When we talk about grief, we assume that it is associated with loss in the form of a death. However, loss comes in many shapes, with death being only one. A job loss, divorce, forced retirement, relocation, children leaving home….there are myriad forms of loss. However, the feelings associated with any loss are similar – shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, guilt, remorse, and more. Depending on the type of loss, these feelings exist on a continuum of intensity, order, and timing.
With every loss, however, the first few hours, days and weeks following are simply hell. There’s no getting around it – we all must navigate those horrific hours, days, and weeks that have been thrust upon us by whomever or whatever we have lost.
Already in a compromised state because of our grief, we are forced to make overwhelming decisions sometimes quickly and with insufficient information. With best intentions, we are inundated with advice and condolences from family, friends, and acquaintances – much of which is not helpful – which adds to our confusion, overwhelm, and grief.
How on earth do we navigate this hell?
Well, first things first:
- Decisions: Make only those decisions that are absolutely necessary for now and the near future. Think micro, not macro. Decide what has to be done this minute, this hour, this day, this week – no further. Do not let people overwhelm you with questions about the future.A good friend of mine who lost her husband was asked AT THE FUNERAL if she was going to sell her house and move, and if not, HOW would she manage. TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE. People can really be idiots when dealing with loss – if you know that beforehand, you can protect yourself from getting sucked into those stupid, irrelevant, and hurtful questions and “condolences”. Hearing “it’s God’s will” or “they’re in a better place” or “you need to stay busy” does nothing but add to your distress.
- Trusted Ally: In those early days, have a trusted ally by your side at all times to deflect these intrusions and keep you protected. This is essential for your mental health! Your ally should be someone close to you who can help you think clearly and navigate the maze of crap that has to be managed.
- Protect Your Time: Only interact with those people you HAVE to or WANT to. Feel NO guilt at refusing visits, phone calls, texts, or other forms of communication by people you don’t want to deal with. You are under no obligation to be polite or accommodating. Your ally can help with this.Protecting your time includes taking time to rest. Your body and mind are absorbing a terrible shock. They both need time to rest and restore. Get pharmaceutical help for this if necessary – that’s how important it is. The world and decisions can wait long enough for you to rest.
- Notifications: Get help notifying people. Decide the most important people for you to contact and let others do the rest. When my father died, there were so many people to notify, we split up the call list between all the siblings, minimizing the burden on all of us.For notifications, use the most comfortable way of communicating for you. If that is phone calls, great. If email or text is more comfortable, do it. Again, you are under no pressure to “do it right”. You can do this on your terms. Remember, social media can be of great assistance in this onerous task.
- Don’t Be Pressured Into Anything: If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Wait, if you are unsure about an answer. Seek the expertise of professionals if necessary to help you navigate issues. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or tells you, there is no stopwatch ticking when it comes to making important decisions. TAKE YOUR TIME. If COVID taught us nothing else, it showed us that services can wait, decisions can be postponed, time can be taken to ensure the best decisions are made.
The most important thing to remember in those early hours and days after a loss is SLOW DOWN. Take one thing at a time, one moment, one day. Your journey is just beginning, and it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Join me in my next post, What to Expect When You are Grieving.