Dealing with the death of a loved one is something we must all face at some point in our lives. Whether it is a parent, sibling, spouse, child or close friend, someone will pass on and leave us to pick up the pieces after they are gone. It is not easy or quick, but how we deal with the death of someone close to us can reverberate through the remainder of our lives.
Getting Through the Grieving Process
When someone we care about passes away, there is a period where the loss is felt most intensely. The length of this period is subject to our personal ability to cope with traumatic events and if affected by the cause of death. If the death is due to a lingering illnesses, the grieving process can be fairly short because we already know it is going to happen and can prepare ourselves. If it is unexpected – say a heart attack or auto accident – it can last substantially longer.
Getting through the grieving process is never easy. It is the time given to ourselves to deal with the emotional impact of loss. Knowing the stages of the grieving process can help one understand what he or she is going through. The five stages of grieving are:
- Denial and Isolation – This is commonly stated by individuals with the statement “I just can’t believe they are gone.” During this stage it is not uncommon for one to want to be alone to deal with the impact of what it means to them. The duration of this stage can last from a few moments to several days. It can even rear its head periodically months, even years, down the road and often at other times of great emotion.
- Anger – Once we have come to terms that someone is gone, the question “why?” always comes to mind. Why did this happen? Why was my loved one taken? There are rarely any acceptable answers as to why our loved ones are taken from us at specific times in our lives. It is this lack of understanding that leads to our anger, much like a child gets angry when they do not receive an acceptable answer when they ask for something. There is also blame to be placed, and when we do not have anyone in particular to blame, it makes the loss that much harder on us. This is especially true when the events seem random and incomprehensible. It can drive us a little bit nuts and force our anger to the surface.
- Bargaining – The third stage of the grieving process is a result of our frustration. At this point, we have begun to understand that the loss is permanent, yet are still unwilling to give up hope that the pain can be reversed. We ask God to take us instead – to bring back our loved one. It is an act of desperation. We want our loved one back so deeply that we are willing to sacrifice our own selves to give them the chance at life that was taken from them.
- Depression – This fourth stage can be of great duration. It is the feeling of helplessness that pervades our entire being, that eats us from the inside. There is still anger and great sadness, but the hope of bringing back one we love is gone. There is the realization that the rest of our lives must be spent living without that person being around. It is a terrible feeling that sometimes seems like it will eat away our very souls. When depression sets in, we often lose our own drive to survive. Appetites diminish. Nothing interests us. We cry. We are easily angered. We shun the sympathy and caring of others. We just want to crawl into a hole and die ourselves. But there is hope. If we can recognize this for what it is, we can know that we are finally nearing the end of the grieving process.
- Acceptance – Reaching this stage is the final realization that our loved one is gone and that they will not be back. Getting this far can take anywhere from a few minutes to months depending on the strength of the person and the trauma behind the death of our loved one. It is the point when we realize that life does go on, that we are still alive, and that we must continue on for the rest of the people we love. It is at this point that we can begin to pick up all the pieces of our lives and begin to move forward once again.
Picking Up the Pieces
Once we have finally reached the fifth stage, there is the need to pick up the pieces. Think of it like this: When someone we care about deeply dies, it is like our whole lives shatter. We wonder how we can get along without them, but there is also the understanding that now we must. When anything breaks, the first step is to pick up the pieces of what is left.
What is left? We have ourselves and those around us. There are others around us who are also affected by the loss: other family members, friends, even pets. They all require what help and support we can provide. There is also the matters of everyday life to which we must attend. We are surrounded by issues that require our attention from cleaning house to making money to taking care of ourselves. We must take a close look at all these things in order to understand what we need to do to continue on in our own lives.
Taking stock of ourselves is the first stage. We must look at what we need to do for ourselves in order to keep ourselves healthy. At first, it may be difficult because it may require learning entirely new things. For example, maybe the person who passed on was the person who balanced the check book. Now we must learn to do that for ourselves. Maybe they were the breadwinner in the family and now we must look for a new way in which to support our financial needs. Or maybe they were simply that one person upon whom we relied for emotional support and now we need to deal with those emotional issues on our own. Knowing exactly what that person did for us helps us address the immediate needs upon which we depended upon them.
During the grieving process – and perhaps even before – it is quite possible that we may have let ourselves and our responsibilities go. Now is the time to address those issues. It is time to look at our strengths and weaknesses and see what needs to be done. It is also a chance to start anew and do those things we have put off. We need to take the time to bring ourselves back to health both emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Going to church, starting that fitness plan we have put off for so long, learning a new skill or going back to school – all these can be things which we can use to help us grow and become stronger. One of the things we think about when losing someone is “He always wanted to do such-and-such, but he never got the chance and now he never will.” Death is a great reminder of this point for ourselves. Use it as an inspiration to do those things you have always planned but never accomplished.
This is also the time in which we can strengthen old bonds that may have weakened over time. Time tends to fray the bonds that hold us together whether it be friends or family. Spending time together with the rest of the people you care about and restoring those bonds that at one time seemed unbreakable is a wise use of time and energy. Use the time you have to renew those friendships and strengthen the love you share with others. The death of a loved one is not the end of our own lives, but rather the rain that allows our the other parts of our lives to flourish.
The pieces have been picked up, inventory has been taken, and goals have been set. Then comes the question “Where do I go from here?” This is not the first time you’ve asked yourself that question, nor will it be the last, but it is one of the times when it is most pertinent. You are faced with traveling the path of life without the companionship and guidance from the one who has passed on. It seems daunting, and it is. If that loved one has been with you for many years they have become an ingrained part of your life. Traveling down life’s road without them may seem pointless, frightening, incomprehensible, or all three.
Think back to when you left school for the last time. You had the whole world in your hands and your whole life before you. There were decisions to be made and you made them. Often you did not know what the result of those decisions would be, but you made them nonetheless. Sometimes the decision were good, sound ones and other times there was a price to be paid for making the wrong decision. Things have not changed. There is still the world in your hands and you still have life in front of you. You must move on. You will make wise choices and not-so-wise choices. Accepting this and learning to roll with the punches will allow you to move forward.
Death is a great motivator. When faced with death, whether our own or that of someone we love, we can be motivated to do greater things than we have before. Just watch the news and read the newspapers and you will see examples of this everywhere. MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving – is a great example of what strength we can derive from the death of a loved one. In this case, a mother who had lost a child in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver decided to use her loss to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and how it could affect more than just the driver. You can do the same whether your loved one died from an accident or disease or just passed on from natural causes. There is a lesson to be learned from everyone’s life and just because they are no longer with us does not mean that the lessons cannot be shared any longer. In fact, sometimes their death merely adds an exclamation point to the lesson.
Yet, you do not have to grandstand. You can use it to personally motivate yourself. Reminding yourself of what your loved one went through – you can use the person as an example of what to do or how to live your life – or an example of what not to do or how not to live your life. Reflecting on the lives of the dead can help propel us forward and can be lessons in how to live our own lives. Everyone has something to teach others, and death does not end the lesson, but rather strengthens the lesson.
Death is not the end. It is the beginning of something new. It makes us grow. Death is a reminder that our time on Earth is short and that we should make the most of it. Death is a teacher and mentor that drives home lessons we may have forgotten or never learned. Sometimes we do not learn what we must until someone close to us dies. Without death we tend to become stagnant, comfortable, lazy. Death provides us with the drive to do things that are greater than we ever expected of ourselves, whether it is on a national stage or within the confines of our living rooms. Every death provides room to grow if we let it.
How we live is far more important than how we die. Great warriors have died of old age rather than by the sword. Young people have died without every fully realizing their potential. Death is around us all the time, everywhere we go. It affects us in very different ways. How we deal with is important. How it motivates us is even more important.