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Grief

The Love That Never Dies

How relationships continue after death.

For the past two years, I have had the honor and privilege of working with the parents of a beautiful little girl named Meghan, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’ve also had the opportunity to spend priceless time with Meghan and her little sister on the beach, at my office, and at their home. Early one March afternoon, after an unspeakably difficult two-year battle, Meghan died. Surrounded by her mom, dad, little sister, grandparents, family, and friends, Meghan’s fight against a deadly form of cancer came to an end.

My conversations with Meghan’s parents these past two years have covered every possible “What now?” question, topic, moment, and emotion. The “What now?” question that arose today as they woke up and realized their beloved daughter was no longer there was about the love between these parents and their precious 9-year-old. Asking, “Are we just supposed to go on with our lives, Ken? What are we supposed to do with our love for her?” We sat down for a new series of conversations.

Questions of how to go on after a loss run deep, beginning with “How are we going to go on from here?” My response started with the following acknowledgments: Fighting to save your daughter’s life these past two years has been an unspeakable ordeal. The pain, anguish, fear, sorrow, and exhaustion have been immeasurable. It took every ounce of strength, time, support, and permission to begin healing in the days, weeks, and months after my daughter, Jenna, died. I went back and forth from the surreal (“It doesn’t seem real that she’s gone”) to the all-too-real (OMG, she is really gone!”) and was in shock as I gave her eulogy.

The shock and denial began to wear thin in time, and reality set in. My daughter was gone forever, and my life as I knew it was also over.

Adjusting to our new lives, supporting our surviving kids, handling condolence calls, e-mails, and house guests, winding things down with hospice, and planning a celebration of life is an undaunting challenge. We survive by taking exceptionally good care of ourselves, allowing the support of trusted family, friends, and confidants. And by choosing a path of patience, self-care, self-compassion, and honor.

From the loss of my daughter and countless hundreds of families I’ve helped over the years, I mapped out eight guidelines for how to go on after a devastating loss called “The Eight Honorings.” As outlined in my book, How We Go On, each of these honorings speaks to the answerable and unanswerable questions that Meghan’s parents are asking.

The one they’re most interested in right now is “cultivating a spiritual relationship with Meghan.” By a “spiritual relationship,” I am talking about the love we continue to share with someone who has died or has gone missing. I call it “the love that never dies.” We may not ever know with 100% certainty what happens after we die. Nor may we be sure about what will become of the love we have shared with them. But we can remain open to the possibility that our love will somehow transcend their death. We can continue talking to them, blowing kisses, reaching out to them, and loving them.

Having lost Jenna 27 years ago, I can attest to the love that never dies. I can also attest that allowing ourselves to express an undying love will enable it to grow even richer and deeper. Meghan’s parents have continued to express their love for her in these first few days. Expressing their love and feeling hers are coming naturally and comforting Meghan’s parents and little sister.

This life is truly a mystery. We are part of a vast universe far more complex than we know and guided by forces that defy our capacity to understand. But we can put our faith in greater possibilities, unknowable mysteries, and occasional, unexplainable signs that life goes on somehow after death. Summoning the courage, self-compassion, and faith to fight back into life after a loss, we learn to walk with a limp in our hearts and discover newfound strength, peace, and joy on the path forward.

May the days go gently for you, Meghan’s mom, dad, sister, family, and close friends.

And Meghan, may you rest in peace and feel the undying love we all feel for you.

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