Making the Same Mistakes as Our Loved Ones

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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It's 10:30am and the girls are still in their pajamas. Actually, I'm still in my pajamas as well. This is a little lazy, but only slightly out of the ordinary thanks to our comfy-casual dress code. The minute anyone hits the door, it's off with the pants and on with anything that has a forgiving waist band.

Normally nightgowns at 10:30am wouldn't bother me, but today... Today feels a little different. I guess I should also tell you that it's officially the first day of our summer vacation. Well, summer vacation for the kids; for me, it's business as usual except that my sweet solitude has been replaced with sweet and sticky children. I was hoping I'd be able to perfectly balance working from home along with my children's enrichment, but—after this morning—I'm beginning to wonder if pajamas might just be the Camp Haley summer camp uniform.

Camp Haley, where we can't quite remember if your kids ate breakfast, incessantly argue about who ate all the chips, watch lots of aggressively loud cartoons, and spend most of our time feeling boooooored.

child in pajamas lying on red chair with dog

Times like these I have to ask myself, "What would Mom have done?"

I'm pretty sure I know what my mom would have done though: She would have told us to go find something to do. Worse, she would have taught us a lesson by suggesting we 'read a book', which is fun no kid wants to have over summer break. It's not that my mother was dismissive of her children. She just had too many of them.  

Still, I know she regretted not giving us more one-on-one attention. Once I was closer to the adult end of life, she told me on many occasions that she always wished she had played more games with me. She'd say, "You always wanted someone to play games with you. I wish I'd said yes more often." I'd like to have been able to say, "Oh that's silly, I don't even remember wanting to play games,"  but I do remember! I remember I always wanted to play board games and no one wanted to play with me. Now that I'm older and I've played bored games with my own kids, I understand why she always said no—for the same reasons why I always say no, because sometimes I can't and sometimes I just really don't want to.

Every time one of my children asks me to do something and I say 'no' when I could say 'yes', my mother's regrets ring in my ears. I know I am making the same types of decisions, the same 'mistakes', and I know I too will someday regret them. You would think the lessons she learned might right me on my path, but—when I step back and look at the decision to be just like her vs. to learn from her regrets—I find that there's a comfort in being the same "type" of mother she was. There is a closeness in making the same mistakes.

So far as my mother goes, her saying 'no' once in a while was probably good for us and, lest you think I'm complaining, we had some of the most amazingly creative, fun, and free-range summers a kid could ask for. But I shouldn't bank on achieving the same results. My own circumstances are different and perhaps my kids will feel the effects. Irregardless, I know if I don't do that crystal growing kit with my 8 year old, Evelyn, soon I will regret it. 

When people die, we often find ourselves doing the things they did in order to continue our bond with them. We take road trips, sky dive, volunteer for causes, adopt pets, live in houses, and behave in ways that allow us to feel as though we're seeing the world through their eyes, feeling what they felt, and standing where they stood. This is hard for people to understand, even those who are in the midst of doing it—but I'd wager it's more common than I even realize.

People tsk tsk and wonder how a daughter could become addicted to the same substance that took her mother's life or how a father could take up the same high-risk hobby that led to his son's death. These are extreme examples of course. And my example is small, but I suppose the lesson learned is this: For many, the desire to be close to a loved one's memory knows no bounds. There is no bond too large nor insignificant and, although we typically think of 'continuing bonds' as being positive, perhaps we need to acknowledge there are times when it can lead us astray.

When someone we love dies, we search for pieces of them in this world. The fragments we find come in many shapes and sizes and, when we find them, we grab them up and do whatever we can to protect and nurture the qualities that remind us of our loved one. We lock them away in closets, we carry them in our pockets, and sometimes we take the fragments and make them a part of our very own being. And none of it is crazy.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a crystal growing kit to do.

If you're concerned about how you're dealing with loss or if you're engaging in behaviors that are harmful, please see our section on coping.

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9 Comments on "Making the Same Mistakes as Our Loved Ones"

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  1. Vicki  August 11, 2015 at 6:52 pm Reply

    I didn’t have to search for a piece of him in this world. I saw the best part of him in his daughter, which is why I wrote the poem ‘Eric’s Girl.’ One of the reasons anyway. She was 16 when I wrote it and I was desperate to find a way to give her a tiny bit of solace after what had happened. She took it unbelievably hard and hasn’t returned to anything close to whatever normal is after watching a building collapse from a terrorist attack, knowing you’re dad is trapped inside, and being 15 years old.

    The poem explains her relationship with him and is only slightly embellished. She really was that close to him, even as a teenager.

    Eric’s Girl
    They thought they would destroy him on that cold September day
    when they flew through morning skies of blue and snatched his life away
    but one thing they neglected when they forced his kin to grieve
    is the one whose dad they killed that day who grants us a reprieve.
    Eric’s girl is beautiful so gorgeous yes it’s true
    with long dark hair that flows away from eyes of cobalt blue
    More of him each day appears reflected through those windows
    that manifests her soul and his, and with each day love grows
    Eric’s girl bestowed on him a reason to believe
    in the simple joy that loving brings when blooming in the Spring
    and he in turn revealed to her his virtues to receive
    a bond grew tight around the two which every Autumn brings
    Eric’s girl displays her heart in hues of golden sunshine
    Her love entwined in his persists, made in rooms divine
    When two good lives emerge and merge the consequence is golden
    His faith, her trust, their lasting love, preside in words unspoken
    They thought they could destroy us on that fateful 9/11
    when they turned his name to ashes and forced him into heaven
    but what they failed to understand when trying to wreck our world
    is the imprint of his loving soul repeats in Eric’s girl.

  2. Deborah Vidmar  June 16, 2015 at 4:13 pm Reply

    I loved this. I find myself using sayings that my mother used – silly expressions that I used to giggle at. I try everyday to be more like her – it’s funny how used to think I’d never want to be like her. I used to make fun of the way she’d talk to strangers… anywhere about anything… now, that’s me! I am my mother, and I’m so happy about that.

    • Eleanor  June 25, 2015 at 12:56 pm Reply


      I know! We’re supposed to be unhappy about turning into our mothers, but I don’t feel that way at all! I’m glad to be able to keep little pieces of her alive in the world.


  3. Clif Martin  June 16, 2015 at 2:29 pm Reply

    What is the red comment luv thing? I have not seen that elsewhere. Maybe it’s a
    Wordpress thing

    • Litsa  June 22, 2015 at 10:31 pm Reply

      Hi Clif, yes- comment luv is a wordpress plugin. It allows people to add a link to their comment. Unfortunately it is a little glitchy! But it is nice when it works.

  4. David  June 16, 2015 at 1:46 pm Reply

    The extreme examples you gave of maintaining the bond with a departed loved thru modeling potentially dangerous or destructive behaviors, while understandable from a grieving standpoint, would seem to be a concern. As a grief counselor, wouldn’t you want to at least suggest exchanging them for safer bonding methods? Also, I have a friend who lost her spouse a year and a half ago. She has modified her life to maintain the bonds to her husband to the point that she panics at the thought that her husband would disapprove of her having a new, even plutonic, relationship. My question is when does this desire for bonding with the deceased begin to impede a successful transition through the grieving process, leading to perhaps complicated grief or depression?

    • Eleanor  June 16, 2015 at 2:07 pm Reply

      David, yes of course we would recommend people choose more positive coping as opposed to engaging in any sort of self destructive behavior. The goal of this reflection was simply to theorize and understand the ‘why’ and nothing more. We have many posts about positive coping, a thorough discussion was just beyond the scope in this one specific article.

      As far as your friend goes, it’s difficult for us to truly know anyone’s situation without speaking with her. In general, if someone truly feels as though they want to date, yet feels unable to due to guilt, shame, anxiety or worry, then they may want to consider taking action towards change. When anxiety begins to prevent daily functioning or the ability to live in accordance with one’s values for a long period of time, it never hurts to talk to someone. If the case is not related to an actual psychological disorder, they might also find healing in other methods of coping like support groups, books, art, journaling, etc.

      Every person is different and grief is unique from person to person. We hesitate to label anything as normal or abnormal. Bottom line though, If someone feels stuck we always encourage them to search for the tools, support, and help that will enable them to keep moving forward.

  5. Liz  June 16, 2015 at 12:26 pm Reply

    Perfect timing for me reading this. My husband died in February. He loved his Harley Davidson. Since the weather is right and his cousin doesn’t mind the company, I am able to tag along for a nice ride. With three children at home, I rarely have time, but when I do- I feel so close to him. I hear him. I smell him. I return to my home with a cleared head. I know that others think I am crazy or careless- a young mother of three on the back of another mans motorcycle- what is she thinking?!? No, I don’t have a death wish, nor am I having an affair. I am actually enjoying a part of my life that we were able to enjoy together for so many years. So, old habits die hard- and I’m ok with it for today.

  6. Clif Martin  June 16, 2015 at 12:23 pm Reply

    I love the personal stories. I know there’s a time and a need for the clinical, psychological stuff but it’s the stories that we remember.

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