This is an excerpt from the book: Coping with Grief: A Guide for the Bereaved Survivor by Bob Baugher. You can order it at: www.bobbaugher.com

 

  • One of the most anxiety-producing features of death is that we will somehow forget our loved one. We fear that, with the inevitable passage of time, the memories of our loved one will be lost like tiny drops in the ocean of thousands of memories.
  • As the weeks and months turn to years our lives have become bombarded with new experiences and numerous distractions. Events and people have moved in and out of our life. And, as a result, our loved one seems to be moving further from our grasp. However, there are many ways we can embrace the memories of our loved one. On the next page are several suggestions. 
  • Another source of anxiety is related to the belief that letting go of the pain of our grief means letting go of the memories and connection with our loved one. It is considered one of the cruelest tricks of grief; and it goes something like this:

Because our reaction to death causes intense pain, which in turn causes grief, this pain becomes integrated into the brain cells of the previously pleasant memories of our loved one. Later, whenever we even think about our loved one, these previously comforting thoughts may now bring pain and grief. Therefore, every memory, which before had produced positive emotions, now is coupled with pain and grief.

  • Furthermore, for many bereaved people, as the pain and grief begin to slowly subside, the memories of their loved one may also begin to appear to slip further into the distance. If this happens to us, it can create a panic reaction—a feeling of losing our grasp of our loved one. To combat this, we seek ways to hold tight to our loved one, which—because our memories are now tied to pain—includes holding tight to one’s grief.
  • What we all know about grief is the following fact: with time, the pain softens even though at the moment it doesn’t feel like it ever will. For many of us, the pain and ensuing grief may never totally disappear. However, our challenge as a bereaved person is to find ways to permit the lessening of the pain of grief while continuing to hold the memories of our loved one.

 

Suggestions:  Collecting Memories

You will never forget your loved one. Many people report holding their loved one in their heart.

Memories can be preserved in a number of ways:

Put together a picture album.

Find videos of your loved one’s life—don’t forget to ask friends and relatives

who may have videos and pictures of which you were unaware.

Write memories in a story form. Some people have written a book of their loved

one’s life.

Create or post a memorial website with stories and pictures

Visit special places. As noted earlier, the first visits may produce sadness.

Light a candle on special occasions in memory of your loved one.

Wear your loved one’s clothing or jewelry.

Use their items or carry an item with you.

Make a pillow with your loved one’s picture and/or name (and hug it).

Do things your loved one liked to do.

Create something out of your loved one’s clothing such as a stuffed animal or, as mentioned earlier, a quilt.

Every visit to the beach, write your loved one’s name in the sand and take a picture—ask other people to do the same.

Get a tattoo.

Plant a tree, a bush, or create a garden in memory of your loved one.

Some people have donated in the following ways:

Given to a charity related to their loved one          Participated in a fund-raising event

Created a scholarship in their loved one’s name     Volunteered in memory of their loved one

 

SEX

  • We humans are sexual beings. Sex is pleasurable.
  • Because sex is, for many people, a moral issue, the decisions bereaved people make can involve any number of feelings, such as: embarrassment, guilt, inadequacy, fear, awkwardness, anxiety, confusion, emptiness, loneliness, shame, frustration, ambivalence, and regret

The death of a loved one can present a challenge to one’s sexual feelings. Here are some examples:

The death of a parent or sibling can affect a person’s sexual feelings.

For some people, a death can result in a temporary suppression of

sexual feelings and desire for physical affection.

For others, a death can intensify one’s feelings of being alive and therefore

contribute to the enhancement of sexual feelings.

 

  • The death of a spouse or partner can be a challenge to one’s sexuality.

Death of a partner, by definition, results in the loss of a sexual partner.

It can bring up questions of dating that can produce feelings of guilt such  as, “I’m cheating on my spouse” as well as fear of sexually transmitted infections.

Engaging in sexual relations after the death of a spouse or partner can result in feelings ranging from emptiness to euphoria.

The death may bring about mixed feelings toward masturbation.

 

  • The death of a child can complicate the role of sexual intimacy between a couple.

Bereaved mothers have made statements such as:

“Because this child came out of me, I just don’t feel right about having sex.”

 

“I am too lost and depressed to have any interest in physical intimacy.”

Some fathers have stated, “After the death of my child, my sex drive  seemed to disappear for a time.”

Bereaved parents may feel guilty for wanting to engage in a pleasurable act at a time when one or both felt so low.

Other parents felt the continuation of their sexual intimacy helped nurture the closeness they especially needed at the time.

Suggestions

 Many younger people assume that, when a person reaches a “certain” age (pick one),

sexual desire becomes nonexistent. The fact is, sexual feelings can be part of a person’s life well into their elder years.

 

As noted earlier, if you have a sexual partner, find a time to talk about sex. It is true many people find having sex is much easier than talking about it. Decide on a good time and practice ahead of time on formulating a sentence to get things started, such as, “I want to talk for a few minutes about our lovemaking.” Or “May we talk for a little bit about sex?”  In the discussion make sure each of you listens to one another’s sexual concerns and needs.

 

If you are without a sexual partner, you have three options. Let’s look at each.

  1. No Sex. For some people, whether it is a decision to abstain or an accepted decline in one’s sex drive, the death of one’s partner includes the end of their sexual life. For some people, sexual intercourse is a sacred act not to be taken lightly.

If this is your situation, and it feels right for you, then go with this feeling.

  1. Find Another Sexual Partner. At some point after the death some people seek a person with whom to have a relationship—and the relationship ends up including sexual relations. Other people are not “looking” for a relationship, but it seems to find them. They may begin to notice others are picking up on their status as a single person. For people who haven’t dated in years, the decision to go out with someone can be a strange, awkward experience. For example, you might ask, “What is a date?” “Does it have to end with a sexual encounter?” “What about contraception?” “What about sexually transmitted diseases?” (There are more than 50, some of which—HIV, Herpes, Human Papilloma Virus—are incurable.)

It is critical to have a plan in order to later be clear about your physical and sexual boundaries. It could literally save your life. Therefore, prior to going out on a date, it is essential you talk with a friend about all possible “what-ifs.” Another way to think about this is, “If I do that, then what?” and “Then what?”….

  1. Masturbation. This form of self-stimulation is another option. For some people this is foreign territory and for some it is a moral decision. If you are new to this, there are books on it and information on the Internet.

 

 

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Bob Baugher

Bob Baugher

Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at b_kbaugher@yahoo.com. Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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