Keeping the Grief Box Open

Keeping the Grief Box Open

|| This month’s blog looks at unique and proactive ways to unpack the closed grief boxes in order to help create connection and more meaningful support.                        

3 Ways to Keep the Grief Box Open

In my last post I wrote about the idea of pursuing an open relationship with grief vs. seeking the “closure” that society seems to prefer. I used the idea of a box that has been packed up and filled with our memories and tokens of the person who has died. Generally, as a society, we are expected to and are more comfortable with those boxes being taped up, stored out of the way, and never opened again. These boxes represent the stuffed, unexpressed emotion that people avoid in favor of claiming and chasing “closure” – an idea that I believe to be completely mythological.

My offering to you, instead, is the idea of an open box. A treasure chest without a lock or key that can be easily accessible and whose contents can be shared and enjoyed with others. Instead of banishing the memories and trinkets of the dead, we keep what has meaning for us close by and we have the ability to put it away back in the box whenever we want to. Too often we set up strict structures for ourselves to feel control, to convince ourselves thatthis is the way grief gets done,” and we miss the beautiful fluidity of moments and memories that burst up and surprise us with the pain and shimmer of past joy.

This blog is looking at ways that we can keep the box open, ways that we can keep our grief an active and meaningful part of our lives in the ways that are significant and useful to you. I was inspired by a session I attended at ADEC where Allison Gilbert spoke about her new book, Passed and Present. I initially attended the session with the intention of bringing great techniques and ideas to all of you, I wasn’t expecting an experience of my own to unfold (you’ll have to wait for next month’s post to hear that story).

Allison presented these ideas & a few more (you’ll need to check out the book to get the whole deal – and it’s so worth it).

Handwriting: Allison took a favorite recipe of her grandmother’s and had the beautiful hand-written recipe glazed onto the perfect serving plate for the “famous” Coffee Cake.

Collections: Many of us have collections of one kind or another and very often these collections are left to family and friends to figure create a proper place of rest. One of the best pieces of Allison’s book is her concern with condensing all of the “stuff” into new and usable pieces. Quilts can work beautifully for preserving tie collections (see her example here), items like hats can be hung on walls or given away to special friends & family at special gatherings. 

– “Eat this in remembrance of me”: Food sparks memory and can flood us with old, familiar sensations. For instance, every time I eat a thin mint I think of the summer I watched Anne of Green Gables over and over with my dad while munching on the cool, refrigerated cookies. Allison shared that she eats lemon-flavored treats on the special days connected with her dad, an avid lemon-lover. It’s her special and simple way of communing with him and enjoying the special quirks that made him her dad.

Of course, there are myriads of unique and meaningful ways to commemorate those who have died, perhaps you have an idea you could share in the comments below. The important piece to remember is that you don’t have to keep everything to have the memories; this is not about burdening or overwhelming yourself. These ideas are about finding ways to usefully and succinctly encapsulate and celebrate the unique and charming personalities of the people we miss. 

So, examine your grief box, however proverbial, and consider ways that you may need to re-open and examine the contents. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you, that it will be worth it.

 || Next month’s blog will share a unique experience I had personally at this same grief workshop where a 10 year old loss came flooding back to me in a deeply profound and changing way. I’m excited to share it with you!

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.

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