“He’s in a better place”
Except I thought he was living well with me by his side.
“There’s always a reason for everything.”
Really? And what reason do you propose as to why she died so young?
Actually I feel pretty weak right now. I don’t know what “being strong” would even look like.
“I know how you feel.”
I’m not sure you do.
“It was his time.”
Where’s the clock that told you?
“God needed another angel.”
I don’t share that belief.
“Aren’t you over him yet? It’s been so long!”
Sure, life is different now and I’m still sad, but I’ll never just “get over it.”
Today’s western culture tends to hide death behind any number of curtains. Billboards advertising nursing care for all sorts of illness and injury show pictures of perky, smiling people, that rarely suggest the real frustrations and indignities most people experience in the final seasons of life.
Oftentimes the only up-close experience modern people have of death is a visit to the funeral home where bodies are made up to hide pallid cheeks and other signs of lifelessness. The lack of regular interaction with end of life processes causes many people to be clumsy and uncertain about how to respond to the messiness of death and dying and especially the grief that losses visit upon the bereaved (a bereaved person is one who has suffered the death of a loved one). Many times people don’t know what to say or how to act around someone who grieves. The result is often a series of cliché words or actions that, while well-intentioned, don’t necessarily help those who have suffered a loss. Death, as it is, is a lousy business insofar as it is heartbreaking and complex. Healthy ways of coping with grief that bring life, light, and healing does not rely on avoiding darkness with poetic words and flowers. Instead, among the best ways to help someone coping with grief following a loss is to stay close and listen carefully.
What is Grief?
Grief is the body’s natural response to loss. When someone who filled a special place in life dies, the gap left behind causes bereaved people to feel any number of ways. No two people experience grief and loss in exactly the same way, but there are a number of common symptoms to look for.
Oftentimes people feel sad, which may come in the form of loneliness or despair. People who feel sad sometimes cry a lot, simply feel blue, or experience sudden mood swings. Bereaved people may also feel angry. That may be because the person wishes something more could have been done to preserve the life of their loved one. Anger might be directed toward the medical staff who offered diagnosis and treatment options or toward other caregivers that may be perceived as not having done enough to preserve life.
Bereaved people are sometimes even angry at their beloved dead for abandoning them. Sometimes people who grieve feel guilty about things they wish they would have said or done, ranging from things that could have prevented death to that which they wish would have happened differently. If death occurred at the end of a protracted time of sickness, bereaved people may even feel guilty for feeling relief that death ended the person’s suffering.
Others may feel a sense of shock in the midst of experiencing death, finding it difficult or even impossible to accept the fact that their loved one is gone permanently. People who experience shock may suffer the frustration and confusion of expecting their loved one to walk through the door at any minute or call on the telephone. This is not “crazy” behavior. This is the result of habituation to certain patterns of life with another person. Of course the bereaved may feel life has taken a sudden and confusing turn. Lastly, grief is often embodied. Those who suffer profound grief may feel exhausted, sick, or unable to eat. They may feel physical pain or be unable to sleep.
Effectively coping with grief foremost requires a support network. Friends and family members are often the most obvious and available sources of connection. Friends and family members frequently know how much a person meant and can share memories and special moments. Find people who know may have trouble finding the right words for the situation, but who also demonstrate that they really care. Find people who are safe to safe to cry with you and talk about feelings. Share favorite memories about the person who died with people who are interested and able to deeply listen. The more opportunities grieving people have to talk about their pain and about their loved one – whether or not they choose to use those opportunities – the more manageable the grief will be.
Support groups are also helpful ways to manage grief. Organized groups through hospice, hospitals, and community centers invite people with similar experiences to talk about their feelings and circumstances in a safe, welcoming environment. If grief has become especially complex, support groups also often have the ability to connect the bereaved with counselors, therapists, and other resources to continue receiving help in managing the pain and significant obstacles of loss.
Faith Based Support
Faith based connections may also help provide soothing support. Churches and other religious organizations often provide rituals, meditations, and prayers that can provide solace to those who aren’t sure how to manage their grief. Furthermore, many faith-based groups and their leaders (clergy, etc.) may offer help thinking through some of the larger questions that may emerge in the wake of loss, such life after death, the meaning of life, and finding or rediscovering hope and vitality.
Healthy Practices for Managing Grief
No matter what ways a bereaved person chooses to connect, effectively coping with grief includes three main features.
Be Honest About Feelings
Suppressing complex and difficult emotions never makes the pain disappear, and in fact, often exacerbates the difficulties of grief. Instead, finding outlets to express sadness in honest words and actions will help the grief become manageable as you find a new rhythm to life. Find safe people to talk with, including family, friends, spiritual care providers, counselors, and support groups. Write about your experiences in a journal or create a photo and scrapbook with favorite memories to celebrate your loved one’s life. Get involved in an organization or activity that your loved one found important and life-giving, honoring his or her memory with action.
Look Out for Your Health
If you are feeling ill, exhausted, suffering from mood swings, or generally despondent, see your physician for help. You may need additional physical or mental health support as you live through the complicated aftermath of grief. Physicians and other care providers can offer you sound medical advice, but also connect you with other resources as needed, including exercise programs, medication, therapy, or other specialists who can help.
Seek Out Individual Support
Seek out people who don’t tell you to be strong, but instead find ways to strengthen you. These are people who listen carefully to how you’re feeling, are unabashedly there for you no matter what the time or circumstances, and find ways to help support you even when you didn’t know to ask. These are people who are happy to share in listening to you remember your loved one or offer their own memories. Supportive people bring you food and perhaps offer to take you out or stay in with you, whether or not you choose to accept – and they are comfortable with your decisions. Helpful people do not speak in clichés or trite phrases, and they do not tell you how you should or could feel at any moment. Instead they really listen and demonstrate how much they care. If you are helping someone during the grieving process, please visit our page for more information on supporting someone who is grieving.
Contact Harbor Light Hospice Today
Hospice centers have many written resources on coping with grief and related topics. If you have suffered a death and are currently grieving, hospice can connect you with people and other resources to help you manage the torrent of feelings and experience many people face during a time of loss. For more information about coping with grief following the loss of a loved one, please contact Harbor Light Hospice for a free and confidential consultation by giving us a call or sending us a message online.