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Risk and reward: After loss, do you want to remember or forget?

There are many things that people fear about grief. One is that they will forget their loved one, the voice, the details of their face, the feel of their hand. They search for ways to overcome the tendency for memory to fade as edges blur. They want to keep the memories even though they risk being overwhelmed with waves of grief.

This flies in the face of a refrain that grieving people hear over and over – let go and move on, well-meaning people advise. If you don’t, you might get stuck in grieving for the rest of your life. In fact, some of them have you on the clock. It’s been a year, they say, you should be getting over this by now.

The struggle between the griever who refuses to forget vs. the hurry up and forget bystanders is on. If only they all knew that it is a natural and healthy impulse to keep everything you can of a person who has enriched your life. That keeping them in memory allows them to continue to have influence on you, and bring comfort to your heart. The chances are good that you already know what your loved one would say if you needed it, so why give that up?

If only the hurry-up-and-forget people knew that taking your loved one along with you allows you to continue their influence on you and on the world. Think of the organizations formed to continue the work of someone who no longer is here to do it – like Susan G. Komen fighting cancer through the organization her sister formed, like Danny Thomas’ legacy continuing to provide care for kids with cancer at St. Jude Hospital thanks to his daughter Marlo. Think of family traditions that remember earlier generations. Think of all you could do in their honor.

Above all, if only they knew that at a certain point in grieving those memories begin to spark joy rather than sadness, that the new relationship you form with your loved one who has died will carry you forward into your future. Then you’ll be able to tell your well-meaning friends that you are moving on, with your loved one in tow.

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