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Wednesday May 23, 2018


On April 1, 2015, my grandmother passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. I was awakened by a telephone call early in the morning, with a message that everyone dreads. When I answered my cell phone, I could tell from my husband's tone that something was wrong. I already knew the words he was going to say before he could say them: "I just spoke with your dad. Your grandmother passed away this morning." At the time, I was a hospice social worker. I felt I should be able to handle a death — even a close, personal one — "without a hitch."

I remember my first day back at work after my grandmother's death. My mind was not present. I was "down in the dumps" and lacked motivation. I was thinking, "How do I cope with a loss close to me while helping others cope with their losses now? I am surrounded by death! This is depressing!"

I have become more familiar with the stages of grief. I knew my grandmother was ill and dying, so the fact that she died was not a surprise. However, I still went through denial. After I received the phone call, I got up, got ready, and went to work. Her death had clearly not "sunk in," because I went to work smiling and acting like my normal self. My co-workers expressed their condolences, but I was not ready yet. I simply smiled and said, "Thanks!"

The next day, I woke up angry. Why? I just was. My patience had left me, causing me to become frustrated over nothing. That night, after reading her obituary, I cried. Sobbed. I felt guilty for feeling angry, but most importantly, I realized I would never see her again in this life. I'd never hear her voice, see her smile, or feel her embrace. When someone close to you dies, you don’t just lose that person, you lose goals and plans. You miss what was. 

Then came the numbness and sadness. I stayed in this stage for a few days. People and "things" irritated me that normally would not bother me. I felt stressed even though my workload was no different than usual. The sadness that accompanies a loss does not quickly go away. It lingers. I did not cry constantly, but I was sad. I felt as if I'd lost my happiness. Getting out of bed each day was hard. My body was on autopilot.    

Today, I still feel sad at times, although I accepted my grandmother's death prior to her passing. I miss her and think of her daily. 

How do you overcome these emotions and function each day when you feel broken? I do not have an amazing resolution to this question other than: you just do. Even though I did not want to get out of bed, I did. Even though I did not feel like smiling, I did. Even though I did not feel like being around people, I did. You just do. Even though my grandmother is in Heaven, I am still living, and I have multiple purposes in this life. I have a husband and a family who depend on me. I have a job and people who depend on me to do my job.

Do not forget your purpose, for it is your motivation. Getting back to a normal routine is helpful. We take for granted so many "little things" in life. But having structure is important to us as people — we need it to function.

Also, know your limits. Do not try to be Superwoman or Superman! Remember when I said that my mind was not present my first day back at work? I knew I would be limited that day, and I have days in which it is hard for me to recall information or even think. This is all part of the grieving process. Triggers of grief will sneak up on you when you least expect them, causing you to cry. This is completely normal. 

Lastly, confide in someone. Have someone you can talk to about your emotions. If you feel you are drowning or being swallowed up by your grief, consult a counselor or find a support group. Understand that death is a part of life. It is okay to ask for help. Grief is something everyone in this world experiences. You are not alone in this journey. Embrace your grief, because your grief will help you heal! We are all broken together.

—Jessica Harmon, Director of Family Services-VA

Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today at 336-789-2922 (toll-free 1-888-789-2922).

Tags: Grief Support