Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Coping with the loss of a Father

Sad topic today. 

I literally have just found out that a friend of mine has lost their Father. I'm 'gutted' for want  of a better word. The sun is shining gloriously here today and when I saw my friend's name in my inbox, I smiled. Then I cried. I too lost my Father nearly three years ago and it still feels like yesterday in many ways...but in other ways it feels like something that happened a long time ago, or to someone else. It's strange.
I thought I'd just share some of my personal tips for dealing with the loss of a close family member, in the short and long term and also one how to help someone else through such a time. I emailed this to my friend, but thought, there are bound to be others who will be going through the same/similar right now.

Immediate Issues

Shock - Even when someone is ill, it is still a shock when they're not here any more. All I can say is that, it will pass, I promise. You will come to terms with it, even if not now.

Denial - this can't be real. You sometimes thinks its a dream and that you'll wake up and everything will be as it was before. Again, this is a stage of grief, you will make it through the other side.

It's ok to cry - of course it. You just lost your Father - you've known him your whole life (hopefully). Fine, it has to happen to everyone at some point, BUT this is a big deal, you're not being a baby for crying - even if it's in front of your entire family, in the supermarket when you pop out to get milk or wherever! Cry it out, whether alone or with your family. Let the tears out!

Well-wishers and Sympathisers - It must be hard being a well-wisher. You want to let people know that you're thinking of them, and that you care, but you don't want to get in the way. They may well end up getting in your way, serving them drinks and possibly even food, but just know that they're there because they care. Its a testament to how much you and your family are loved.

Being a pillar for others - I know that when my Father passed, I tried SO hard to be strong for my Mother. I figured the whole thing must be worse for her and that I should be a pillar of strength. I did try, but it was really hard. Eventually, one evening, after a week of smiling, serving drinks to well-wishers and generally being 'supportive', I broke down into a huge mess. I wished I had just cried it out with my MOther and brothers and sisters in the first place. You guys will have known him best, and will all be hurting. Who better to grieve with? 

Finding a pillar of your own - You need someone to support you and just you. Your closest family, named above will be as overwhelmed as you by the whole thing. Even if you're usually the 'strong' one in the family, you still need a pillar of your own. I think this tips applies to men more so than women. Women usually have a support network for emotional crises, but men tend to soldier on and rarely have in place key people to talk to. Now is the time to find them. Whether that be a partner, a friend or even a counsellor, you need somebody who is there for YOU.

The Funeral - This is really a point of closure and a chance to say a formal goodbye. Often, people go into auto-pilot during the time between the passing and the funeral. In the Sierra Leonean culture, this is heavily encouraged and people say 'you must grieve after the funeral, there is no time now, there are things to do!'. Everyone will have an opinion on this. At the time of my Father's passing, I thought 'to hell with you, I'm sad now!' but now, I can see the point. When you're caught up in it all though, being rational is the last thing on your mind.
In some cultures, the funeral takes place soon after the person has passed. In others it can take weeks! If it's all going to happen quickly, just figure out a way to get through the whirlwind - using your support pillars. The hardcore grieving will come later when you can sit down without all the well wishers, and reflect. If you've a long wait, this can be particularly hard. Again, you will get through it. 

In the Long-Term

Shoulda woulda coulda - Of course, there'll be things that you wish you shouldawouldacoulda, but please don't beat yourself up. We can only seek to learn from our experiences and be thankful that you knew him. It may not be much consolation, but sadly, not everybody gets the chance to know their Father. You're actually really lucky.

Integrating the loss - In my humble opinion, one never 'gets over' a loss like this. I think you have to slowly come to terms with not being able to talk to your Father, not being able to see him and not being able to ask him random questions, that only he would know the answer to. Its not easy, but you can integrate this chapter into your life. This is something that has happened, you will continue to live, and will laugh, smile and dance again - in the knowledge that you are still his child and that his memory lives on in your heart.

Helping others who've lost someone - This really is hard too. You're not sure what to say. You're not sure how to act. Do you carry on as normal and hope that if your friend/partner needs to talk then they will? Do you probe them with questions to help them talk about what has happened? Do you stay away all together because it's too hard to deal with. 

My advice, having been on both side of things, is simply to 'be there', if you're emotionally there and available, then if they want to talk, they have the opportunity. If they don't, you can assist them with arrangements and try to help them in other ways. 

Equally, try not to smother them though, I'm sure they'll be 'ok' going to the toilet alone! Just 'be' there for them when they want you there. If they tell you to 'go away', it's probably because they want you to! Hopefully you have a strong enough relationship that they wouldn't tell you to 'go away' because they don't want to burden you. Either way, stay close, they could easily change their mind.

The grieving is not going to end when the funeral does. Continue to 'be' there for them.

A final note from my Mother : )

 'you will cope, because you have to'. 

She has used this expression in so many contexts, yet it always seems to fit. You will cope, because you have to. If you feel you can't, this is the perfect time to surrender the situation to Christ. Here are a few Bible verses that you may find helpful:

But he told me: "My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak." So I will brag even more about my weaknesses in order that Christ's power will live in me...It's clear that when I'm weak, I'm strong. 
2 Corinthians 12.-9-10

Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 
Matthew 11:28

pensando en usted Rafa
Mrs O

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