When someone we love dearly dies, the world as it was has changed forever, Effectively individuals and families have to re-learn and create a ‘new normal’.
The process is what we understand as grieving … To create a ‘new normal’ requires fully absorbing that the ‘old’ cannot be, experiencing whatever feelings and thoughts arise as a result and gradually becoming accustomed to a changed reality.
Grief is both a private, individual process and a social one in that it occurs within the context of family, community and the broader social world.
Initially, the rawness of grief is often responded to by others with care, sympathy and support.
This care and support for many starts to dwindle long before grieving individuals have found their feet in a world forever changed. Grief increasingly becomes ‘invisible’ to others.
Many of the conversations I have with families focus on the difficulties experienced in communicating to others the depth of heartache and its impact on every aspect of life.
One mother once said to me that it might be easier to be a double amputee as there would be obvious physical evidence of a changed self and our changed relationship to the outside world.
Bereaved parents and bereaved siblings often look so normal on the outside. They usually go back to routines of everyday life and appear to function quite well.
Words frequently are inadequate to express the impact of the death of a child.
Changes that emerge often take place over a more extended period of time and again can be challenging to explain to others.
The following captures so well the sometimes great distance between a private reality and its social perception…the gap between being and understood and communication as it sometimes can be between bereaved people and others.
Can you see the change in me? It may not be so obvious to you. I participate in family activities. I attend family reunions. I help plan holiday meals. You tell me you’re glad to see that I don’t cry anymore.
But I do cry. When everyone has gone – when it is safe – the tears fall. I cry in privacy so my family won’t worry. I cry until I am exhausted and can finally fall asleep. I’m active at work. I listen to my friends. You tell me you admire my strength and my positive attitude.
But I’m not strong. I feel that I have lost control, and I panic when I think about tomorrow … next week … next month … next year. I go about the routine of my day. I complete tasks assigned to me. I drink coffee and smile. You tell me that you’re glad to see that I’m’over’ the death of my loved one.
But I am not over it. IF I get over it, I will be the same as before my loved one died. I will never be the same. At times I think that I am beginning to heal, but the pain at losing someone I loved so much has left a permanent scar on my heart. I visit my neighbours. You tell me you’re glad to see I’m holding up so well.
But I am not holding up well. Sometimes I want to lock the door and hide from the world. I spend time with friends. I appear calm and collected. I smile when appropriate. You tell me it’s good to see me back to my ‘old self.
But I will never be back to my ‘old’ self.
Death and grief have touched my life and like it or not I am changed forever.