Death sucks. That’s the bottom line… or in this case, it’s the first line. There’s something unnatural about it, especially when it’s a surprise. One of the hardest aspects of death is how final it is. I can go years not talking to old friends and be fine because I know they’re there. It’s like knowing I have the option to talk to them and possibly reconnect gives me a sense of comfort. Death destroys that. There is no option. We are simply left knowing we are never going to be able to talk to that person again, which means this is as far as that relationship will grow; hence, death sucks. Because of its unnatural feel, when we experience the loss of a loved one we end up going through grief. Grief has many faces (e.g. sad, angry, numb, normal, and laughing) and can feel a lot like depression. During grief, it can be tempting to push people away, but this is actually an important time to strengthen other relationships as we attempt to fill the hole that has been left.
The following is a list of things to consider when we grieve:
Distraction: When we grieve we need times when we are not thinking about what we’ve lost. We need a chance to feel normal. This is especially true the first week to month as we adjust to this new reality.
Laugh: Many people are embarrassed or afraid to laugh when they’re grieving, but sometimes this is exactly what our mind and heart need. The laughter can help balance out all the sadness and anger while being another way to help get out our feelings. I have never laughed harder than at my dad’s funeral because my body was trying to balance out the extreme emotions. Sometimes we might even be laugh-crying where people aren’t sure if we’re laughing or crying. That’s a fun moment for the person near you: (person) “I have no idea how to respond to this,” (you laugh-crying) “I don’t know either.”
Let yourself feel your emotions: Grief often brings our emotions out in extreme ways, but we need to let ourselves feel what our bodies need to feel. We also need to let others feel what they need to feel. Emotions are healthy and our body’s way of protecting itself. We shouldn’t be afraid of them or afraid of other people having them. The ultimate rule, however, is never hurt someone in our emotions. For instance, we can scream and punch things in anger, but these should be done in a safe way where no one gets hurt like screaming in a pillow or punching the bed when we’re alone. Tip, punching the bed when someone is in it is never a good idea.
Reminisce: Reminiscing is a great way to allow good memories to settle in our mind, and only have positive associations to the person we’ve lost. They are also a great way to bond with other people as we forge new relationships to replace the one that is now over.
Be Clear with What You Want: It can be very helpful to tell people straight: “I just want a distraction,” or “I’d really like to talk about the good times we had when he was around.” People aren’t mind readers, and, in general, they aren’t good with grief. As a therapist I have to make a guess as to what I should be doing whether asking questions about the thing that’s hurting someone or giving them the gift of a minute distraction. Both are valuable, and the person suffering should feel safe to ask us for either.
Be Choosey: I’ve been told by people with cancer that you need two stories, a detailed story for your close friends and the vague one for others. Being detailed with everyone is exhausting and completely unnecessary.
Beware of Guilt: I “should’ves” and the “what if’s” can be a risky game to play. Learning from our mistakes is always helpful, but we need to be careful not to beat ourselves up. When we beat ourselves up we are no longer at our best for dealing with those around us. What’s healthy in regards to guilt is to ask ‘what lesson can I take from this?’ and then use that it to be a better person. For instance, death often helps remind us to value people while we can.
Don’t blame yourself: If we could ask people who have passed away what they want us to think about at this time, I’m guessing they’d want us to know how much they cared about us and how much they appreciated being able to be our friend. As said in the movie Love Actually, when people were on the plane about to hit the twin towers, all of the messages left by people about to die were of love. No matter what your role may have been, your loved one will want you to find peace and only have positive memories when you think of them.
It’s not a competition: We shouldn’t feel guilty for being emotional or not even when others are crying around us. Everyone is different, and we shouldn’t be judging ourselves or others based on how “close” we may think we or others have been. Grief is simply about healing.
Give yourself time: In a major loss expect the first week to be a blur, the first month to be really tough, and then a year before you start to feel normal again. If you need less time to heal this doesn’t mean you win at grief just like if you need more time doesn’t mean you’re weaker. We are all different and this is just a basic timeline to help us be more patient with ourselves.
Don’t do anything extreme: It’s good doing things in someone’s memory like putting a bench in a park, but a giant tattoo or sleeping around are things we regret later. When we’re grieving, it’s best to avoid major life altering decisions because we can be a little too impulsive as we have this underlying desire to hide from the pain.
Get professional help if you need it: There is no shame in asking for help. Sometimes death motivates us to address the baggage we’ve been needlessly carrying because we realize how small it is compared to death. Life is better when we learn to unload the unnecessary baggage in order to better handle the grief of what’s really important.
Appreciate those around you: Death may mean we lose someone we love, but it can be a time we connect deeper and more meaningfully with others. This is the best thing you can do in someone’s memory. Continue sharing the love you have always shared, but in new ways.
Healthy grief can make us stronger: If you cool metal too quickly during production it leads to tiny cracks that make it weaker while proper time to cool can help it become incredibly strong. Grief is similar with humans. There is hope that a loss can make us that much stronger in the future, but only if we are patient with ourselves and address it properly.
Realize how strong you are: You have survived the initial shock. That took strength, and that is the same strength that will carry you through your grief. People who are strong don’t “feel” strong; they just keep moving forward. You have proven you have the strength to survive this. Believe in yourself.
Ask for Help: When we’re really sad, the best thing we can do for others is ask for a favour because it gives them something practical to do for us. Watching someone suffer can lead to people feeling helpless; thus, asking for help can be a gift for those around you because they feel like they’re helping.
There’s hope: Death sucks, but the good news is great things can come out of it. As you allow yourself to adjust to this new reality and heal, one day down the road, maybe even several years down the road, consider what good can come out of this and what is the best way to celebrate this person you love’s memory. He brought you joy, and that’s ultimately what he’d want to leave you with as well.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people