People always talk about life. They either marvel about it, mouth-off a litany of complaints, or burst into a series of philosophical points to ponder. Life is beautiful…life is unfair…life is what you make it… so on and so forth.
But what about death?
Not very many people would be willing to discuss the mystery and dread that surrounds the issue of death. Most people find it too morbid to dwell on during one’s personal musings about life, much less make it a topic for conversation. Perhaps, some may consider thinking and speaking about death if they are already in the grips of leaving this world or have just witnessed the passing of someone close to them.
Death is a difficult thing to grasp, understand, and accept. It is a threat and a tragedy that strikes fear even among the most stout-hearted of individuals. Yet, we all know that death is inevitable and that death will one day come to take us from this world and everything we have come to love and cherish. No matter how hard we try to shield ourselves from the reality of death, it is a thing that we cannot escape or evade. As it is often said, there are only two certain things in life: taxes and death.
We have seen death’s shadow hover us, yet we still fail to understand its depths. In muffled words, we speak to mourners and try to console them — even as we, too, seek comfort in the thought that it is not we who are inside the coffin.
But how do cope with death and dying? How do we help those who grieve? And how do we help ourselves when we lose a friend, a family member, or loved one?
Death is a one-time only experience which makes us who are alive totally clueless. To know physical death, we must first die. But surely, most people have become acquainted with grief — another emotion that has close ties with death. To grieve is to be overcome by an intense feeling of loss. Aside from grieving the loss of a loved one, some people also agonize about losing a job, a prized possession, having a miscarriage, or the end of a relationship.
Still, perhaps nothing can compare with the grief that comes with the loss or death of a loved one. It is characterized by not just a single feeling but a whole succession of feelings of pain, disappointment, and regret.
While it is a really negative emotion…something that no one would willingly want to experience, grief is an emotion that must be felt by every person who lost a loved one. While the act of grieving differs from one person to another, the emotion is an integral part of the whole journey towards acceptance of the death of someone held so dearly.
While there are no exact ways or right approaches to the process of grieving, there are some common stages that people usually pass through when someone they love passes on. The first, usual stage is called denial. As soon as the news of the death of a close relative or friend is disclosed, most people feel simply stunned. They somehow could not accept or believe the dreadful news. Even in the case of terminally ill patients, family and friends would still pass through a stage of denial even if death had already been expected for quite some time.
There are times when the sense of emotional numbness initially keeps a person from grieving but helps in getting through some of the important practical arrangements that have to be made, such as getting in touch with relatives, as well as organizing the funeral. Sometimes, these feelings and moments of “unreality” may become a problem if it goes on for too long. In order to overcome emotional numbness, some people need to see the actual body of the dead person. Often, it is only during the the funeral or memorial service that the reality of what has happened really starts to sink in. Even if seeing the body or attending the funeral can be distressing, doing so can help the person release bottled up emotions and say good-bye to the departed. However, those who avoid this episode due to the pain it would cause may experience a sense of deep regret that may take years to overcome.
When the feeling of numbness disappears, it is replaced by a dreadful sense of agitation, or yearning for the dead person. With the anger and agitation over the loss of a loved one, a grieving person may find it hard to concentrate, relax, or sleep. Sleep disorder such as insomnia may develop. Even if the grieving person gets a few hours of sleep, he or she may be accompanied by disturbing dreams about the dead. Some people may even believe that they actually “see” their dead loved ones everywhere they go: in the street, the park, around the house, and in places where they had spent time together.
Guilt is another common feeling among people who are in the process of grieving. They could not get it out of their head and may even think about what they could have done differently to prevent the tragedy of death. The grieving person may need to be reminded that death is usually beyond anyone’s control. In the case of terminally ill patients, their family may have a feeling of relief once they pass on since the sick would already be free from the suffering. Still, the family may have feelings of guilt over how well they took care of their sick relative or loved one.
Suppressing emotions can aggravate the situation and could have detrimental repercussions to the physical, emotional and mental health of an individual.
The truth is, buried emotions never really disappear. These emotions resurface and appear in the guise of emotional behaviors or acts that create vicious cycles or become self-fulfilling prophecies. When a person refuses to acknowledge his feelings of sadness, there is a tendency to avoid relationships that could only aggravate the depression. In the same manner, emotional eaters fall into a succession of binging episodes to find temporary relief from pain and grief. However, they also become angry with themselves after realizing how they have again lost control over their eating and their emotions.
After a stage of anger or agitation comes a period of quiet sadness or depression, withdrawal, and silence. Memories of the dead person linger and only leads the family or the survivor to more moments of sadness. Other people may find it difficult to understand when the grieving person suddenly bursts into tears for no obvious reason. During this stage, it may appear as though the person is spending a lot of time just sitting doing nothing. But in reality, the person is usually thinking about the loved one, going over again and again every memory — trying to relive both the good and bad times they had together. This is a quiet but essential part of coming to terms with the death.
In due time, the intense pain of grieving, as well as the depression, will fade away. After passing through the stages of grieving, it may again be possible to think about the future. Although the sense of having lost a part of oneself never goes away entirely, the final phase of grieving is a letting go of the person who has died. Once the bereaved person begins to feel whole again, the start of a new life will come naturally.