The Days After: My Bereavement Reflection
Death. Yes, I said death. That word, not some abstraction.
We all have an expiration date when we are born into this world with no exceptions. That is very difficult to accept for most people in our culture. We may use many euphemisms such as “passed on,” or “made the transition,” or “They are in a better place,” but the bottom line when we have “lost” a loved one is that person is dead, and we are left to pick up the pieces as best we can.
Death is truly toughest on those who are still here. Our friend or loved one, or that famous person who contributed so much to our lives has moved on to whatever is next, and we are left feeling as if we have a hole in our hearts.
There are few tasks that people face in this life that are more difficult to deal with than death, and there are no universal solutions for the how we address such profound losses. We may have rituals with much pomp and circumstance or small quiet gatherings that help us to cope, but in the end we must find a way forward for ourselves, so let’s share some straight talk.
When my Dad died from colon cancer in October of ’96 (Miss you Pops!) it was not the first major death in my family, but the loss of a parent is a singular experience. I literally watched the light go out in his eyes. He chose to have his body donated to science, so my last memory was of him being driven off in a nondescript green van sent by the medical examiners’ office.
He had a Quaker service, which meant that friends and loved ones shared their thoughts about him without much in the way of ceremony, and there was no physical body to bury. That made the experience feel open-ended in an odd way, rather than the “closure” that so many people anticipate. So, how did I manage? Please indulge me as I make a few observations:
Time heals all wounds. There is a measure of truth in that saying, but it is not The Truth. Dealing with grief of this nature does get easier with the passage of time, but it never gets better. Your loved one is still gone and that hurts;
Everyone will reach out to you during the first two weeks after the death of a loved one. Folks will tell you that they are there if you need anything and mean it. Don’t be shy about taking them up on offers of support during this window. It is always better to have a shoulder to lean on or an objective ear to listen to your thoughts, from the serious to the mundane;
Weeks 3-6 are the toughest. That is when people get back to their normal routines of work, child care, and the general hustle and bustle of life. Try to remember this when someone in your circle has a death of somebody significant in their lives and act accordingly;
Memory is a funny thing. You may be walking down the street on a sunny day, strolling in the park, or maybe taking the scenic route home after a long day and feeling okay -- until you’re not. Suddenly your loved one comes to mind and the darkness descends upon you. You feel so empty in that moment that a flood of tears comes out of your eyes unbidden. This is normal. It is simply a part of your mind metabolizing your grief as your spirit is recharging itself;
Everything’s gonna be alright. The very same words that your parents told you or that you tell your kids when things go wrong are actually true, at least to an extent. We cannot live a full life if we are in a perpetual state of anxiety due to the death of a loved one. Give yourself time to grieve and allow nature to take its course. Critically important in this context: If things get too tough, don’t be afraid to reach out for help! That can be a trusted friend, a loved one, a respected elder, or a professional;
There are no magical solutions in transgressive behaviors when one is feeling sad or depressed. Take care of yourself! Treat yourself well by reading a good book, checking out a movie, or seeing a great band. Make sure that you include some favorite physical activities in your schedule. I like to ride my bike, swim, and play Frisbee. What do you like to do? Do that early and often!
There are no superheroes that will come to save the day. We are defined not by how many times we get knocked down, but how many times we get up―and what we do with ourselves when we do. You have within you all the things you need to create a path to a better life.
How ever you maneuver the "day afters" in your lifetime, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone.