When I received the news that my father had died, I just did not believe it. I knew he was sick and in the hospital, but he had been in the hospital many times before. Each time he always came home…until he didn’t.
As an emergency room nurse, I had the duty to contact families and friends of those that lost their lives, sometimes the loss was due to a tragedy, other times a chronic illness finally took their last breath.
Those conversations are never easy.
We each understand the limits of life and know in our minds that death will come upon each one of us. Yet, it still is a shock and an incredible loss to those lives the decedent touched.
Some have a difficult time believing that their loved one has died. They need to see the person or need further confirmation that indeed the death has occurred. To those who lost a loved one in an event that resulted in few physical remains, they struggle to come to the realization that their loved one is no longer alive.
Each person’s reaction to their loss is unique to that person.
Some people are believing that they need to express an outward sign of grief and feel guilty if they are not responding the same to others.
Our responses to grief are really individual.
Some react immediately and verbalize their sorrow. Others are quieter and will spend time alone in thought, reflecting on this loss.
While others might not have any reaction until several years later.
For me, with my death of my father, I did not react right away. When I was told, I had such a hard time believing it. I never saw my father’s body and his casket at the funeral was closed. What I did know is that he was no longer physically present in my day to day life. It was not until several years later when I was clearing out an old closet, I came across a picture of him. It was at that moment my tears fell. I cried and wailed as if his death was recent, when in reality it had been over 5 years.
When death has occurred, those not directly affected have difficulty responding to those grieving. People are uncertain as to what to say or do. Often, they just avoid those grieving. Relationships are strained and even dissolved out of avoidance.
What is normal?
As a therapist, at times folks in the midst of their grief will reach out to me because they are concerned that they are not “normal”. In our time driven, goal orientated western society, many believe that your grief should be on a time clock. Some believe that you should “get over it” in a few days/weeks/months, etc. the problem is that grief does not work that way.
Your loss of someone dear to you will always be present. You will be in various states of grief or bereavement each time you reflect on this tragic loss in your life. That is normal.
Most will recover on their own and will return to their life’s responsibilities. Some will struggle to return to their life duties and might begin to self-medicate with alcohol or another substance to ease their overwhelming pain of this loss.
Your memories are precious and a gift from the decedent. Sharing your memories with those also grieving is a helpful and a healing way to support each other. Remembrance goes beyond a memorial or funeral. Remembrance can be formed within a memory book or thoughtful reflection of past events that are important to you. Remembrance can be private or public. Some organize annual events to celebrate the life lived.
Death is as natural as life. When those around us die, it is natural to think of our own life and death. To many, this life is all we know. To others, their belief goes beyond this life and death is just a transformation from one stage to another.
Returning to your previous rhythm of life may or may not happen. Death affects all of us in different ways.
If you find that returning to the duties and responsibilities of life are difficult or impossible, I really encourage you to seek professional help. The isolation, the alcohol or drug use and the overwhelming sadness can all be respected with professional help, as you are healing yourself toward’s a life worth living.