Bereavement: Looking After Yourself

Posted at 07:27am on 12th May 2020

Last time we looked at Bereavement: Coping With The Initial Shock, using my own experience following my daughter's death, and quoting from the book I wrote some years later. What I learned was that numbness and denial, disbelief and a wandering mind, are common experiences when we first learn of the death of a loved one. How then, when we are in that state of mind, do we deal with having to tell another next of kin? And what about the sense of guilt that may follow?

Again, using the novel I wrote, let's look at the emotions Rosie has to manage after she's relayed the news of her sister's death to their mother, Claire. Still in shock herself, she found it no easy task. And later still, she chides herself, wondering if she could have chosen her words more carefully. Claire's response to the news was devastating.

Should she - could she, Rosie wondered - have broken it any better?

'Mummy - I'm so sorry. Kat's been found dead at home.'

There was no easy formula; no pat phrase; no acceptable tone of voice. Besides, she had been in shock, herself. It had been all she could do to force the words out past her teeth and lips. The cavity of her chest felt empty, as if her lungs had deflated; as if there was insufficient breath on which to convey the sound and meaning of her message. How did you tell any mother of the loss of her child? How could you cause such pain to your own? Her teeth chattered.

'I'm so sorry, Mummy. I'm so sorry.'

Over and over, her guilt spilled out, inane, irrational, unstoppable: for being the harbinger of bad news; the cause of pain and anguish; for every hard thought she had ever harboured - against Kat, their mother, their father; for being hundreds of miles away from dispensing and receiving a hug; for feeling utterly, devastatingly, helpless.

And then - silence.

She'd imagined her mother sitting on the sofa in the lounge. Or perhaps on the edge of her bed. She tried to get her mind round what it would be like if someone were to tell her, Rosie - one day, in the far off future - that her precious child, Erin, was no more.

Are you okay, Mummy? I understand how you must feel, Mummy.

The crumbs of comfort she had been about to offer were never uttered. Instead, an inhuman moan, which emanated from Claire, began to echo down the phone line. It grew to a crescendo and became a wail that filled Rosie's head.

Immutable, it had filled her head for the past ten days.


Rosie realised the merit of a hug: the need that human beings have to bring touch and solace one to another. She lamented her inability to comfort her mother in this way. There is something very primitive in this need. We should never underestimate the power of touch.

There are other things that we can do for ourselves or, if we're fortunate enough to have friends, have them do for us. The following strategies are taken, by permission, from a list posted on the grief website

  1. Eat. You may not be able to taste it, but the tissues do need
    nutrients. Think simple. Think comfort.
  2. Try to lie down for at least six hours a day. Do it in a series
    of cat-naps if you want. You may not be able to sleep. When your
    body needs sleep, your body will sleep. But being horizontal helps
    even if you're not sleeping. Try not to *try* too hard to sleep.
  3. Breathe all the way out occasionally. Breathe all the way in
    occasionally too.
  4. Relax your jaw muscles. Lower your shoulders. Lift your eyes to
    the horizon. Un-clench your hands and toes. If you can do those
    things, much of the rest of you might relax too.
  5. Drink a little water or juice sometimes even if you aren't eating.
    Stress (and crying!) is dehydrating. And being dehydrated adds to the stress.

Those were the lessons Daniel learned when he suffered the loss of his Dad. To this I would add the need to seek forgiveness from God for any wrongs we may have committed. And clemency for those committed against us. For only then may we know peace.

And it's only as we share the burden of grief, that we begin the long road of recovery and healing. I remember the kindness of those who came to see me when my daughter died. The simple meal they prepared in my kitchen, the sweetened tea they urged upon me before I set off to travel hundreds of miles to my daughter's home. These are the acts of those who care. I hope that whatever our fear of death, this is something we can all offer one another. The sharing of grief is not unique to the human species. But we need to guard again dread or embarrassment that can lead to sub-human isolation.

Until next time . . .

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