How to Use Transitional Objects as a Way to Process Grief

How to Use Transitional Objects as a Way to Process Grief
Photo: Tana Lee Alves, Shutterstock

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone process a loss in their own way, and on their own time. Grief is also very sneaky: You may think you have dealt with it, only to find that a certain song, scent, or memory causes you to experience the sting of loss all over again.

As it turns out, some people have found that having a transitional object may help them grieve a person who has died, while still holding part of them close. Here’s what that could look like.

What are transitional objects?

Transitional objects come up most frequently in the context of kids — particularly those who may be dealing with separation anxiety. Here’s how the concept was described in a 2018 Lifehacker article:

If a child has a tough time leaving you, a transitional object such as a stuffed animal or favourite toy can be helpful. For younger kids, it allows them to maintain a sense of comfort and consistency.

So what do transitional objects look like for adults? Like the rest of the grieving process, it’s highly personal. While some people may find comfort in photos or videos featuring an important person in their life who has died, others respond more to a tangible item, and find that having something that belonged to the person they lost makes them feel closer, according to Lisa Kanarek in an article for Well+Good.

How do transitional objects help people process loss?

Let us start by saying that some people don’t find transitional objects comforting at all, and, in fact, find it easier to avoid the deceased’s personal belongings altogether. But for others, they’re an integral part of their grieving and healing process.

“For a lot of people, it’s evidence that the person existed, especially if the death was unexpected,” Megan Devine, LPC, psychotherapist and bestselling author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK told Well+Good in an interview. “Even when the death was expected, sometimes there’s that unreality like they were here, and now they’re not.”

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