Written by Julie Taylor
This week saw the deaths of two people who were symbols of the time they were popular in (my time): Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. When I heard that Farrah Fawcett had passed away, although I read that it was expected as she was severely ill, I was surprised that the news still took my breath away? I noticed the sensible comments made by her soulmate Ryan O’Neil and wondered… I had spent years copying her hairstyle, clothes, voice and ‘values’ when I was a girl. In this article I will look at how to deal with shock, loss and grief and whether it makes a difference whether the loss was expected or sudden.
Later that afternoon when my son ran upstairs to tell me about Michael Jackson, I had to ask him to repeat it a couple of times before it sank in that he had died. I read some of the obviously shocked comments by members of his family – and again I wondered. Personally, I felt shock and sadness for them equally despite one dying suddenly and one dying slowly. The memories their losses stirred up in me were equally deep. I had grown up watching and following the lives of both of them. I think the news shook my son – who’s 19 – when he was confronted with the thought that someone my age could die. It was quite a realization for me too. Their untimely deaths were a reminder of how fragile life is and regardless of whether a loss is expected or not it is nonetheless equally shocking, sad and difficult for families, friends and those who just ‘knew of them’.
This is an interesting book – written in the aftermath of the 9/11 events… Living With Grief: After Sudden Loss Suicide, Homicide, Accident, Heart Attack, Stroke (Paperback)by Kenneth Doka. ReBuildingYou depends on your support to grow – BUY HERE – the prices are exactly the same and you’ll be supporting your RBY at the same time.
Sometimes we assume that the grieving process is more painful and difficult after a sudden loss rather than for an expected one? Is the shock and immediate pain similar, whether the loss is expected or sudden? Is the longer term grieving easier if we already know and expect the loss? Or is our reaction different every time and not so predictable? Perhaps our suffering – grieving – is directly proportional to our own issues, stirred by the loss?
I am still saddened by the fact that my dad died suddenly when he was only 63, before I had truly made amends and grown as close to him as I wish I had been able to grow. But would anything have lessened the gut wrenching sadness I felt? When I was a little girl, I knew that my darling grandfather had Parkinsons Disease – and that it was getting worse each day. As a child, I was furious at how callous some of the adults seemed at his funeral when they spoke of his ‘merciful release’. Do children know something – or have a stronger and uncomplicated connection to compassion – that we ‘forget’ as we grow older?
I knew too that his wife, my beautiful grandmother, who had faithfully nursed him for years succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease shortly after his death and which lasted for a very long and difficult time. But, despite this knowledge, I think I was equally saddened when she passed as when I lost my other grandmother after a sudden and massive stroke. And I cried for days when I lost my last grandparent who died far too slowly from cancer and who I wasn’t able to visit – I had over a year of warning that he was dying. Similar reactions: some sudden and some expected.
Whichever way loss happens, it seems to be both shocking and the cause of sadness and much reliving of memories, both sad and happy. Grieving takes as long as it takes… It’s a very individual process – complicated by the amount of unresolved grief in ourselves that is triggered by the shock.
You may have had to endure comments such as, “…at least you had time to say goodbye.” Which may be meant to bring comfort to a mourner but can feel discounting – and may make you feel as if you ‘should’ have already started the grieving process prior to the loss and be feeling other than you are right now. Maybe, despite having time, you are totally shocked – which seems to happen fairly often – and now you don’t feel so entitled to be as sad or as shocked as you are?
Remember not to judge. Loss and grief are uniquely felt by every individual. We can never predict or know for sure how another human being feels the loss he has suffered, whether expected or sudden and shocking. And what is the best thing you can do to help your friend through his time of grief? Just be there. Connect with him and sit with him and witness his pain. Be with him. Wait patiently for as long as he may need: hours, days, weeks, months, even years. If you can… Seeing a counsellor at a time like this can be one of the most helpful things you can do, preferably in person or online.
I still maintain that divorce, and the loss of your love, dreams and family as you know it are a devastating loss. I remember repeatedly thinking that I wished I had suspected that my marriage was on the rocks for a few months – or even years – before my husband announced that he was leaving. Would that really have made it any easier? Or is grief the same, measurable weight that has to be endured whether spread out over time or in a short, sharp shock? Which is actually worse for our bodies and soul?
A loss is a loss, regardless of the circumstance. Even if you knew a loved one was going to die, it’s always shocking when they finally pass away. This is especially true when someone has endured a long chronic illness. Caregivers typically experience a number of “false alarms” where their sick loved one is rushed to the hospital and told that the situation is grim. However, a loved one may survive many crisis situations. That may give a caregiver a false sense of hope. As sick as their loved one is, it seems they will continue indefinitely to defy the odds. The adrenaline surges that this kind of news must cause is unthinkable. We suffer our pound of pain, fast or slow, and the residue left on our body weighs the same. A friend who can sit quietly with us and love us while we hurt is a friend indeed.
With a warm hug, Julie
Here is a landmark (and excellent) book called ‘On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss’ by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. This book is a must-read and is the foundation of current thinking on this subject. ReBuildingYou depends on your support to grow – BUY HERE – the prices are exactly the same and you’ll be supporting RBY at the same time. Thank you!