Coping with the loss of a loved one
Mary Davolt and her husband Raymond had discussed the topic of death. The couple, who was married for 73 years, had even made funeral arrangements. “We knew it was inevitable, especially at our age,” Mary says. “We definitely talked about it.”
Still, when Raymond passed away on March 31, 2011, Mary says she was not ready for the flood of emotions.
“You are never prepared,” she says. “It’s so sudden and final that it leaves you devastated. Having been married that long, it just seemed like we were one. It was very difficult.”
While death is an unavoidable part of life, most are not prepared to handle the emotional and physical toll of grief, according to bestselling author and motivational speaker Brook Noel.
Following the tragic loss of her 27-year-old brother Caleb, Noel sought resources to help her cope.
“I went to the bookstore to find something, but there wasn’t anything available,” Noel says. “So I set out to write something people could use.”
Teaming with Dr. Pamela Blair, Noel authored “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing after the Sudden Death of a Loved One”, which has become one of the foremost authorities on the topic.
In her book, Noel writes, “When Caleb died … all I wanted to do was to curl up in my bed, hide from the world, and have something or someone convince me it would, someday, be all right again. We cannot offer you any quick fixes. … What we can promise is that in these pages we will do our best to offer you a hand to hold and words to guide you through this unfamiliar maze.”
From her first-hand experience, Noel offers the following sage advice for those coping with the loss of a loved one:
Feel your feelings
Noel likens grief to having bypass surgery. Immediately after surgery, and while grieving, your mind and body are likely to be exhausted.
“You wouldn’t just get up and expect yourself to do a bunch of things right after surgery,” Noel says. “Grief is the same thing. You need time, you need more sleep. A lot of things we take for granted are more difficult and more challenging.” Aside from initial shock, emotions are likely to include sadness, anger, disorientation, lack of coordination and more, Noel said. “It’s important to remember that grief doesn’t have a timeframe,” she adds. “A lot of society pushes us to get back into our routines and move on, but grief isn’t a neat and tidy process. Sometimes a journey can take years. We must be cognizant of that.”
Find a “shadow person”
Even the simplest tasks, like turning off the stove or remembering to take your medication, can become challenging after the loss of a loved one. Noel recommends finding a “shadow person” who can be with you as much as possible. This person can help with daily chores or making key decisions such as funeral arrangements.
Davolt says she found immense comfort when surrounded by friends and family. “People react differently, but when others are talking to you in the aftermath, sometimes you don’t realize how comforting it is until you are by yourself. People don’t think they can say anything to help, but they can.”
Build a support system
Be aware that your normal social network may not be able to provide adequate support, and you may have to seek it elsewhere. For example, many couples enjoy doing activities with other couples. When one spouse passes away, an awkward dynamic is often created within the group, which adds stress to the relationship. People who can relate to your feelings can help in the grieving process.
“They can become a beacon when it seems like life will not get any better,” Noel says. “You start to realize ‘I can get to that point. Yes, it will be different, but it can be good as well.’”
If you aren’t aware of anyone within your current social network who can share their experience with you, consider reaching out to local support groups.
Mary and Raymond were fortunate to already be living in a retirement community, which provided a built-in support system for Mary. She was comforted by speaking to other residents who had also lost long-time spouses. “I really don’t know how I would have coped if I had been going home by myself,” Davolt says. “Talking to lots of people in the same position as me helped a lot.”
Recognize “trigger days”
Even 15 years after her brother’s passing, certain days like his birthday or the anniversary of his death evoke intensified feelings of grief for Noel. She urges people to recognize these dates and to be extra vigilant in their self care. “A lot of people think they are slipping back into grieving again, but these are normal feelings,” Noel says. “You have to take it easy on these days.”
Honor your loved one
Part of a healthy grieving process is identifying ways to remember your loved one. For instance, consider building a scrapbook or writing a journal to recall all the fond memories you shared. These also make great gifts for grandchildren. You may also choose to do something meaningful that relates to your loved one, like supporting an organization or cause they loved. Finally, you may find that hosting a celebration with family and friends to commemorate milestone dates, such as a birthday or anniversary, is another great way to honor them.
For more information on Brook Noel, visit www.brooknoel.com.