Sure, everyone knows that death is an inevitable fact of life. But no matter what you think you know about life and death or love and loss, when the grief from the loss of a loved one hits you, you realize that you didn’t know anything. One of the many, MANY thoughts that go through your head at the beginning of the grief process is, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it was going to be like this?”
So, I’m telling you now.
If you are married, in love, have children, cherish your parents, siblings or friends, enjoy every single moment of having them in your life. And if any of them ever precede you in death, here are some of the things I learned to help me survive the ensuing sense of loss and grief:
- Experiencing the loss of someone that you love deeply will be the hardest, most intense pain that you have ever experienced. There is no getting around that. If you loved deeply, you will grieve deeply. In my opinion, as horrible as the pain is, the love is still worth it.
- The pain is sometimes so severe, that you may think that you would rather die than continue to feel the pain. My guess would be that most grievers feel that way. That does not mean that you really want to take your own life. It just means that you no longer want to feel the intensity of the pain.
- You do not think clearly and rationally for at least the first few months after you lose your loved one. That, coupled with the thought of wanting to die, can be a dangerous situation. Make sure that you reach out for support if you need it and, as an added precaution, you may need to remove anything from your home that would make it easy to take your own life at a time of weakness.
- When looking for support, check with local hospices, hospitals and churches to see if they know where you can find a grief support group . If you cannot find one locally, there are websites and online forums that may help. Just do a search for “online grief support groups” and search through Facebook, as well. If you feel even slightly suicidal, find out if there is a suicide support group in your area. If you ever become genuinely concerned that you may take your own life, and do not have another source of immediate support, do NOT hesitate to call 911. Saving lives is what 911 is for.
- No one else really understands exactly what you are going through. The closest level of understanding that you will find will be from others who have experienced similar grief, but your grief will still have its own unique characteristics. Our relationships are all different, and so is our grief.
- People who have never experienced an intense loss may think that they understand what it is like to have their spouse, their life partner or their child taken from them, but they do not. Don’t expect them to. Do not get mad or irritated by things people say even if they sound completely devoid of sympathy. Most people mean well. On the other hand, don’t EVER feel like you have to listen to anyone whose words are adding to your pain.
- Do not worry about whether the things you think, feel or do at this point are normal. Some people put their loved ones clothes in Ziploc bags to retain the smell. Some suddenly believe in psychics and ghosts. Almost everyone talks to photos of their loved ones and keeps old voice recordings of their loved ones’ voice. Many do not move loved ones shoes or other items from exactly where they left them. Some people set an extra place at the table and eat alone. Whatever helps you get through the hours and days is fine, as long as it is not harming you or anyone else.
- Do not ever let anyone else tell you that you are grieving incorrectly. Everyone will have their own idea of how long they think you should grieve. No one knows that but you. If you want to grieve forever, you can. If you do not want to grieve forever and you are having a hard time, keep trying to find a good grief support group or counselor who can help you move forward.
- There will eventually be days when you start to feel okay and almost normal. Treasure them. Enjoy them. Do not ever, for even a second, feel guilty for them. Grief is like a tide that ebbs and flows and right when you think you are starting to feel okay, you can easily be knocked down by a heavy wave of grief. Enjoying the good days will give you strength to make it through the next bad day that comes along.
- Accept the fact that your life will never be the same again, but that does not mean that you can never be happy again. I read this in one of my grief support pamphlets but I think it is very true: “Grief causes a hole in your heart that will never be healed, but new experiences will wrap around that hole and bring you peace.” When you are ready, allow the new experiences in. That is the way to peace. And that, above all else, is what I wish for all of us on this journey. To stay strong until we can once again find peace.