Grieving for a Loved One I Never Knew

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I must admit I find beautiful and limitless potential in the notion of grieving for loved ones that we did not have the opportunity to know. If given the choice, which we are not, of course we would choose to actually love in this life, real time, face to face.

Unfortunately this is not always an option. But this truth does not have to prevent or limit us from loving or feeling loved. My father died one month before my twin brother and I were born. I did not know him. Yet, I do.

I know that he was tall, handsome, dedicated to family. I know that he worked hard providing for my mom and my older brothers. I know that he loved my older brothers completely and showed up for them in a million different ways with absolute dedication, pride and love even though their birth father lived just 45 minutes away. I know that he expected a lot from them and was firm and strong in his parenting. I also know that he drank too much socially and was most likely a functioning alcoholic.

He and his family had a history of heart problems; he died at 42, his sister in her late 30’s and his father in his early to mid 50’s. He had a lot of stress and did not manage it so well.

Through this knowledge about who he was and how he lived, I have a road map to live a healthier more mindful life while assimilating his many strong values into my own. I experience this knowing as him loving and guiding me from beyond. Like him, I have a strong work ethic, I value and show up for family, and love my children with absolute dedication and pride while being firm, strong, and expecting a lot of them.

I remain aware and mindful of his health history and use this knowledge to guide and inform how I approach and live my life. I try to live a healthy active lifestyle, find productive ways to manage stress, and meet with a cardiologist regularly. He has impacted my life greatly.  I feel loved by him. I do, even though I never met him.

My mother died before I met my husband and had my children. As bittersweet as this truth is, I feel grateful that my husband and my children know her as if she were always here with us. They know her sense of humor…what made her laugh and how she made her family and friends laugh. They know and love many of her favorite foods. They respect and appreciate her strength, independence and resilience as told through stories of her life. I point out when I see in them her qualities and values. They grew up hearing stories, eating foods, celebrating family and with friends, listening to music, and enjoying the firsts of every season as if she were right here beside them.

Her light continues to shine through me, and now, through me to them. From generation to generation.

Jennifer Stern

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Jennifer Stern, LISW, graduated from the SSA Master of Arts program at the University of Chicago and has worked as part of a private practice for over a decade. Her areas of focus include working with individuals and families on grief, loss, bereavement, and difficult life transitions resulting from illness, marital conflict, divorce, and other complicated, fractured relationships. Her focus as a cognitive behavioral therapist is to empower individuals to take meaningful and purposeful action to create desired change in their lives. She teaches clients about the power of choice, wise minded thinking, and productive communication strategies as stepping stones to healing and transformation. She runs the Transformative Grief page on Facebook and provides resources on her site: http://www.transformativegrief.com

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