Death sucks. And as a society, we don’t know how to deal with it. After 4 years, I can still remember the details of my aunt’s funeral, it was the only time I’ve ever seen my one cousin cry and we’ve been close since childhood. There were so many people, it was overwhelming. Most of them I didn’t even know, but they were all coming up to me to wish me well. It felt inadequate, but also kind of nice.
You don’t know how to feel in that moment, your world is changing to accept a reality without the person you love. But there is also hope, hope that maybe where they are now is better than here. Hope that the pain from the cancer, or whatever it may have been, is gone. Yet, in those moments, as the pallbearers lift up the casket and carry it away, what you feel is sorrow, pain, regret - hope seems far away. But it comes. With time it becomes easier to face what happened, even if the wound doesn’t heal completely. I’m crying even as a write this, looking back on that day, among others. Death can make everything seem so hard. How are we meant to deal with it?
One Step at a Time
Often the first thing we feel is denial. The feeling that this can’t be real, not them. I remember praying, even at the funeral, that God would somehow bring her back, knowing He could, but that He probably wouldn’t. It was her time, but I didn’t want it to be. That leads to the second stage of grief, anger. I don’t remember spending too much time there, but I know how easy it is to fall in to, because anger doesn’t hurt. It may hurt those around us, but when you are consumed with anger the pain and sorrow can’t get past, it feels safe. Yet, anger is tiring and it takes up a lot of who we are. Eventually, we need to get past it. We might start to bargain or get depressed. It can take a very long time to get to acceptance, to accept that the person is gone and they aren’t going to come back. Why is it that death is so difficult for us to accept? Why do we feel pain years later?
One thing to realize is that this reaction has to do with the love we have for the person. And love is a beautiful thing. It can bring pain, in fact it often does, but it also brings joy. Psychology Today talks about the feelings of nostalgia we face and how typically, the good wins out. And in a lot of ways it does. I miss my aunt and there is still pain in the fact that she is dead, but there is also joy in remembering who she was. To be honest, she was one of the craziest people I know, she had this innocent way of looking at the world. One time she left me and my cousins, (the oldest of us was about 8, the youngest 3), with the cashier at Pizza Pizza while she went and grabbed a bag of books I had forgotten, I’m pretty sure my mom almost killed her. But that was just who she was, and all those stories just remind me of how lucky I was to have known her. Do you feel nostalgia about someone you have lost? Any fond memories that come with the thought of them?
A lot of how we deal with death is defined by our cultural background. This article from the Independent, a newspaper from the UK, talks about the differences between British and Irish views on death. It talks about how the Irish are much more open and how everyone knows and even attends the funeral, while the British can be much more private about it. An article on death in different cultures states that in China, there is a large focus on expressing grief, whereas Japan focuses more on acceptance of the passing. In Ghana the coffins are decorated to describe the one who died. The culture in Canada and the US can be really varied, depending on the background of your ancestors.
My family typically goes fairly traditional, with hymns and eulogies, but I know my one great uncle had a celebration of life instead of a mourning-type ceremony. And each of these different ways of dealing with death is special and unique. Don’t be afraid to express your grief, tears don’t show weakness, in fact it can take a lot of strength to show when you are struggling with something. Dealing with death is hard and if you feel like you need help, get it. It isn’t the time to act strong and pretend everything is okay, people will understand that it isn’t easy. I’ve tried in the past to convince myself that as the oldest of my sisters I need to stay strong for them, but I don’t. I need to show them that grief is okay and that it can be dealt with in a way that is healthy. Holding it in isn’t good for you or your loved ones. Never be afraid to seek the help you need.
Share the Journey
I wish you all the best and I hope sharing my grief allows you to feel more comfortable in yours. Emotions affect us all differently and all of us will have a unique grieving process, just don’t be afraid to let yours run its course and to reach out to others for support and help through the journey.
There are groups that want to walk alongside you in your journey of grief, you don't have to do it alone. Look for services in your area. Whether you are grieving, or supporting someone who is, check out these links for supportive resources:
Stages of grief retrieved from: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/emotional-health/coping-with-death-and-grief/coping-with-death-and-grief