Discovering My Personal Preferences in Coping with Loss

This past week I lost a relative that I used to be close with. It’s been very difficult for me to express in words what sort of an impact the situation has had on me, but I’ve learned a few things and grown as a result of the experience.

If you were wondering as to why we’ve been absent lately, it’s because I had a relative pass the beginning of last week. Trevor and I decided to take the time from the internet to grieve, reflect, and recover. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the situation, but rather share what I feel is important to set the scene. I’d like to try to respect the privacy of my family as much as possible, while still being able to address this topic in an appropriate way.

Just to be clear, I haven’t experienced anything like this before. I’d been to two other funerals for people I was related to, but didn’t know very well at all–I didn’t share memories with them, or truthfully know them. Were they sad? Yes, I personally believe death is always sad, but there wasn’t really a profound impact on me emotionally. This passing was the first person I was close to, which was a significantly different experience.

I also want to apologize in advance if anything I say isn’t as eloquent as it should be. Death is a very difficult subject to discuss, especially as I’m addressing things I’ve personally realized through suffering a loss. I did my best to say things as politely and respectfully as possible, and if I didn’t achieve that, I am sorry. I’ve tried my best to be respectful and humbly ask for the same. Additionally, if you have any comments related to the subject matter, please try to be thoughtful and sensitive to the feelings of others in the comments. Thank you.

We All Accept Loss Differently

When my relative, who had been involved in the majority of my childhood, passed they’d been suffering from Alzheimers for years and in a coma for several days; I was actually away for a potential job at training and had gone for my final visit to my relative two days prior to their death. Initially I felt extremely guilty for leaving town, even if it was for work. I entered into an extremely low emotional state and decided I would head home, regardless of the consequences. Now I’ve left out a lot of details, but here’s the gist of how I handled the loss: felt really low and asked not to be left alone due to personal history, cried, slept for three hours, and canceled my training commitment. After everyone I was with at the hotel had left, I finally had my first moment alone. In total, I had an hour (the first half of which I cried, the second half I got ready for the day and packed my belongings to leave the room). After, I became very cold and closed-off in order to overcome the emotional hurdles.

To be 100% truthful, I’m still in this stage. I think about my relative throughout the day: I look at photos, I remember different experiences we’d had, I think about highs and lows that they were present for through my life, I remember the good and the bad that I’d seen in their life. All of it comes in and out of my thoughts, like a tide, leaving me feel more and more empty.

That’s how I handled the death, which is different than how the rest of my family took the news. We all have different memories and we all had different relationships with the person we lost, plus we all think in different ways, which results in different ways of coping. Some of us felt the need to pull close together, others of us felt the drive to be alone, but in the end I feel we all tried to be there for each other as we needed to and be respectful of all our needs.

This is what is most important when we lose someone in order to try to make recovery as seamless as possible for all parties, to recognize that we all handle the situation differently and grieve in a way that feels best to ourselves. At the same time being there, or not being there, for others as needed is equally as important. It isn’t a time to be selfish, or callous, regardless of relationship standings.

Moving forward, I’m going to try to be better at keeping others in mind. In the past I found the situation daunting, and I wasn’t sure how to be available to people around me suffering and grieving. Now, I’m not afraid at all and feel better capable to be there, or not be there, in the future.

Words Might Be Hard to Come By

I stayed close to my immediate family at the viewing and tried to be as supportive as possible to them. As mentioned above, I didn’t really handle the news well and I felt being supportive rather than social was a better option for me. I stayed quiet, engaging in polite conversation as needed, and I noticed something very interesting: people in attendence didn’t always know how to act, or what to say, so they resort to the typical phrases instead of offering up something personalized.

More often than not I heard “my condolences,” or “I’m so sorry for your loss.” This gesture is always extremely appreciated, but I personally found them cold and distancing. Often less is more, and that’s perhaps why those phrases are go-to, but I found that I was touched more by personalized condolences. People that knew my family member and had something to say related to their likes, interests, or personality, made me feel like they better understood what my family and I were going through.

I hope some of this makes sense, as I’ve had quite a difficult time working out the wording for this section as to not come across as condescending, especially because that’s not how I feel at all. Again, I’m not dismissing the go-to phrases in times of loss, as sometimes its all anyone can offer, which I sympathize and empathize with and whole-heartedly accept is a natural and polite thing to do. The bottom line is, I felt personalized condolences were more heartfelt and empathetic, as is the case in plenty of other life experiences, which is what I will aim to do for others going through loss in the future. This is just something I wouldn’t have realized without being put in this situation and I’m grateful to have learned this lesson so early in my life, I just could have done without the circumstances…

Life Keeps Going

One of the hardest things to understand for me was that life keeps moving forward. I know it sounds a little silly, but let me explain myself. Although it has been over a week, I’ve maintained my sloppy attitude. Personal hygiene? Only executed if I’m leaving the house. Leaving the house? Only if I’ve got multiple reasons to go. Eating? Eh, haven’t been the greatest with that when I’m left to my own devices. My relative is gone, and they’re going to be gone for the rest of my life. People always say nice things, like “take the time you need,” but the reality is that my relative probably would have told me to stand up straight, smile, and move on.

Yesterday I really began to do that, more so out of necessity, but I’ve officially had a kick in the pants. The reality of life is that it doesn’t stop for you, regardless of how you’re feeling, in any situation. Rising to meet the occasion as completely and quickly as possible, I believe, is the healthiest thing to do. I say that now, but who knows how I’ll be coping with loss in the future.

Perhaps all we each can really do is give it our best shot to get back up on our feet as gracefully as possible, logically that’s all we can do. We have to remember while we’re understanding loss that life marches on while we grieve, not just with our families or within our homes, but nationally and globally.

The reality of life is that we’re all apart of something great, something to miraculous and amazing, and we’re very lucky to be where we are. The reality is also that one day we won’t be part of something great anymore, that we’ll each exit this lifetime in our own way. It’s a sad ebb and flow that makes living what it is.

I’m deeply humbled and grateful for these things that I’ve learned and I hope that moving forward I can be the best version of myself possible, I just really could have done without the circumstances.

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