by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac ~
Death has been very close this year. From the sudden loss of my dearest mentor and friend, the passing of my young cousin and godmother to the greatest loss of all, my father. Death has made its presence known.
I have learned this year, that there are really no ways to prepare yourself for the moments when it occurs. You can tell yourself it is forthcoming or try to envision what life would be like without them. You can even prepare your will and estate for such a day, but when the moment arrives, there is no preparation.
On the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, death of a spouse and death of a family member are number 1 and number 5, respectively. In the case of my father, he was ill for over 4 years, so in many ways, my mother, brother and I had time to “prepare”, in some way. With the loss of my mentor, it was very sudden. I felt that we were going to grow much older together and yet, he left this world as quickly as he came into it. In the case of my cousin, her death from breast cancer was a long and painful one. This death seemed unresolved and unfair, while with my godmother, her Alzheimer’s diagnosis left her bed ridden and speechless for years. So in some ways, death was a welcomed relief.
In each case, I found my heart and mind going through an entire range of emotions. Fits of crying one day, then laughing the other. Some days, it would be a conglomeration of both. I also watched as my mother, brother and family expressed their grief in many different ways.
I have learned that there is no right or wrong way in coping with death, only awareness. This awareness has shown me how to understand the process better. By observing how people react and bringing attention to my own responses, I have learned to be conscious of the events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns that present themselves each day.
Grieving such losses are an important part in moving forward. Until we grieve in our own way, we are likely to find the present, a difficult place to live in. The end product of our grief is peace. Getting there does not mean having to drown yourself in tears, feel guilt or anger around the loss or feel like you need to forget in order to move forward. Getting to a place of peace with someone’s transition comes with awareness.
Realization can bring to the forefront, a hard reality. But, it is through this realization that we must rally to its truths. My mom is now alone on a large farm, by herself. I am now made aware of the fact that I have to be there for her, even more. My cousin left a wonderful husband and two children behind. I found it important to try and understand how they must now cope with their loss. My mentor only left his books, work and intellectual properties behind. Helping to keep these projects alive, are now my mission.
With someone’s passing, expectations become evident. But, it is the letting go of these expectations, which will allow you to let the “natural” grieving process unfold. We are geared to handle this process, yet our need to control it, often steps in. We may think that we are suppose to “feel” a certain way or grieve for a certain amount of time. If we release these expectations, observe our own processes and be more aware of them, we will find that grieving is an active process. Grief is ever-changing and constantly evolving.
This active “unfolding” of emotions must allow us to accept the finality of the loss. No two people grieve exactly the same way, but it is important to acknowledge the full range of emotions we experience and to express them in a healthy and balanced manner. This “balance” also gives us a way to adjust our own life, after our loved one is no longer with us. As we tend to pour all our efforts into finalizing our loved ones’ wishes and consequently, not giving ourselves adequate nourishment, attention or even love.
Accept help when it is offered. Talk about your situation with someone you trust. Give yourself time with things you love. Try to maintain healthy eating and sleep habits. Journal about your experience or help someone else with a project or plan. These acts of self-balance will help you to grieve naturally without control, expectations or feeling you have to grieve by any set of rules, other than your own!