One of Open to Hope’s Board members, Bob Neimeyer, spoke with Dr. Gloria Horsley at the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference about grieving as a couple.  “You’ve told me for many years that I don’t have to give up memories of my child,” she tells Neimeyer. Sadly, Neimeyer explains that one of the go-to strategies in 20th century grief culture in America is the idea that everyone needs to let go. “We need not let them go,” he says. Grieving is really a way of learning how to hold on in a sustainable way.

Grieving is how people love people who have died, says Neimeyer. There’s no reason to further complicate grief, which can be especially problematic in the first year. Dr. Horsley asks which is correct, to reach out and join support groups or to keep grief more personalized, and Neimeyer believes both are correct—it just depends what the griever needs and wants.

No One Right Way to Grieve

Some people choose dedicated actions, such as scholarships, while others prefer a quiet, personal reflection. Grief doesn’t have stringent rules, and it’s not a one size fits all approach. You may need thoughts, processes or actions to turn grief into practical aspirations. Plus, families who share a loss don’t necessarily go through the same grief process. It’s paramount to appreciate the grieving styles of one another. Giving privacy is key as couples, families and individuals, says Neimeyer.

He’s a big supporter of having a “grief spot” in the home, perhaps with items that are dedicated to the person who has died. Couples can leave notes and/or gifts to one another here as a means of positive, ongoing communication. It’s a way to respond “safely” while in a vow of silence, both agreeing to not talk about what is done in the grief spot. It helps to lift the burden of “having” to talk while ensuring connection.

Robert Neimeyer

Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he also maintains an active clinical practice. Neimeyer has published 25 books, including Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society: Bridging Research and Practice, and serves as Editor of the journal Death Studies. The author of over 350 articles and book chapters and a frequent workshop presenter, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaning-making process.

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