Myths of Grief Recovery #4 – Replace the Loss

by Glynis Sherwood MEd

 

You Can Always Get Another Husband, Baby, Pet, Job…

This is perhaps one of the cruelest myths – that somehow you can ‘replace’ the beloved person or thing whose loss is breaking your heart.  It’s a myth that tends to be entirely socially perpetrated, rather than originating from grievers themselves who know in their hearts that a deeply meaningful bond cannot be filled in by a substitute.  This myth is related to myth #2 – ‘Don’t feel bad’.  It tends to start in childhood when, for example, a pet dies.  Grieving children are admonished to not feel bad because they can get another dog or cat, etc.  These kinds of ‘reassurances’ feel empty and comfortless to both children and adults experiencing loss.  The problem is that those experiencing loss are grieving over the end of their emotional connection to a lost person, pet or thing, and the argument for a replacement feels meaningless as the relationship will not be the same.

Grief, Bonds & Memory

On a deeper psychological level the myth of replacing a loss is based on the false premise that loss can somehow be erased from memory, and its place be taken by a stand-in, either further down the road or waiting in the wings of life.  But in order to forget their loss, a grieving person would have to have amnesia.  The fabric of human life is built on important relationships to others and work, and these connections dwell in memory and imagination as well as in the interactions of day to day life.  In fact it is our memories of our strongest bonds and most important activities that strengthen these ties and make life meaningful.

Keeping Memories Alive is a Healthy Part of Grief

Rather than attempting to replace or forget a loss, it is much more constructive – and realistic – for grieving people to find ways of keeping positive memories alive as they move on with their lives.  This is the essence of healthy grieving.  During bereavement this can be especially important.  A central task of grieving is to find a positive way to ‘continue’ the emotional relationship with the deceased while saying goodbye to their physical body, as love and a sense of connection do not cease with death.  This is where mementos, rituals and celebrations come in, as the bereaved continue to honor their bond with their loved one.  For those grieving other kinds of losses, such as divorce, childhood abuse, job loss or chronic health problems it is equally important to their psychological well being to preserve positive memories of relationships, work and earlier times in life before or in spite of the loss.

 

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