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Posts Tagged ‘Reign Over Me’

The first month after your loved one dies is perhaps one of the scariest,

most dreaded times in a person’s life.

Losing a spouse, a parent, a child is devastating. But somehow, you will get through.

I know you don’t think you will.

But there’s this little thing called breathing. Your body does it whether you want it to or not.

Your heart can be breaking, your gut wrenched, and you can feel as if you will truly lose your mind–and your body will continue to take its next breath. There will be times when you don’t want to breathe. You don’t want to live–the pain is so intense. Just let your body get your through for now.

It’s a divine design–to keep our heart and lungs on automatic.

I’m sure I would have either forgotten or opted not to breathe, not to allow my heart to pump if I had any say in the matter. But this sheer involuntary response is the only way to go on during those early days of grief.

Death comes in many forms–by way of an accident, or after a long agonizing illness–it’s never easy.

Even when you’ve been caregiving for years and you know your loved one is no longer suffering, almost everyone has a difficult time letting go.

Why? Why is it so difficult to watch death take those we love–even after pain and suffering, and even old age?

I believe because there’s something in us that deeply believes in the eternal.

Our brains do not compute that life is simply cut off. I’m not basing this on any particular religion or theology–I’m basing this on biology–we cannot comprehend that someone we know and love was here yesterday–and is not here today. Those who look at this purely scientific would say that it’s mere habit–but something in me feels that it’s more.

Why, after practicing a lifetime of faith, and believing with all our hearts that we will see our loved one again–is it still so hard to stand next to their lifeless, breathless body and kiss them goodbye?

The same reason a toddler cries for his/her mother. We don’t like separation.

And those early days of separation are very, very difficult.

What’s it like? That first month?

Experiencing a death of someone we love–at any age, and for any reason, usually means that we go into shock. Not only have I experienced the death of several loved ones, like you, I have many family and friends who have also experience grief and loss.

By looking at these first few days and weeks, we can begin to see a pattern–in ourselves and others. It’s less scary to know that we’re not alone, and that our bizarre thoughts and actions are something others experience as well.

What is shock?

It’s our body’s response to trauma or pain.

Physically, speaking, shock is when the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. It can occur after an injury when the body shuts down (the blood stays close to the heart to preserve life at its core level–or it can occur after a severe emotional trauma.

WebMD desribes shock as this:

  1. A sudden physical or biochemical disturbance that results in inadequate blood flow and oxygenation of an animal’s vital organs.
  2. A state of profound mental and physical depression consequent to severe physical injury or to emotional disturbance.

If you’ve ever experienced shock (yourself or by witnessing it in another person), one of its prime characteristics is that you’re probably not reacting to pain (physically or emotionally) as you would expect.

Car accident victims can walk around with a head wound or internal injury–and only after minutes or even hours does the body “compute” the damage and begin to react. This may give the person time to rescue a child or get out of a fire.

Emotional trauma shock can present with similar symptoms–the person may talk or act rather normal, even when you would expect them to cry or scream or fall apart. They might eventually do all those things–but it may be weeks or months later. The mind has the ability to stay “in shock” much longer than the body–and it will usually only allow the person to really feel and experience the deepest levels of grief when it’s safe.

The movie, Reign Over Me is a great example of emotional shock.

Adam Sandlerplays a man who lost his wife and children during 9/11. He spends years in “shock,” and the exploration of how this man deals with grief in an unconventional way–and the arguments that the social and mental health community make to try to “fix” him, is interesting.

Every person’s journey with grief and loss is different. Honor yours.

Trust your gut, your shock will get you through.

During the first month you might: (no two people are the same)

  • Be able to plan an elaborate funeral or memorial service
  • Hold yourself together–be courteous, thoughtful and polite
  • Look healthy and strong
  • Go back to work days or weeks after your loved one passes
  • Feel euphoric–an urgency to get on with life
  • Plan a trip, go shopping, or other ordinary things
  • Go off with friends and do things you haven’t been able to do in a long time

But…if you observe grief and shock a little closer, you’ll notice things aren’t quite what they appear on the surface.

You might also:

  • Feel high strung, nervous, agitated
  • Can’t pay attention, get bored or antsy with people
  • Suffer from insomnia
  • Have a panic or anxiety attack when you’re out in public
  • Zone out and not remember where you are
  • Feel guilty and think you caused your loved one to die (by taking them to the hospital, or not taking them, or a myriad of other decisions you had to make)
  • Forget things–your keys locked in the car, your wallet at the gas station
  • Avoid falling apart or crying because you may feel like once you start, you won’t be able to stop
  • Have nightmares, even scary dreams of your loved one coming back alive–but not alive
  • Become obsessed with something–putting your affairs in order, doing something your loved one nagged you about but you put off–but now you’re doing it to excess
  • Do something, anything to feel alive–gamble, go to Vegas, visit online chat rooms, shop too much, eat too much
  • You may start to snap at people–or cling–can’t let yourself be alone
  • Your emotional pendulum keeps swinging wider and wider

Practical Things You Typically Do The First Month:

  • File for and receive the death certificate (that’s tough)
  • Contact your life insurance
  • Decide when or if to go back to work
  • Comfort others around you–children, friends, even when you don’t feel like it
  • Cancel credit cards and put your house or car in your name only
  • Pay the bills associated with your loved one’s passing–funeral expenses, etc.
  • Decide to buy or sell certain items
  • Figure out how to pay the bills or deal with repairs–whatever your spouse/loved one did that you now must do
  • Catch up with your lfe–if your loved one was ill, there may be many things that need your attention now
  • Write thank you notes and figure out how to handle your relationships with this new change

Emotionally You’ll Have To:

  • Make calls and let businesses know your loved one has passed
  • Talk to many family and friends–and some of them will be awkward and say the “wrong” thing
  • Walk back in your house, your bedroom, drive his car–feel his/her presence and be faced with your loss
  • Sleep in the bed he’s/she’s no longer in
  • Deal with clothes, cars and other personal items–even if you don’t start sorting and deciding what you keep, they are with you–in your house and your life
  • Allow your brain and heart to assimilate that your loved one’s not here for you to call–to talk to
  • Wake up and think he’s/she’s still there
  • Feel alone and lost even when you’re busy
  • Figure out who you are now and what to do with your time and energy
  • Think about that “first” that is to come–first birthday without him, holiday without her–and make a plan
  • Literally survive the best you can

For most people, the first month is a blur.

At times, you’re in bone crushing grief alternting with an odd euphoric gotta-get-out feeling.

You can bite someone’s head off or not even care if the shoes on your feet were on fire.

There’s a lot to do, and that list of wrapping things up and starting anew at least keeps your keep moving. The good news is: you probably won’t remember most of this.

Shock does a whammy on the brain. You may feel like you’ve put your skin on inside out–and your nerve endings are exploding–but later, there will be many things you can’t recall.

Your body is protecting you. Let it. J

As crazy, lost, alone, scattered, numb, and frantic as you feel in those first months, know that as hard as it is to believe, it won’t last forever.

Just breathe.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Carol is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

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Grieving is natural. It’s good for you. It’s necessary.

But can you take grief too far?

What is “too far?”

What’s right and necessary for one is dangerous for another.

I recently watched “Reign Over Me”about a man (played brilliantly by Adam Sandler–not his usual comedic role) who loses his wife and three daughters in the airplane crash of 9/11. The premise is that his best friend and college roommate (Don Cheadle, also brillant) recognizes him on the street, flags him down and they rekindle their friendship–only Charlie (Adam’s character) refuses to talk about his wife and children. When he’s confronted he panics and flips out. Both men ran prominent dental practices, but Charlie is no longer a dentist–his life had been altered by the death of his family.

This one of the most profound, thoughtful movies on grief I have ever seen. Whatever faults or unevenness it may have is due in part to the very difficult subject matter. It examines the role of friendship, how grief changes you, what you lose and what you gain, how you question everything, how everything and nothing has meaning, and how to ever so slowly begin again.

Charlie was not the same man after his family died. He couldn’t do the same things.

Is that you?

Also know that you begin to grieve even before your loved ones pass away. Caregivers, especially those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s and other long-term illnesses are grieving on so many levels. It can feel like you’ve been grieving for years before your loved one ever dies.

Some people can and need to go right back into their jobs and life after a tragedy. It makes them feel normal, safe, that life has some continuity and gives their life meaning. These are good reasons to keep on course, and if that’s what you need, what works for you, then don’t feel guilty or think you’re not showing the proper response of grief just because you can go on with you life.

No one should judge your grief.

I know people who don’t talk about their sorrows. Ever. Some, much, much later. Some show it in their actions. It varies, and that’s okay. Don’t think you’re heartless because you don’t “do it” in some expected way.

Grief is individual. Grief doesn’t have to look normal.

I won’t give the movie away (I do highly recommend it), but there comes a point in the movie when it implies, “Can you grieve too much?”

Does there come a point when it’s not healthy, or downright dangerous?

Yes. It can.

Depression, isolation, insomnia, drinking, and other risky behavior such as gambling, promiscuity, extreme and dangerous sports–you may experience any or all of these symptoms. It’s part of the process.

There is a biology to grief

Grief releases powerful chemicals in your body. The first, being shock. That’s to keep you alive during the event. That’s how people are able to survive car or plan accidents and get to a place of safety before their bodies begin to shut down. That’s how a mother can lift a car off her toddler even though she has a broken arm.

Grief also comes with many coping mechanisms. Sometimes we have to simply use every possible tool we have to get by–even when they’re not good for us. We have to exist before we can live again.

I’m not going to tell you because you can’t sleep without prescription meds that you’re grieving too much–or I’m not going to tell you just because you polish off a bottle of wine several nights a week that you’re ruining your life. At some point you might, but you may have to over-use, over-indulge to drown your pain–and you’ll have to find your way back out.

I asked a friend who had gone through a bad patch of grief and had done some pretty risky things why she thought she did them. They were out of character for her, and were downright unsafe.

She paused, and then said, ‘Because I could. Because I didn’t have anything to live for–so doing something dangerous or crazy didn’t matter.”

That’s what grief, hurt and sorrow can do to you.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that you should. Trust me. I’m not judging you if you are.

Sure, there are healthier ways to grieve–walks, talking with friends, professional help, journaling, support groups–but let’s face it, we don’t always and consistently do what’s good for us.

Some people, like Charlie in the film have to radically change their life.

I know one woman who sold everything, moved across the country and started working for habitat for humanity. I know another who is spending a year (that’s the plan as of now) in Belize surfing and taking odd jobs. I know another who person who after 9/11, sold his business and lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for two years. I know another who after losing a child, has had four children in four years.

There’s no one right way to handle grief.

When do you know if you’ve taken grief too far?

  • You need to work and you can’t–and you don’t have an alternative way to live–(homelessness)
  • Alcohol, drugs or even prescription drugs are consuming you
  • You have no initiative or purpose–for years–even though you want to–and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming out of your fog, just stuck
  • You’re completely cut off from everyone (for a very long time) and it’s not working for you, it’s not because you’re content
  • You have repeated thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Nothing brings you joy or comfort–and it’s been years
  • Your health is now at risk–obesity, forgetting to eat, not taking needed meds have begun to take a serious toll
  • A fixation has taken over–perhaps a fixation of your loved one, of death, or trying to contact them–whatever the fixation, it’s bordering on dangerous and hindering every day activities such as eating or sleeping or getting out. It’s easy to fall into this. You don’t mean to, it just sort of happens–but it’s the kind of thing you might need help getting out of.

Any of these can occur and you can still be okay, not great, but okay–still dealing with grief on your own terms.

But there’s also a line of delineation–when it’s not okay, it’s not part of the process, it’s a never-ending vortex.

How do you move past grief?

  • With help–meet with a grief counselor, one that’s trained and has seen hundreds of people who have had to deal with real tragedies–the journey is different when cataclysmic things have happened.
  • Be willing to go on medication, if necessary, and make sure you take it consistently and are monitored–we all need a little help at times
  • Look into your past back to another time of great hardship–what got you through? You have the keys to your own healing within yourself
  • Call a hotline if you need to
  • Go online and visit some great grief organizations where you can reach out privately in your own home–day or night–the Open To Hope Foundation is a wonderful resource for all kinds of grief–those who have lost a child, a parent, a spouse, those impacted by suicide, drugs, or violence. 
  • As difficult as it might seem, become a part of a small community–a church, a volunteer organization, a group of friends who meet regularly, a support group–ask to be accountable to someone. Go even though you don’t feel like it, have a hangover, a cold, a headache.
  • Be patient. You’ve been through a lot. Guilt, regret, longing can eat away at your life and your heart and your life may seem broken beyond repair. It’s going to take some time to even begin to get on your feet again.
  • Know that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Although you cannot fathom it, your life can have meaning and a measure of joy again.
  • Be willing to eventually open to love again. For now, willingness is all that matters

The bottom line is if you want your life to change, you’re ready to reach out, but you just don’t know how, it’s time to ask for help. We all need help at times.

I hope that something I’ve said will comfort you and offer light.

I offer this prayer–to all who feel lost.

May that small sliver of hope

slide between the folds of your heart

May a breeze catch you by surprize and remind you

you are not alone

May you once again feel the warmth of a hand, the brush of a shoulder

Trust. Trust beyond reason. Beyond today. Trust.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.Kunati.com, Publisher

 

 

        

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