Gazing lovingly into her groom's eyes, the beautiful bride repeated the pastor's words, "For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part." The audience around me sighed. I had to stifle a scream.
I wanted to chime in, "'Til death do us NOT part... death won't part you. Love transcends death." But in the spirit of not wanting to make a scene -- or be carted off as a crazy woman -- I kept my mouth shut and smiled like everyone else.
After being a grief therapist for 25 years and working with hundreds of widows and widowers, I can attest that death only parts the physical form. Even in the wake of loss, a deep relationship continues to feel as real, as loving, and as transcendent as ever.
Of course, any bereaved spouse would rather have the physical form of their loved one right beside them. However, staying connected to memories and to the feeling of abiding love is a healthy way to grieve.
If you've "lost" your beloved spouse or partner, here are some ways to 'find' them again.
Talk to your Loved One -- It may feel awkward or silly at first, but you can and should have conversations with your loved one. Don't be afraid to say out loud what you're feeling inside. One widow I worked with found that her morning commute was her favorite time to "chat" with her husband. She found that some days she cried as she spoke to him and other days she laughed. Either way, she nurtured their connection in a way that felt ever fresh.
Look at Photographs of Your Loved One -- It's healthy to keep photographs around you and look at them regularly. One widower I know keeps a picture of his dear one beside his bed. Every night before he goes to sleep, he blows her a kiss. He likes knowing that she's still beside him. Although his friends told him to remove photographs in his house, he said to me, "Why would I want to erase all those wonderful memories?"
Write to your Loved One -- I often recommend writing a letter to your deceased spouse on the anniversary of their death. This is a way to reflect through the years and have an annual ritual. Some widows find that they want to write to their beloved more regularly, almost as if journaling to them. Whatever feels comfortable should be your guide. Know that writing to them about your life and about your feelings is an effective means of honoring your grief and staying connected.
Talk About Your Loved One -- Don't be afraid to share memories with other people who loved your partner. Often people are reluctant to share memories because they don't want to upset you. Take the initiative to let people know that you enjoy hearing stories about your loved one, even if it also makes you sad. Let them know that remembering his or her life is a great gift to you.
Be Open to Signs From Your Loved One -- Although it may seem strange or mysterious, it's quite common to receive signs from the beyond. Messages might come in the form of vivid dreams, animal sightings, electrical occurrences, or sounds or visions. It is common for grievers to be aware of such communications (if they're open to them). As a culture, we are fixated on believing in only what we can see, but there is so much more to reality.
Losing a loved one, especially a life partner, is devastating. You will likely always long for their physical presence, but recognizing that you still have a relationship is one way to soothe the sorrow. Staying connected fortifies you so that you can engage with life, connect to the living, and make meaning out of your loss.
Transcending Loss is all about honoring the power and influence of your lost loved one so that you can ultimately reclaim the energy of love. Rest assured that you can move 'forward' in life, and bring your loved one with you in your heart and in your soul.