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Monday October 10, 2016

In the moments after a loved one dies, we think thoughts like, "I had no idea anything could hurt like this!" "Please, let it be a dream!" "I can't believe she's gone!" As I have experienced during my own losses and have seen with friends' and patients' families, I think the most difficult time comes after the memorials are finished.

I don't mean to imply that the excruciating, burning pain you feel as life slips from the husband or mother you're holding isn't the worst pain you have ever experienced. I remember that pain. There is nothing else in life like it, thank God. It is as physical as the pain you would feel if you sliced your hand with a knife.

However, there is busy-ness to death. Even if you were using hospice services, the final moment of life for your loved one is never truly expected. When it happens, there are calls to be made, decisions to make, arrangements to complete, and so on. Here in the South, we expect that our homes will be flooded with people and food. Death can be a time of socializing as well.

Particularly if you have used hospice, the day after a funeral can be like a brand-new cut on your hand. Your life has gone from having your loved one in your home, requiring around-the-clock care—with nurses, chaplains, and the like coming and going—to being home alone. You may have had an oxygen machine in your home making that constant hum. It's now gone. There aren't people going in and out of your house at all hours, the way they were before.

For everyone else, life goes back to normal. For you, the bereaved, it never does. There is no normal until you create it, and that will be long coming. 

Your daily routine is no more. Your nightly routine is no more. Other family members or friends have gone back to work. If you were a full-time caregiver, your work is gone. This sudden quiet and emptiness of a home is deafening. It takes effort to keep it from throwing you further into the depths of grief.

Each of us has a different way of dealing with this newness and our grief. I believe one of the best ways to begin the work of healing is to "own" your sadness, anger, and all the other feelings, even relief. You may not feel comfortable talking about it with your friends. That's okay. There are support groups filled with people who have had similar experiences. There are online groups for those who aren't ready to go face-to-face. There are wonderful books from people who have walked this path before you. One that made a huge impact on my grief journey was Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards. I identified with her as a bereaved mother. Reading has been a lifelong passion of mine. I allowed it to help heal me after my daughter's death.

Find a way to express those feelings. What are you passionate about? Are you a painter? Paint a canvas of your feelings. Are you a musician? Play songs that help express what may be difficult through words. Are you a traveler with the means to go? Do it! For a while, you may not have the energy to do anything. That's okay. Rest! Being a caregiver is hard.

Nothing works for every person, but there is something that will help you find your new normal. Don't be afraid to look for it or ask for help looking for it.

—Karen Sanders, Medical Social Worker (Mount Airy Office)

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