Friday, November 18, 2011

Grief Management

I'm a planner.  My workout clothes are set out the night before, as are everything we will need for breakfast in the morning.  I plan out the week with long to-do lists and jot down notes on calendars.  I typically start packing one or two weeks before leaving for a trip.  Any spontaneous acts are carefully thought out prior to execution.  This has worked pretty well for me and for the most part, I feel in control of most aspects of my life.

With one glaring exception.  How does one plan - emotionally - for the death of a friend or loved one?  Up until recently thoughts of this kind have not intruded upon the placid rhythm of my life.  I've yet to have experience with the death of a close family member.  But, the past year has been a rocky one for both my family and myself and for several of my dear friends.  Two of my friends have recently lost parents.  Kin and kind have been marred by serious illness.  A member of my own family came alarmingly close to losing his life and the battle is not yet over.

Yes, there are things to do: understand the wishes of those close to us, write up wills or requests, get the Power of Attorney and Advanced Care Directive in order - and there is some kind of comfort in accomplishing these "administrative" tasks, if only because it takes ones mind off of the wrenching, emotional aspect of the passing of someone we hold dear.

If only there were a way to mitigate the crush of sorrow.  Maybe, like taking a tiny sip of poison each day in the hopes of gaining immunity from its deadly effects, one could bear a small dose of grief everyday so that by the time the crisis comes, one isn't overwhelmed by the black and bleak weight of loss.  If only that kind of planning were possible.  I'm afraid even if it that small act was performed devotedly - taking that tiny, bitter dose every day - that it would never diminish the flood that comes after losing a loved one.  It is proper, really.  The heavier the sorrow, the deeper the love; the harder the loss, the sweeter the impact that loved one had on life.


  1. Illness and death can certainly blindside you. My brother was diagnosed with stage 4 renal cancer this summer. We had not been particularly close for quite some time. Still, it hit me much harder than I would have predicted. I've was able to travel to be with him for a couple of his surgeries, and things have gone well so far, but it's still wrenching when I let myself think beyond the next step of treatment. Best wishes to you with the challenges you face.

  2. I'm a planner to an extent. But also a great procrastinator.

    I lost my grandma 3 months ago. She was the first person really close to me (and my family), that we've lost. I have a small family and she had been having more bad days than good days this year. I was really worried about her when her hearing was going (89 years old) and she couldn't even hear me any more.

    i had a gut feeling she wouldn't make it through the end of this year. It's an emotional roller coaster. Everyone in my family dealt with the loss of her different, it was interesting. It's difficult for me to be logical during that time. We just wanted everything to be over. Wanted the people to go away, I felt the need to be "on" all the time. People coming and going to send their condolences. It made it hard to plan the services. It was like throwing a mini wedding together in a short amount of time.

    I learned that even though the month of August was a total blur and my life stopped for 2 weeks straight because nothing else mattered. But it was ok. I had to go through it all. It was really important to have a support group to help you through it all.

    Wow i'm getting emotional as I write this.

    Either way, just learn to take care of yourself. Yes it's hard, but be patient with yourself. It's a part of life, but I've learned to be thankful for the time I had with her. The holidays will be difficult without her physically and it's been hitting me slowly over the last couple days.

    You can't plan everything in life. Things do not always happen the way we want. Be grateful for all those moments with loved ones, even those difficult ones.. Life is so short. Best of luck with things. Sorry for the long post!

  3. People do "pre-grieve," because the brain can't distinguish between imagined and actual loss. I'm not sure preparing for death is the best use of life. Mithridates may have died old, but they didn't say he died happy.

  4. The best thing is to face FACTS - not shove them under the metaphorical carpet. Death is a natural process from the day we are ALL born. It's just the WAY of death that differs from one person to another.

    One cannot plan for it - one knows not the day or hour. But accept that it is going to happen to you, and your family - whether close or not - and then prepare in the same way that you plan for a journey (for it is a sort of journey, isn't it?)

    For many years, indeed since it was first started in the UK in the 1960's, I've been a great supporter of the Hospice movement, where palliative medicine is offered and those preparing to leave this world (often in great pain) are helped to cope with that pain so that they and the family can cope when the eventual separation occurs. One could do worse than to volunteer to help in one of these institutions - if one is close by - because they've got the spiritual advice factors well in hand. That's a practical way for you to find out what you may be facing and how to cope in your own way.

    Since 1997, I've been living with the knowledge that my husband (of 42 years) is probably going to face an agonising journey before he is delivered - but, as he's a cussed fighter, he's coping wonderfully and teaching me how to cope for him (and myself) in the process. Sometimes, I (and I know he) pray that he will go before that pain gets too difficult to bear - because he cannot take pain killers (other than morphine and its derivatives, and they can be counter-productive). N-saids long ago attacked his gut and they're out.

    Of course, at 71, we're both nearer the end of our lives than those of you who have commented here, so we've had our lives as it were, and the end is nearer for us than for some of you and your friends and family.

    It helps massively that we both have a strong, Catholic faith. Frankly don't know how folks cope without something like that to hang on to - but it also helps to be able to talk with complete strangers. Which is where this format comes in - I've made some superb friends via blogging, Etsy and Facebook/Twitter, with whom I can share a little of the load. It has helped immensely to put this down today, for example!

    Have wittered on enough: hope some of these thoughts have helped you all. Best wishes - and prayers (they're an enormous help - try it, even if you're not in the habit of the practice!) Isobel

  5. I lost my dear Mum six years ago when she was still very young. She came to visit me on holiday and suddenly passed away. She was gone in three days, from the beginning of her illness 'till the end.
    Everything was 'organised' but still I wish we'd done some things differently. All I can say is that that you're never fully prepared and you never, ever get over it completely.
    I miss her terribly...

  6. I have been pre-grieving the death of my parents for as long as I can remember. I have accepted that worrying is part of my genetic make-up. Unfortunately, it did not, in any way, shape, or form, reduce the horrible pain of their deaths--both within the past year.

    And I cannot tell you how many times I wished to myself, and even expressed to my Dad not long before he died, that losing them would have been so much easier had I not loved them so deeply. Yep, I know it sounds silly and unappreciative of my wonderful relationship with Mom and Dad, but there are times when I hurt so badly and so intensely that it is just how I feel.

    Mom and Dad both said, repeatedly, that death is a fact of life. I don't care and it doesn't diminish the destruction in my soul.


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