You may be wondering why an Employment Counsellor who blogs about how to get and keep work would be writing about how to move on when someone close to you passes away. Simply put the two are interconnected and the one affects the other. Like any other post, if you find something useful or helpful, I’m happy to have shared my thoughts with you.
Let’s first acknowledge a few things: 1) We will all experience death 2) Unless we lose our life as young child it is inevitable that people we know will die before us 3) We do not all experience events in our lives exactly the same as other people; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to act. Can we agree on these three things?
When we’re young we might first experience death in the loss of a family pet; a goldfish or hamster that one day isn’t moving. How we first react to this is often shaped by how our parents respond to us. Do they tell us the creature is sleeping and won’t wake up, do they bark at us and tell us it died so deal with it or perhaps they suggest going out to get a replacement so we don’t have to grieve (and they don’t have to deal with us being overly sad)?
Eventually we find ourselves learning that a person has died. Again, as a child or teenager we look around for clues as to how to act and we instinctively learn that some people cry, some sob uncontrollably, others seem outwardly unaffected, maybe some even look stone cold. Among the various reactions we may find others who have balanced their loss better than others – whatever ‘better’ means to us personally. For purposes here, better means being able to move forward, and deal with death in a way that doesn’t paralyze the living.
When close to someone, especially someone you’ve shared much of your life with such as a parent, a child or a partner, the bonds between you and that person or those people can be very strong. You have so many memories of doing things together, you may have tremendous gratitude for the relationship and how you feel put into words comes out as love. Who you are as an adult is in part great or small shaped by those around you, and so it is often the case that these people mean a great deal to us; we want them there always.
Whether its unexpected or we can see it coming, sooner or later we find ourselves learning of the death someone special to us. For most people the news of the death comes as a shock itself. It’s hard to believe, we beg the source of the information to tell us this isn’t true, we say we need to go see them immediately and our minds rush back to when we saw or talked with them last. If we happened to be at their bedside, we know intellectually they are gone from this life but even though we were there as they eased away, we’re still faced with that moment when they were here a second ago and now they aren’t.
Now how to move forward? Some people appear to move forward pretty quickly; they know that life means death follows at some point, they’re realistic and know that for themselves life goes on. They mourn losses internally and for them it may be healthy and natural to have no tears to hold back. They are not cold and hard, they are not impervious to feelings nor unmoved.
At the other extreme are those who are themselves debilitated with another’s loss. It’s as if they have shutdown; as if a large part of them died along with the other person. They may for example quit work and 6 years later still claim they can’t take jobs because they aren’t ready. The idea of having an employer offer a single week off to grieve a loss and then go back to work is literally impossible to do and bewildering to imagine.
Conflict, (and I don’t mean fighting but rather tension and being at odds with another’s behaviour) comes when people who are closely tied to the death of a person deal with death in the different extremes. They wonder, “why don’t they deal with this like I am? Don’t they love them the way I loved them?”
Moving on however is healthy and we weren’t meant as humans to die ourselves when others around us do so. So we must eat, sleep, breathe, drink – the basics of living and then do more and more of whatever is our normal routines like cleaning the house, grocery shopping, cooking meals etc. Ever notice how neighbours often come by with meals to support the living?
It’s impossible to move forward with direction if your head is turned looking back. Therefore moving ahead means creating new memories with the living around us while appreciating the time we had (brief or long) with those departed. When you care and love others you also know the day will come when death parts you both with finality; this is no reason to isolate yourself from connecting, caring and loving with the living.
We are all different and how we choose to deal with loss is personal. Be it a goldfish or a person, may you move on as best you are able.