In the grief support groups that I’ve led, I frequently refer to the person who died as, Your beloved.
A while back, my boss attended a hospice conference. After returning to the office, she posed a question from one of the workshop presenters: what if the person being grieved was not loved?
Should everyone be called a “loved one” or “beloved?”
When friends and family die, wounds we never imagined impact our hearts. Eventually, with time and tending to our grief, most will cherish their memories like family heirlooms. Indeed, those memories are likely more valuable than any inherited object. They can become the laugh-out-loud subjects featured at holiday dinners, private moments recalled with a cup of coffee in the early morning, or family myths passed along while chatting with relatives at a joyful wedding or another sad funeral.
Nonetheless, some recollections and relationships are tainted. What about,
- A verbally abusive parent that would spoil anyone else’s success?
- An always-angry grandparent that could turn any conversation negative?
- A child that lied to everyone, wrecking lives as he or she ruined their own life with addictions?
This person may have been the sibling who taught you how to ride a bike or the parent that loaned you money for a first house, but they also curdled the infrequent good recollections with destructive actions. You do love them, and you do despise them, carry regrets, or harbor anger.
Is it possible to grieve someone you mostly struggled with, where only a few positive memories leaven the negative truths? I suspect—maybe for a parent that gave you birth or a child that once held such promise—there could be authentic feelings of grief over the loss of what-could’ve-been. But what if the strands of long-ago hope have been shredded by the accumulation of anguish?
Because no one knows the details of a grieving person’s history, should I call those who have died a family member instead of beloved? (I think that’s what the workshop presenter suggested as an alternative.) Some, if honest, may delete any upbeat description before publicly recalling their now deceased wonderful spouse or generous parent. All adjectives, negative and positive, are scrubbed from any reminiscing.
Mostly I agree with the “family member” phrase, but it stirs uneasy reactions. I naïvely and optimistically want everyone to be revered as “beloved,” though suspect some should never have that label linked to their name and memory. In my decades of ministry, there were people in various churches that appeared so nice while grinning from the pew or chit-chatting in the church potluck line. But I would later learn about old (and fresh) scars caused by their casual infidelity, random rages, passive-aggressive behaviors, selfish decisions, and more.
I don’t know why certain people act awful, hypocritical or manipulative . . . but they do. I’m not much of an expert on the faithful facts of heaven, but there are those that unleash hell on earth for family and friends.
It can also be hard to talk about someone who was truly loved, but does prompt feelings of guilt, regret, or anger. Everyone is a mixed bag, and the time of grief should include honesty. That supportive, caring spouse that died from lung cancer and coulda-shoulda quit smoking can cause a surviving spouse a sense of profound loss . . . along with contradictory emotions. Why didn’t they take better care of themselves? Of course, the surviving spouse is angry! I encourage you to speak about that anger to a trusted friend or a supportive counselor. I would prefer to help the griever live the rest of their lives recalling the treasure of abundant good memories, rather than hoarding a storehouse of repressed hurt for some problematic (and understandably human) flaws.
Please, let all the feelings come out. Though I wish it weren’t so, referring to the deceased as “your beloved” may be more hypocritical than helpful for certain grievers. I believe words matter.
How we name and claim our memories influences our current state of mind and future healing.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)by