When someone we love dies, our relationship with them doesn’t end.
At least, from our end it changes. We don’t really know what happens on their end.
(Lots of philosophical and spiritual traditions have very different thoughts on this subject.)
The thing is, many of us are tempted to think that, just because someone has died, our relationship with them has ended— which leaves us kind of stuck with a certain “version” of our relationship with them that (we think) can’t evolve.
It’s true that when someone dies, we can’t create new experiences with them like we did in the past.
We can’t have conversations with them like we did in the past.
The straightforward way we relate to someone in life is, after they die, replaced with a more complicated, more private, more emotional way of relating to them that happens mostly inside our heads and hearts.
But we’re still relating to them.
We’re relating to their memory— to our idea of who they were, and who we were with them.
Our relationships with friends and family members who have passed away sometimes remain some of the defining relationships in our lives.
They’re still with us.
I’m not talking about in a spiritual sense, although there are spiritual and metaphysical traditions that absolutely believe that someone’s essence absolutely lives on and stays with that person’s loved ones after they die.
I’m talking psychoemotionally: our relationship with someone simply doesn’t cease when they cease to physically be here, any more than our emotional relationship with someone gets put on pause when they’re not physically in the room with us.
Even though someone has died, we still need to manage our relationship with them.
We still need to acknowledge and manage our thoughts and feelings about them.
We still need to manage what their memory triggers in us.
This task is complicated, no doubt about it, given that they’re not physically here to take an active role in this process.
They’re not here to help us out.
But that doesn’t mean we can act as if their memory is frozen in time and space for us, never to evolve or draw us in again.
In our emotional lives, they’re very much alive, and we need to deal with HOW they live in in our memory.
You are not crazy for struggling to relate to someone’s memory.
You’re not crazy for struggling to manage difficult feelings about someone who has died.
You’re not crazy for struggling for finding this whole thing complicated.
Give yourself time and give yourself space.
Let your body and brain do what your body and brain need to do to grieve.
Let complicated and mixed feelings be complicated and mixed.
Let anger exist alongside fondness.
Let sadness exist alongside laughter.
Maybe you’ll need to cry; maybe you’ll need to tell a story; maybe you’ll need to punch a pillow; maybe you’ll need ice cream.
Be there for what you need.
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