Remembrance Day is about loss and loss comes in many forms. It can be sudden and sharp, like an accidental death or slow and expected, from an illness. Sometimes it is gradual and gentle like the loss of youth, that slips away unnoticed.
Losses and endings like beginnings are inevitable. They are two ends of the same circle. And nobody gets a free pass. Famous people lose children unexpectedly, their fame no protection. It touches everybody – inevitably.
But can you prepare for a loss? It may seem a ridiculous idea that you can. Maybe you are someone who is dying right now, but even then it is important to prepare, to give yourself space to grieve, do what you still need to do, say what you need to say, so you can be at peace when the time comes.
And how can those left behind recover from a loss? When you first lose someone, it is hard to imagine ever recovering. It is true it can take a long time and there are no shortcuts on that stony road. It has many twists and turns as you face the wrenching heartbreak of losing someone or something you treasured.
But it can be done and in the process you and your world as you knew it will change forever. You will never forget those you loved and lost, but with enough time, space and support to actively grieve, the acute pain gradually lessens.
The 3 comfort tips below for preparing or recovering from loss are gathered from personal experience and from what I have learned from those I have counselled…
1. Anticipatory grief
Most people grieve when they lose someone, but you don’t have to wait until then to start grieving. You can start the grieving work while they are still around. In fact when someone you love is ill, elderly or dying, and you dread the thought of losing them, it will really help you cope now and later if you start the grieving before you have to.
Find someone you can talk to such as a good friend or a counsellor, and imagine how you will feel after they are gone, what you will miss, what you might want to say to them while they are still around. Let the sadness come and don’t be afraid of tears. Tears are healing.
I was very close with my own father, who passed away 21 years ago from a stroke. I always knew his death would be a hard loss, so several years before he passed away, I decided to talk with a counsellor friend about how I imagined I would feel. I was able to shed tears about this, even while he was still alive. The result was I was more relaxed about talking with my father about death, could tell him what I appreciated about him and would miss, without breaking down. Later on when he did pass, although I was still very sad of course, I felt prepared and had no regrets.
2. Say goodbye without regrets – finish unfinished business while you can
Grieving someone you love is hard enough. But grieving someone you have had a complicated and difficult relationship with is even harder. It is a good idea to try to sort things out while you can, because none of us knows how long we have. People die unexpectedly every day.
Perhaps you need to speak a truth you have never been able to say, to stand up to someone, or tell a secret. It may be as simple (and as hard) as telling someone you love them.
Like many people who live far away, I dread the sudden phone call that says my mother has died. I have thought a lot about this, so this year while on a recent trip to Ireland, I decided to talk with my mother about it. We both hope I will be there for her final moments, but who knows?
So I asked her if we could have the conversation now that we would have if she was dying…just in case. I know, I know, it sounds morbid! But when you live thousands of miles from home as I do, I felt the need to seize the moment. So I was able to have a beautiful conversation with my mother, as we stood together at the kitchen sink that might not otherwise have happened had I not asked.
2. Give yourself time and space to grieve
Last and certainly not least, remember that grieving is important emotional work that has to be done. Needing to cry, feeling depressed, lacking energy, feeling lonely, wishing you were dead, missing someone intensely are normal feelings of grief and not a sign of losing your mind.
There is a time to grieve and a time to get on with life. But if you try to put your feelings away too soon and carry on, the grief gets stored up and can get retriggered with every new loss, whether it’s a pet, a job, or a move etc.
Trying to keep a lid on it can also make you wary about getting close to anyone else, to dread anniversaries, or cause an avalanche of sadness with a later loss. Many people carry past losses they have never grieved. Just because it happened years ago does not mean it is over.
Keep in mind that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, or right time. It is not helpful for others to expect you to get over a loss by a certain length of time. There are layers of loss and there are layers of recovery. To begin with, you count the days and weeks since the loss. Then there is the first birthday, Christmas, summer, the first anniversary.
What does help is to talk with others about your feelings, about your memories, and to cry. Crying does not mean you are having a breakdown. It means you are releasing painful emotion which is why it’s called “a good cry”.
I cried many times over the loss of my father especially at the beginning, and found it to be helpful to release the painful emotions. It is 21 years since he died, and this year he would have been 100 had he lived, but I am at peace with the loss. And yet there are days when I still miss him…. he is gone but not forgotten.