Living well after a loved one dies
It has been on my mind for a while that we have experienced a lot of loss this past year in our town and in our own personal lives. Our culture in the Western world does not prepare us for death. We find ourselves in a very difficult place when we suddenly lose a loved one. We find ourselves in unchartered territory with few coping skills to survive this painful transition.
For me, I talked to my father on a Sunday morning and he was gone on Tuesday.
Nothing can describe the pain I felt when I got that phone call. I was completely unprepared for how to cope. Looking back, I guess I got through each day one minute at a time. If I could survive one minute, then maybe I could get through the next, and so on. As time went on, I survived each hour and finally I could get through a day at a time before feeling like it was too much.
When my father died, I wanted to world to stop turning. I wanted to tell everyone how great my dad was. I wanted to talk about him and I had trouble just going through the motions of my everyday life.
In retrospect, I know that when I thought about Dad, it brought pain, so for a while I was afraid I would forget him altogether. Now I know that I will never forget him and will never stop telling my family about my father. But at the time of his death, sometimes it was too painful to bring him into my thoughts, so I would avoid thinking about him, to escape the pain. Years later I realized it is possible to feel pain, sorrow, joy, and happy memories all at once: We are just not used to such intense emotions. It feels uncomfortable and overwhelming. The best advice, though, is to sit and feel all these and honor that all of these emotions are valid.
We become accustomed to the physical presence of our loved ones. We want to hear their voices and touch their skin, yet when they die, we cannot do this. We must transform what we are used to into a more spiritual existence. Keeping something that this person had which was special to them can comfort us. We can find an animal totem that represents our lost loved one, and surround ourselves with symbols that remind us of who our loved ones are and what they mean to us. For me, the dragonfly symbolizes my father who passed away 15 years ago. I find comfort in a T-shirt I have, and in his watch, which I keep with me.
I remember his advice and his incredible listening skills. And yes, I miss him terribly. But I also honor who he was and what he still means to me, even after his physical presence is no longer here.
Other cultures prepare people for death, as death is a part of life. We will all pass at some point in time. This is not something to be depressed about. Rather it is a reminder to live life to its fullest every day ” to become more of who we are meant to be. To follow our dreams and to speak our truth, loud and clear. Sometimes when we think of those who have died, it is almost as if they serve as our reminder that life is not to be taken for granted or lived for tomorrow. Life is meant to be lived each moment, and a moment may be all we have. As hard as it is to lose people we love so much, we can honor them for who they were to us. The more we loved them, the more it will hurt to lose them.
Seek a coach a therapist or supportive friends who will see you through the grief process when you lose a loved one. It is a journey that we do not always have the tools or skills to get through without help and support.
I know I am not the same person I was when my father was alive. When he passed, a part of me changed. The change was a journey that took time to accept and to be OK with. I have learned a lot: My joy is deeper and my sadness is deeper. I feel for anyone who has lost someone they love. I pray they will find peace and perhaps a symbol that helps them transform their loved ones from their physical presence on this earth to a more spiritual presence that will be with them always.
As we head to the holidays, it is usually more difficult to enjoy family and friends when we have lost a loved one. Be sure to light a candle or buy a plant that symbolizes your loss, and keep it in the room with you while you “celebrate” this time of year. The more you prepare for your pain, and create a ritual and a symbol for your loved one, the easier it will be to enjoy the holidays without them. It will seem less important to attempt to “mask or hide” your pain from others. Be true to your emotions and bring your loved one with you as you get through the next two months. Whatever it takes to make your life meaningful and transform your pain into meaning for your loved one, do it! Be true to yourself and to your emotions.
As stated in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: “My heartfelt advice to those in the depths of grief and despair after losing someone they dearly loved is to pray for help and strength and grace. Pray you will survive and discover the richest possible meaning to the new life you now find yourself in. Be vulnerable and receptive, be courageous and be patient. Above all, look into your life to find ways of sharing your love more deeply with others now.” Page 322
This book helps us become “The wounded healer” as Carl Jung describes. When we go through difficulty, and as we transform into a different person through tragedy, we are more able to help others as well. Not right away of course, but after we have begun to heal, we find the compassion to help others who may need support and love to get through their own pain and loss.
“Perhaps it is only those who understand how fragile life is who know how precious it is.” “Whatever we have done with our lives makes us what we are when we die. And everything, absolutely everything counts.”
Lorna Tirman is the owner of Labyrinth of Life Coaching Services. Reach her at 412-1613.
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