In the month of November, as we pray especially for the Holy Souls, we are reminded naturally of the process of death and the grief, which accompanies it. Nearly all of us have to face the reality of death at some point in our lives and even though the loss is particular to each individual, the process of grieving follows a certain pattern for most people.
Whether someone we love dies suddenly, after a long illness, while still young or at an advanced age does not alter the basic fact that we will not see them again. The changes that this kind of loss brings to our lives can result in not just emotional pain but often affects physical health, resulting in insomnia, loss of appetite and a general malaise with regard to everyday activities. This can be overwhelming and many truly believe they will never be able to live normally again.
The fact is, whether we believe it or not at first, we do eventually learn how to cope. It is, however, important to remember that there is no right way or wrong way to grieve and no fixed period in which to do so. Life is just not like that and as all of us are different, we will handle events in our unique way. Grief has a time of its own and a rhythm and is a process we go through at our own pace.
Still there are certain common symptoms, which people experience when someone dies.
In the beginning after a death there is sometimes a refusal to believe what has happened. I recall a friend saying to me that less than a week after her mother’s death, when she was going into a restaurant with her cousin, she thought she saw her mother sitting at a table. It was only a woman who resembled her closely. This upset her so much that she burst into tears. Her cousin tried to console her but she told her she wanted to die, as she was missing her mother so much. The cousin became very anxious as a result of this, but in fact this kind of a reaction is quite common in the aftermath of a loss.
Many feel they cannot go on without the loved one’s presence in their life. Despair is a symptom of grief as is deep sadness, loneliness, feeling empty inside. Many firm believers even end up questioning their faith. There can be a sense that nothing matters anymore, even, that life has no meaning.
Some feel guilty about things they did or did not do; others may feel angry that the loved one has abandoned them to face an uncertain future. This may involve having to face new responsibilities which the one who has died used to deal with. Grief can trigger fear around such issues and of course around mortality itself and the prospect of one’s own death.
Grief has been described as a cold shell and there is indeed a sense that one is enclosed in an isolation that others cannot share. However, when it comes to coping with grief it is essential to interact with others, even if you feel they can do nothing for you. People genuinely want to help and it is so often the case that they will have the experience of loss in their own lives.
The realisation that family and friends, as well as work colleagues, have ‘come through’ what you are’ going through,’ is one of the healing factors in the grief process. It may be tempting to isolate yourself, and there will always be those in whom you really feel you cannot confide, but even if you just asked them for assistance with a practical task, you will benefit and might even discover another side to them. It can be helpful to stay with a friend in the early days, just to experience the comfort that comes from having others around you, and hearing familiar noises like the kettle boiling for tea.
Often bereaved people are offered the option of talking to someone on a one-to-one basis. An experienced therapist can help people work through their emotions and talk about their feelings. Many parishes have bereavement support groups who offer their services free.
As Christians we do have the consolation of our faith, which promises us that we will be re-united with our loved ones. In the Resurrection we see the central tenet of our religion which is that Jesus has indeed overcome Death. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to a person such as praying, meditating or going to church can provide comfort within this context.
It is advisable to keep up your hobbies and interests as routine is helpful especially around activities that bring a person joy and connect them closer to others. Another friend of mine got a dog after her mother, with whom she lived, had died. This would not suit everyone of course, but for her he provided a focus and a distraction and was a huge help during the grieving process.
Whatever your grief experience never be ashamed of how you feel and know that even in the midst of the grieving process, you will still have moments of pleasure and happiness. These will provide you with the strength to go on.