Loving Still - And Again
By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, VOICES Director of Family Programs
From the poem Heartsong
I have a song, deep in my heart,
And only I can hear it.
If I close my eyes and sit very still
It is so easy to listen to my song.
When my eyes are open and
I am so busy and moving and busy,
If I take time and listen very hard,
I can still hear my Heartsong.
It makes me feel happy.
Happier than ever.
Happier than everywhere
And everything and everyone
In the whole wide world.
Mattie J.T. Stepanek (2003) Heartsongs. NY: Hyperion.
Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, births – these are just some of many occasions when loved ones are ever present in our thoughts. The pain and heartache felt after the death of someone dear can be particularly unbearable at those times. For the bereaved, the pain is often felt both emotionally and physically especially in the early days after a death, but can stretch on for months and even years. Saying “there is a hole in my heart”, “I feel like I had the wind knocked out of me”, “my heart aches”; vividly describe how it feels inside and out. The longing and missing of a loved one who has died – brother, father, sister, friend, mother, grandchild, fiancé, co-worker – can last a lifetime. It is a testament to the special bond shared with another.
As time passes, it can be necessary as well as helpful to adjust to life without the person. This can mean finding a way to emotionally relocate the loved one who died while keeping an inner sense of him or her. It can be immensely difficult to change from having a special, intimate relationship with someone in the present, to relating to someone in one’s mind and memory. Carrying forth positive memories from a relationship in the past can be sustaining and comforting even though it does not provide the same sustenance and comfort as if the person were alive.
There can come a point when it is time to invest in new relationships. This can and should happen while the internal flame of the loved one who has died continues to provide warmth. But this step is not always easy. The following are some thoughts about the processes of keeping past love alive and finding new love. These thoughts apply to those developing and deepening various kinds of relationships and needing to love life again.
• Love come in all forms: Romantic love is not the only kind. Some bereaved individuals want to find new romantic partners. Others are feeling the need to search out new friends, and some need to re-connect with existing family and friends. Nourishing and maintaining relationships with friends and family is important. Having personal connections promotes physical and emotional health. Many also find it vital to seek and nurture their spiritual connections.
• Be open: Sometimes new friendships and relationships just happen by chance. This is often about attitude and behavior – one must be open to whatever is around the corner. You must also be accepting of offers to meet new people or reconnect with others.
• Be pro-active: Your social network may have changed, you may have re-located, or you may be rusty when it comes to socializing. But start somewhere. It may mean taking a class, going to the gym, trying a part-time job, volunteering in the community – any place where you are involved with new people in new ways. Meeting others around an activity can feel less threatening.
• Know yourself: You are the best judge of when the timing is right to seek out companionship. Well meaning friends and family often have advice and ideas about what you need or the correct timetable for “getting out there.” But you must balance their opinions with your own true feelings.
• Think about what holds you back: Complex feelings can erupt when contemplating “dating” or just finding new “friends.” Some individuals are fearful of rejection, of having their heart broken again. Some feel like a third wheel when on their own with couples. Some are still sad and can’t imagine anyone or any love every being as perfect. Some carry guilt that they are being disloyal. Once identified, it can help to talk through your concerns with a friend or professional.
• Consider the needs of children: Children may need help navigating their social relationships. They may benefit from guidance or suggestions about how to handle questions from new friends about a deceased parent, or they may feel guilty about having fun. If a bereaved parent is going out more with friends or dating, it’s important to monitor how children are handling the situation. A parent enjoying life can be a welcome relief and give a child permission to enjoy life as well. But some children or teens may be angry, feel jealous, or scared. It is not cause for a parent to abandon new relationships. Rather, communicating with each other is the key to working through tough issues.
• Think quality not quantity: Everyone needs strong and valued relationships. Some are best supported by having many friends to call on; others are served well by a handful of close friends. Having someone to lean on, confide in, and guide you through the rough patches and to share in the joys is crucial to a meaningful life.
• Love yourself and others: Recognizing why you are loved and cherished is indispensable. Chocolates, gifts, massages, dinner with friends, a round of golf with a buddy, are still possible even if shared with different people in different ways. Your love of others – children, parents, and friends – will bring care and comfort back to you.
• Keep the love of another alive: Memories are important. No doubt there are many private ones to keep and use. It’s also helpful to share them with others and acquire new ones from others. Once formed, know you always have access to your own private reminders of a loved one.
"If I close my eyes and sit very still
It is so easy to listen to my song….
I can still hear my Heartsong.
It makes me feel happy."