Dealing with grief is a journey that we all will go through if we love someone. This article deals with grief from my personal experience.
Share with us how you were able to come to terms with your grief over loss. Do any of the suggestions offered below ring true to you.
The Call You Never Forget
“John is gone”. This was the late September phone call that changed my life. It was my husband’s brother, Don, whom he was visiting on the West coast. I was in the midst of packing to go to Hong Kong and Korea. I stupidly said, “what do you mean – he’s gone”. Slowly and patiently, Don explained that my husband who had been dealing with health issues had succumbed to the heart condition that had put him in hospital for several months that year.
John, a very determined man, had decided since I was going to Asia that he would take this opportunity to visit with old friends and take a road trip with his brothers. As his condition worsened with the travel, Don, a retired doctor, tried to get John to go to a hospital or at the very least get oxygen. In the end, John’s determination met the reality of his weak heart.
What followed for me was initially a whirlwind of activity – tell the kids, cancel Asia, notify my contacts in Asia, get the word out to business contacts. In a daze, I tried to make sense of the loss of someone who had been my life partner and my business partner for almost 30 years. Tears came at night in bed when I realized that I would never have the same bedpartner again. Death is forever. No coming back from it.
That first week, I decided I needed to see John’s body one last time. Somehow it seemed that viewing his dead body would make the death more real, so I traveled out West to the funeral home where it lay. Seeing John’s inanimate body did not give me the closure that I was seeking. At least it became clear, this is reality no imagined mistake.
As I navigated my way through the days and months after this earth-shattering event, several people who had experienced similar loss gave me good advice that I would like to share with others who are experiencing their own grief.
Four Pieces of Advice to Deal with Grief
First, don’t stop working. We had recently sold our business and had planned to continue to help the new owners while exploring a less stressful life. After John’s death, the trips to the office became therapeutic for me. It was a relief to focus on something that didn’t have to do with funerals and paperwork to wrap up a life that seemed like it would never end.
Second, let yourself feel the pain and loss. If you don’t, it will come back to you in other ways. Taking the time to really let the feelings flow is what needs to happen. About a year later, I read a book on the brain and how it deals with grief. The author’s description was that the brain creates spaces for all the people in your life so that it can predict what will happen and so you can keep yourself safe. When you lose someone close, while they are not there in person, the space remains in your brain. Grief is about the empty space. You may try to ignore it, but it is still there. The good news is that gradually the brain fills in most of the space, but it takes time.
Third, talk to people who have gone through the experience. Let them tell you about their journey. This was very painful but surprisingly hopeful. Friends and family who had gone through the loss of their spouse were amazingly grateful to share their experience although we did have many tears together. Most people who have not experienced loss are uncomfortable with talking about death. Sharing it with someone who has experienced the loss helped me enormously but also helped them to see how far they had travelled. My most frequent question was – how long will I feel this pain? What I found was – there is no common answer. To a certain extent it depends on the person and the situation. Many of the people to whom I spoke were still transitioning.
Fourth, pay attention to your health. When you are mired in grief, it is very tempting to stop taking care of yourself. Why bother! Whether you want to or not, you are likely to live on past this event. It is important to focus on both your physical and mental health. This means continuing to exercise, learning to control your mind, finding joy in the people who are still in your life. Personally, I found yoga with its mind/body focus a good activity to keep my body moving and to calm my mind.
The Storm of Grief
Recently, I was in a webinar with a life coach, and he talked about dealing with the loss of a loved one. He said that grief is like being in an intense storm on the ocean. The waves crash down on you, and you wonder if you can live through it. They keep coming fast and hard at first. You are in so much pain. Gradually after some time, the waves start to ease, and they don’t come as often. However, they continue to rock you every once in a while. The best way to deal with it is to just ride them and continue to feel.
It has been more than two years since that fateful phone call. John’s clothes are gone, his favourite art pieces have been sold, the will has been finalized. The intense pain has subsided but every once in a while, I remember and let myself cry and feel the empty space where John used to be.
Tell us about your experience with grief. Would you add any other advice to my list of four?