Have You Had to Deal With the Loss of a Loved One?
I remember it like it was yesterday, although it happened a year and a half ago now. I was sitting in the dentist’s office, waiting for my oldest daughter to finish getting her teeth cleaned. I was busily reading a book when I got an unexpected phone call. I didn’t recognize the number, but the area code was from Phoenix, where most of my family lived, so I answered it. What happened next changed my entire life.
My little step-sister, whom I hadn’t spoken too for over a year, was on the other line. She muttered the words, “Dad’s gone.” or something to that effect and I burst out in the most ugly tears that dentist office has probably ever witnessed (and that’s saying a lot for a Pediatric Dental office with kids afraid of needles and toothbrushes!).
None of us expected this to happen.
They apparently found my dad, crumpled up between his exercise bike and his couch, with his foot still in the bike pedal. No one knows for sure what happened, but that he was alone and trying so hard to get his heart back into shape (he had open heart surgery about 8 months prior) that he overdid it and passed on.
Dying is never easy on those that are left behind. Even when we have time to prepare for it and know that a loved one is going to a better place, it still leaves us with a gaping hole in our hearts.
Within the past 4 years, I have lost my father, my father-in-law, my uncle, my grandfather (pretty much all the most important men in my life besides my husband), and over 10 more people from my life.
In the process, I have learned a thing or two about death and how to deal.
Some Practical Steps You Can Take to Maintain Your Sanity When A Loved One Passes On
When it comes to overcoming the shock and moving on, there are few things that I have found to help ease the pain.
- Be around family and loved ones so that you do not have to mourn alone. I know this goes without saying, but some of us feel inclined to be alone and travel through our pain all by ourselves, when it is so much easier to survive when we have the love and support of others.
- Write down all the things that you remember and hold dear about your loved one. Try to do everything in your power to maintain your memories of them and to make sure you never forget what they meant to you or taught you. Believe it or not, at some point you will begin to forget their voice, their words, or even their face. If you take the time soon after their passing, to gather all your photos, texts, videos, letters, cards, etc, you will have the available for those moments that you feel like reminiscing and wanting to remember.
- Celebrate the person they were and allow yourself to focus on the good times. When we talk about the fun memories or exciting times we shared with our loved ones, it eases the pain and helps us feel like they are still right there with us. Use the funeral as a time to really capture the essence of who that person was and what they meant to you and everyone else involved.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, to cry, to grieve, to take your time getting over the pain. You will always miss this person and it will never be the same again. Change can take time to process, so be kind to yourself and to others involved. Know that at some point you will find joy again and be able to smile and be grateful.
- Learn whatever you can from that loved one’s passing and make your life the best that it can be.
- Keep your loved ones favorite shirts or things that have their hand-writing on them and use them as keepsakes. After my father-in-law passed, I had keychains made out of his signature, they helped the entire family remember he was always with us every time we drove around. After my father died, I took some of his old shirts and had them made into cute teddy bears for each of his closest loved ones. They are a tangible reminder of him, and huggable so that when we miss him we can hug a piece of him. I have also seen people make quilts out of their old shirts, or create scholarships or donate things to causes that the loved one would have really appreciated.
- Use your pain to your gain. Some of the best songs, poems, stories, and speeches have been written when the artist is in their deepest pain. Whatever way you can find to express yourself and your feelings will help you. If it is in writing, then right. Singing then sing, painting- splash all the dark colors and feelings you have and make a masterpiece. Your pain could help so many people out, if you choose to express it and share it!
- Believe in life after death- it truly eases a lot of the pain when you believe in your heart that you will see them again.
Moving On and Learning from Death
One of the most powerful things I have learned from all the death that has surrounded me over the past few years, is the need to truly live each day as if it were our last. We really never know when our day will come. It could be tonight on our way home from dinner, while we are sleeping, or when we are 100 years old. If we can use the passing of a loved one to really wake us up to how fragile and unpredictable life is, we can awaken to what living like we are dying really means.
It consists of finding the things that really bring us joy each day, rather than waiting until we retire or for the weekend to have fun. It means taking more vacations and eating more ice cream and doing things that scare us to death. It means no more procrastinating our putting off “someday” and getting our rears in gear to make something meaningful in our life.
For me, it took my dad passing to help me truly live.
I saw him move onto the next phase of existence in a way that he was most likely not very proud of. He left a mess in his business, his relationship with most of his loved ones, and in his health. He had tons of money at his fingertips but very little joy. I knew that while he had lived a wonderful life and left a legacy of love and service, I did not want to pass away in that way. I wanted to have no regrets, to be surrounded by loved ones all the time (not just on my death bed) and to really feel like I was living every single moment I am given.
Not too many of us can say that we are living our dreams and making the most of our moments. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake us up to that fact and to help us change.
If we hate our current job, we should find a better one. If we have been putting off taking care of our bodies, losing a loved one to poor health conditions should put us on high alert to prevent that from happening to us. If we have been waiting for someday to love our lives, our town, our homes, our bodies, or our circumstances, maybe we can let the passing of a loved one teach us that someday may never come and we might want to do something today to change that. What have you been putting off that could make the difference between a life you “had to live” versus a life you were proud of living?
You know what I did after my dad died?
I started this blog, I wrote a book (about to be published), I opened an online business, and had my 6th child. Yep, and it hasn’t even been two years yet!
Something I always think after attending a funeral of someone I knew and loved is this:
“What do I want others to talk about at my funeral?”
That question alone always gets me thinking and growing.
What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for? Do you want your name and life to live on after you pass? If not, what can you do today to make sure that others will be talking about you over your dead body and you will be brought to happy heavenly tears?