Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Transitioning And Grief After The Death Of A Loved One

My entire life has been peppered with funerals. One thing that I have learned is death is not particularly about age. Our family has lost babies, grandparents and every age in between.

Grief is a strange emotion that is hard to describe. For me, it is as if I have no control over my body. The doctor told me that my father was not coming home from the hospital. For some reason my brain heard the words and intellectually I understood; yet the day I got the dreaded call, my body went into shock. I stood and my legs were too weak to hold me up. It was so surreal, as if I was having an out-of-body experience. My mom's passing was more unexpected and my body acted in the same way. I learned that there is no way to prepare for the passing of a loved one. Grief just takes over as if it has a mind of its own.

I have witnessed a lot of shame and blame after the death of a loved one. "If only I would have......" "I should have......" "If only you would have........." "You should have....." If you believe that there is a divine purpose then there is no reason for shame and blame. If there is a divine purpose for everyone's existence then a person dies when it is time or when they have completed their purpose. I am not here to convert anyone's belief system, as I honor and respect your right to believe what you wish. However, there is nothing positive to gain by shaming and blaming. Nothing will change the result and can only bring more pain.

Transitioning after the death of a family member can bring families closer or tear them apart. Each person grieves in his or her own way. There is no protocol on how to grieve a loss. Typically, men grieve differently than women, which can lead others to judge. Consider that a person not openly displaying great emotion may be hurting as much as someone that is displaying emotion. A member of my family appears to be devastated at every funeral or memorial. Oftentimes the behavior draws attention away from the service and prompts someone to take care of this person.

The loss of my parents was probably the most pain I have ever felt. I was the executor for both parents. Along with my life transitioning from the loss, I was dealing with disagreements and harsh words from siblings. One of the lessons I learned from my experience is; if you are an appointed executor, hire an estate attorney. I had one for both parents and it kept things very clear for others. Words from others may sting, but the attorney keeps everything legal. The last thing an executor needs is a legal battle.

The absolute worse pain that I have witnessed is when someone loses a child. A drunk driver killed my sister's only son Charlie a few days before his 24th birthday. A truck driver ran over and killed my 22-year old cousin Mike while he was riding his motor cycle. My grandmother lost her 16-year old son 2 years before losing her husband.

My cousin Jimmy drowned at 16 years of age. There are many more stories like these. Thankfully, I have not experienced losing a child; yet I know of no greater pain. Transitioning after the death of a child never ends. With each birthday, thoughts of what the child would be doing, how they would look, who would be in their life. The pain dulls over time but never leaves. There are no comforting words to say to a parent, who has lost a child. If someone has suffered a long illness, well meaning people may say," They are out of pain now and with the lord."

However, those words do not help the person that is in grief. A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But...there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that's how awful the loss is! - Neugeboren 1976, 154 I have witnessed many people transition through the grief of losing their spouse. Each special occasion summons the sadness and draws attention to a time when their spouse was a part of the event. There is such loneliness that follows from the death of a spouse or long-term partner. My mother said the nights are the loneliest. The nights are when I would call her. After I left my ex-husband, I would call mom from my bed and she would talk to me until I was sleepy enough to drift off to sleep.

As stated earlier, there is no protocol for dealing with grief. It is so personal to each person. Please do not tell someone that is grieving "I know how you feel", it is impossible for anyone to know how another person feels even if they have suffered the same type of loss. Consider saying, "I sympathize with your loss." Another helpful thing to say is, "What is one thing I could do for you that would be the biggest help to you during this time?" My mother in law said after her husband died, "Remember his birthday, our anniversary, the anniversary of his death and call me to see how I am doing."

Journaling during my father's illness and after his death gave me great relief. I did the same thing after my mom passed. I would come home, turn on the computer, and just let it all go. I was not particular about the grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, I just released. Also, talking about your loved one keeps their memory alive. My brother and I talk about of mother at least once a week. I wear her favorite necklace around my neck everyday.

For a few days after mom passed I called her house every day, expecting her to pick up the phone. Then I learned to talk to her everyday as if she were sitting next to me. I believe that there is just a thin veil between what we know to be life and where our dearly departed now live and that they can hear us.

Another thing that I have learned when the loved one of a friend or co-worker dies they typically prefer that you not ask them how or why their loved one died. Rather, ask them to tell you about the person. When you engage a person in talking about a lost loved one they seem to come alive with wonderful stories and memories.

After memorial services, I think it is healthy to sit around talking about the deceased; recalling old stories, laughing, and crying. This is the beginning of the healing process. In some cases, the spouse or parent of the deceased will want to get away for a while. When my stepfather died my aunt, sister, mom, and I went to the coast for a few days. My mother slept a lot, which is also a part of the healing process. However, if a person spends an inordinate amount of time sleeping, it could be a sign of depression and may require medical intervention.

So many lovely things are said at memorial services and I often wonder if the deceased knew how much they were loved and appreciated by others. I have heard many people say that they wished they would have told the deceased certain things. I wrote a tribute to my father and mother, which the pastor read. I also wrote them personal notes. If you are not already doing so, consider telling every one you love how very much they mean to you, how they have inspired, lessons you have learned, how much you appreciate, love them, etc. In addition, it is never too late to write a personal note to them. It can be very healing.

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