How do I deal with the death of a loved one?
Dear friend: I’m so sorry. A close death is one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. There’s almost no getting over it. Grief is less like a cold and more like a shadow, always lingering even in the brightest light. It gets easier, but it stays with you in all kinds of ways.
As a hospital chaplain, I have seen hundreds of people die now, and there’s no formula or plan or mantra to get you through. All the hard things you’re feeling, whether it’s numbness or waves of pain or a deep soul itchiness or a tight chest or an empty stomach or rivers of tears, are all a part of grief. You’re not crazy. You might see a random thing that will remind you of your loved one, and it will hit you in the gut. You might visit a street or see someone’s smile or hear a movie quote that reminds you of everything, and it will hit you all over again. That happens. You’re not crazy.
(If you need help though, it’s beneficial to consider therapy or medicine. I will always advocate for both. Life is hard and we need the help.)
In my culture, we commemorate the dead. In the West, this is not really a cool thing. Westernized grief is all about packing it up and letting it go. I get that. It does work. And we can’t hold onto sadness forever. But my culture is really big on honoring those who have finished their stories on earth. Scripture (and nearly every worldview) always lifts up ancestors and their stories. There are rows and rows of names in the Bible and brief descriptions that help us remember and celebrate them. God gifted us people for a season, and they’re worth remembering.
Maybe this practice isn’t for everyone and I can see how it would be harmful for some people. But again: this is how my family has always dealt with death, and for me it’s been a more complete way to move forward while honoring those who are gone.
However that looks for you, whether remembering them on the same day each year, or having a drink in their honor, or writing a journal about them, I think it will help to tangibly pour out your grief in a real physical way.
Idk what the future holds, but my Grandma was recently diagnosed with cancer. I am extremely close to her, and I can barely even comprehend what is happening because I’m so in denial. Surgery is a possibility, but it’s also possible they’ll refuse to operate on her and she’ll die of this. So my question, I guess, is: do you have any advice for dealing with grief before the person dies? How will I be able to cope, knowing she will die soon?
Hey dear friend, I’m very sorry to hear about this. You are a wonderful grandchild to reach out to a stranger this way to ask for help.
I wish I had better words to help you; I know anything I say would be inadequate. Truthfully, there’s no way to really “prepare” for something so hard. But I say that to say, it’s really okay to be “weak” and hurting and sad about it all. The way to cope is simply knowing it will be hard to cope as it’s happening. That’s normal. That’s okay.
The best you can do is to make as many memories as you can, to hear her stories, to be there, to hold her hand, to love on her, to cherish the remaining time.
As much as you can, spend time with her. It won’t be easy. I know it can be tough on your schedule. But you will be glad you did.
At the same time, hang out with your community when you can. Ask a friend to be around. Do the things you love doing. Rest and take care of yourself. Grief can easily overtake your body, so be mindful of your own health, too.
One thing I have seen a lot is that in some of these situations, the family or friends stay away completely because it’s too difficult. They can’t deal with the grief of seeing their loved one dying. It’s very understandable, of course. But they almost always regret it in the end. Even the families who hate each other sometimes regret not making a final trip to see their dying loved one. Please don’t be too far, if you can help it.
A last thing. My wife’s aunt passed away about two years ago from cancer. We had a “pre funeral service” while she was still alive, about a month before she died. All the relatives flew in to say all the things to her they might have said at a funeral. We sang hymns together and shared memories and even laughed loudly. It was a beautiful service in her hospice. She got to hear the nice things that it’s often too late to say. I wish more people would get the chance to do this sort of thing. Maybe it’s something worth considering.
You have my heart and my prayers, dear friend. Much love to you and your family. You are a wonderful grandchild.
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