More on grief:
While sharing grief with a friend recently, I thought about how each of us can be affected differently by deep loss and how sharing that effect can be difficult to explain. For instance, we may think life prepares us for the loss of a parent, since we expect to outlive our parents and that seems to be nature’s usual timeline, but many adult children say they miss their departed parents every day. Losing a spouse leaves a gaping hole in the most mundane details of everyday life, since an intimate partner occupies so much of our daily routine. Losing a sister or brother can often carry an unexpectedly powerful impact since siblings may be a bigger part of our life story than we consciously realize, especially once we are adults and live apart from one another. Losing a close friend may be hard for many because friends often share events, hobbies, and values, and friends are similar to us in many ways. Some losses may pierce any illusion of immortality we have, bringing death entirely too close, as we face the fact that there are no guarantees of exactly how long we may live. And most people acknowledge the loss of a child as the most challenging experience a human can face.
Many of us may withdraw after the death of someone we love, as we struggle to regain a sense of balance, especially following a significant loss. This is not abnormal, unless it persists for an extended period, and the timeframe isn’t the same for everyone. The finality of death, and the role the person who died may have played in our lives, can hit so hard it leaves someone reeling, even as they appear outwardly “put together” or “okay”. Survivors feel exhausted, emotionally and physically. Everyone grieves in their own way; some are tearful and expressive, others are stoic, still others find comfort in religious faith and its rituals. The practice of funerals or memorials have evolved in human history to bring comfort, even when those very same events are hard. Those who share the loss come together: to remember, to acknowledge, to find comfort in each other, and to share stories, even through tears. We can honor our loved ones with stories of their life.
Death can cause a person to scrutinize life choices they may not have examined; they may question the purpose of their own lives or explore alternative paths with the time they feel they have left. Others may want to explore the meaning of life, whether it be their own, the life of their departed loved one, or the meaning of life in general. We may re-examine our choices, our life path, and multiple areas of our lives, while contemplating potential change, be the change a large one or several small ones.
Death is a final chapter; this finality is hard. Not everyone processes it the same way. For the most part, if we are the one dealing with it, we do the best we can. If we are a friend, neighbor, family member, coworker, or the random kind soul someone needs on a rough day, what we can do is respect where the grieving person is with that loss, while offering what comfort we are able. It’s usually okay (especially if the grieving person tells you it is okay) to talk about the one who is gone; and laughter about shared memories brings both comfort and relief, while keeping the memory of a loved one alive. Grieving survivors feel a part of that person isn’t completely gone when we tell stories, share jokes, or cry together in memory of something special about the loved one. Sometimes, we can help by distraction, with behaving normally or helping the person stay busy (survivors say this helps this “keep it together” or make it through the day). This is because life does go on; it’s why death is hard. Survivors have to find a way to continue living and move forward in the new reality of loss. This may be the most challenging task of all.
Those who help with the chaos that accompanies death, such as offering meals, packing up clothes, sorting through and/or giving away items, helping file documents; these tasks can be arduous and require a strong commitment to both the person who died as well as the survivor(s). These tasks may have been needed during a long illness that preceded the death of the loved one. A survivor may decline help, because they either aren’t ready to deal with that particular task (like giving away items that belonged to the loved one) or because the survivor needs to perform that task alone. This is okay too. And many days, what matters is to offer a supportive ear and let the grieving person lead the conversation.