For me, 2007 was the year of death. That year four family members died, my daughter (mother of my twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother, and the twins’ father. How would I survive multiple losses? Would I survive? Questions like these led to an ongoing study of grief.
I visited online support communities, read online articles, and countless grief books. The Courage to Grieve, by Judy Tatelbaum was especially helpful. When I finished the book I felt like she had written it just for me. Tatelbaum is more than a psychotherapist, she lives with grief, and understands its challenges.
“We need to make something good come from our grief,” she writes. “Making our grief meaningful can be the antidote to despair and suffering as well as a stepping stone to personal growth.”
Tatelbaum’s words strengthened my resolve. I refused to let death defeat me. If I believed in myself, I could—and did—make good things from grief. What good things could you make? Here are a dozen ideas from my research and experience.
- Donate to a health organization. National health organizations are always looking for research funds. If your loved one died of a heart attack, you may wish to donate to the American Heart Association. Visit The National Health Council website, www.nationalhealthcouncil.org and read the list of organizations worthy of your support.
- Give books to the public library that represent your loved one’s interests. I belong to an historic study club. When a member dies, we contact the library and ask for book suggestions about the deceased member’s interests—cooking, gardening, singing, etc. We selected a title, purchase the book, and the library adds a “Donated in memory of ____” bookplate.
- Volunteer in memory of your loved one. My brother loved books and I do too. In his memory, I volunteered at the Friends of the Public Library Book Store for several years. I enjoyed talking with customers and shelving the donated books. Unfortunately, I had to give up volunteering to care for my disabled husband.
- Create a memorial quilt from your loved one’s clothes. If you’re a quilter, you may make the quilt yourself. You may also pay someone to make it for you. The “What’s Your Grief” website, https://whatsyourgrief.com, tells you how to do this. “Each quilt story resonates in its own special way,” according to quilter Lori Mason. Watch the video for more information.
- Create a memory bear. You’ll find dozens of photos of memory bears on the Internet. The bears are made from a deceased loved one’s clothing. Memory bears, or Forget Me Not bears, as they are also called, may serve as linking objects for grieving children. One website has a free bear pattern for home sewers.
- Donate to your place of worship. A friend of mine donated money for a new stained glass window in the sanctuary of his church. This donation had lasting meaning for the widower. “Every time I look at the window I think of my wife,” he commented. You may donate to a general fund or a specific fund at your church, synagogue, or mosque.
- Plant a small memorial garden in your yard. The garden could include some of your loved one’s favorite plants, such as tulips. Flowering shrubs are nice because they symbolize life. Plan your garden before you start digging in the soil. Include flowers and shrubs that bloom at different times of the year.
- Write a story or article about your loved one. Submit your story to “Grief Digest” magazine, a church publication, or local magazine. Tell readers about your loved one and what made her or him special. Also tell them how they can benefit from your grief experience.
- Commission music in memory of your loved one. After our daughter died, my husband and I gave money to our church choir for sheet music. The co-directors suggested commissioning a song in memory of Helen. The debut of the song, “We Remember Them” by composer Elizabeth Alexander was emotional and satisfying at the same time. The thought of other choirs singing Helen’s song gives me chills.
- Plant a tree in the forest. The U.S. National Forest Service, https://thetreesremember.com/memorial-trees/ has a lovely program for planning trees in barren forest areas. The fee covers the cost of an elegant card, personal message, small, pewter Eternity Memorial Tree charm, and information on the global impact of planting. “Not all programs are located in U.S. National Forests,” the website notes. “See our planting location map for descriptions of our different planting programs types.”
- Write books to help others. Many bereaved people have done this. Several years ago, I participated in a panel discussion at The Compassionate Friends national conference for people who wanted to get their books published. The meeting room was so packed that people were standing in the back. A published author may be willing to help you. I mentor fledging authors and am happy to do it.
- Give talks about your loved one and rebounding from grief. Your story may help others. Preparing the talk may also help you. When you can talk about your loved one without sobbing, you are on the recovery road, and moving forward. And you are changing in the process.
Poet and priest John O ’Donohue, in his book To Bless the Space Between Us, writes about life’s between times. The last verse of his poem, “For The Interim Time,” describes grief reconciliation and recovery. Changes are happening in your mind, he explains, and becoming a new person is difficult and slow work. The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart will become, For your arrival to a new dawn.
Making good things from grief will create that dawn and the new life that awaits you.
by Harriet Hodgson