Accepting the reality of death is complex, and the pain of grief is unbearable. To begin the grief healing journey, one must learn to accept the reality of the loss. After a loved one’s death, most people feel a sense of shock or disbelief in the reality of what has happened.
Our minds get filled with unending thoughts. Still, the one that tops the list following the aftermath is usually thoughts like,
“This can’t be happening,” or “we spoke recently, how can…...” or “I can’t believe ‘name of loved one’ is really gone” or “How can I survive this?” and “Is what I am going through normal?”
This continuous loop of disbelief can cause anyone grieving to be stuck in the grief avoidance phase or denial stage of grief, as coined by Elisabeth Kubler Ross.
Recommended reading: What are the stages of grief?
The death of a loved one is so life-changing and painful that we often struggle to fully accept deep in our hearts that the death of our loved one is actual. ‘Imagining’ that our loved one is still alive appears to give us time to get used to the idea.
The intellectual side of accepting our loved one’s death is a lot less complicated than our emotional side. Our head believes that our loved one has died, but our heart still struggles with this reality.
This constant switch between our head and heart triggers shock and numbness. It is one reason we find ourselves exhausted in the days and weeks after the death of our loved ones.
Shock and numbness are a self-defence mechanism that protects our emotions from the enormity of what has happened, allowing us to cope immediately after learning about the death of our loved one.
If a loved one’s death was sudden or, in particular, violent, the typical reaction is shock and numbness.
It is probably tempting to assume that those whose loved ones’ death was anticipated would find it easier to deal with the aftermath and would not be shocked as they have had the time to accept that their loved one would die.
On the contrary, the actual end of life can still come as an enormous shock.
What shock and numbness do is cause us to avoid accepting that our loved one has died. So, this early part of the grieving journey is essential, and it’s where we must recognise and acknowledge that death has occurred.
Often, we use alternative words like ‘kicked the bucket,’ ‘no longer here,’ ‘passed on’, etc., to acknowledge and accept the reality of our loss. Whilst those words may be helpful, they still haven’t acknowledged what has happened.
We must learn to use the absolute word, the ‘d’ word. ‘Death’, ‘Died.’ Otherwise, we’ll remain in this phase of emotional avoidance.
What happens in the emotional avoidance phase?
The avoidance phase is the point at which you may not or be reluctant to understand what has happened entirely. This means that you may know that your loved one has died, but a part of you still struggles to accept this as reality.
What can I do to relieve shock and numbness?
Remember that the feelings of shock and numbness when grieving are normal, even necessary. It is an essential part of this journey. The thing about shock and numbness is that it never lasts forever.
They are there to help. Otherwise, your system will go into an irreversible overdrive. Think of shock and numbness as the local anaesthetic for a medical procedure. Over time, the effect will naturally fade away.
So, what does it mean to recognise and acknowledge the loss of a loved one?
The thought of living life without our loved ones contributes to making the pain of grief unbearable. We need to be gentle with ourselves and prepare our mind to move forward, to recognise and acknowledge the loss of our loved one.
How do you prepare your mind to move forward through grief? How can you be gentle with yourself?
Below are my suggestions on what one can do to move forward through grief and to be gentle with yourself.
Let others take care of you. I know this one may be a difficult one for you, but please let others take care of you.
Accept any offer of support that’s within reason
Take one day at a time. When taking one day at a time becomes difficult, take one hour at a time. When one hour becomes difficult, take one minute at a time and when one 1-minute becomes difficult, just focus and take one breath at a time.
Recommended reading: Understanding Grief, Loss and Bereavement
Moving forward through grief reminds me of a line from a nursery rhyme, we’re going on a bear hunt written by Michael Rosen.
Grass! Long wavy grass.
(I replaced mine with grief life changing grief)
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it!
The way forward is not around grief, not over grief, not under grief, but the only way forward is to go through grief.
The healing journey truly begins once we are ready to accept that our loved one has died.
Going through grief begins by understanding what happened and genuinely accepting it
Being intentional in your heart that your loved one has gone. Not gone as in returning soon, but gone in the sense not to be physically seen on this side of eternity type.
This is partly why an essential part of the grieving journey is funerals. They have their unique method in helping us accept that our loved one’s death is actual and that they are indeed really gone, allowing us to accept the death of a loved one as a part of life.
Proper understanding and accepting a loved one’s death is about understanding intellectually, and emotionally acknowledging the loss.
It can also mean accepting how much they meant to you and the effect their loss will have on your life. That understanding part can be challenging with certain types of losses.
I found from my experience that one should recognise and acknowledge the primary loss, which is the death of the loved one followed by the secondary losses attached to the person’s absence, to accept the reality of the loss of a spouse fully
I believe that grieving the loss of a loved one is an active process that we must engage with so that our healing journey can truly begin.
Please remember that you are still welcome to register for the bereavement support group, starting on the 25th of March, if you haven't already done so.
To Be Continued Next Wednesday...
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below. Thank you.