Death And Moving On

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.


Grieving At Christmas

Are you grieving at this time of year more than usual and feeling out of sorts as a result? You know, there’s merriment joy all around you whether it’s songs on the radio, Christmas cards that arrive in the post, the humourous social media posts that land on your homepage; and somehow you just don’t feel in sync with all that carefree joy all about you.

You find yourself on this pendulum swinging between moments when you get caught up in those happy moments yourself and then feel pangs of guilt as you recall the loss of someone special in your own life. Your laughter and broad smile disappear from your face replaced with stress lines on your forehead and a sombre look of remembrance. One moment you feel happy, then you’re sad, and then you’re guilty again about bringing everyone around you down in spirit. Oh if you could just get back to feeling, ‘normal’; the normal you used to feel in years past!

Welcome to your new normal. The emotions and feelings you’re experiencing are valid, very real and yours to deal with and process to the extent you are able. While normally in control in most areas of your life, it seems like you haven’t yet mastered this specific one; dealing with the loss of someone significant in your life. Try as you might, you haven’t found a way to – as they say – get over it; deal with it; move on.

The fact that Christmas brings along with it words of good cheer from everyone from family and best friends to work colleagues and strangers is well-meaning but only seems to punctuate the feeling that things aren’t usual. “Usual” means that for the other 11 months of the year people aren’t wishing you happy holidays or merry anything.

Think of that pendulum metaphor again. Your balance point looking back seemed to be when the one you’re grieving now was still around. When they departed, you experienced a shift where sorrow, longing and heartache have moved the pendulum. Then at Christmas we see, hear, smell, taste and feel the good; it’s families gathering around singing carols, over indulging in rich foods, their gifts, bright lights in the night, decorations and traditions deeply steeped in family history brought out and on exhibit 24/7 until Christmas is over. All of this swings the pendulum in the other extreme; where you’d normally be happy to go and make merry of your own accord.

But whatever side that pendulum is on at a given moment, you’re private thoughts can’t seem to be a peace with. You’re feeling guilty when privately grieving and feeling remorseful when you catch yourself humming a Christmas song in your head let alone out loud. So yes, you’re feeling out of sorts all the time. Why can’t everyone around you understand this and give you your own space so you can get the pendulum back to the center?

Of course to others, they see mood swings and may feel they are walking around on eggshells trying not to set you off. They want desperately to be of help and support; they worry don’t they? And you of course are wondering why they themselves are seemingly handling things much better than you are. Don’t they miss the departed? Don’t they care as much as you do?

Everybody experiences loss and everyone processes the feelings that go with loss in a very personal way. The thing is there is no set timeline for doing so. People who experience long grieving periods might worry those who don’t, and those that don’t worry those who do because they may come across as unfeeling, callous, cold and detached.

It’s healthy to accept that we all process loss and figure out how to move ahead on our own at our own pace. We know intellectually that death is inevitable where there is life; the day we get a puppy we know a day at some point will come when the pet will pass away. Does this make it easier? Maybe for some but not for all. And things get magnified for many when the loss isn’t a family pet but a family member such as a mother or father; daughter or son.

So here it comes…Time is the answer. How much time? Who is to say? You can no better predict how long you’ll take to deal with your personal loss than you could predict how long you’ll live yourself.

Now this grieving process of dealing with the loss of someone special is identical to the process of grieving over a family pet for some and yes grieving over the loss of employment. That may seem trivializing your loss of a family member but to some people, the shock, anger, denial, bargaining and eventual acceptance which makes up the grieving process is just as real when losing a job and shouldn’t be dismissed as not just as real.

Give yourself permission to have your moments of pain and don’t apologize for your tears of remembrance. These are your own very personal moments and your thoughts are not to be taken as a weakness of character. You should never expect nor hope I imagine to entirely forget the person gone, the pet gone or the job lost.

You will eventually get to where you will give yourself permission to be happy without feeling conflicted or guilty. Your good mental health will return. Do accept wishes for a merry Christmas as they are intended; with only the best of intentions.

How You Deal With It Is What Counts

Whether its losing a job, a loved one, a disagreement or a promotion, how you deal with the loss is what really matters. Some people appear better equipped to deal with disappointments, moments of crisis and negative events. And if you are like me, you undoubtedly know some people whom bad news tends to immobilize for long periods of time.

If we look at minor setbacks first, such as waking up feeling tired and aching all over but not really ill, some people will get up and shower, go through the routine of getting ready for work and gather their strength on the way to work. On the other hand, some will do what’s easier at that moment of waking and call in sick and go back to bed. In neither situation is the person really ill, but the two reactions to the same situation are different. Over a period of time, whichever decision you make of the two tends to perpetuate and repeat itself; so you generally push yourself through mornings like these or you develop a pattern of satisfying the immediate urge to stay home or go in late.

Any pattern of behaviour when noted by others becomes your reputation. “Jim’s off work again today everybody”, or “I appreciate you coming in even though you’re not at your best just now.” I can tell you that there are some mornings I wake up feeling groggy, and it’s dark outside, and the bed I’m leaving is warm and part of me wants to go back to sleep. But I know that if I get up, have a cup of tea, shower and get dressed, I’m well on my way to arriving at work with energy and enthusiasm.

But let’s say your confronted with news of a more serious nature. Suppose you’ve just been told that the job you were hoping to get has been offered and accepted by someone else and your still out of work. The relief employment would have brought you is gone, and you’re under immense financial pressure to pay your bills. The strain on your mind and your self-confidence is tremendous and you’ve got to somehow find the motivation to keep looking for work when a growing part of you wants to just pack it all in. Give up or get on with it?

There’s an old saying that goes, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That saying means that if you can struggle through adversity and problems, you’ll be better of character and have developed survivor skills in the process, making you ultimately better prepared to deal with future adversity in the end. Seems awfully appropriate in this discussion.

We’ve all experienced situations where we see two people faced with similar situations and they handle it very differently. I personally think the reason that some handle these events differently is because of how they’ve dealt with many situations in the past; and those past situations have built upon one another, in essence preparing the person to deal with the situation a certain way. From the outside, you and I might get pretty accurate predicting how a person will react to ill news based on how we’ve seen them deal with adversity in the past, even when that adversity was for minor events. Therefore, we can say how someone reacts to bad news is in or out of character.

So you won’t be the first or last person to lose a loved one, get fired, be overlooked for a promotion, have a car accident, miss a deadline or some other negative event. What is of greater significance therefore is not the event itself but how we react to the news.

Okay so take the loss of a loved one. If you are old enough to read this blog, you’ve survived childhood. People around you are going to pass away sooner or later. You’ll be confronted with such news every so often over your lifetime, and yet the world will keep turning, the sun will keep rising, and things will still need to get done. How you get through those minutes, hours, days and weeks will be unique to you, but you’re not the only one impacted. You’ll be counted on by employers to get back to work, by family members for support, possibly by your children for guidance and ‘how’ to deal with such events.

While an employer may look at a manual and say, “Your entitled to 3 days off with pay”, the human psyche doesn’t operate the same for everyone where we, ‘get over it’, or ‘deal with it’, in the same way. Some people I know who are out of work tell me they aren’t ready to look for work because they are still dealing with the loss of a parent; and the parent passed away more than a year ago. So is that a genuine impairment or as some see it a convenient excuse for not looking? Does it depend on your own inner strength, past experiences or how you’d deal with such news?

For your own mental and physical health and well-being, find ways to work through your lows. All of us experience highs and lows, good and bad; it’s HOW we deal with events that’s important. Unable to cope? Seek out counselling and share your issues with others that can help you through.

Reaching out shows others your wisdom, not your weakness.