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Honouring the age they died

Someone was telling me about a video they watched recently of people honouring Amy Winehouse on the anniversary of her death all these years later. The way they ‘honoured’ her was by talking about all the wonderful things that she shoulda/coulda/woulda done…if not for her ‘untimely’ death. Basically a complete focus on the things she didn’t do, the years she didn’t live, the music she didn’t make.

A part of my G.R.I.E.F Process that I take people through is to help them to find the beauty (I would say the perfection actually) in the age that they died.

This is an odd concept to most, because we are totally conditioned to expect we’re all going to get 95 years of life, that we all should get 95 years, and that every life that is significantly shorter than that has been ripped off and isn’t quite enough. In fact this is seen as a way of honouring them – forever regretting and bemoaning the supposed unreasonable brevity of their life, and all the things they coulda/shoulda/woulda done…but didn’t. And never ever will.

There are two big issues with this.

Firstly, and this Amy Whitehouse ‘tribute’ would have been a wonderful example, when you’re thinking of how tragic it was that they died and thinking of all the things they could’ve done with an extra 5,10, or 70 years, I can hazard an educated guess that all you are considering is the good they would’ve experienced. The wonderful travel, the love, the experiences, the grandchildren, etc. That is…just the joy. I bet on that Amy Winehouse show they all talked about the incredible albums she would’ve made, the extra difference in the world (because the difference she made wasn’t enough), the beautiful family she might have had. And from that perspective it can be hard to see any worth in the death of someone so young. Or even someone already old.

This changes when you get a bit more realistic and consider all the possibilities, especially the possibilities that their life clearly pointed to. I worked with a woman years ago who felt the death of her mother from cancer was tragic, and specifically that she had so much travel left to do and so many countries still to see. There was little evidence that this is where she was actually heading though. She was a serious alcoholic prior to her cancer. In fact the daughter I was working with was getting had been getting ready to cut her mother completely out of her life. That’s how bad the situation had gotten. That was the actuality, and the idea that, had cancer not touched her life, she would have miraculously changed and travelled the world, was a fantasy.

It’s easy to regret the years they didn’t have when you’re living in a bit of a fairytale seeing all the joy, joy, joy, and nothing but joy that they missed out on.

The second problem with honouring them by wishing that they had that 5, 10 or 70 years more….is that you don’t honour them or their life in any way to do so.

There are many behaviours in grief that we take for granted as the best way to do things. But often without holding them up to the light and looking at the actual outcome of such behaviour.

Whether someone died at 5, 25, or 95…that was the life they lived. That was all the days, months, years that they had. And, as you know, no amount of wishing can change that for anyone. And anything further than that that you see them doing is nothing to do with them. It’s no more than a figment of your imagination.

Nobody wants to be remembered for the years they didn’t live. Nobody wants to be remembered for the things they didn’t do. Nobody wants to be remembered for the kids they didn’t have, the music they didn’t make, the travel they never experienced. Making up stories about a life they didn’t live does nothing but draw you away from the beauty of the life that they did actually live.

Take the time to love them for who they actually were and for the life they actually lived. They deserve that.

The worst for me to see is when a child dies and instead of putting their love and focus into the handful of precious years, all these incredible days of that poignant little spark of a life, the grieving family spend years creating a fake person in their heads who turns 10,20, 50 years old, studying, marrying, having kids, etc, etc. Instead of being able to think about and love the actual child and her actual life, they create an imaginary better version that lives out years and does things that have absolutely nothing to do with the real child who lived and died.

Now, like with all the things I share, it’s one thing to understand the theory of this and understand why you would want to see the beauty of the exact length of their life just the way it was and honouring the exact number of years they actually had. But it is totally another to actually be able to do this.

It takes time and effort. But it is beyond worth it.

There are two main things you need to do this.

Look for what was beautiful in the years they had. What was good, great and wonderful that they had already experienced and done in the years they had. And then look at what was good for them about not continuing longer than they did. I know you know the part of all the joy that was to come. You’ve already written that story in your head a thousand times. Or is it a million. This time look at all the difficulties, pain, challenges that were to come. When you come to a place where you can truly see that the age they died was ok for them, you will feel the shift.

A paragraph on it doesn’t reflect the time and energy to do this particular piece of work. But you might notice straight away as you begin that you’ve never even thought this way before.

A lot of the process for truly healing grief is about abandoning what society has taught you about death and grief and looking for a bigger, more beautiful picture than you could ever have imagined.



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