Facing life after loss
“Grief affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” said Pete Shrock, co-founder of Legacy Navigator, who has trained counselors working with families of 9/11 and of Sandy Hook victims. “You can either embrace grief and participate with it, or you can act like it’s not in the room with you,” he said.
Shrock recalled working with a terminally ill cancer patient who had her coffin delivered to her house several weeks before she died. She knew her children (fifth- and eighth-graders) would need a relationship with the fact of her dying, so she gave them a tangible way to participate, he explained. The kids painted her coffin and sewed things inside of it. “It facilitated significant conversations,” he said.
“Anger, sadness, fear, frustration, happiness – all surface during grief. It can be overwhelming,” he said, adding that acceptance doesn’t mean you won’t experience sadness or anger.
How long does it last? “One year is only one Christmas,” he said. “It’s all relative. Even 10 years out from a loss, a smell or a song can trigger it.”
Kristen Emerson, bereavement counselor with Bon Secours Hospice, stressed that it’s important to stay connected with deceased loved ones on their birthdays, anniversaries and other special days. “It helps to do something intentional to acknowledge that person’s life. Part of healing is continuing that bond,” she said. “The relationship doesn’t have to stop.”
She said one family wrote messages on balloons and released them at the gravesite to say goodbye to their loved one. Another woman gives away cash equal to her husband’s age each year on his birthday. Once she put it in an envelope and put it under the wiper blade of someone’s car as a random act of kindness, Emerson said.
She noted that grief is the thoughts and feelings inside after a loss. Mourning is actively doing something to get the grief out.
For other resources on grief, check out these links from previous BOOMER articles:
- Coping with Grief Through the Holidays
- Where Love Was, Grief Often Remains
- Facing the End of Life
- The Searing Pain of Grief
In the past two years, Paula Neely has experienced the near-death of her husband, the unexpected death of her mother-in-law, the death of her father-in-law, following one day in hospice, and the loss of a lifelong friend. She values the willingness of her family to discuss and prepare for future crises and deaths.