Losing a Loved One from Afar and Ways to Heal 

July 21, 2023

I recently lost my Thatha (Telugu word meaning grandfather) at the beginning of this year. He lived a dynamic and rich 95 years of life, during which he watched many grandchildren, myself included, grow up, graduate school many times, and get married. 

For a 95 year old, Thatha was as healthy as he could be and had even been doing well weeks and even days before he passed away peacefully in his sleep. This made it even harder to process the news of his death because we all felt caught off guard. 

A part of me feels content knowing the people that we love never really die, because we carry their memory with us everywhere we go. The other part of me feels weighed down, because in the midst of all this grief, I am encountering this inner struggle for not being physically there with my parents, Amamma (Telugu word meaning grandmother), and other extended family in India as they mourned the loss of Thatha in the moment.

Experiencing the death of a family member or loved one is already wrought with sorrow and pain and it can be made even more so when this loss happens from far away. I hope this blog brings some solace and comfort if you or someone you know is struggling with how to mourn death from a distance. 

Embrace All Feelings 

“Grief creates its own weather. At times, it’s an avalanche that buries us, or a thunderstorm that buffets us around. It’s a cold rain that drips off trees and down our backs long after the storm is gone. It’s a fog that hides the world and makes every sound seem distant.”

-Mark Liebenow 

As Mark Liebenow, author and poet on grief and loss, beautifully articulates, grief is not a one-size-fits-all approach or linear 5-stage process. When we acknowledge that grief looks differently for all of us, we let go of any societal expectations or even self-inflicted pressures of how grief should look. Instead of critically questioning how your feelings are showing up at this time, (I.e. why am I not crying enough or I have been so unproductive today), welcome your current state of mind with self-compassion. Ask yourself these questions to foster even more tenderness towards yourself: 

  • What is my body telling me right now? 
  • How can I lean on others for support ? 
  • What do I need to take care of myself during this difficult time ? 
  • What would nourish me physically and emotionally ? 

Feelings of Shame or Guilt 

When we are in a position of mourning the loss of our loved ones from far away or far, far away, our mind can get bombarded with feeling of shame or guilt. We may feel guilty for not being there with our family and friends to grieve together, as is very common in India and other collectivist countries. Or we may feel ashamed for not being a “good enough” granddaughter/parent/sibling/spouse/etc., because we were unable to attend the burial or cremation. Maybe we have this idea that our loved ones are looking down on us in judgment or we feel ashamed of ourselves for letting them down. 

If you feel burdened by any of these thoughts or feelings about yourself or someone who has passed on, try this visualization: 

Reflect on a moment when you and your deceased loved one were both happy and smiling. Imagine they tell you all the ways that they appreciate you and what you did for them. You also reciprocate those sentiments back to them, sharing how much they meant to you and how you hold a special place in your heart for them. You hug each other bye, allowing all those positive and warm feelings to fill you up. Use this visualization every time you feel that ache of shame or guilt inside of you. 

Ways to Honor Our Loved Ones who have Passed Away:

  • Plant a flower or tree in their memory 
  • Eat their favorite foods
  • Share a meal with those who knew them 
  • Tell stories with those who knew them 
  • Write about them 
  • Participate in a weekly quiet reflection about them 
  • Look at pictures of them 
  • Advocate for an important cause that they believed in 
  • Get piece of jewelry engraved with their initials 
  • Try a hobby that they participated in
  • Listen to their favorite songs 
  • Paint rocks in your loved one’s honor and give them away or hide them in special places 
  • Show a random act of kindness to honor a loved one’s memory 

Not being physically present to mourn the loss of a loved one alongside family and friends can be heart-aching. Let this be a gentle reminder to not let self-criticism add to your pain, but rather focus on being kind to yourself as you learn how you can heal and move forward through grief. 

Written By: Geetha Pokala, M.S., LPC


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