Relationships, You & Your Family

What grief gives us

What grief gives us
Image: Ink Drop/

On 8 September, Queen Elizabeth II passed on. The longest-reigning monarch of our time, she was a constant amidst all the changes of the past 70 years.

We often associate a person’s death with losses at many levels and with feelings of grief experienced by those who remain. Interestingly, though, with the losses come some unexpected gains. Here is what I observed with the passing of Queen Elizabeth and how we might learn from it.

Firstly, alongside the outpouring of sadness was mass reminiscing about the late queen. Media channels in the United Kingdom carried almost 24-hour coverage of many aspects of her life. It was as if people could not get or know enough about the beloved monarch. This kind of mass recollection is an effort to hold on to what remains of the deceased. And often, what remains are memories.

While on the topic of memories, let me say that personal memories are exactly that— personal to the individual. Not everyone may have nor want to recall certain events or aspects of the deceased. Memories also often become kinder with time—we may be able to recall difficult times but with less of the intensity of associated emotions. What memories do you retain of your loved ones who have passed on? And while your loved ones are still around, there remains the possibility of making more positive memories.

Secondly, hand in hand with memories that we want to treasure is the question of memories to let go. These are memories that do not serve us well. In some of us, there may be an irrational desire to hang on to hurtful memories, e.g. things done or words said to us. Why cling to these memories when there is no possibility of bringing them to some form of closure? “It is not fair!” some of us may protest and stubbornly want to retain them in the hope that the wrong will be undone. Sometimes we may just have to accept that although we may have been unjustly wronged, we are the only ones still hurting while time and others have all moved on. Is it not time to let such memories go?

Thirdly, together with the sombre mood around Queen Elizabeth’s death, there were also celebrations. Such celebrations are not for one’s death but for the life that was lived. It is perhaps a way of expressing our appreciation for that individual and telling others of how much the deceased enriched our lives. The celebration is a bitter-sweet way of living out the memory of the loved one.

Fourthly, death is a reminder of how finite our lives are. The brevity of life should remind us to treasure what we have and to make the most of it. Benjamin Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties of life—death and taxes. With the certainty of death, we all have to ask ourselves how prepared we are to face it.

In attendance at the funeral services for the late queen were many dignitaries, politicians and leaders, both local and foreign. For many of them, going into a church and attending a Christian service is something they would not have done if it were not for that occasion.  I wonder if it gave some the opportunity to ponder the meaning of life and death.

We are told that the late queen planned the details of her funeral, the hymns to be sung and the portion of scripture to be read. It seems like she took the opportunity of her funeral service to deliver a special message for those assembled. The Bible reminds us that “…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24, NIV). May we all live and eventually pass on in such a way that gives life to others. May our death leave behind many happy memories and much happiness mingled with some tears.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.