Religion and politics are two subjects regarded as most abhorred in polite company, but there’s one that’s even more verboten: death and dying.How peculiar is that since no one is getting out of here alive?
But the truth is, our mortality terrifies us. Granted, there is a community that deals with death and dying which includes lawyers, doctors, nurses, counselors and therapists. They work crafting wills and trusts. They prepare bodies for funeral viewing. Counselors and therapists help those left behind to deal with their emotional trauma. Grief support groups offered by hospice, churches, and mental health associations are widely available. Yet conversations with our friends rarely touch on the subject.
The words we use to describe the person who died sometimes depends upon our closeness to the deceased, the length of time since they died and our willingness to be vulnerable or not. We use terms to describe what happened such as our loved one is deceased, lost, has passed on, made their transition, is dead, died, or departed. The deceased leave behind children, or parents, grandparents, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends. Often the wake the departed leave behind is wide which means the number of people profoundly impacted is great.
One death affects a web of relations from family and friends to community members, neighbors, business associates, church congregants and their families. Over 6,700 people die each day in the United States. Add their family members, friends and business colleagues to see the exponential impact each death has. It’s not unusual for thousands of people to be touched by each death – yet so few people want to talk of death and dying.
Why is it difficult talking about the end of our lives? Why is it difficult to talk to an attorney about what to do with our accumulated stuff after we die? Why does it make us gulp when confronted by making out a living will prior to surgery or just because we want to be prepared? Perhaps we fear death because we have no control over how or when we die, and to think of ourselves as not being alive on earth is unthinkable. Just as birth brings us into the world of light and air, death take us away from the earth’s light and air into a whole new level of Light. Where we were before and where we go after death sparks much debate and depends on personal and religious beliefs.
Widowers, widows and parents know all too well the disbelief of the reality of death, the guilt, depression, and despair that often overwhelms those left behind. Grief can be ignored for a while, but it doesn’t go away until we face it, accept it, and deal with it. We must go through a process to once again know laughter, joy, happiness, and the sad satisfaction of recovery from grief and to fully live again.
Living again is a renewal of life that is a blend of the old and the new. It doesn’t happen in a day, month, or a year. It can take five to ten years of living and introspection to arrive at a new life where the old and new blend together.
Yes, life goes on even when you don’t think you want it to. The life that comes after loss is a different life and yet the same life blended together. It is different because the person we love is no longer a part of our day-to-day life. It is the same because we are still engaged in the mundane “must do’s” of life – the same but now different day-to-day living.
One of the difficult aspects of this new day-to-day life is that we eventually forget how our loved ones acted on a daily basis, but not who that person was and what they meant to us. How do you forget the mother of your children, your husband, your child, your mother and father, brother, sister or a friend who has passed? We cannot forget them. We don’t want to forget them. How can we not love those we loved after they have gone? They are part of our lives and memories and we need to acknowledge that part of us, and not hide from it. They will always be a part of us and our love for them will not die.
We have classes in how to live, how to improve our homes, our spiritual life, or our marriage. But where are the classes on arranging a funeral, making healthcare choices when we are aging, choosing a private or public memorial, selecting a headstone, or discussing grief?
It seems we learn about death and grieving the hard way – when someone close to us dies. Then reeling from emotional stress and shock, we have to make decisions about our loved one’s final arrangements: caskets, flowers, cemetery plots, headstones, church or civil gatherings, clothing for the deceased and the obituaries.
Television and newspapers tell us stories of death around the world. So death is usually something happening “out there” or “over there” but not in our own home. But, of course, each death does hit home and can’t be ignored. The web of grief spreads out from there.
Grief cannot and should not be denied. It is a critical part of the process after suffering a loss. Tamping down feelings and denying grief only delays the healing process and not talking about it only postpones the inevitable and increases the suffering.
Recognizing your deep feelings and allowing the grief to be expressed will make all the difference. Share with a trusted friend and keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Seek help from a professional if you aren’t making progress. Working with a hospice counselor or grief therapist can make all a world of difference.
Being able to talk and write about what you are going through and how you feel will yield positive results. Even though it seems impossible, expressing grief brings acceptance, healing and eventually living a happy life again.