The current experience of loss may be as painful as it gets.  Thinking about all of the events surrounding the loss, life without the loved one, next steps…it’s all so much.  And if that isn’t bad enough, you get inundated with thoughts of other deaths, or other losses… leaving you raw and exhausted.

Grief builds on past losses.  They accumulate.  The feelings that arise- the sadness, the anger, the guilt, the hopelessness, the anxiety, fear, maybe even relief- emerge. Images of times in your past where you felt those feelings flood your brain.  So now on top of this most recent excruciating loss come the others, one by one.  For some reason you think you have moved along from those but here they are, back again.

And it’s not just the sad feelings. It’s all of the other feelings that surface.  Anger about so many things: the way the person died, the last words that were said. Disappointment over not having the time to do things that you talked about doing.  Guilt over not spending enough time with the person. Shame over not recognizing symptoms sooner or acting in a way that brings regret.

My dad survived his standard simple surgery just fine.  None of us expected that a few days later he would die.  No one in my family was able to see him one last time, or say goodbye. We were not ready for him to pass away.  There were so many words still left to say!  So many more experiences we wanted to have with him.  So many questions regarding so many things!

When this happened, I started thinking about the other people in my life who had died. I felt  guilty about my grandmother and the cruise I never took her on. I felt the shock of the friend who due to long standing health issues came close to dying several times but this time actually did. Then images of another friend who became ill and passed away quickly. I felt pleased that I was able to travel to his home and give him some flowers the day before he died, tell him that I loved him and would miss him.  Going into the florist and asking for help to give my friend flowers on his last day alive was surreal. And even though I was able to say goodbye to him, I still felt angry and cheated that he left without at least a few more experiences shared.

It is ok and expected – the “other” losses- to arise and be recognized.  As painful as they are, you can acknowledge them without taking away anything from the current horrid loss.  The feelings will come and go, intensity ebbing and flowing like waves in the ocean.  Let them ride through, as difficult as they are to experience.  A song, a sporting event, a movie, a vacation, a book, a letter, a talk with someone-these can activate your thoughts and feelings surrounding the death. Showing yourself some grace and compassion is needed now.  Accepting support and comfort helps as you continue forward.  Periods of respite, however brief, allow the next steps-minutes to hours to days to weeks to months to years- to evolve.  Remind yourself gently there is no wrong or right way to grieve.  Remind yourself that there is no timeline.  Remind yourself that there is hope to come, calm and peace woven in this life- one moment at a time.

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