Little anecdotes often get passed around at the funeral home. Of even greater
value, however, are the stories and remembrances that come in the weeks and
months that follow. Every so often, I call someone to tell them a story of Mom
that I have just thought of, or to imagine what Momís response would be to the
early spring, the late snowfall, or a grandchildís accomplishment. Donít be
afraid to hold on to your memories- they can be a source of healing and comfort
at this time.
Acknowledge the many levels of loss.
If you had experienced only one
loss, the death of someone very special to you, that would have been enough for
full-time grief work. But losses come in layers. The person you love is gone,
but in addition there can be the loss of a home, the loss of a way of relating
to others in the family, and the loss of a certain way of thinking about
yourself. It is sometimes hard to know which layer of loss you are dealing with
at any given time.
In my case, the house was deeply meaningful. It had been our familyís home
for over a century, having been built by my great-grandparents. Moreover,
because of a severe snowstorm that prevented my parents from going to the
hospital, I had been born in that very house. As a priest, I often stayed over
with my mother in order to get a good nightís rest.
To admit that you are experiencing multiple losses frees you to work on them
one at a time and in different ways. It also helps you guard against the "rapid
recovery" syndrome that says itís best to bounce right back and get on with
life. Donít be fooled by the numbness that often sets in during the first few
days and weeks. It is not the same as recovery, and if you move back into your
routine too quickly, you will only delay the grief work you need to do.
Recognize and deal with feelings of guilt and betrayal.
In the busy
weeks after the funeral, cleaning out the house, selling property, trying to get
back to work, or even smiling or laughing again may seem like a betrayal of the
person who has died.
But ask yourself what the deceased person would have wanted. He or she most
likely would have wanted you to do whatever is necessary as you deal with the
challenges that loss brings. The many obligations that come with the death of a
loved one are never easy, but they are better carried out without the additional
burden of unnecessary feelings of guilt or betrayal.
Also realize that feelings of guilt or betrayal may signal deeper feelings of
incompleteness or imperfection in your relationship with your loved one. In
other words, such feelings can actually be another form of grief, and need to be
respected and dealt with accordingly.
Know what you need from others.
I recall my sister describing her
anger when she went to the supermarket shortly after Momís death. To her
amazement, other people were still smiling and laughing as if nothing tragic had
happened. She knew her response was irrational, but she wanted the whole world
to stop as it had for her. Didnít others know she was suffering?
Itís not that friends and colleagues arenít willing to help, but they often
have to be told what you need. They may assume, for example, that you "need to
get out more." But there are times when it is necessary to be alone. I remember
taking long walks by myself in the months after Momís death. The solitude was
what I needed most.
At other times, I needed to share little stories about Mom with my pastoral
team. They listened attentively. Once or twice I called friends and told them I
wanted to stop by just to talk or share some memories. They were always willing
to lend an ear if I asked.
As time passes, it will become even more important to let others know what
you need. When the death certificate arrives, when the house is being sold, when
the lawyer needs to be contacted, when the estate is finalized, when the
gravestone arrives- at such times you will feel a confusing ball of emotions
welling up inside. When this confusion wells up, lets others know you are
"having a tough day" so they can give you the space and the support you need.
The early weeks and months after the funeral of a loved one are a time for
both grieving and rebuilding. As you work through the obligations and the grief,
and slowly give yourself permission to move ahead, you will notice that your
loved one lives on in your memory, but even more importantly, in the spirit
And as you enter this new cycle of your life, you will realize that your
willingness to recover and rebuild reflects the very best of what your loved one
has given you.