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Lose a Loved One, Gain a Legacy: 4 Steps to Grief Recovery

Old family photos take on new meaning after the loss of a loved one. The picture of my mother posing with me as a baby, framed side-by-side with one of me holding my own daughter, once seemed like a cute coincidence. Now it feels like a harbinger of my future. Her job as a mother, which began in 1973 and continued in 1975 with the birth of my sister, became my job in 2005, and again in 2007 with the arrival of my son. Since losing my mom on July 15, the nostalgia that this picture used to evoke has given way to the sober realization that my new job is to carry her best traits forward, both within my family and beyond it.

Jeanne always had a smile on her face and a kind word for all.

Words like these in the notes that came in from old friends and neighbors were a salve to my soul in the days that followed her death. This was my first experience with losing a parent, and thus my first time to appreciate the meaning of condolences for a grieving family. The memories shared about Mommy went beyond the surface-level niceties that tend to pepper our daily conversations. These remembrances came from the heart, intimate portraits, painted with words, of special moments that made up my mother’s early life.

One friend whom she dated in junior high shared such tender recollections that I could only think of how touched my mom would have been to hear them. Instead, those words became a gift to the family left behind, along with a letter of donation that he and his wife made to the Alzheimer’s Association. It made their condolences especially sweet to know that their gift in my mother’s name would help others who suffered from dementia, as my mom did in her last six years.

As valuable as condolences are, it strikes me as profoundly sad that we often reserve our most heartfelt words about people for memorial services, when they no longer have the pleasure of knowing the impact they had on others’ lives. To that end, I wasn’t prepared for the guilt that would wash over me in reflecting on my missed opportunities to tell my mother how much I loved and appreciated her. Now that she’s gone, the best way I can honor her memory—as a daughter, mother, neighbor and friend—is to carry on her legacy of kindness toward others.

Here are four things I’m doing to get past the grief of losing a loved one, and how you can do the same:

  1. Let others know what makes them special. You never know when it will be someone’s time to depart this world. I’m now focused on being intentional about telling others I care, what I appreciate about them, and the imprint they have left on my life. Whether sent as texts or emails to friends, or letters to your spouse and children, I can vouch that knowing you’ve left no words unsaid can bring a great deal of comfort. Reconnecting is also a good opportunity to make peace with the people and events of the past, which can help renew your outlook on life and give you a fresh start.
  2. Help chronicle your family story. The morning my mother passed, my father asked me to come over. As we waited for help to arrive, I used writing her obituary as an excuse to talk about the highlights of their life together. We spent an hour or so talking about their first date and early married life. These forgotten details that I hadn’t heard before added texture to the family lore. With my sister’s help, we managed to get her obituary written and published the next day, which relieved some of the pressure of informing others and enabled us to share the story of her life with those who never knew her.
  3. Restore family portraits to their former glory. Looking through our old scrapbooks, I remembered how my sister and I used to throw tantrums over having to go to the studio for yet another family portrait. Now I feel tremendously grateful to my mom for her dedication to documenting our family’s early years. To honor her memory, I had some of my favorites restored. In the original photo of the example featured, the top of my father’s head was cut off, the colors were washed out, and the edges were folded. Photo restoration brought this piece of our history back to life and created a frame-worthy heirloom.
  4. Make a memory book. Once you have gathered up your favorite pictures, putting them in a book is a logical next step for keeping your best memories close at hand. A number of online platforms exist to help you make your own book. For personalized, end-to-end service in digitization and storytelling, my company Heirloom Digital is here to help. To view the book I created for my mother, click here.

Getting past the grief of losing loved ones is a more complex process than the above might suggest, but documenting their stories and protecting their legacies is a foundation for moving forward.

Need help? The Heirloom Digital team is pleased to offer you a free consultation on our personalized storytelling service. Get in touch today and let’s visit. 

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