“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
No matter how many challenges you face in life, how many obstacles you have overcome, there is one stage in life that you know you must face, and yet can never prepare for. It is when you have to deal with the loss of someone you love dearly. Even if the death was expected, when it happens, the grief hits you as if it were physical pain. You know you have others who care, condolences pour in, people call up to offer help. And yet, you are so numb with grief that nothing can really help, not at this time. What can you do then? While we cannot hope for a guidebook to get us out of sorrow, we can adopt some measures to cope with the loss to carry on with life. For that is what we should, for ourselves, for the others we love and who love us.
Here are some ways to first understand, then accept what is happening, and to manage it.
Grief is extremely private. Each person has a different reaction to death. While some express disbelief, others attempt to blame, yet others show extreme emotions, and there are seemingly emotionless people too. Understand this philosophy even as you mourn your loss. It’s alright if you take more time than others to get over the sorrow, or if you cannot break the cycle of tears. It is all right to grieve now. Let it go, for this is the best way to accept what has happened.
Talk about it. Or write about it. Again, each person has a way to express what they feel. It is natural to want to talk about the person who passed away, to share stories of your closeness with them – stories of love, humor, and even of conflicts. Find a friend or relative with whom you can share these stories or with whom you can connect about your loved one. If you find it difficult to talk, write about them. There is a purpose for eulogies to be held as part of the funeral service. When you share about your loss, you are unconsciously accepting the departure. And this is a major step in handling the sorrow. It may seem as if you are repeating what you have already said to each person who inquires. It’s all right to do so, don’t worry about it.
The rituals of death – As mundane as they seem, taking part in the death rituals of a loved one goes a long way in helping you cope. Different countries and communities have their own unique ceremonies to send the departed to lie in peace or move to the next world, as their belief may be.
Jews observe Shiva – a 7-day mourning period when they refrain from showering or wearing jewelry, they cover their mirrors and devote these 7 days to the departed and to receive people who come to pay condolences. This period gives them time to reflect on their sorrow and come to terms with it.
Hindus have elaborate death rituals that may go on for 13 days. In South India, professional mourners are summoned to cry aloud and sing about the deceased. This helps to connect with relatives who are still in denial and get them to accept the loss.
Yet other communities ‘live with the dead’. They keep mummified remains of the dead in their house, talk to them daily, and go on with life until they are mentally and financially ready to organize a funeral service.
While the customs are different, every culture has a death ritual that first helps you accept, gives you space and time to mourn, and makes you look at the larger picture of the circle of life.
In case you are not able to perform last rites, have a simple memorial service at home with your closest relatives and friends. Use social networking and other communication modes to be in touch with friends and relatives who knew the deceased.
Space and Time. Give yourself space and time to survive the loss. Though it may feel lonely, especially when the person you have lived with moves on, you need some private space to process your thoughts and memories. Let your mind decide when you are ready to move to the next phase. Take off from work and let others know if you are not in a frame of mind to meet them.
Take care of your health. This is especially relevant for those who have been caregivers for their loved ones before losing them. Caring for a sick person can take a toll on the health of the caregiver; the nights lost, the anxiety, and constant need for monitoring can make you weak. Grief, again, can have a serious bearing on your physical well-being. It is normal to feel extremely fatigued, to lose your appetite, and to feel incapable of getting up or doing even the smallest of tasks. Seek help at such times. If someone offers to cook for you, accept the offer.
Delegate tasks such as funeral arrangements and clearing the room of the dead to someone you trust. Remind yourself that the person who died would have been devastated to see you like this. Eat and sleep well with the gratitude that you have served them well, and the two of you have had a wonderful relationship in the time you were given together.
Stages of grief. Though each person has his or her own way of dealing with grief, the stages of grief are normally the same for all. The time taken for each stage may vary. Everyone goes through a cycle of denial or numbness, anger, bargaining or turning to faith, depression, and then acceptance. Sometimes, grief may come in waves, coming back when old memories are stimulated. Reaching the stage of acceptance will help you through these waves of sorrow; and even dissolve the pain into pleasant lifetime memories. When you reach this stage, you know that your loved ones will be forever with you.
Accept support. No words of condolences can comfort you at the moment. Everything seems empty. But keep in mind that these condolence messages are offered in good faith. People care for you when you grieve, and it is important to acknowledge their support during this difficult period. Remember that the people who are with you now were also acquainted with the departed; it is their loss too. Allow them to grieve and accept any support they offer.
Spiritual and Emotional Support. When the pain hits too hard, it is normal to feel confused, to want to understand the spiritual aspect of this. If you cannot come to terms with the loss even after allowing plenty of time for it, seek help from professionals. Talking about your pain to a professional like a therapist can help with definite steps to manage your emotions. Note, we are not talking about overcoming or forgetting the pain; this is instead about how to deal with it and get on with your life.
Talk to the Children. Children may seem immune to the surrounding sorrow. But they do feel the sadness surrounding the circumstances, and yet seem to cope better than adults. Children understand what is happening, but generally do not know how to react, how to process their emotions or express their feelings. They look up to you for support, and it is important to be there for them, to explain to younger kids what has happened and to allow older children to talk about their emotions and memories.
Avoid addictive habits. Smoking away your sorrows, drowning them in drinks or binge-watching to forget the pain – all the habits that you have kept at bay for so long threaten to come back stronger than before when your mind is in turmoil. It is just too easy to give in and forget a world where your loved one no longer exists. However, surrendering to easy addictions could send you into a vacuum that is difficult to pull back from.
Be prepared for a new ‘normal’ at the end of all this. Take your time to adapt to this new life. And remember, no matter what, memories of your loved ones are yours to cherish. You know how they would react to your life events, what they would expect from you at every stage of your life, and how much they loved you, and that matters. Forever!