Everybody has different ideas on how to cope with grief. As everyone is different, we all grieve differently. I wanted to share with you my ideas, based on personal experience, on how to cope when someone you love passes away…
First of all, my condolences to you and your loved ones. Even though death is inevitable and we all know that it is going to happen some day to everyone - we are never fully prepared for the depth of emotions that losing our loved one brings.
If the death is unexpected, it will be a huge shock. The causes of unexpected deaths are wide and varied, but irrespective of the cause – the fact is that you will not be ready for it. Those that are left behind often feel stunned, and suddenly find themselves living in a surreal world without their loved one.
At the other end of the spectrum, an expected death brings different emotions. Even though you are prepared for it and have said all that you can say, including your goodbyes, it doesn’t make it any easier. And often with expected death comes the additional pain of having to witness your loved one experience pain and suffering.
Often the lead up to death can be excruciatingly painful and stressful to all those involved, so your loved one’s passing could result in an immense feeling of relief. Often those that are bereaved will enter “survival mode”. I would describe this as a period of “existence”. You do what you have to do to get by. You could describe this period as being robotic, living on auto pilot. You follow routines where you can, but ultimately you are just existing… doing what you have to, to survive the pain. There are days where your pain manifests itself physically in your chest, as though your heart really is breaking. And there are days where you feel so very numb, bewildered even, like nothing can penetrate the bubble that you are living in.
This survival mode could last days, weeks or months - but hopefully not for too many months. Just remember that everyone is different and deals with death differently. Some people appear to heal more quickly than others, but never underestimate the inner turmoil that can be churning away inside. As time goes by, you should be able to start rebuilding your life, piece by piece. Not forgetting, just adjusting and rebuilding. If your survival mode lasts longer than you feel is healthy, you may want to consider talking to someone about it. Survival mode should be temporary, not a new way of life for the rest of your days.
If you are close to the deceased, and are involved in organising the funeral, you may find that this helps you to get through the initial few days following the bereavement. This allows you to focus on the task on hand, and channels your emotions into an extremely important event. For me it was a very special time that allowed family members to get together, and help each other through those first few days.
Funerals can affect different people in different ways. Most people dislike attending funerals, however they are a crucial part of the grieving process and can really help us to start to heal. Funerals are not all about crying either, there are many funerals which allow us to share thoughts and memories that make us smile, and in some cases laugh too.
Directly after my mother’s funeral I found myself asking my supporters if they had enjoyed the service. They looked at me strangely, because of course it is a funeral, you are not SUPPOSED to enjoy a funeral! But I felt differently. I had put so much of my heart and soul into helping to organise it, and I felt that it was so fitting for my dearest mum, that I was seeking assurance from others that it was perfect. Of course I didn’t mean for them to “enjoy it” – but I guess that I felt so warm and satisfied with our achievements, that I wanted to hear that others felt satisfied too.
I recall one of my supporters who had never met my Mum telling me that it was a lovely service and that she felt as though she knew her, just from what had been said at the service. She was obviously visibly touched and that summed it up for me – it felt like we had achieved what I wanted us to achieve. I wanted everyone there to know just how wonderful my mother was, and how much we were all going to miss her. And I believe that is exactly what we had done.
So with the funeral over, that is when the real grieving process can begin. I found that the period between Mum’s passing and the funeral was all very surreal. We had put our lives on hold for 3 days to bond and to make plans for the day of the funeral. Our family spent a lot of time together during the day and sometimes evenings, which was outside of our usual routines. The funeral was on the Friday, and by the end of the weekend, it was time to think about going back to work and trying to get back ‘to normal’, knowing that things would never be ‘normal again’. It was time to start taking baby steps in the next stage of lives, our lives without our mum.
My advice to you, if you are struggling right now, is to take one day at a time. And if that is too much, break it down to half a day, and if that is too much - take it one hour at a time.
Most importantly, reach out to someone. Even if you live alone, there will be people that you can reach out to; you don’t need to feel alone. Of course if you don’t live alone, you can still feel alone, so again, reach out to someone that can help. Breathe, hug, talk and cry. Don’t be afraid to cry. When we cry our tears provide a feeling of release so we quite often feel a lot better after a good hard cry. And don’t think that once you have had a good cry that will be it. Remember your loved one when you want to, and cry when you need to.
Just be careful not to let your grief take over your life. As a friend of mine said to me, after losing a close friend, “the sun will still rise tomorrow”. Life will feel different, it has to. Your loved one has passed and that can’t help but influence how you think and feel and even the way in which you spend your days. The days will come, as will the nights. The sun and moon will both continue to rise and set. Maybe, like me, your outlook on life will change just a little bit – maybe your future decisions will be influenced by your experience of dealing with death?
So do we ever really ‘deal with death’? I believe that the answer is yes, we do deal with it. We cope with it - we accept and adapt. We learn to live with our new world without our loved one in it. We never forget, we never get over it – but life changes and we change with it. There are still moments and days that we hurt like never before, but those moments and days become further apart over time. It is true what they say, time does heal – but we don’t forget, the scar is always there as a reminder of the pain. We find that our memories of the good times start to take over the memories of the bad times, and we learn our own personal way of getting through our own grief. It is after all, personal.
Wishing you a gentle journey through your personal sorrow.
Copyright Donna Raynel 2010 – All rights reserved.
For further bereavement support and resources refer to www.notalone.co.nz
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