“Life not only weaves a web of losses, but gives us a succession of gains.”
The human being is part of an enigmatic and mysterious life cycle in which, while having freedom of action, is subjected to rules that are against his/her will.
The fact that we know death is part of life and that, at some point of existence, we will live the loss of someone we love do not comfort or prepare us for this painful experience. And when death comes into our house – often unannounced – we feel in complete darkness, unprotected, unsafe, in intense state of desperation and weakness. In these situations, often we believe that there is no longer any possibility or desire to continue living.
We were not raised to lose. Nobody wants to lose anything, for more simple it may be, even less to lose people you love. This experience is overwhelming, out of any logical standards that reason can explain. The feeling is a “void”, a “lack” that will require each one to search inside their private and inner world of feelings and emotions – often sealed or even akward – to find tools to help them face this pain that does not seem to end. This difficult internal reorganization work is what we call the grieving process. It is known that this is a battle fought by the person who is alive, and must continue living. It is a personal process, with very particular manifestations.
The manifestations of this process
Death disorganizes us, it depresses us, but the fight becomes a necessary passage and an indispensable condition for the person gradually to return to their activities, physically and emotionally reorganize, relearning how to live and get along with all the changes that death caused in life.
Perhaps the first and most difficult change is learning to live without the person who is gone, which means learning to live in a different way, incorporating a new identity: you were not that person before, you changed. This change may take both you and those around you not to recognize more their own attitudes and ways of thinking. Many physical changes take place – loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, headaches and stomachache, affective disorders such as depression and anxiety; and behavioral changes – agitation, crying, fatigue, loss of concentration. So spending special care with health becomes critical during the initial period of the grieving process.
How long will it last?
It is important to notice that our culture expects a common pattern of behavior of the bereaved one: we must cry little, suffer even less and quickly return to life.
However, the grieving process duration is relative. For some grieving can last a few months; for others a longer time. The important thing is to know that in addition to the chronological time, you need an internal and personal time to reorganize, to express feelings of loss. Usually the time spent on the clock is not the same that goes on inside you.
The expression of feelings
It is very healthy and helpful for the grieving process the ability to express feelings that the presence of death arouses.
How to digest it all?
– When you eat something, you digest, a portion of the food is absorbed by the body, the other must leave. So it is with our feelings. We cannot afford going through so many emotions and so much pain, without any expression.
– It is important to know that feelings need to be expressed so that the person can feel better. How have you done it?
– Allow yourself to express your pain – whether you are a man, woman or child. Do not try to be hard on yourself, trying to hide the pain of the absence of the beloved one.
– It is important to know that all feelings of pain, unexpressed, can turn into a depression. So do not deny the pain that someone’s death caused.
– Do not be afraid to feel this diversity of feelings before death. Besides the suffering inherent in loss, you may find yourself with a lot of fear, loneliness and guilt, thinking you could have done something you did not do for the person who left.
Finally, try to find another place, different from the outside world for the deceased one. This other place might be within that emptiness you felt so much at the beginning of the grieving process and now, after some time, you can fill it with memories of the person who died. These memories may help you to remember him/her as she/he would like to be remembered: with care and affection. Memories that do not prevent you to reinvest in other relationships and goals of your life. Stories that will be kept inside, and that will help keeping the person alive always inside you.
Lelia Cassia Faleiros Oliveira – Clinical Psychologist, Master and PhD student at USP, with recycling course in LEM – USP (Lab Studies on Death.). It works with bereaved ones and develops bereavement support projects in institutions