Existential Psychology

Carry Your Loved One With You

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There is no aspect of the human condition more tragic than the fact that we choose life yet must accept death, our own deaths and those of our loved ones. When the people closest to us do die, many of us can’t or won’t accept the finality of the situation, feeling stuck and unable to move forward with our lives.

If someone you love has died, it might seem like you only have two options, both of them bad. You can either stay with your unbearable feelings of l0ss as they are now, but at least your relationship to your loved one is still open and alive, or you can decide to move on and say goodbye, which might help close the gaping emotional wound but will also relegate one of the most important people in your life to the background. The phrase that comes to mind when thinking of these two options is being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

There is a better choice though, one that heals without having to leave who you love behind, and it’s to carry your loved one with you on your life journey, to make your actions and relationships a testament to this person. Many worry, especially in the arena of love, that it wouldn’t be fair to a new partner to continue to let your thoughts and feelings linger on someone else. But this concern is due to an erroneous idea about love, which is that it depends upon a specific love object rather than existing as a potentiality within each of us. As Erich Fromm put it, “Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world as a whole, not toward one object of love”

Just because someone has died doesn’t mean they can’t stay alive in your heart, continuing to exist through your thoughts and actions, like a splash whose ripples continue to move in larger circles across a lake. If you haven’t seen or talked to a friend in years but still feel influenced by this person, looking fondly on your experiences together, you think nothing of it if your friend is still alive. It’s dealing with the finality, the grim reality that no new experiences can ever be created together, that is so difficult to bear. But at some point down the road, no matter what you try to do to stop it, there will be an end to your ability and the ability of your loved ones to create new experiences. One day you will count on others to carry you forward in their hearts just as the person you have lost is counting on you now.

This attitude mixes the hopeful in with the tragic. It compels you to rethink how you want to live your life, since sectioning yourself off from the population, refusing to get out there and forge new relationships or have meaningful experiences is not much of a testament to the person you have lost and does nothing for their legacy. Conversely, fostering love and intimacy in your relationships, doing something beautiful with your life where you actively use the lessons you learned for your growth and the growth of the people around you, is the ultimate testament and helps insure the ripples will continue to spread.