How to say goodbye to someone already gone?
April 13, 2008 2:18 PM   Subscribe

In the next month an important anniversary of a loved one's suicide will be coming up. I have never until this year dealt with the feelings involved with the death and the emotions involved in the loss. I have very little memories of the actual funeral involved (I was 13) but it has been suggested to me (by therapist) that maybe I may like to do some sort of memorial or ritual signifying it. I like this idea. I just have no idea how.

(I will ask my therapist about any ideas she has at our next meeting in a week or so so that topic is covered)

Other family members are not interested in being involved (and think the entire thing silly and overly dramatic) so this would be something I would do on my own either in the house when they have left or somewhere outside.

I don't know where to look or even where to start. I want it to be a way of saying goodbye to my brother and that I love him but no longer need the pain involved just to be true to him. A sort of way of ending 20 years of delayed mourning.

Are there religious phrases or rituals that involve that? Ideally I would make it personal so I really am just looking for a jumping off point. I don't want to offend anyone if I'm just picking and choosing from the best of the best of their religion either. I have no experience with religion whatsoever.

Otoh I'm not very um "hippy dippy" and into smudge sticks and magik (no offence) but if there are phrases/routines that have let you put something behind you I would like that as well.

I guess what I am asking for in a long meandering way is what words or actions have you used or suggested to others to you put a landmark down on a period of pain. To say to yourself and to the beloved one I love you, I have let you go and I will move on without forgetting you.
posted by beautifulcheese to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you visit the grave site? I'd suggest writing a letter and then reading it while at the grave. First, it will be private. Second, writing the letter gets you past the "I'm here -- so now what" phase.
posted by sbutler at 2:58 PM on April 13, 2008

I think something specific to your brother and your relationship with him would make it meaningful and have more chance of feeling "final" -- because it's a personal remembrance rather than something formulaic. For me, I put together a big care package for someone in the hospital who was in a similar situation to the person I lost, told a nurse of my general wishes, and asked her to deliver it to the person they thought could use it the most. It was something I wasn't able to do...maybe chose not to do...for the person I lost. Also, a good cry in a body of water while I gave myself permission to move on felt like it shifted something inside.

I know many faiths have a day honoring the dead and one thing they do is clean the burial site. If there's a place where your brother rests, or was meaningful to him, perhaps you could do something to contribute to it.

Just my experience, but the hurt doesn't really go away just because you did this, and if you're just now coming to terms with the emotions, you may want to do something each year for a few years, until that's what's normal, not the new emotions.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:59 PM on April 13, 2008

Response by poster: Yah I guess it is the personal thing I'm looking for but no one can tell me that I suppose dang nabit! :)

There is no grave site. He was cremated and I have been told I was invited along to the scattering of ashes on a mountain side but I do not remember that. I have also been informed that that spot on the mountain doesn't exist anymore as a wash went thru and wiped it out into a stream/lake/ditch.

I don't expect the complete hurt to go away cause I doubt that ever could but I'm just looking for a new way of processing that day and our relationship in that I don't have to keep myself in depression and in pain to honour him and he wouldn't be pissed off if I laughed once in awhile :)

Thank you for suggestions. Please keep them coming if any :)
posted by beautifulcheese at 3:33 PM on April 13, 2008

A few thoughts:
- making a playlist of songs that he liked and putting them on an ipod to listen to
- going to a place that had some meaning to him, or if that's not possible, a place that has some meaning to you
- reading a poem, song lyrics, part of a book, something he liked, or something that reminds you of him
- writing him a letter, maybe about how you miss him or what you remember of him, or about you and what you've done and how you've changed since his death
- reading the letter aloud, if you want, or doing something else with it - burn it, tear it up and scatter it, e.g.
- doing something that he liked to do, eating his favorite food, something he liked. what did he do for fun? what do you have good memories of doing with him?

It can be sad and cathartic if that's what you want it to be, and you can find a way to honor him that leaves some of the sadness behind. It's not the same thing as leaving him behind.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2008

Best answer: I want it to be a way of saying goodbye to my brother and that I love him but no longer need the pain involved just to be true to him. A sort of way of ending 20 years of delayed mourning.

It sounds like what you want is a ritual gesture of releasing. Both letting go of your brother, and also of your pain and grief, which you've been holding onto out of loyalty to him.

If you go to a place he liked and read him a letter you wrote, you might then burn the letter and scatter the ashes or throw them into water. Both to release your feelings, and also a delayed participation in the scattering of his physical ashes. Or you could write or carve his name on a stone and go throw it into a body of water.

Or you could ceremonially give away, throw away, or donate something that belonged to him. The sadness of giving away a precious object might help you find your feelings of loss.

Or you could find an object that symbolizes your mourning for him, like a piece of clothing or memento from when you were 13, and bury it. Then plant a rosebush or tree on top of it, to transform that grief into new life.

I'm sorry for your loss. Remember that there's no wrong way to do this. May you find peace with your memories of him.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:04 PM on April 13, 2008

Best answer: Why don't you turn the loss into something positive, and find a child somewhere in the third world to sponsor? One with the same birthday as your brother.

That's what I did.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:25 PM on April 13, 2008

Letting go, for me, is always easier outdoors. In part, it's my hippy-dippy imagination (I can imagine the pain being blown away by the wind or absorbed by the massive rock; it puts things in perspective since I feel small and part of a world that's much bigger than me; it makes it easier to remember that death is part of life and that things decay and give birth to new life; plus, nature can be so soothing and so beautiful). But I think there's also something about our physical bodies that makes this easier outside.

Hmm, it seems like a ceremony might involve a few phases: a going out or period of preparation, an event, a natural end to that event when you release things, and a returning. You might hike up to the top of a hill, read aloud your memories and a statement, burn it and blow the ashes out on the breeze, and then have the hike down as a solemn symbolism of how you are now returning to your life. Or, you might hike out to a beach, and set a bonfire, keep the fire burning all through the night in honor of his memory as you think of your experiences with him, and then in the morning when the tide rolled in and extinguished the fire, sit as long as you wanted watching the wood wash into the surf, and then walk back into town, where the rest of the world would just be starting their day, and you'd be literally emerging out of a long night into the bright sunshine.

Would you want someone else there? One of his friends, or someone important to you now? Having other people hear you say something, and smiling and nodding to let you know it is alright, sometimes that helps. On the other hand, maybe you want to be alone, so you can say whatever you need to say, do, or feel, without holding back.

I agree that the most important thing is that you do something, that you can't really do this "wrong," and that whatever you do will be part of moving to the next stage.
posted by salvia at 5:40 PM on April 13, 2008

Many cultures have fire/burning rituals to honor and remember the dead. There are various connotations of purification, release and passion there, and it can be useful as metaphor for a too-brief life. You might choose to incorporate some of that in your ceremony or ritual.
posted by judith at 7:00 PM on April 13, 2008

A friend of mine was trying to help me do something similar with a loved one I lost, and she said that what she does for the people she'd lost, is to basically send a balloon up with a message to them. Not 100% on if she literally attached a note, or if it was more the spirit of it, but I rather liked that idea.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:16 PM on April 13, 2008

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