At some point in our life, most of us have experienced the loss of someone that we cared about. It’s not an easy process to go through without having honest and true friends around you. Whether it’s the loss of a parent, a sibling, a good friend, or a dear pet that you love — it’s not any easier to let them go. Several years ago, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer and heart disease and was in and out of hospitals for care. To my surprise, her cancer disappeared, and she was able to retire and start living her life to the fullest. Soon afterward, another monster entered the scene which caused more havoc on the family. It was called dementia. Dementia is a disease that we should all learn about, regardless of our age.
In the past couple of weeks, I lost my sister to all the illnesses she had been fighting. The most difficult part was watching my nephew, her son, struggle to come to grips with losing his mother. For some reason, losing one’s mother can be more difficult than losing one’s father who may not have been around a lot while the children were growing up because of work obligations or commitments. Regardless of how sick a person may be, children and friends want them to stay around. I have watched my nephew swing through a variety of emotions that include anger, sadness, depression, and relief. The grieving process is extremely essential to understanding and accepting the death of a loved one.
When I was a young boy, my parents and the many aunts and uncles taught us children a different story about death that they would share with us, sometimes too often. My mother taught us to live our lives to the fullest, to go after all our dreams, and most importantly, to be kind to strangers along the way. She always looked forward to death and taught us to welcome it when the time comes. Being exhausted from dealing with various illnesses, my mother prepared me to let go when she was ready to depart. After taking care of her for a couple of years, laughing and enjoying fun times, she pulled me aside and said, I will be ready in two weeks. I can still remember feeling and looking sad, but she always made me laugh. I can still hear her saying to me, “Honey, I am tired, but you look worse than me, you need a break.” We laughed so hard that tears ran down both of our legs.
After losing that special one, there is a process called bereavement. Bereavement is the grief and mourning experience following the death of someone important to you. While it’s an inevitable part of life — something that virtually all of us go through at some point — losing someone you love can be one of the most painful experiences you’ll ever have to endure. Even when we know that someone may be dying, it doesn’t make the acceptance any easier to deal with at all. There are usually 7 stages of grief that most people must deal with to move forward. Those stages include:
- Shock. Feelings of shock are unavoidable in almost every situation, even when feeling or knowing that we had time to prepare for the loss of a loved one. Often there is a sense of numbness or a detachment from our true feelings.
- Denial. Often, we may experience denial after a bereavement, knowing something has happened but it doesn’t feel real.
- Anger. It’s normal to feel anger in times of loss, but often people try to keep this stage of grief hidden. This is when we must surround ourselves with true friends and others that we trust who may have experienced a similar loss in the past. Don’t be surprised if the slightest incident pushes your button, causing you to explode. Acknowledge the emotion, try not to repeat it, and apologize for your explosive behaviour if needed.
- Bargaining. The bargaining stage is about making promises to yourself or a higher being, asking the universe for a chance to put things right. Often, we feel that we didn’t do enough or could have done more for our loved ones. A bereaved person may seek reason where there is none and may feel guilty about how they behaved or feel in some way to blame themselves. Often, there is always a ‘What If’.
- Depression. Is a ball of emotions that is a part of the grieving process. These emotions can often lead to feelings of depression, isolation, anxiety, and a feeling of dread. Most people are unsure how to ask for help from others or even how to verbalize it so that it makes sense.
- Acceptance & Hope. We all crave contact, connection, and support, and at some stage, we want to engage with friends and family again. Acceptance is about realising you can’t change the circumstances, but that you can gain some control over how you respond.
- Processing the Grief. There is no right or wrong way to process our grief. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or magic potion that you can drink that will help us to move on with our lives. It simply takes time, and every individual is different in the path they create to process their grief. There is no timeline for grieving. The key ingredient is to be patient and loving with yourself.
The one thing about losing friends and family members that you love is the great memories that you keep in your heart forever. The sweet thoughts always make me smile, and cry but most often laugh out loud. There is nothing so great as savouring wonderful memories of someone that you shared many meals with, lots of laughter, danced together, shared a bottle of Ouzo on a park bench, or simply enjoyed teasing each other and misbehaving together. This time around, I have been asking myself how I will be remembered when I go on my passage and if I truly made a difference and showed kindness to many. These thoughts help me to focus more clearly on my life. I have even considered writing my obituary. No one knows me better than I know myself. The best part would be getting others to share what they remember the most. It should be a celebration of life.
Have you experienced the loss of a loved one? What was it like for you and what happy thoughts remind you of them?