Rocky relationships lead to complicated grief. Bonds with your deceased loved one, complex or otherwise, continue unless you intentionally detach yourself. Current grief theories no longer demand an ending point or detachment from the deceased in order for an individual to be considered healthy and well adjusted. Counselors acknowledge that we find ways to redefine our relationships with loved ones after they die, often creating ongoing connections that can last our lifetime. These relationships can evolve and mature, especially if they were of an abusive or dysfunctional nature. They can make you into a stronger, more compassionate person. If you want to witness this, listen to Sherman Alexie’s audiobook version of his new memoir You Don’t have to Say You Love Me, produced by Hachette Audio, 2017. Renowned author, poet, and filmmaker, Alexie struggles to come to terms with his chaotic childhood on the Spokane Indian Reservation with the mother he simultaneously loved and hated.
There are many ways to maintain long term ties with loved ones after death. Some of the ones Alexie employs in his memoir are: talking to his mother, keeping her photos, remembering the ways she influenced his life, imagining her advice or opinions on current issues, living in a way that would make her proud, saving her quilts and other special belongings, allowing himself to experience her presence, doing things she liked to do, writing letters and poems to her, and researching her life to learn what made her the person she was. In the audiobook version, read with great passion by the author, Alexie sings, cries, reads his mother’s words aloud, and speaks for her. She becomes a part of him. “I have a better relationship with my mother – with the memory of my mother. A better relationship with her ghost,” he writes on the box that contains the CDs.
Long after my daughter died I kept talking to her. With time, her harsh words softened and I heard her begin to support me, cheering me on when I was scared, “Go for it, Mom. You can do this.” Each day I carry her with me to whatever new venture the day brings. I’m a bigger, better person because of her.
Do you talk to any ghosts? How do you feel about listening to audiobooks versus reading? Have you listened to or read any great memoirs lately?