How Tokens and Linking Objects May Help the Bereaved

“I’ve come to see the flag,” she declared. The white-haired woman had come from skilled nursing section of the nursing home to the rehabilitation unit. She parked her walker, sat down, and peered at the flag outside the window. “Look at that!” she exclaimed. “The flag is straight out. That’s beautiful.”

I was sitting at a table with my husband, who was in rehabilitation for wound care and physical therapy on his paralyzed legs. After a few silent moments, the woman turned to me and smiled. “My husband was in the navy for years,” she explained, “and seeing the flag reminds me of him.” She has come to see the flag several more times and is usually lost in thought.

An American flag may seem like an unusual linking object but, for this woman, steeped in military tradition, the flag was a logical choice.

Grief writer and bereaved parent Nan Zastrow describes some of her linking objects in a Grief Digest article, “Linking Objects: When can the Chain be Broken?” The Zastrows’ son died as a result of suicide and since that fateful day she has kept his belongings in closed boxes, “with everything still intact.” But a forthcoming move caused her to examine her grief feelings and prompted her to let go of some linking objects.

She let go of a trunk of baby clothes and blankets and donated them to a church mission project. Still, she kept a few of her son’s things — Scouting patches, graduation photos, and military items. Zastrow says she doesn’t need objects to remind her of her son and her love for him.

Kayla Waldschmidt writes about tokens in her Grief Resource Center website article, “Memory Tokens and Linking Objects.” She defines a memory token as a visual reminder of a deceased loved one. Waldschmidt thinks tokens and linking objects are powerful and keep you connected to your loved one. Her advice for those who are grieving: “Take some time to find your memory tokens and linking objects.”

Your object doesn’t have to be as large as the national flag. Instead, you may choose a piece of jewelry, such as a ring, or a watch, or a belt buckle, or even a stuffed animal from childhood. As time passes you may be able to let go of some objects as Nan Zastrow did. Letting go of these things doesn’t mean you forget your loved one, according to Zastrow, it means you’re “moving forward with grace and gratitude.”

Linking objects and tokens are like stepping stones; they tug you towards the future and the happiness you seek. Some day, and that day may come sooner than you think, you will be happy again. Your happiness will fly straight out in the wind like the flag.

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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