By Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
How often after death, does a well-intentioned friend or family and even counselor say to us, “Haven’t you moved on yet, it’s time to let go and move on, or you need to forget him.” Our reaction as we hear these words of support, includes withdrawal, surprise, and even a sense of bewilderment as it is not what we are usually feeling or experiencing.
I have observed the bereaved standing firm in reaction to this question, silently wondering how anyone can give such advice. Others have reacted with irritated statements like: “You’re not the one who lost their dad, or we were together for 56 years and you think within 6 months I should be over him?” While others, tend to move into silence, uncertain how to respond and trying to hold their reaction in check. Others may shake their heads in bewilderment on the inside while on the outside they show no sign of the turmoil within. Some may withdraw because, in their hearts and memories, they still have a relationship with the deceased and prefer not to have that discussion with this goodhearted supporter. Finally, some bereaved will gain the courage to say to the supporter that their wisdom, though well-intentioned, is not helpful at this time, and then excuse themselves from that person for a while.
Seeking Resolution or Restoration
After experiencing a significant loss, counselors and others encourage seeking “resolution.” The reality that the loss is final and having a sense of closure seems promising. That companions with the idea that we “get through” grief, in other words, we believe that the only way to move forward is to put behind us the loss we have experienced. This includes even separating ourselves from the relationship on which that loss was based.
In recent literature on grief and bereavement written by experts whose work was not influenced by preexisting theories, there is hesitation in speaking of “resolution” or “closure” or other fixed endpoints in grief and mourning. Rather, some researchers, like Stroebe and Shut, propose that in their “Dual Process Model,” adapting to one’s loss and grief involves coping with these experiences themselves, on the one hand, and achieving a kind of restoration in one’s life, on the other hand. Restoration does not mean living life as you had before the death, it does mean restructuring life in ways that allow one to live productively in the present and future. Restructuring one’s life as a bereaved person can also mean maintaining a dynamic enduring connection or continuing bond with the deceased person. The person who is still not physically present to us can be loved in absence. The reality of the love we hold for the person who died can still be enfolded in our hearts, held in our memories and never again taken from us. As life goes on, we grow with and around our grief.
Whatever you are feeling is valid and okay
(as long as it is not harmful to yourself or others).
March 2023 Issue of Journeys, A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, Hospice Foundation of America, Article title: Resolution or restructuring?, by Charles A. Corr, PhD.
Widowedparent.org. Understanding Your Grief video, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Campus Box 7295, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599