To tell just when the hands will stop,
on what day or what hour.
Now is the only time you have,
So live it with a will.
Don't wait until tomorrow,
The hands may then be still.
The most painful emotional trauma in life is the death of a loved
one. Our society denies the seriousness of death; we sometimes think
the grieving person should "get over it" and be back at work in a
couple of weeks. The truth is the sadness lasts for years, flaring up on
special occasions and anniversaries. One in six of us lose a parent
before we are eighteen (Bernstein, 1977); such people have a 35%-
40% chance of becoming depressed later in life. At the time of death,
it may be even sadder when the dying person is young and has not
gotten to finish living his/her life. But, in general, the closer we were
to the deceased, the longer the grieving takes. There is a saying,
"When your parent dies, you lose a part of yesterday. When your child
dies, you lose a lot of tomorrow."
Facing a loved one's death is not only hard; it is complex. St.
Augustine observed that grief is a mixture of sorrow and joy--joy that
one is still alive and had shared one's life with the deceased and
sorrow to have one's life diminished by the loss of the loved one
(Grollman, 1974a). Lots of other feelings may be involved too: shock,
denial of the death or obsessed with it, anger towards others even the
deceased, self-criticism and guilt, abandonment, vulnerability, fatigue,
confusion, embarrassment, difficulty talking to others, fear of going
crazy (things may seem unreal and it isn't uncommon to think one has
seen or heard the deceased), dread of our own death, relief in some
ways, and so on. A grieving person may also have many of the
symptoms of depression mentioned early in this chapter. These
feelings are normal, but they must be "worked through."
We never really "get over" a death of a loved one. Indeed, about
25% of widows are still seriously depressed one year later. Even with a
good adjustment, it is normal to feel a wave of sadness engulf us
occasionally, e.g. when we see something that belonged to the
deceased or on a holiday. We do get to the point that sadness doesn't
overwhelm us and we carry on with our lives.
This "working through" of grief takes several weeks for some and
months for others. One has to build a new reality, a new life. Experts
suggest that you start by accepting reality--that the person is dead
and never coming back. Express your grief if you can, avoid drugs,
and avoid "throwing yourself into work," although keeping busy is a
good idea. The Bible says, "Weep with those who weep." This is your
grief work. Share your memories, good and bad. For some, however, it
will be easier to remember and release their feelings alone. Get back