Two Sundays ago, I went to the funeral of a friend’s father. On Monday, a student of mine lost her husband of 37 years. On Tuesday, an old friend’s brother died at the young age of 44. On Thursday, my sister’s boss died. Essentially, four deaths in five days.
Fred, Chuck, Vince, Dave. Father, husband, brother, boss. Each of these men left behind a beloved and heartbroken family and friends.
When my dearest of friends died last December, everything changed in an instant. It was like getting thrust into a foreign country – one I never, ever wanted to visit. Everything “appeared” to be the same – me, my house/car/job/ neighbors/family/friends, etc. – and yet nothing was the same. I was a stranger in a strange land. A stranger even to myself.
If you are in this foreign land trying to make sense of it and find your way through it, please know you are not alone. I know I needed and was grateful to have this information when my friend died. Please keep the wisdom from the Grief Recovery Institute in mind as you walk through the foreign land of grief:
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. Although you may feel like you are “losing it” or have already “lost it,” there is nothing wrong with you. Unfortunately, most of the information we have learned about dealing with loss is not normal, natural or helpful.
Although grief is among the most powerful of all human emotions, it is the one we know the least about. In our society, we are taught to acquire things. We are not taught what to do with loss. Do not let our societal misunderstanding make you doubt yourself when you are grieving. You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. You need to be listened to with
dignity and respect.
Grief is emotional, not intellectual. The facts of the event are intellectual, but to the person affected, it is emotional. Many of the comments made after a loss may be intellectually accurate but emotionally barren. For example, comments such as “don’t feel bad, he’s no longer in pain” or “at least she didn’t suffer” might be factually true, but such comments ignore your pain and may leave you feeling more confused, frustrated, and isolated. Even if your loved one isn’t suffering, your heart is broken and you are suffering.
Common Responses to Grief
- Reduced Concentration – Because we are preoccupied with the many and varied emotions following a major loss, an inability to concentrate is the most widespread reaction. After losing my friend to cancer, I repeatedly walked into men’s bathrooms despite intentionally taking the time to stop, read and think about the signs on the door. I locked my keys in my car twice within thirty minutes. I double-booked events. I lost my phone and my keys repeatedly. Slow down. Be careful. This is not the time for multi-tasking.
- A sense of numbness – You may have experienced a sense of numbness. This is often the first reaction to loss. This numbness can be physical, emotional or both. It is often mislabeled as denial.
- Disrupted sleep patterns – You may not be able to sleep. Or you may sleep too much. Or both, alternately. After my friend died, I had never before been so tired in my life.
- Disrupted eating patterns – You may not be able to eat. Or you may eat too much. Or both, alternately.
- Roller Coaster of Emotions – You may go up and down, in and out of feelings. While normal, these emotional highs and lows may leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained.
Grief is hard. Very hard. I advise loved ones to listen to grievers with dignity and respect. Please listen without criticism or judgment. If you are grieving, remember that while the grief you feel is deep and painful, it is normal, natural and there is nothing wrong with you. And you can heal.
When I started writing this last week, the only thing on my mind was the longing in my heart to somehow help my friends and family in pain. And here I am, ready to post this on what is now the eve of September 11th, which most assuredly reminds us that death, even of those we don't know, impacts us in profound and unimaginable ways. With that ache in my heart, I dedicate this to Fred, Chuck, Vince, & Dave and all the people who loved them so deeply. Thank you all for making the world a better place.