It’s Christmas and everyone I know seems to be so happy, filled with the spirit of Christmas, when all I can think about is the fact that he’s not here. He died last week. It was sudden and completely unexpected. One day he is skiing down the mountain and the next day he had a stroke.
Initially his speech was slurred and he didn’t have movement in his left side but after a few days in the hospital he started to get better. His speech was coming back, his paralysis was going away and we were both hopeful and thankful he was still with us. We kept saying how lucky we were and how much worse it could have been, when it got worse. He had a second stroke and now he is gone.
The week before Christmas and he was taken from us. How do we cope? How do we make sense of the loss? What do we do now? How do we experience joy when he’s gone?
You can search the internet and it’s filled with tips and pointers to cope with the loss of a loved one. They tell us about the stages of grief, they give us 10 tips on how to cope with the grief, and they tell us not to isolate, they tell us to take some time, they tell us time heals all wounds, they say it will get better.
When I was sixteen my brother died the Friday before thanksgiving. My family didn’t make dinner that year. I remember people telling me it gets better with time so I waited, and waited, and waited some more until I realized they lied. When someone you love dies it NEVER gets better. The pain isn’t as raw and all-consuming but it’s not better. I think that is a poor choice of words from well-meaning people that just want us to feel better and maybe they are hoping if they say it often enough they will believe it themselves.
I have had three people very close to me die, I have years of training in the field of psychology, overcoming trauma, and I’m actually a certified grief recovery specialist but and what I know to be true about grief and loss I learned through my own personal struggles to climb up out of the pain and embrace the love.
I realized the more love I had for the person who died the more pain I felt. I would ask myself, why does it feel as though my heart is being ripped from my chest every time I even think of them since they are gone, yet when they were alive I experienced such joy at the mere mention of their name? I wanted to know how to move to the place where I would feel the joy and be able to celebrate their life instead of living in the grief and loss of them no longer being here.
Here are a few things that worked for me:
1. I kept a journal type book where I would write to them for one year after they died. I would write in the book the things I wanted to say to them or what I would have said to them if they were still here. It didn’t have to make sense and it was for my eyes only. It felt good to have someplace to talk to them and share my life with them. Sometimes I yelled at them for leaving me here all by myself. I wrote in the book as long as I wanted to. For me sometime in the first year I didn’t need to write in the book anymore. I have shared this technique with others and people find it to be very helpful. Some write in the book longer than others but eventually they begin to feel less pain and it becomes easier to enjoy the memories of the good times.
2. On dates that reminded me of them like birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions I would prepare their favorite food and share the stories of the things we had done with other people in my life. You know, reminisce about the good old days. I loved to hear stories other people had to share about them too! Listening to other people talk about them and knowing how much they loved them too was very comforting to me. Sharing the love we felt for the person we lost helped me to reconnect with the love instead of focusing on the pain of them being gone. I guess this is where the saying, “Lost but not forgotten” comes from.
3. For each of us there are going to be occasions where it’s harder than others because each relationship was different. For the holidays I like to remember the people I love with an ornament on the tree. This keeps them with me on the holiday and every year when I hang their ornament I say hello to them in my own special way. Sometimes I tell others I am thinking about them and other times I keep it between me and my loved one.
We all grieve in our own way and there is no right or wrong way, there is no formula, nor are there any tried and true steps to move through the pain. I find the key to moving through the pain, for me, is connecting with the love and joy they brought into my life. I find that where I focus my attention is tied directly to how I “feel” about any situation so I focus on the love.
My intention of this post is to be real, to let you know you are not alone, and to share a few things that work for me. The reality is, It really sucks when someone we love dies and there’s no sugar coating that!