Wednesday, 2 May 2012

On dealing with the death of a good friend - some thoughts

This morning, a good friend on facebook asked for thoughts on dealing with the death of a good friend/loved one. I didn't know what I was going to write, and I don't know if she'll use this in the article she was going to write, but once I started, it flowed. And it felt like it belonged here for anyone passing who might run across it. So here it is:

FIRST AND FOREMOST, THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO WRONG HERE. NO WAY YOU ‘SHOULD’ FEEL; NO WAY YOU ‘SHOULD’ BE.  Grief is a very unique, personal journey – and yours won’t go down the same path as another’s, no matter how close you are. And THAT’S OK.

Let yourself feel it.  ALL of it. Yes, it might feel like you will never, ever be able to climb out of that dark abyss, so you don’t want to go in, but trust me, it’s better to jump than fall – which is what you’ll eventually do if you don’t let yourself feel it – because it’ll jump you at the most unexpected times in ways you can’t control. Better to make the choice to feel it than have it made for you – and the sooner you go all the way into it, no matter how intense it feels, the sooner it will start to heal.

Talk about them.  Share the memories. Share your relationship. This is about how they changed their little corner of the world by being in it.

Do what you need to do, even if it seems silly. Need to go and have that milkshake you used to share with them every week on Wednesday at McD’s? Go to town. Need to not even darken the door of McD’s? That’s fine too.  Need to talk? Need to hide? Need to hold a conversation with them in your diary or in your head before you go to bed? That’s ok.  Need to wear that shirt they gave you at least once a week? Cool. Need to give it to charity so you never see it again? Ok.  (As long as what you’re doing hurts no one, including yourself, obviously.)

If you believe in G-d, keep talking to him: weep, rail, scream, ask, do all that you need to do. A relationship with G-d needs to be a full relationship, not just ‘G-d, thank you, you’re so amazing, may I have, you’re so powerful…’  Give it all over – the dark as well as the light. G-d wants all of you, not just your company manners – that’s what being in real relationship is all about: think of your closest relationships - you go through the good, the bad, and the ugly, right? He knows where you are and He WANTS it all - the pain, the anger, the doubt - just the way you want to be there when someone you love is hurting. Just the way you and your friend/loved one were there for each other.

[And a clerics 'heads up': if someone comes to you and says that they're furious with G-d, don't be horrified by it (or let on that you are in any way uncomfortable with it) - affirm that. A 'That's absolutely fine,' or 'That's normal,' is good. Find your way/style of acknowledging that. One of my favourites is 'He can take it and He wants to hear it. As long as you're still talking to Him, it's all good.']

LET YOURSELF BE ANGRY. THAT’S OK.  IT’S HUMAN. Even if the death was a natural one, an expected one, anger is absolutely normal – we feel abandoned by them, feel the unfairness of it all.  If it wasn’t?  Then anger is going to be an even bigger part of this, and probably more complicated.  The anger will be complicated if the relationship was.  It’s not betraying your friend, it’s being real – and that’s what they’d want you to be.  Talk, talk, talk – but to people who can handle it and won’t dismiss you – so talk to the friends who are as angry as you are.  Cleric. To good friends who can give you the space. If you need to, find a therapist. 

You may dream about them. You may think you see them on the street. That's normal. You'll feel like you were punched in the solar plexus/diaphragm and may not be able to breathe. Take a moment. Acknowledge it: close your eyes; cry; breathe deeply; say 'hi' in your head. Feel the pain, breathe into it, let it be. It's OK.

It’s worse after the funeral. TRUST ME. Up to the funeral, there’s so much to do, so many people are around, it’s actually EASIER. The emptiness after the funeral , when the realisation hits that they’re never EVER actually going to be there again – in all the little ways that you were used to having them there – the everyday things, the in jokes, the way they used to do that thing that embarrassed you in public, what you laughed at when you had that weekly dinner down at the pub – is like having someone crack open your chest, grab your heart and just twist it in the most torturous ways possible.  And everyone has dispersed – or expects you to get over it.  You’re allowed to think ‘Bite me.’ You’re allowed to say, ‘Thank you for your concern, but bite me I’m dealing with this in my way and my time.’ Then go talk to someone who knows how to listen and that grief takes time.

Watch a sad film that makes you cry. Read a book. Go to the gym. Cocoon. Basically, do whatever helps you get through and process, process, process in your way, not anyone else’s.  Grief isn’t linear, it’s cyclical. The year anniversary will be a killer. Then maybe it’s bad for a couple of years, or ok till the 5 year, which hits you like a tonne of bricks, b/c you want them to be at your wedding/40th/whatever.

When it starts to heal a bit,  when you begin really living without them - don’t feel guilty about laughing at that joke with someone else; having that weekly lunch with someone else;  feeling better; moving on. They loved you – it’s what they’d want for you.

Remember: grief isn't a sign of weakness. Grief is a sign that you have loved deeply - which is the ultimate sign of strength.

Finally, don’t close your heart – stay wide open.  The best tribute you can give them is to live and love fully – the way you lived with and loved them.