This is a guest post from Psychotherapist, Heather Gowin, MA LPC.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” –Havelock Ellis.
My sweet Grandma kept a salt and pepper shaker collection in her china hutch at her home in rural Nebraska. As a child, I loved to look at this unique collection through the glass windows of the cabinet. My favorite was an adorable pair of anthropomorphic turnips. They were playful, brightly colored, and over the years of me imagining what was going through their little turnip minds, they came to represent my playful, and ever-smiling Grandma. When she died, all the grandkids were allowed to keep small mementos of hers that were meaningful to us. I, of course chose the little turnip shakers.
Grief can be one of the most difficult emotions to experience. We have to deal with the competing needs of letting go of the departed and holding on to a loved one’s memory. I’ve certainly had losses that led to painful periods in my life. As a practicing psychotherapist for the past 20 years, I’ve supported many clients through their own difficult grief journeys. It is important for grieving people to take intentional actions, set aside time, and talk through their experiences of loss. All of these are what therapists call personal grief rituals. These rituals are beneficial in moving through the painful, but natural experience of losing a loved one. One of my family’s rituals after my Grandma’s death was finding and cherishing meaningful items that she had cared for and loved. Transitional objects, things that represent the departed’s memory, are a critical part of any grief ritual. Just like my little turnips, these objects are used for framing, remembering, and making sense of the loss.
I encourage my clients to come up with personal ways to keep the connection to their loved one alive through rituals and transitional objects. People can use a transitional object by having it present while they light a candle and sit quietly while remembering a loved one. Another meaningful ritual is having a picture or transitional object present as they write a letter or a poem to the lost loved one that honors the relationship.
Research has shown that these significant physical objects become symbols representing how important these relationships were, and still are, to our lives, and support healing and growth after a loss. (Lindvall,E;Making meaning of physical objects after loss, 2015). Transitional objects enable the bereaved to honor the legacy of the deceased while acknowledging the reality of the loss. They are essential in the grief process as they can provide comfort and some semblance of identity and continuity of their loved ones story in their life. (Gibson,M.; Objects of the dead: Mourning and memory in everyday life. 2004).
My mentor and colleague Arielle Schwartz, PhD addresses this profoundly. “Often grief resolves not through “letting go” or “moving on” but rather finding a way to sustain a loving connection with people we have lost. It is unarguably essential to acknowledge the sad and painful aspects of the death of a loved one; however, when available, we also reflect upon the loving and tender parts of the relationship. Over time these memories become ways to develop a sustained connection with a loved one.”.Schwartz,A. (2015,March 8). Grief, Grit, and Grace [blog post]. Retrieved from https://drarielleschwartz.com/grief-grit-and-grace-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.XHrAGFNKiuU
Meaningful objects representing a loved one are a crucial part of the grieving and healing process. Whether it’s a small trinket or a memorial art sculpture from Fine Art Memorials, transitional objects can be invaluable during difficult times. All these years later, being able to see and hold Grandma’s salt and pepper shakers has allowed me to hold on to our sweet relationship.
I hope that this article is helpful, and please check the other resources and links we have on our site. If you have comments or questions, please reply below. Grief can become overwhelming. If you worry that you may not be handling grief in a healthy way, I encourage you to reach out to someone in your church, synagogue, or mosque or find a therapist in your local area.