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Surviving Death

When we experience grief at its very worst in those horrific early days and weeks after we lose a loved one, we beg for someone to answer the questions, how long will this last? When will the pain stop? Am I condemned to a life of perpetual sadness? Will I ever be happy again? Counsellors and so called wise people will fudge these questions with answers like, ''It varies, it is different for each person, take as long as you need and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.'' They have a plethora of trite and irritating clichés, but none of them answer your questions. Here are some ideas that may help to discover the answer yourself.
I can only hope that my experiences will help others who are on the same road that I have travelled.
Ray 2015.

Some Practical Steps You Can Take To Help Yourself

1. Be aware that grief is similar to illness. Constantly, every day, remind yourself that if you want to get better and you try to get better, then eventually you will get better, but it is a long road and hard work. To recover from grief takes a lot of courage, it will be the hardest thing that you have ever done in your life.

2. Concentrate on one day at a time. Say to yourself, “I will just get through today and see what tomorrow brings”. After awhile you will be saying to yourself, “I got through the first month, so I can get through the second”. Then one day you will face the second year with the same determination to survive.

3. In the early days, try to keep busy. Do anything to keep you occupied during the day. Whilst you are concentrating on some task or project, you are not thinking about your loss. You are of-course aware of it, but it is not taking all of your attention all of the time.

Every night by the time I went to bed I had already decided what I would do the following day. This enabled my last thoughts for the day to be positive, constructive ones, rather than a head full of mournful regrets. I cannot remember how long this continued, but it was 12 to 18 months before I realised I had stopped doing it.

4. The journey through grief is a constant three steps forward and two steps back. Without reason or explanation you will suddenly find yourself having a ''Bad Grief Day'' often two or three days in succession. Just when you thought it was getting a little better. When this happens, do this, it is important. Stop and look at how far you have come since those dreadful early days at the beginning. If necessary revert back to that ''one day at a time'' approach, it worked before and it will continue to help you through the bad times ahead.

5. You must force yourself to do the difficult things, even the things that you are afraid of. Make a point of attending the same occasions that you would have attended when your partner was alive. Don't be afraid to visit the same restaurants, events and venues. The first time will be difficult, the second time will be a little easier and eventually a new normal and a different life, will evolve. You must work hard at survival.

6. You have a choice, you can stay at home and feel sorry for yourself or you can go out into the world and try to live again. The world is not going to knock on your door and say "come and join us" so you have to put on your ''Public Face'' and do your best. There are two things to remember here. Try not to inflict your grief on other people. Unless they have experienced grief themselves, they are unlikely to understand it. They will feel uncomfortable and embarrassed at their inability to comfort you. Remember also that nobody likes a miserable person. No matter how much despair, desolation and anguish you feel inside, when you go out you must put on your brave public face. You can cry when you get home, we all do and there is nothing wrong with it.

7. When in public always try to be polite and no matter how difficult, at least attempt a smile. I had to sit in front of a mirror and practice saying out loud the words, ''I am quite well, thank you'' so when people asked ''How are you?'' I could answer them politely, instead of stuttering ''well, I am still here'' Then one day some two years later, I remember somebody asked ''How are you?'' and without thinking I just instinctively replied ''I am good'' Three years later if I am having a bad grief day, I still find myself answering, ''I am quite well thank you'' it is a defence mechanism that I have retained.

8. Despite what you may feel, you are not alone. Actively seek out people in the same situation as yourself. Listen to their stories. They will understand why you look and behave the way you do. Grief can be recognised and understood only by people who have experienced it. In the company of others, one of your questions will be answered. 'Yes somebody does know how you feel.' You are not the only person crying at night. Just being in the company of people who have experienced the horrors of grief will help you to understand what is happening to you. It is far more difficult and in my opinion, less successful, to make this journey through grief on your own. We need the comfort, support and friendship of people who truly understand us. No matter how independent you were before, now you are alone, you need friends.

9. How to deal with anniversaries. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the day you lost your partner and your life changed forever. These dates will come round every year. I cannot tell you how to deal with anniversaries. I can only tell you how I manage them and hope that it may also offer you some comfort. I lost my wife on the 27th December 2012. Christmas is traditionally a time when people rejoice, celebrate and party. Whether I like it or not, Christmas is going to come around every year. This is how I survive. First I made a conscious decision to try to do something different at Christmas, every year, for as long as that is possible. But what really helps me to endure that month is the knowledge that no matter how bad December is, it could never ever be as bad as it was the year I lost my wife. I get much comfort from this thought and I hope it may help you also.

10. What does not help is questions that have no answers. Now matter how difficult, try not to dwell on these issues. Any question that begins with the word ....Why? or any question that begins with .... If Only. These will torture you for a long time, perhaps for many years and there is little that we can do about it. We must acknowledge that there are some things that have no explanation. Try to avoid anger, it will not make you feel better, ultimately it will damage you further. Although you feel that you will never be happy again, remember that the future is a step into the unknown; do not pre-judge it.

11. The Hardest part of making a new life is letting go of the old one. By this I mean that we cannot move forward if we constantly look back and live in the past. We must accept that the life we once enjoyed will never return. I told myself, especially when I looked at photographs, that this was like landing on a different planet, with no way of ever going back. But I could still see the world I came from, and all the time I was asking myself “how often should I look at it?” Gradually I did it less and less, until eventually I could look at the past and not feel sad because it had gone.

12. How will I know when I am getting better? This is a question I asked myself repeatedly. I was doing all the right things; I did all the things suggested above. I worked hard at trying to build a new life yet nothing was working. I still felt dreadful, I still cried at night and I had that overwhelming feeling that this was as good as it gets, for the rest of my life I would grieve. Then half way through the second year I overheard somebody saying, 'Hasn't he come a long way in the last year''. A few weeks later I met someone who I had not seen for a long time, the first thing they said to me was ''You look a lot better than you did last year.'' I remember thinking to myself; “well I feel awful, what on earth must I have looked like last year?”

13. Here, I hope to answer another question, “when will this stop?” Sadly we never stop grieving, but gradually the pains of anguish become less intense, they return less frequently and when they do come they do not last as long. They are not like the gut-wrenching pain you felt at the beginning and it no longer makes you cry. However the daily improvements in your recovery are so infinitesimally small that you not aware of them. Because you live with yourself every day, you don't notice the changes. Other people become aware that you are getting better a long time before you do. Recovery creeps up on you in very small increments. One day in the future you will realise that you are better than you were two years ago.

14. At this time you are in desperate need for some hope for the future. I have kept the optimistic part of this journey until the end in the hope that you will have read this far. Acknowledge that your life will never be same. You may never be as happy as you were before this happened to you, but this does not mean that you will never be happy again. It can happen, it does happen to many people, it is just a different happiness. When you are ready, seek it out. Above all do not give up. Stay strong and survive.

published 20th Nov 2018, 12.09am (about 12 months ago)

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