Building commemorations, such as LifePosts, can help you grieve. It may sound improbable that a website could help with such a profound experience, but creating life commemorations to honor loved ones fits with the advice of both ancient religious traditions and modern psychology.
Creating Ritual – Whether it’s the practice of saying special prayers, dressing in black, or lighting candles at death anniversaries, the world’s folk and religious customs have long emphasized the taking of concrete, repeated steps to memorialize a loss.
Grief-related rituals help provide meaning, a sense of “stability and structure,” reduce helplessness and strengthen a sense of community.
More recently, grief counselors and social scientists have concluded that some of the actions that can help most can be facilitated online via tools. One study found that among the “very helpful” rituals were “creating something (memory book, collage, quilt, painting etc.) in honor of the deceased, and “sharing stories about the deceased with others.”
Crafting Biography – Rather than having to “move on” or gain “closure,” grief counselors now say that maintaining a relationship with the departed – through remembrance – can be appropriate and helpful.
Researchers found that the deceased play at least four roles in the lives of the living: “as a role model, as giving guidance in specific situations, as clarifying the values of the survivor, and as a valued part of the survivor’s biography.”
The purpose of grief is a “biographical reconstruction,” Tony Walter says, suggesting that it “enables the living to integrate the memory of the dead in their ongoing lives….We are who we are in part because of who he was and we are denying reality of we try to leave him entirely behind.”
Enlisting the Community – Enlisting the support of others provides a grieving person with a sense of support and strength. It makes us feel less alone, validating our own feelings about our loved one. It also enables each grieving person to learn about their loved ones from people in different parts of his or her life — work friends telling previously unfamiliar stories to church friends, who learn something new from school buddies.
Taking Action – In grief, we often feel profoundly powerless. There is nothing we can do to bring the person back and it often feels like there’s not much we can do to help their family members or each other. Telling stories and describing what the departed meant to you is therapeutic because it is valuable, a true gift to the family. While flowers will ultimately wilt, taking the time to recount memories – or offer photos, videos or audio – is a gift that is durable, loving and useful.
Stretching Time — The traditional approach to commemorating someone is, when you think about it, cruelly unrealistic. We are expected to write a eulogy and obituary within a few days of the death. An inherently difficult task under the best of circumstances must now be completed rapidly when we are exhausted and in shock. An online commemoration enables you to take time, build the biography gradually, returning to it when you are in different states of mind.
It also gives you the time to recruit other story tellers from the varied orbits of your loved one. The grieving often benefit from a surplus of support in the days after a death but a deficit in the months after that when the crush of the loss often feels even worse. Enlisting others to craft the story of someone’s life throughout the first year of mourning insures a steadier flow of support.
Strengthening Memories – Describing memories helps engrave them. Recent advances in neuroscience have shown that, far from being a computer that records events like a video camera, our minds absorb, distort, enshrine and discard memories for complex set of reasons. One thing is clear: the telling of a story, the recounting and repetition of a memory, strengthen it.
Memories may become stronger through the very process of gathering materials for a LifePosts – writing them down, reviewing pictures, soliciting contributions from friends and family. Returning to read or listen to them will as well, especially if you add further reflections or images.
Preserving a relationship with the departed — Eleanor Haley and Litsa Williams, both grief counselors, summarized the concept of developing a “continuing bond” as opposed to “moving on”:
“When your loved one dies, grief isn’t about working through a linear process that ends with ‘acceptance’ or a ‘new life’, where you have moved on or compartmentalized your loved one’s memory. Rather, when a loved one dies you slowly find ways to adjust and redefine your relationship with that person, allowing for a continued bond with that person that will endure, in different ways and to varying degrees, throughout your life. This relationship is not unhealthy, nor does it mean you are not grieving in a normal way.”
They suggested writing letters to the deceased, and observing anniversaries. They now believe keeping your loved one alive in your minds and hearts is not only inevitable but helpful.
As Cicero wrote long ago, “the life of the dead consists in being present in the minds of the living.”