Coming to Terms With Death

Jan 14, 2012, 7:05 AM |

“The news of my father’s death left me in a state of shock and despair. I was overwhelmed by guilt because I hadn’t been at his side when he died. Nothing can compare to the deep pain from the loss of a loved one. I miss my dad so much!”—Sara.

DEATH is awkward for most people to discuss, regardless of their culture or religion. Some languages provide a number of euphemisms to ease the discomfort. In English, instead of saying that someone “died,” people will say that he or she “passed away,” “departed,” or “is no longer with us.”

Yet, even the gentlest of terms can do little to soften the intense sadness that is often felt by those who have lost a loved one. For some, grief is so heavy that they simply cannot accept the reality of what has happened.

If you have lost a loved one in death, you too may find yourself struggling to come to terms with your loss. Perhaps you even pretend you are doing well, when inside you know otherwise. Of course, not everyone grieves in the same way, so if you do not outwardly display your sorrow, that does not mean that you are suppressing your feelings.* Problems, however, can arise if you feel obliged to put on a front for others—perhaps family members who are themselves grieving.

“No Time for Me to Grieve”

Consider the experience of Nathaniel, a young man whose mother died when he was 24. “At first, I was bewildered,” he says. “I felt that I had to be a support to my dad and to many of my mother’s distraught friends. There was no time for me to grieve.”

After more than a year, Nathaniel found that he still had not come to terms with his own loss. “Dad still occasionally calls to mourn,” he says, “and that’s a good thing. He needs to talk about it, and I’m happy to help. It’s just that when I need support, I feel as if I have nowhere to turn.”

Caregivers—including those in the medical profession who must frequently confront the reality of death—may also feel obliged to suppress their feelings. Take the case of Heloisa, a doctor for more than 20 years. She worked in a close-knit community and had a bond with her patients. “I was with many of them at the time of their death,” she says, “and some of them were very dear friends.”

Heloisa realized that shedding tears was a natural way to get relief. “But I found it difficult to cry,” she relates. “I was so concerned about being strong for others that I felt I had to hold in my feelings. I believed that others expected that of me.”

A grieving daughter

“I felt completely lost and alone. My mother was my best friend”—Ashley

“The House Felt Empty Without Her”

Loneliness is perhaps one of the greatest challenges faced by those who have lost a loved one. For example, Ashley was 19 when her mother died of cancer. “Afterward, I felt completely lost and alone,” she says. “My mother was my best friend. We spent so much time together!”

Understandably, Ashley found it difficult to come home each day and realize that her mother was not there. “The house felt empty without her,” she says. “Many times I just went to my room and cried while I looked at pictures of her and thought about the things we used to do together.”

Be assured that whether you have lost a family member or a dear friend, you are not alone in your grief. Many have found effective ways to cope, as we shall see.

*  Since each individual is different when it comes to grieving, it would be unfair for others to draw conclusions about those who do not outwardly show emotion after the death of a loved one.