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  • Writer's pictureMadeylyn Balitz

“He would have said…” vs. “He is saying…”

There is a step in the grieving process which, when taken, can facilitate healing and that godawful thing everyone wants you, the bereaved, to do…move on.

I share this step with you because, unlike so many things in the journey of loss, this is something you truly have control over. All you have to do is listen to what you are saying to yourself or out loud, and correct it for accuracy.

Example for a widow: Here is something you may hear yourself say in your mind: “John is telling me to go ahead and get a new car, that it’s not worth replacing the engine now in my old car.” You are thinking this because when John was alive as your husband, he brought his knowledge of such matters to the partnership and made the decisions about car repairs and purchases. When you are faced with this decision on your own, it is daunting and even scary, since you’ve never before needed to be equipped for this challenge. But you can think rationally, and you believe that John was always rational about car decisions, and you are leaning on his rational thought process now, and from that, you conclude that the best option is to buy a new car. Your memory of his rational thought process can guide your decision-making. That is quite different, actually, than the statement that “John is telling me to go ahead and get a new car…” That makes John and John’s advice “present tense.” No matter how much you may wish this were true, it’s not. John is all past tense, now. So it is more accurate to say “John would have said…” rather than “John is telling me…”

It can seem so harmless to say to yourself, “Sure, I’ll go to the wedding by myself. Sue wants me to have a good time, not sit around and mope.” Again, if Sue is your deceased loved one, don’t speak about her in the present tense. It is an untruth that keeps YOU stuck in the past instead of the present, whereas Sue is the one who is in the past, not the present, literally. Catch yourself and instead, say: “Sue would want me to get out and live life, not sit home and mope.”

OF COURSE our dearly departed come to mind in the present, sometimes quite vividly, and especially in the beginning stages of grief. The thoughts can come often, maybe even constantly. The thoughts trigger emotions, and a whole gamut of feelings can ensue.

Usually the thoughts are memories, such as when you drive by a restaurant and recall a time you enjoyed a special occasion there with your loved one. Rather than suppress these thoughts or try and shoo them away, you can enjoy them. Just be sure to keep the past in the past, freeing yourself to be present in the present and more at peace in the future.

Depending on who you are around, you may find yourself gushing with memories of your loved one. It is important to be with another person (maybe who knew your loved one, too) with whom you feel comfortable enough to let the words flow. To always feel like it’s taboo to mention something (good or bad) about a deceased person can jam your emotions and lead to depression or an extended grieving period. Sharing aids healing. And you know what? So does humor, and believe it or not, you can find humor in the very thing that has you grief-stricken and sad. Not only can humor help you, it can help others who share your sense of loss. All kinds of sharing about someone who has died can be helpful, if you don’t dwell on regrets, things you cannot change, nor things you pretend haven’t changed.

Just changing your internal language to voice “she would have said…” instead of “she is telling me…” will help rewire your brain to operate more congruently with today’s reality. That’s all it means to “move on.”

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