by Dr. Joyce Scott, Family Physician
“Death is going to be an awful big adventure,” Peter Pan.
And just like that the one you love is gone.
The only ones that know about death are those in the grave and they are not talking. There is a sense of mystery and wonder about death. Like death, grief is a personal and individual experience. The very moment that you experience the death of a loved one, and the grief that follows, will forever be etched in your heart and mind. Years may pass marking another anniversary of their death, but the memory is as fresh as the day it happened.
At the tender age of 19 years my son died. While sitting at his bedside the noise of the ventilator and medical equipment broke the silence of fear. I would talk to him and whisper “I love you.” I probably prayed more during those two days than all the rest of my life combined. I found hope and comfort in other families in the waiting room that were experiencing similar problems. Strange but the doctors never gave us hope. The first time that I met the neurosurgeon he shook my hand and then told me, “Your son has zero chances.” Once when I saw a tear fall from my son’s eye I became overwhelmed and said, “He heard me.” The nurse scowled at me, “That is not a tear. That is fluid from where his brain is swelling. He can’t hear you.” I gently wiped the tear from his eye and whispered, “Rawlin, it’s mom. I love you.”
Hope is personal, providing comfort and softening the blow for bad news to follow. Taking away someone’s hope is like a thief in the night stealing a precious treasure. People look to the sky and search for a loved one. Somehow that sense of a Heaven above is where we might find them. Someone said to me “Rawlin is in a better place.” I looked at her, stretched out my arms and replied, “What better place for a child than in the arms of his mother that loves him.” Longing to see, feel, touch or just to sense their presence one more time lingers. I still believe my son heard me. Even if he didn’t, I would still want the last words that I spoke to my son to be “I love you Rawlin.”
I often heard phrases “time heals all pain”, “you will get over it,” and “you have two other children to take his place”. Once I replied, “Time does not help. It only reinforces that Rawlin is not coming back. You can get over a fence but you will not ‘get over “a death”. “No one, not even one of my other children will replace Rawlin.” To suggest that he can be replaced is to say in essence that he really didn’t matter anyway, his life was of little value, with no purpose because another can take his place. As the mother of three, each child occupies their own space and place in my heart and the family. People have said, “I know just how you feel.” But, how can anyone ‘know’ another person’s thoughts and feelings? I’ve also heard, “It could have been worse.” I find it strange that during grief we have to imagine some horrible incident that could be worse so that death doesn’t seem so bad after all.
In this day of mass communications, internet frenzies, viral sensation, most trending events, tweeting, blogging, and even Facebook it is easy to get swept away in a cloud of confusion. We feel the pressure to say something. “I am sorry” or “I am sorry that this has happened to you” are simple ways to convey sympathy. Often, a gentle caress, sincere hug and even a tearful gaze from another can comfort and show compassion and sympathy. Sometimes you say it best when you say nothing at all.
“And all the king’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.” Powerless over death. We hear phrases like, “I would drown saving my child. I would die saving my child.” All of my medical training and education could not save my own child’s life. It is difficult to not feel like a failure. I did not swim fast enough to save my son. “No man is an island, we are all a part of the main.” Death and grief changes who we are. I told my daughter, “I will never be the woman that I was before Rawlin died.” My daughter now had two mothers: the mother she knew before Rawlin died and the mother she lives with now after he died.
I heard this advice, “Stop living in the past.” That is where my son is….in the past. The only way that I can be with him is to return to the past. Move on.
How can we ease the pain and try to assemble the pieces to our shattered heart and life after the death of our loved one? Is there hope and peace beyond the grave? The answer is yes. It may take more effort and energy than required by Atlas while holding up the weight of the world, but it is doable.
1. Throw away all the misconceptions and misinformation from standardized grief processes. Avoid getting caught up in rules, steps to climb, stages to successfully pass through. The path of grief is a long and winding road that takes us on a journey for the broken heart.
2. Throw down your armor and weapon along with your shield from pain. Loss makes us vulnerable. Realize that it is okay to be sad. It is okay to cry. One sincere listener can ease much pain. Allow the sympathizing heart of others to share the sorrow. It may be becoming weak that we survive to be strong.
3. Find strength in others while making time for being alone. Sometimes it is normal to seek our own solitude and quiet in order to appreciate the relationship shared with the lost loved one. As a mother I am reminded that I was not the only one that lost a son. My husband did also. My other children lost their brother.
4. Allow yourself to have freedom from pain without feeling guilty. It is okay to smile again; to laugh again; to rejoin life again.
5. Take care of yourself. Maintain nutrition and sleep. Try to get some form of physical exercise such as walking. Often our physical body suffers along with our emotional self.
6. If the time continues without going toward a healing process, there are professionals which can be instrumental. Counseling provides a safe time to ventilate feelings while receiving a sense of trust and unconditional caring support.
7. Although there is no such thing as a ‘miracle pill’ or remedy, there are many new medications available which also have added benefits to assist through emotional turmoil and situations. Symptoms of sleeplessness, anxiety, sadness, and lack of motivation for routine daily living can be improved with medication. Speak to a healthcare provider with concerns and possible prescription medication.
Joyce E. Scott, D.O.
Board Certified Family Practice, author and motivational speaker
Information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical consultation or serve as a substitute for medical advice provided by a physician or qualified medical professional.