Staying connected to a loved one after they have died can feel impossible. Death can often feel like a lost connection never to be recovered. A final end to a long-term relationship. But have you considered that a relationship can continue after death?
The relationship doesn’t need to stop just because the significant person in your life has died. The connection between the deceased and those grieving can instead transform. People can find different ways to continue their bond with their loved ones.
It’s been almost 12 years since my Mum died, yet she is still a very present and significant person in my life. Over the years, I’ve found different ways to stay connected with her and to honour our close-knit relationship. In this article, I will share 5 ways you can stay connected to a loved one who has died.
Communicating with, or about, a loved one who has died
It is still possible to communicate with or about a loved one after they have died. This can include writing them letters, sharing stories about them with close relations or strangers who ask, or speaking to them directly. It could be something you do particularly when you’re going through a challenging time, or when you’re celebrating a milestone you wish they were there for.
For me, this includes journal writing directly to my Mum when I’m feeling down or struggling emotionally, talking aloud to my Mum in the privacy of my own room, or talking to her in my head when I’m out for a walk in nature and experiencing a moment of peace in solitude. I also share poems and stories about my Mum in performances and on social media – I’m always eager to share a memory when someone mentions something related or asks me about her.
If it helps, you can also choose a specific place where you visit to talk to them, as a way of staying connected to your loved one. For example, at the cemetery or in a particular area in your home where you keep pictures of them. For those who live in a different city or country to their loved one, it could also help to visit a place you know they would’ve loved, like the beach or a park, perhaps.
Practising values your loved one embodied
Was your loved one particularly funny, helpful, thoughtful, or even curious? Reflect on the main values or qualities your loved one embodied in their everyday interactions and relationships and consider how you can incorporate them into your everyday life.
One of the best ways I’ve found to honour and connect with my Mum has been to practice and embody the values that were important to her in her daily life and interactions. She was a very kind, loving and generous parent, friend, sister and wife. And although I may never feel like I’ve reached her level of kindness, love, and generosity, making a conscious effort to embody those values more in my own life has definitely made me feel closer to her. At times I stop and think, “This is something Mum would’ve done.”
If you’re grieving someone you didn’t get to spend a lot of time with, you could ask others who knew them to share stories about them. Ask yourself what stands out when others talk about them, and reflect on that.
Wearing something that makes you feel connected to them
Wearing something that makes you feel connected to a loved one who has died is another way to stay connected to them. It could be an item of clothing or an accessory, a present they gave you, or even a symbolic item that reminds you of them. Whatever the case, it’s not weird to wear something that belonged to someone special who has died, or something that makes you feel closer to them.
Wearing my Mum’s scarves and clothing over the years has given me comfort and an added strength, particularly when I’m about to do something important. I get the sense that she’s there with me, supporting me and protecting me.
Doing charitable deeds in their honour
It’s common to hear of families or close friends of those who have died setting up charities, organising fundraisers, running relays, or doing other charitable deeds in their honour. This is one way we can continue our loved one’s legacy and also give back to the community.
You might want to continue supporting a cause they supported, or a charity related to how they died. Whatever the case may be, this is a great and meaningful way to stay connected with them and honour their life and values.
Acknowledging birthdays and death anniversaries
While there is no obligation to do something on a deceased loved one’s birthday or death anniversary, doing something can become a comforting ritual that allows you to express your love and grief for them. It doesn’t have to look the same for every occasion or year; it’s always good to leave room for change as your grief changes and evolves with you over time.
While most years on my Mum’s birthday and death anniversary, my sister and I organise a visit to the cemetery where we leave flowers or a gift for her. Other years I write in my journal, share a photo and story on social media, and spend the day sitting with my grief in private. But acknowledging birthdays and death anniversaries may look totally different for you. You might prefer instead to gather a few close people and share stories about your loved one, or cook their favourite meal. You can read more ideas on ways to honour a loved one their death anniversary in this article.
If you’re supporting someone through grief, it’s a good idea to take note of when these special days are and acknowledge them when they come around. You might even share a story about their loved one with them, if you have any.
Final thoughts on staying connected after a death
It’s important to note that there are no rules for how you should or shouldn’t stay connected to a loved one after they have died, or how to reflect on their life and honour their memory. How you decided to spend your time on the birthday or death anniversary, or how grieve, is unique to every person.
Grief is a very personal thing, the details of which only you can decide for yourself. This blog article ‘Is there a right way to grieve’ talks more about how grief is experienced differently by everyone.
I hope this article has been a helpful bridge towards knowing that when a person you love dies, it doesn’t mean the relationship has to die with them. There are many ways to continue the relationship and you can do it in ways that work for you.
About Gabriela Georges
Gabriela Georges is an independent writer, performer, facilitator, and founder of The Grief Cocoon. Gabriela’s creative work often explores love, loss, grief and nature, and she has been performing and facilitating community events and workshops for more than eight years. She holds a Master of Arts and Community Practice from the University of Melbourne where she received first class Honours for her thesis researching the impact of poetry and performance on the experience of grief and loss. Gabriela is determined to see a world where people are more supportive, and in turn, better supported through grief and loss.
The Grief Cocoon is an online community platform that provides grief support and education through an open forum to those who are experiencing loss, particularly the death of a loved one. The Grief Cocoon holds monthly social events, talks or seminars, and creative workshops in both corporate and social enterprise sectors. The platform brings together Gabriela’s personal lived experience of grief and loss complimented by her formal education and experience as a performer, community development worker, and facilitator. The Grief Cocoon was created on the firm belief that through story-telling and sharing with others, one can begin the process of healing and feel assured that they are not alone.