The death of a loved one is by far one of the most painful experiences that any of us will ever have to endure. Unfortunately so, it is also an experience that nearly all of us must face at some point in our lives. The good news is, is that grief is survivable, and understanding what to expect, and listening to what has been helpful to others, can be beneficial to those who find themselves new to the process.
In the beginning, particularly if the death is sudden or unexpected, it is common to feel an insulating numbness or shock. This is a natural occurrence and is no doubt a protective response of our minds and bodies. This protective shock typically lasts around a month, though each experience is individual. After this initial period wears off, this is wear the real work of grieving begins, and yes, the process is certainly difficult enough for the term “work” to be appropriate. Make no mistake, grief is time-consuming, and it takes it’s toll on a human being not only emotionally, but often physically, as well.
Once the shock or numbness wears off, emotions can fluctuate wildly. You may begin to feel as though you are riding a roller coaster that has no end. It is quite common for the bereaved to go back and forth from feelings of intense sadness, abandonment, guilt, anger, and even peace and relief, depending on the individual circumstances of the death, and the relationship with the deceased. You may find that your feelings change from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour. This is all natural, and is to be expected. About all you can do is to indulge these feelings and fluctuations, to roll with the waves, so to speak. However, understanding this is part of the process can be most helpful.
These first dark, early days are probably the worst. Understanding that it does get better is important. Time is the best friend of the bereaved. This is not to say it will ever stop hurting, it won’t. You will always miss the loved one you lost, nothing will fill the space they once had in your heart and life. There is no such thing as grief “resolution”-it would take having your loved one returned to you for the situation to be completely “resolved”-but the pain does become far less intense with time, and you do learn to live with the loss. You will smile, laugh, and enjoy life once again.
Especially, at first, it is important to take care of your physical needs. Most people have heard of the phenomenon “Widow’s Syndrome,” this is real, and it isn’t necessarily limited to those who have lost spouses or romantic partners. Bereavement takes a heavy toll on the immune system and can
leave those affected more vulnerable to various ailments and illnesses. Understand this, and try to take vitamins, get exercise, and eat healthily. This may take a concentrated effort on your part because pain tends to be so overwhelming that it leads to self-neglect, but remember there are those still alive who love and need you to stay healthy.
Most people are surprised by the length of time the grieving process entails. We are taught in our death-denying society that we get about 3 days off of work to grieve, then we are expected to put death behind us and move on. Not so. Though each situation is unique, it typically may take 18 months to two years to start feeling like yourself again.
Even afterwards though, there will be times when you
experience what is sometimes called “grief relapses.” These can come on suddenly and unexpectedly, triggered by something as simple as a song, or around significant dates, such as birthdays, death anniversaries, or holidays. These times of more intensified grieving will pass, but they must be dealt with as they come. Again, the best thing to do is simply to know that they happen, and let yourself experience the feelings.
What helps? There are ways to help you deal with the pain of grief. Most helpful of all, is to connect with others who have or are going through a similar loss experience. There are many resources and groups for the bereaved both online and offline. Contacting your local hospice program or church may help point you in the right direction. There are also some excellent email groups through Yahoo, and message boards associated with various websites. A search on bereavement or grief support should net a pretty good array of results.
Taking comfort in your spiritual beliefs can be tremendously helpful, though it may take some time to reach the point where you are ready to reconcile the death with your faith. However, spirituality while grieving can lead to one developing a deep sense of peace with the passing of the loved one, and the faith that death is not the end, offers hope to a hurting heart.
Go ahead and talk to them. It doesn’t matter so much whether they can hear you or not, it is more important for you to express the feelings you have inside. If it helps to visit the grave frequently at first, then visit the grave. If not, don’t feel guilty about not going. Follow your own preferences, beliefs, and comfort level.
You may find it helpful to memorialize your loved one in various ways. Creating a webpage is an often chosen way of doing do. You may also want to plant a tree in your loved one’s memory, make a donation to a charity, organize a photo album/scrapbook, or write about your life and good memories with your loved one.
One suggestion that many find helpful is to commemorate the deceased’s birthday with cake and ice cream, and to use the occasion to remember all of the happy and special memories shared with them. This turns the occasion into a celebration of the person’s life, and what it meant to you and others. After all, we remember the birthdays of deceased presidents and other public figures, why not our own loved ones?
Above all, be kind to your self. Allow yourself to indulge in some pampering, and special treats. You may find it healing to take a vacation, buy something nice for yourself, read a good book, or simply to take a long bubble bath. At first it may feel strange to be enjoying yourself, even just a little, but this will pass. Your loved one would have wanted you to smile and take pleasure in life.
Remember that the grieving process takes a lot of time, and a lot of tears. While you will always miss your dear loved one, there is hope. The day will come when you will want to laugh and dance once again. Don’t rush yourself, reach out to others, and roll with the storm. All of a sudden, a day comes when you are surprised to realize the pain is lessened and the smiles come more frequently.
Though losing a loved one can make life seem cloudy and bleak, in time, when the season is right, the sun will shine again. Your life has been forever changed, but ahead, just around the corner, a new life is waiting. It can’t ever be the same life you had before, but it can still be a fulfilling and happy one.
Peace to you on your journey.