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Christian Counseling - Death of a Relationship

Death of a relationship. What comes to mind when you consider its cause? Divorce? Widowhood? Or another type of relationship that ended badly over unresolved conflict? Whatever the answer, most people think that death means the relationship is over and they need only to grieve and accept the loss. Grieving and accepting are two things that need to be done, but when is a relationship really over? Is it ever?

There is a largely unknown 1970 movie called, "I Never Sang For My Father," starring Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas. Hackman plays the son who was deeply grieved at being unable to please his very critical father. At the end of the movie the father dies, never having reconciled as the result of his pride and bitterness. In the son's sad recounting of his father's passing and the time that followed he uttered a profound bit of wisdom, "Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship."

We all lose some relationships in the course of our lives, but the connection, memories and dreams (met or otherwise) continue to live within us. It is one reason why many eulogies express the thought that the deceased person will live on and be with us forever. Spiritually, we understand that death ends a physical life and that the created essence of the person continues on into the afterlife. On a psychological level, we internalize a representation of the person and the relationship. The representations are alive within us, as is our interaction with them. For example, nurturing or critical parent tapes, that which we hear in our heads and feel in our hearts that either sooth or cause us trouble, are an internal representation of things heard from or attitudes observed in parents that live on outside of the direct relationship with them. Spiritually and psychologically, relationships never end with their dissolution, whether they were good or bad.

This understanding should give us pause to seriously consider to whom we chose to relate, knowing their lasting impact. It can also give us another way to understand why recovering from grief is so difficult. It takes the average person seven years to work out a significant loss. In the end, one must learn to let go of the external relationship and, thereafter, to rewrite the internal representation of the person and the relationship, which integrates their death as part of the natural cycle of all human life.

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