Sitting on the couch across from me, Raquelle shared that it would be Henry’s birthday on Saturday. She and her family would be writing messages on balloons and sending them up to heaven, just as they did every year on his birthday.
Henry died 22 years ago when he was 11 years old. He had choked on a grape and died right in front of his parent’s eyes.
For some, it might seem odd that Raquelle would honor her son’s birthday, some 22 years later. They might think she should be over her son’s death by now or it’s pathological to keep her son’s memory so alive.
As a grief counselor working with grievers for over 30 years, I can tell you that Raquelle’s annual ritual is healthy and is loving. It’s healthy because it honors the fact that grief is a lifelong process and allows Raquelle to expand her experience to something greater than herself. It is loving because it’s an expression of the love that never dies, the relationship with your loved one that you hold in your heart always.
If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, understanding the power of love will help you cope and survive the everchanging landscape of grief.
Here are 5 different perspectives that will deepen your understanding of the power of love:
1. Love is Worth It
Imagine a magic wand that could take all of your pain and grief away. Yes, upon waving this wand, you would have no more tears or longing or anger or sorrow or depression. All of the grief would be gone. But with this wand, there is a catch: the wand also wipes out any memory of your loved one. It will be as if you had never met them, had never known them, never loved them, never had the impact of their presence in your life. In other words, no grief, but no loved one. Would you want that magic?
Most people say “NO WAY.” Why? Because the thought of a life without their loved one is unthinkable. The grief is worth the trade. Love is worth the pain of grief because love ultimately makes a life worth living. For most, it really is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
2. Love is the Reason
Love, in fact, is the reason that you’re shattered right now. If you hadn’t loved this person, you wouldn’t be grieving the loss of them. It’s because the love was sweet, the relationship fulfilling, the memories so rich that grief exists at all. As the character of C.S. Lewis says in the movie, “Shadowlands” about the loss of his wife, “The pain now is because of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”
3. Love is the Key
True love is big and vast and all encompassing. True love forgives and expands and ultimately is bigger than pain. Most people think that time will cure all wounds. But that’s actually not the case– it takes more than just time. It’s time plus the grief work that cures. What does “grief work” mean? It means letting yourself feel the pain, leaning into the sorrow and anger and guilt and regret and numbing confusion. It means sharing and expressing and giving voice to your experience. It means connecting with others who understand. And finally, it means tapping into a force that is greater than the grief: love. Savoring the love you had and holding onto the love that still exists is the ticket to living alongside the grief.
4. Love is the Light
The science of Neuroplasticity teaches us that what you focus on grows; what you focus on determines your mood and your perspective. In other words, the way you direct your mind matters… a lot. Your experience of heartbreak and tragedy is real. And so is your experience of beauty and love. While your mind will want to review your story of heartbreak again and again, you can create balance by shifting your attention to the Light. By Light, I mean all things good and positive. Love is the greatest Light of all of course. So keep reminding yourself over and over that you knew love, chose love, and still carry that love within you. You are imprinted with the Light of love.
5. Love inspires Life
It’s possible to move forward with your loved one in your heart and in your soul. It’s possible to move forward in a way that honors them, is inspired by them, gives acknowledgement to them. I have a friend who participates in an annual bike race to raise money for breast cancer research in honor of his late wife. I know another person who facilitates grief groups through “The Compassionate Friends,” a national bereaved parents organization. He runs these groups every week in honor of his daughter who died in a car accident. He tells me, “I keep living to honor her and to make sure that her life still has an impact.” Use their love to inspire you to make an impact in life.
The 13th Century Sufi poet Rumi says, “Love is the bridge between you and everything.” I couldn’t agree more. Let Love be front and center in your mind and heart. Let love guide you from your heartbreak, through your grief, toward Light, and back into Life. Love really is the bridge between you and everything. And love will help you heal through grief even as you continue to hold your loved one in your heart, now and always.
Ashley Davis Bush, LICSW, is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience working with grieving individuals. She is also a Reiki master and a trained spiritual director. Light After Loss: A Spiritual Guide for Comfort, Hope, and Healing (Viva Editions, July 2022) is her 10th book. Learn more at ashleydavisbush.com.