we can’t, and even shouldn’t, try to. Instead, we should do what we do naturally – actively strive to maintain a connection with our deceased loved one.
Maintaining a connection is important because it gives us the opportunity to establish a new relationship with them. When I tell someone freshly grieving a loss that mourning involves developing a new relationship with the deceased – a re-integration of their loved one into their heart – they don’t have a clue what I’m getting at. Until you have actually experienced it, re-integrating is a very hard concept to grasp; however, after actively doing the grief work you slowly begin to understand. I have had a number of clients tell me that at first they had no idea what I meant by “re-integrating,” but they later learned. What they learned was how to embrace their loved one not in a physical way, but in a symbolic way so that he/she could always be present in their hearts. They re-structure their love so that it is a love that transcends the physical world and resides within them through any calamity. In many ways, we can end up feeling closer than ever before to the one(s) we have lost. Notice I use the present tense of the verb “to love.” Our love doesn’t die because the body dies. Our love continues; it is possibly changed from before, but it doesn’t have to cease to exist.