This past weekend there was a horrific limo crash in upstate New York that killed all 20 people, 18 of them inside the vehicle. Reading past the headlines, I discovered one family alone lost four daughters aged 30 to 35. That stopped my breath for few seconds, trying to imagine my own loss and subsequent pain times four. I couldn’t do it. I’m not sure I could survive that level of human devastation.
Everyone who died, except the driver and two pedestrians hit, were friends (including married couples) getting together for a birthday bash. Of the family that suffered such devastating loss, an aunt of the four sisters who died, spoke out. One media image captured her with hands on face, glasses shoved to the side, body in a pose of utter shock and disbelief, looking not too different from how I probably looked right after learning of the suicide of my daughter. Notwithstanding this tragedy as far worse than my own and grateful there was no gawking media around in our time of trauma, I once again felt frustrated that the media continue to feel so compelled to obsessively publish images showing the anguish of others to no doubt, remind readers how lucky they are not to have been dealt this hand of fate. I also wondered how newly bereaved individuals must feel, instantly becoming another public face of tragedy, willingly or not. Grief is hard enough to cope with, without cameras in your face.
At the same time that I was digesting news of this tragedy, I got an email from a bereaved parent, still feeling anguished about the suicide of their child a year earlier, despite noble attempts to deal with the grief. It brought to mind 1) how tragedy is never very far from anyone’s door; and 2) how sudden death can be. So sudden, in fact, the devastation can feel like it has literally blasted your personal world into near oblivion. What you knew, dreamed and believed minutes or even seconds before learning of the death or your child or other loved one, is gone. Poof! It really is that sudden.
The long-lasting and traumatic impact that any sudden and shocking death can have on an individual cannot be underestimated. Because there isn’t that much help available to grievers for loss of this magnitude, and there most definitely is NOT a basic survival manual to guide grievers through the personal carnage that often follows sudden traumatic loss, the bereaved are left on their own to try and navigate a new and foreign world rudderless. You can imagine the chaos, both internally and in one’s physical environment.
Right after the suicide of my daughter and in my searching to find a way back to living authentically at peace, I can attest to the fact it was my spiritual background that not only saved my life, but brought me a greater understanding of my loss and grief. Much more so than if I had attempted to cope with the pain from the physical experience alone. A suffering that was simply too great for me to bear.
While there is no magic wand to wave to alleviate or eliminate altogether the many components of grief too numerous to list here, nor the what’s, when’s, why’s, how’s and where they will occur, I found the following ten tips helpful to get me through my earliest grief:
- Talk, talk, talk your feelings out with anyone who will genuinely listen.
- Rest as much as possible.
- Eliminate as many obligations and responsibilities as you can and feel the need to.
- Divide your time into small segments throughout the day to help you manage ONLY the immediate.
- Accept what is happening without judgement. You can’t change the loss and likely won’t be able to make sense of anything for a while. That’s okay.
- Love and be gentle with yourself. You’re going through a lot.
- Seek comfort from others who have gone through your experience. You may find support online, through books or a support group in your area.
- See your doctor earlier rather than later if you think you might have PTSD or other medical issues that require attention.
- Recognize that no one has the answers to all of your questions. And you’ll have many. Some answers will come to you over time. Others, maybe never. Don’t beat yourself up.
- Get angry! Just don’t hurt anyone in the process. Warn your loved ones you feel an outburst coming on but mean them no harm. Anger is a good pain release.
Dependent on some types of loss, grief can last a really long time. It’s natural to feel anguish and hold on tight to painful regrets. That doesn’t mean we can’t heal, but it is a process.
When you find a spark of light at the end of the tunnel, hold onto it. This is a sure sign there is always something worthwhile ahead, even if today it doesn’t feel like it today.