Seasons of life and loss
Throughout our lives, we move through seasons. Some seasons bring much joy to us, But, our seasons of grief or loss can be the most difficult we face as human beings. As we discovered in the previous 2 posts of this series, we all suffer some type of loss in our lives. It is safe to say we will face multiple kinds of loss. It can also be said that how we manage our loss is as individual as we are.
While some losses are just harder the closer, we were to the loved one. Some losses challenge us at the heart of who we are, such as, a mother, who had lost her only child, can struggle to find her place now that she has no claim upon the title of ‘Mom’.
If your loss was sudden, shock and disbelief can take over. If protracted, you may be exhausted and relieved, yet, feeling guilt and remorse.
How to cope with guilt when you lose a loved one
When you lose a loved one, it can be incredibly difficult to carry on, as you’ll find yourself feeling empty and possibly depressed for a long time following. This is a normal part of the grieving process, and by facing and embracing these emotions, you will gradually be able to heal and remember that person in a more positive way.
But another common emotion to be struggling with at this point is guilt. While this is another common emotion, it is not as adaptive and can be unhealthy. Here we will look at where the guilt comes from and what you can do about it.
Why you feel guilt or remorse
When someone dies of natural causes or an accident, it is no one’s fault. However, it is very easy to end up blaming yourself and feeling remorse. Perhaps you think if you hadn’t called them over, then they never would have been on the road when that car came. Maybe you think you could have encouraged them to go to the doctor sooner.
This is one cause of guilt during grief, but it is far from the only one. Likewise, it is also common to feel guilt over the way you’ve handled their death. Perhaps you feel guilty for not being sadder or too sad. Maybe you feel guilty for not being more supportive of your family. Or maybe you feel guilty years later for moving on with your life. Sometimes, you can simply feel guilty for being alive when your loved one isn’t.
All these things are very normal, but they are not healthy, and ultimately, they need to be overcome for you to move on with your life.
Overcoming your guilt
Overcoming guilt is about learning to forgive yourself and let go. Because, ultimately, your loved one would undoubtedly prefer that you were happy and getting on with your life as you should.
This means sitting down and honestly assessing your feelings. Of course, if events had been different, then your loved one may have died, or they may not have. You could not have known the future, and you acted as you thought was best at the time. Likewise, everyone else is equally culpable for their actions or inactions, and most likely, nothing anyone did would have made a difference anyway.
Likewise, you should not feel guilty about being alive or for being happy. If anything, you should cherish your happiness even more out of respect for those who don’t have it. You owe it to your family who are still alive to be the happiest and best version of yourself.
It is easy to say these things and less easy to believe them or act on them. Consider seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist, and they will be able to help you come to terms with reality and adopt better-coping strategies.
Dealing with the practicalities
When a loved one dies, it can sometimes seem disrespectful or churlish to think of the practical implications. Seemingly, the best thing to do is to focus on the emotional aspects, on how much we are going to miss that person and how tragic it is that they have died.
And, of course, in some ways that should be your primary concern. But at the same time, it’s important not to forget the considerable, practical implications that can also have a big impact on your life and that can contribute to your feelings of love and loss.
Losing a partner
Losing your partner essentially means losing your plans for the future. It means facing life alone or, potentially, having to go through the stresses of dating again one day in the distant future. What’s more, it might mean a lot of financial strain. Perhaps you’ll need to leave your home now that you are only on one salary. Perhaps you will struggle to raise children if you are at that stage.
Whether you are a relative or a partner, there is also a good chance you may be responsible for funeral preparations. This can involve another big expense on your part, as you pay for the costs. Likewise, the sheer scale of the event to organize, especially one that has such an emotional element, can be overwhelming.
There’s also a lot of stressful paperwork involved when you have lost a loved one. This might mean claiming life insurance, or it might mean removing your loved one’s name from bills and other official documents for example.
There is no stopping
Meanwhile, you will find that life just doesn’t stop, as much as you might wish it would. Eventually, you will need to return to work, children will need to be taken to school, and you will need to do your food shopping.
How to Cope
All this makes it considerably more difficult to deal with the powerful, negative emotions you will be going through.
The first thing is simply to recognize this element and to be prepared for it. If you are struggling, then note that this is something that other people can help you with, and they will surely be willing. Asking someone to do a food shop, to take the kids to school, or to help you with legal documents can be a lot off your mind, and they will be happy to help.
If possible, you should prepare for this eventuality before the fact. This is why life insurance is so important as well as creating a will. While we never like to think of our mortality, doing so can be a huge help for our surviving family and is well worth the effort.
What you can do to support the person who’s lost someone close
When someone is going through the loss of a loved one, it can be incredibly hard for the friends and family who are watching on. When you see someone in so much pain, you will, of course, want to help and support them, but what can you possibly say or do that will make them feel better? How should you act around them?
Be there for them
The first thing to recognize is that no ‘blanket advice’ is going to be particularly useful. Everyone is different, and thus, the right approach will depend on their personality, their experience, and the relationship they had with that person.
But no matter who your friend or relative is and no matter what their circumstances, one thing that isn’t helpful is to try and avoid them. This is the reaction that some people have when they’re too unsure as to how they should treat the person who is suffering. Of course, this is an unintentionally selfish reaction that will make someone who is going through a terrible loss feel ostracized and more alone.
Talking does help
While people differ, you shouldn’t assume that your friend or relative doesn’t want to talk about their loss, especially a long time after the fact. For someone who has suffered a great loss, it’s often hard to speak openly about that person or their relationship without worrying they will make people feel uncomfortable. This results in a situation where they are left feeling as though they must swallow an awful lot of pain and where they can’t talk about someone very important to them. Often, the best thing you can do is to ask them about that person or how they’re feeling but follow their lead on this.
Never offer comparisons
While your impulse might be to say, ‘it will be alright’, or ‘it’s like the time I lost my rabbit’, these are not helpful comments. Unfortunately, when someone has died it has already ‘not been alright’. Likewise, it is folly to compare grief and it can (unintentionally) come across as though you are undermining their pain.
Be sympathetic and listen, but don’t claim to understand, and don’t try to reassure them that it’s ‘not that bad’. Just be there to listen.
The offer of a meal out, a movie, or a walk in the park to your friend or relative might allow them to forget their troubles for a while. Again, follow their lead. Don’t treat them as though they’re made of glass because sometimes a bit of normality is exactly what they need.
I hope this post has given you food for thought both as someone who has lost someone close or in the supporting role of someone who has. I would be most grateful if you share this post.