Remembering in the Present: Mindfulness, Memories, and Grief

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: May 7, 2023

Being mindful of these memories in the present can provide solace and facilitate healing. 

Grief is a natural and complex emotional response to loss, often accompanied by a torrent of memories that may feel like too much to bear. Mindfully engaging with your memories in the present can give you the stability you need to honor the deceased and foster a deeper understanding of the emotions without feeling so overwhelmed.

Mindfulness can be pivotal in helping you navigate the complex emotions accompanying loss. By being present and engaging with memories in a compassionate and non-judgmental manner, you can find comfort, solace, and a path to healing. In addition, through journaling, creative expression, and establishing rituals, you can honor the memory of your loved one while fostering deep gratitude for the time you shared together.

How to Remember in the Present

I always tell members of Awaken, my online grief group, that it is important not to force yourself to remember or feel anything. Listen to your inner wisdom. It is good to take a break when you need to, and come back when you feel you are ready. Sometimes it may help to have a friend - a grief buddy - someone you trust by your side.

When you are ready to remember in the present, you engage a dual process of embodied mindfulness as you remember in your mind, on paper, or share a story of your loved one with others.

Embodied mindfulness is when you consciously nurture awareness, presence, and self-compassion by connecting your mind and body. By focusing on your breath, movement, and sensations, you gain deeper insight into your physical, emotional, and mental states. This holistic approach helps you build resilience, emotional balance, and overall well-being, enabling you to handle daily challenges with increased ease and intention.

Feel your feet on the floor, your body sitting in the chair. Look around the room and notice what you see. Notice what you smell. Notice what you hear. Speak slowly, and pay attention to your body. All while reflecting on with the memory of your choice with an awareness that you are remembering.

If your pain is raw, approach this with care and self-compassion. Pay attention to your "window of tolerance," where you're able to manage stress effectively. Within this window, you feel balanced and able to cope with daily challenges. Your emotional and physiological states are regulated, fostering clear thinking and adaptability. Stepping outside this window, you may experience overwhelm or disconnection, disrupting your well-being.

Grief Memories, Journaling, and the Arts

One way to incorporate mindfulness into your grieving process is through journaling. By writing down memories, thoughts, and emotions, you can create a tangible record of your experience, gain clarity, and track your emotional journey. In addition, journaling allows for the recognition and validation of emotions, which can be essential in moving through grief.

Similarly, engaging in creative outlets such as art, music, or poetry can provide a powerful means for expressing emotions and cherishing memories. These activities help to externalize feelings and create a lasting tribute to the deceased, giving solace during the grieving process.

Rituals for Honoring Grief Memories

Another technique for being mindful of memories is to create a dedicated space or ritual for honoring the deceased. This could involve lighting a candle, placing photographs or cherished belongings, or engaging in a meaningful activity. By establishing a routine or setting aside time for reflection, you can find solace in connecting to your loved one.

Gratitude for the Memories

Being mindful of memories in the present also encourages you to focus on gratitude for the time spent with the deceased. This shift in perspective can foster a sense of appreciation, acceptance, and, ultimately, healing.

In conclusion, mindfulness, the practice of being consciously aware of the present moment, offers a valuable coping mechanism. When memories are approached with an open and non-judgmental attitude, they can serve as a reminder of the love, connection, and experiences shared with the deceased.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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