No matter who we are, there will eventually (and sometimes far too frequently) come a time when we experience the heartache of the loss of a loved one. In the work that I do as a shaman, I often help people through this type of situation. It does not matter to me how long a person takes to grieve or to heal, as long as they are doing the work of that. Sometimes that looks like laying in bed for days and crying. Sometimes it looks like needing to go for coffee with friends and not having to talk about the loss. Sometimes it looks like confiding in a friend, colleague or counselor your deepest feelings about it. Wherever a person is at on their journey, I do my best to softly encourage them to keep doing the work of healing, whether that is with me or somebody else (it really doesn’t matter because we are all a part of your healing team).
Now, I must say that it is rare that I actually know the person who has passed away. It definitely helps if I do, but most often I do not. Someone could be a client for 10 or more years and, although I may have heard about a loved one, I may never have met their loved one in person. I usually begin like this:
“I am so sorry for your loss. Tell me who they were for YOU. Help to bring their life to light for me, as I did not know them as you knew them.” This statement is actually useful even if I did in fact know the person, because none of us know anybody the way everyone or anyone else in that person’s life knew them. That is why wakes and opportunities to share stories at funerals is so important. It helps people to get to know even more about the person who has passed. Simple quirky little tidbit stories can help shed light on so much when we were not there ourselves to witness the stories unfold.
This also helps everyone to understand the many twists and turns of a person’s relationship with the deceased. Let’s face it, nobody is a saint and nobody is only a sinner. There are many aspects to each person’s personality and character that are present, even if they are only shown to a precious few. For example, at a funeral I attended for someone I knew who, as I knew them, struggled so much with inner demons and struck out at so many, was also one of the most soft-hearted and kind parent that their children could ever have hoped for. Those kinds of dualities exist. And no matter what the relationship was, you have a right to feel however it is you feel about them after they are gone.
So often we are told how we are supposed to grieve, when we are supposed to grieve, how long we are allowed to grieve and so on. All of that is total bunk. Each person will grieve in their own way. It does not matter what family or what culture you are from. Although certain traditions might prevail, the actual process of grief will take its time with each individual. Yes, there are things that can be done that will ease that process. But when and how they are done is, again, up to each person.
People will often be asked harsh questions like, “Well, it’s been two years now. Are you not over this yet?” How ignorant. Grief shaming is a thing that happens to far too many people. Just because someone is doing it differently or for a longer period of time than yourself does not give you any right to shame them about their process. If one is coming at all from a place of compassion, one would instead be asking them questions such as, “I see this is affecting you deeply. How can I help you?”
Remember that any fool can criticize, condemn and complain…and THEY usually do.
So, what types of things can help to ease the process? First off, remember that you do not have to do all, or even any, of these suggestions. These are just ideas that, over the many years of practice and the far too many moments of loss in my own life, I have found to be useful:
1. Talk about it. Even if it is talking to a complete stranger. Talking about the loss and how it has affected you personally helps you to process the event of the loss and the craziness that can follow the loss, such as the business of the estate and so on.
2. Make a list of the things that have to be done today, knowing that you might not get any of it accomplished. If you only get one thing on that list done, that is great. The list will be waiting for you tomorrow as well. This list also helps you to prioritize what is important over what is not.
3. Take time to just stay in bed and let the world go by. Sometimes when we are having to deal with funeral arrangements and estate issues there are so many demands placed on us that, eventually, we will crash and burn. So before you crash and burn, take a day. Take two if you need them. Then, after feeling somewhat refreshed from the rest, get back up and get on with life and the rest of your list.
4. If you are a creative type, do some creative work. Drawing, painting, writing, composing and so on helps us to process stuff.
5. Attend to whatever pets or plants you have. It is so easy during this time to forget to feed the cat or walk the dog or water the plants. Make a schedule and have a reminder on your phone that will prompt you to do some of those basic things.
6. While you are at it with the pets and plants, put a reminder in your phone for yourself to eat, drink water, have a coffee, pour a glass of wine, and whatever else keeps you going. Reminders to have a shower or bath are also useful. It is the mundane things that will elude us when we are in shock. Those are the reminders we will actually find useful.
7. Make a list of all the things you appreciated about the deceased. Also make a list of all of your grievances that are not resolved. People often say, “You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.” But speaking truth of the dead is necessary, even if others prefer to keep their heads in the sand. I attended a funeral once where the son of the deceased stood up and said, “My father was an abusive asshole.” Audible gasps echoed through the funeral home. But then he added, “And even though he was an abusive asshole, he also taught me how to tie my shoe laces, how to catch a football, and how to present myself properly when going on a date. And for those things, I will always be grateful.” Everyone’s hearts melted at that point. And many were expressing their appreciation for his words afterwards. Yes, some were furious. But those people really do not matter. This man was HONEST about his relationship with his dad. For that he can always be proud.
8. If you have children, it is important to talk to them about death and how this particular death has affected you. That way they will come to understand what they need to do if and when it is their time to grieve, which they likely will already be doing if they also knew the deceased.
9. Allow yourself to cry. Even if it was not your favorite person who passed, if you were close to the person you can feel the feelings and allow yourself to express them. And if anyone feels uncomfortable with that then they can leave the room.
There are also a few things that I should mention about what NOT to do when someone is grieving.
1. Do NOT shame them for whatever feelings they are having, expressing, or processing. Don’t be a jerk.
2. Do NOT blame a person for the death of the deceased. The fact that someone has died is most often nobody’s fault at all. And if someone had the unfortunate experience of discovering a dead person, they are NOT TO BLAME for the death of that person. So don’t be a jerk.
3. If someone is widowed, do NOT horn in on them like a vulture. Their grief is NOT your opportunity to date them, bed them, or to try to get a piece of the inheritance. Don’t be a jerk.
4. Do NOT demand money from someone who is grieving. I do not care what your circumstance is, you have no right to even contemplate asking for money from someone who is vulnerable and grieving, even if you are also grieving. That fact does not give you the right to be a jerk. So, don’t be a jerk.
5. Do NOT give a grieving person meaningless platitudes such as, “He’s in a better place.” Your belief in such things is not something to be inflicted upon others. And it might make you feel better, but it will more likely rub salt in the wound of the grieving person. So again, don’t be a jerk.
These are just a few of the things we need to keep in mind when experiencing loss or trying to be supportive of someone else during their time of loss. It is a bit of an art form, but it is one that can be easily learned and applied.