Relationships have space to deepen. A relationship is an association, a connection, a link, and a tie between loved ones. We can choose to continue to be in a relationship with our loved one even after their death, even in spite of their physical absence. I continue to act as his daughter.
I behave in ways that demonstrate that I am not finished being his daughter. I extend myself to his friends, attend to the charities he cared about, and maintain the values he cherished. A relationship is about caretaking and it is part of my grief recovery to create opportunities to care for people, beliefs, and values as he would, in his stead. The legacy of his values and what I do with that legacy is an on-going gift that links me to him and maintains his presence in my life today.
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With that attitude we can look for ways that our loved one made a difference in the community. We look for ways to maintain his values through projects, carry out anonymous acts of kindness, and continue to participate in activities that we enjoyed together. It is empowering to maintain a relationship with him, no matter how private or invisible. It is personal, real, and meaningful. The emotional bond is intact and strong even after death.
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Dying well is a triumph of love over the illusions imbedded within death. What is left after the person is gone is the meaning of the relationship and the survivors that are left holding the love for that person. Dying well is about knowing the relationship will change through death, but the bond of love transcends death. We are human beings who seek meaning and people to love; helping our loved ones die well reconciles both needs. Transforming relationships means to learn to carry our deceased loved one in a new way.
We learn, through trial and error, how to weave our loved one and their values into this new life without them. We create a new life that evokes the memories , values, and ethics of our loved one and live with them in this new world, and relate to their memory in a new way. But through love, we can always be in relationship with them. In what ways do you "keep" a deceased loved one with you? How do you continue to be in relationship with him or her? How have you maintained your connection to them? Do you have rituals to remember him? Have you felt their presence with you through one sense or another?
There is a body of research about the continuing presence of deceased loved ones, termed After Death Communication ADC. The consensus of the literature is that the different forms of communication and contact are profoundly comforting and reassuring to the bereaved. I will have more to share about the phenomenon in my next blog, but would enjoy hearing your experiences in the meantime. For certain types of relationships, it is possible to literally continue an active relationship after the death of one partner.
It is simply an extension of "after death communciation" to the next logical step, once communication is established. Most couples probably will not choose to do that, and some may not be capable of sustaining it in the long run, but for some it is a viable option. I think it is an option taken by many more couples than we would guess--but they have to be very discrete for fear of being thought crazy and losing their jobs. When there are no treatment options left, we can reframe and rediscover hope. I loved playing games because I was decent at it. At times it seemed like it was the only thing I could be proud of.
In hindsight, there may be no practical use for being good at a game but at the time it was a great confidence booster for me. I did not try hard in school to set myself up for a great college or a great career. Life was filled with excuses and lies, to manipulate those around me to get what I wanted without remorse. I lied to my friends and family for sport. I stole money from my family to fuel my addiction. I did not value money because I never worked hard to earn it myself.
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I always took my position in life for granted, babied by my parents and my sister. I did not know the concept of earning your keeps. And now, in the present day, the accumulation of my carelessness and reckless abandon has left me lost, undisciplined and immature. While everyone grew up and slowly became adults, I stayed in the past as an adolescent and refused to look forward. I lived for the moment, and could care less what would happen five, ten years from now.
I wanted to have fun and that was the core of my existence.
Continuing emotional bonds triumph over death.
I have been unemployed ever since I graduated college. The pain of constant anxiety about the future, the realization of my complete and utterly embarrassing ignorance of the world, the sleepless nights where all my flaws exposed themselves without mercy. There have been times where I felt physiological pain. I felt as if my heart physically ached. It got harder to breathe and even the thought of social interaction made me tired.
I started becoming anti-social and always wanted to be alone. I dug further into the Internet, hoping to distract myself from these intruding thoughts. But I found that no matter how much self-help content I consumed, I was not changing in any way. I only grew more arrogant and condescending, thinking I was enlightened because I knew random facts about productivity and names of philosophers who thought deep thoughts. I started to look down on my friends, because that was the only way I could lift myself up. I pushed down everyone to make myself look bigger.
Outside, I tried to appear humble, confident and composed, but inside I was insecure, scared and lost.
When Life Seems Hard and Meaningless, Find Something To Struggle With
It took me three years to finally realize that my depression came from inaction. It came from brooding on thoughts instead of moving my body and tackling the day. This explosion of productivity was only possible because I had accumulated three years of painful lessons and insights. I had to experience this pain before I could learn how to find the remedy. It took me three years to build up the courage to change myself.
I want to help those who are struggling because I know how hard it was. The self-doubt, self-criticism, self-hate, self-judgment that overtakes your mind and does not let you escape. I want you realize that it is almost impossible to eradicate these negative thoughts; it is a byproduct of being human. I want you to stop giving these harmful thoughts your attention. How can you do this? I have two strategies that help combat these hard times:. I find that while both activities are effective, the second seems to be way easier to do. Your mind is complex and every time you challenge it, it can fight back.
I recently started practicing meditation with Headspace, an app that guides you in meditation.
Meditation helps you realize that you have millions of thoughts going on inside your mind, and how difficult it is to actively focus on one thought for even two seconds. I try to tackle this every morning right after I wake up, and I feel much better and awake to tackle the day. It also helps that I get to start the the day with a win, that I was not losing to the person I was yesterday.
But back to the strategy that worked for me. Taking action helps me erase all my anxieties and worries. Every second you wait and think about doing something, the less likely you are to actually do it. You overcomplicate the process and end up exhausting your willpower and ultimately you quit before you started because it becomes so overwhelming. Make it easier for yourself to start. Take away the technicalities of everything. Do what feels right at the beginning and start adjusting. Everyone sucks when they start.
I also thought I might get lazy and not want to walk to the gym when I felt lazy or when the weather was bad. So I started doing pushups and sit-ups. I never gave myself a choice. I just told myself I had to do it and practiced discipline.
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Sooner or later, it became a non-negotiable 30 minutes of my day. I no longer feel resistance when I have to work out. I feel pumped, knowing that when I am finished and I look at the mirror, I can be proud of the growth, progression and change.
I can be proud that I knew it was me who started the habit and decided to change the way I look. It gave me a newfound confidence to start other habits, and the discipline I had built from working out everyday trickled into those other habits. The best part is, in those 30 minutes, your body and your mind is so focused on completing the goal at hand that it has no way of feeling depressed. It focuses its energy on making sure you reach your goal. I have no time or energy to think about my flaws, my insecurities or my uncertain future. My only priority is to finish the workout.
Even when I fail and struggle to meet the quota I set for myself, I take time to rest and breathe, knowing that I need to push just a little bit past my comfort zone to reach my goal. I never give the mind an inch to creep in with the self-doubt. If you allow yourself to give up one time, you might be susceptible to the next time your mind wants to give up. I give myself no exceptions and find that I feel way better after the workout, no matter how tired I am.
I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast with Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal Commando, and they were talking about a person who had recently committed suicide. They were discussing how surprised they were at the news because this person had been at the top of the world. He had everything he could ever want.
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