Grieving - How to Handle the Death of a Loved One

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Grieving - How to Handle the Death of a Loved One
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Unless you are a hermit who lives completely alone and isolated, away from all other humans, you will, at some point in your life, have to deal with the death of a loved one. Although I think this is an odd place to write something like this, I have seen enough other guides that have nothing to do with eBay to make me feel that this one is every bit as relevant as are those.

I am writing this as a parent who has buried a son, and as a daughter who has lost her father, not to mention others in my life who have been very dear to me. I have also experienced the loss of a baby during a pregnancy. While I am not an expert or professional by any means, I have attended and run grief support groups. I have also helped with online support groups and I currently have my own group on MSN for those who have lost a child. And I help with my church grief ministry group. Between my own experiences and talking to others I have learned a great many things. That is what I wish to share here with you.

All of us here on eBay share that common bond of being people who will deal with grief at some point. Those who have not already done so do not really understand the pain losing a loved one brings to our lives. For those lucky readers I hope you still come away with something to carry with you for the time when fate steps in and you must say goodbye to someone in your life. Knowing you are not alone in how you feel, knowing some coping skills and knowing that the intense pain does not remain that way forever gives us hope for brighter days. It is very hard to feel you will ever enjoy life again when death visits your door.


Ideally, before this occurs, plans will have been made for this possibility. Even if you do not have a funeral plan chosen and paid for, as many people do, you certainly can discuss your wishes with your family. Putting them in writing is the best idea and make that document readily available. Tell several family members where they will find your instructions and do NOT put them in a safe deposit box. This may not be accessible immediately after your death.

Gruesome as it may appear to be to you, do some research so you can make an informed choice. Do you wish to be buried or cremated? What type of service do you wish and are there any details that are important to you such as a specific reading, song, poem or speaker? Put this all down in writing. Life insurance is something to look into, also. I once read an article about financial planning. One of the statements made was that you are wasting your time carrying insurance on your children. Most of us know we should do it for ourselves but, since we certainly don't expect to lose our children, it is unimaginable to us that we will need a policy for them. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Death does not acknowledge age discrimination. Accidents and illness take away children every day and your child is, sadly, not exempt. If we had not had insurance on our son I have no idea what we would have done. As things stood, we were able to pretty much do whatever we wanted without worrying about costs which was very nice. It was very comforting to be able to honor our son by having some individual touches to his funeral.  We did not, however, buy the policies for our sons with the idea of having them to use for this reason. Friends of ours had children who had cancer. We learned from these people that, even if the cancer went into remission, the children would find it difficult, if not impossible, to ever obtain life insurance coverage again. This was a gift to our children: a policy that was set up for them as youngsters and which, when they became adults, would be eligible for increases. We felt this would not only insure their coverage but allow them to add to it as they married and started families. No matter what happens they will have that security now.

Whether you are attempting to help your survivors by setting things up ahead for yourself or planning for someone in your life who has died, keep in mind that traditions are just that. They may be popular but they are not written in stone. If you feel you want to "march to your own drummer" do so. This is a celebration of the life of the person who has passed on. We are all individuals and how our family and friends say goodbye to us should reflect that.


Even if death is expected it is still unexpected. What I mean is that you never know the exact day or time death will occur. And deep down we always have that tiny bit of hope that a miracle will happen. When the person does die you feel deflated and in shock. If the death is completely unexpected the shock is every greater. Either way you feel numb. Sometimes people find they can't even cry because they are just totally feeling so numb. It takes time for reality to sink in. Deep down you may feel in denial that this has really happened. For instance, if someone is killed in an accident you may be thinking they will walk through the door at any time. You think to yourself that someone made a mistake. It takes time for the harsh reality to set in. Once it does the dam bursts and pain flows so fast within you that you feel as if you could just lie down and die yourself. I remember my chest actually physically hurting after my son died. I thought it meant my heart was breaking. Not literally but figuratively, and I thought how appropriate.

With the majority of people I have talked to, it seems typical that the first year after a loss is spent dealing with this shock and denial. The second year reality has set in and the special days and anniversaries can be even more painful than the first year. This is confusing to many people because they feel the worst is behind them. They don't understand why they are crying so much, are so  moody or feel angry. They don't understand that this is normal and sometimes it is very scary. They wonder if they will feel this way forever and they think that they could not bear that. The subsequent years, however, a bereaved person knows those special days, birthdays, anniversaries, anniversary of the death, will bring intense pain and be somewhat prepared for them.

This is a reason why finding a good support system is invaluable right from the start. Not every type of support is for everyone but there are so many that each person should try to find what works best for him or her. Support groups are available in most area through churches and hospitals. Online support groups are available for every type of loss. Reading material is abundant and address all aspects of the grieving process. Grief counselors can help particularly when a bereaved person is feeling hopeless and possibly suicidal. And just having friends to talk to is important. One of the most difficult things is when others feel uncomfortable talking about the person who has died. That can make you feel very alone and as if they are forgotten. Being able to sit down with a good friend and just reminisce is a very cathartic experience.

Support groups and talking to others in a similar situation help suggest ways to cope with the hard days. Some people need to be alone, some need to be among friends and family. Some find it good to keep busy and others take the opportunity to do something special such as release balloons at the cemetary, bring flowers, or whatever helps them remember and celebrate the life of their loved one. You will learn what best helps you and be prepared for those days each year. And so the grief does soften with time as you start to be able to look back and remember the good times you had together.


After my son died someone gave me a book called, "Don't Take My Grief Away From Me." It validated what I had already found out on my own - I wish I could have read it earlier as it helped me find peace with the way I was feeling.

You have lost someone you loved very deeply. You are sad, hurt, angry, lonely. All of these are very strong emotions and you are ENTITLED to feel them. No one should try to take away your right to grieve.

The morning of my son's funeral I walked around getting my other children ready, dressing myself, seeing to last minute details. I was on auto-pilot and the entire time tears streamed down my face uncontrollably. My mother had stayed overnight to lend support. I love my mother but she is one of those people who think we need to present only the best side of things to others. At one point she stopped me and said, "You need to get ahold of yourself. Maybe you should take a tranquilizer." My answer to her was, "Today I am not a wife or mother to my other kids. Today I am just Shawn's Mom and I am burying him. And if I want to cry and scream and mourn for him I will." She just looked at me and then said, "You are right." And I was because I needed to let out those emotions. Keeping them inside is not an emotionally healthy way to deal with grief.

You do need to remember not to hurt others in your grief. I am not saying I totally ignored my other children that day because they needed comfort, too. Grief can be a selfish experience so you need to find a happy medium. Allow yourself to grieve but remember others are hurting, too. And, in sharing these feelings, you will find comfort. Allowing yourself to show your grief, too, may open the door for others who are holding it inside themselves. Tears are there for a reason. Allow them to flow freely as you mourn your loved one.


Now and then I have come across someone who I can see quite clearly needs professional care. Those people don't benefit from the above advice. Rather they become immersed in their grief to a point that it takes over their lives. Despite other friends, family, spouse and children they start to fixate on "joining" the person who has died. This is especially sad and chilling when it is a person who has lost a child and has other living children. I often think how sad it is for those other children. The message there is that they are not loved as much as that child. While that may not be true, that is how they see it which is especially tragic at a time when they most need their parents as they deal with the loss of a sibling. There are people who seem to "enjoy" their grief. They appear to thrive on the attention they get as a bereaved parent. They claim to have suicidal thoughts and can't be helped no matter what you try. And, finally, there are the people who shove their pain down inside themselves and lock the door. They paste a smile on their faces and go about their lives without facing the pain of their loss because they just simply don't feel they can cope with it. I have had people come to me twenty YEARS after losing a child and tell me they never grieved properly. Even my husband never knew he had two older siblings that had been lost at birth until we lost our baby. After seeing me openly deal with my grief, my mother-in-law finally shared her story with me.  At the time she lost her children, you simply did not talk about it. There were no support groups. As a person who wears her heart on her sleeve quite openly and doesn't care who it bothers, I find that unbearably sad and tragic. I felt honored that my MIL could finally talk about it to me and it was a special bond we shared.

The point is that there are situations where you simply need to say I am not progressing and I need to ask for help. If you can't pick up the phone and do it yourself appeal to someone close to you. Be honest enough to see that you have to do this and don't ever be embarrassed about it. It is hard to say goodbye forever and you needn't feel there is anything wrong with asking for help. Try to remember you have others in your life who care about you but, mostly, do it for yourself because you don't have to feel that way. A good grief counselor can make you feel so much better. Also, in the case of children, death can be confusing so counseling is not out of line there, either. My children all went to a group that offered grief support. They talked, drew pictures and dealt with it in their own way under the guidance of a professional. If you are too immersed in your own grief you may not be able to help them as much as they need.

I am always quick to tell people to look into counseling. Sometimes you need to "shop around" for the right person to help you and that can be hard when you are barely keeping yourself together but it is important. Couples very often need to seek help. Men and women truly do grieve differently most times. I won't say all the time because I have seen exceptions but, in general, it is truly a Mars/Venus situation. At a time when you most need one another you draw apart feeling your spouse does not truly understand your feelings. If there were existing problems before the death this can drive the wedge in permanently leading to divorce. Seek help before that happens. Even if your spouse won't attend counseling sessions, go yourself because it may be enough to help.


This is a source of anger to bereaved parents especially. We expect to lose our grandparents and parents. We even acknowledge that our spouse, siblings, friends and other peers may die before we do. But never, ever do we think we will bury a child. It isn't the way things are supposed to go. A comes before B, 1 comes before 2, I die before my child. So, when someone comes along who has NOT lost a child and says, "I know  just how you feel" we see red. We want to grab them by the throat, shake them and scream, "NO, you don't!" Naturally we seldom do so. That being a little uncivilized, we need another way to handle the situation. Generally, you smile and just say thank you. They truly don't know any better and they mean well. And you hope they never do learn the reality of how those words upset you.

Then there is the inevitable, "Aren't you over that yet?" My answer is a bit flip, I am afraid, but I got tired of it. So I say, "No and I never will be. It isn't the flu - I lost my son." That works but you might want to pick and choose to whom you say it.

To those who ignore comments that talk about the person who has died you can give up or you can just keep trying or you can talk to them about it. I have done all three depending on the person.

For those who tell you it is God's will or it is for the best there is nothing wrong with telling them that it still hurts. I do believe in God but I can't say that I care much for His plans. I try to keep in mind that there is a reason but some days it is pretty hard to make that be enough. No matter how strong your faith you still hurt and you still cry and you still feel sad. Actually, the people who surprise me are those who do have a strong belief in God for many of those feel betrayed. I have been a good person, I love God so why are these bad things happening to me? To them I say it is ok to be angry. Talking to others or to someone in your church can help.

The main thing here is that most times people do truly mean well. They care and they hurt for you but they simply don't know how to express it. They feel talking about the person may make you feel sad. When people talk to me about my son I sometimes cry which upsets them. I am quick to reassure them that, on the contrary, I am so happy to know he is remembered. And I tell them that I miss him all the time so they certainly are not the cause of my tears. Better to cry with others.


My "moment of truth" came at an odd time. An incident with my youngest child made me realize I was absent emotionally from my life. I got up, I ate, I got dressed. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry. I wasn't living - I existed. I realized it wasn't fair to my other boys and so I started to work to make myself feel alive again. I rejoined the human race and I found my new normal. Things will never be the same as they were before my son died. Or before I lost the baby or my dad. Life starts again from that point because that person is no longer there. And that is sad. For myself, I believe I will see them again. For those who do not carry that belief within them I suppose you rejoice in what you had with them before their death. The memories sustain you. That is not enough for me. But, either way, I still have a life to lead and people to love. No, it isn't the same but it can still be good.

I have heard so many times that the pain will go away. I don't see how it can unless my memories disappear. I love the people who have died NOW so I miss them now. And I feel sad sometimes. The difference is that I learned to cope with those losses. They are part of who I am, what makes me me. The pain softens with time, it doesn't go away. One day you find yourself laughing at a memory of that person with no tears. And it is okay to laugh. Life is joy along with sorrow. Remember and celebrate what you had no matter however brief a time it was.


I hope this helps some of you. I am sorry you have to have a reason to read it because you probably have lost someone dear to you. I believe in looking for the good that comes from bad situations, though. My losses have helped other people, so they tell me. That doesn't mean I wouldn't change things if I could but I can't, of course. So I look for the positive things that would never have happened had I not suffered those losses. Those help me keep going. Look for your positives.  They are there. They may be hard to identify or even acknowledge but they are there. Let them help you learn to accept your loss.

Take care, my friends, and please feel free to contact me should you feel the need.

NOTE: I wanted to say thank you to those who have taken time to write and say this guide has helped them in some way. I did a lot of thinking before posting it since it didn't seem to really fit with eBay but then I realized that, yes, it did, too, since we all lose someone we love and this is nothing, if not a large community. I am grateful it has helped some of you and I hope others will find help and comfort here knowing someone understands how they feel.



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