I can remember the first time that I saw something dead – or at least something that I loved dead, which wasn’t just a bug or worm I had squashed with my own feet. It was my bunny, and I can still remember exactly how I felt. Confused, numb, bewildered, curious and sad. And even as we grow older, most people find that death is a difficult thing to deal with and leaves us all sort of humbled in a curious way.
It is important to understand when dealing with death is one of those issues in life that every person approaches differently. No two people will have the same feelings about death, and no two people will react exactly the same. There are people who see death as part of the life cycle and accept it and others who become angry about losing a loved one – whether or human or pet. But what remains consistent among people is that death has to be dealt with. Grief is not necessarily an emotion, but a process – that leads to healing. Since death varies by the person, the grieving process will as well. It is not for any one person to say or interject opinions about how someone else should deal with death in their lives.
Perhaps one of the most conflicting issues when dealing with death is that the after life is such a mystery. Regardless of religious beliefs, or spiritual beliefs – the black unknown that occurs after we die is something that no one can explain. For this reason, worry often follows the death of a loved one. It is normal to feel worried that they are okay, that they made it to your version of Heaven. And the reality is that as you deal with the death of someone you know and feel the accompanying worry, you cannot help but worry what will happen to you as well.
Whether it is an adult or a child dealing with the loss, it is important to be supportive. You may not be able to find the right words and you may find that the things you do say seem cliché and almost uncompassionate. In order to support someone that you love who is dealing with loss, you don’t have to say anything. Ask them how they feel, be there to offer a hug and try to relate from the part of yourself that has faced the same issues. Although your theories and opinions about death are intended to help someone get through the feelings, it is often best to be a listener rather than a talker.
Children deal with death much differently than adults. Not only is it harder to rationalize, but in their world death is normally not something that they have to deal with that often. In fact, the first losses for a child may be that of a pet. This can be an important time to teach them about death, and to help them find their own grieving process. The worst thing that people can do is ignore the death, or try to keep on continuing forward without allowing the child to grieve in his or her own way. Parents often make the mistake of trying to keep things as normal and uneventful as possible, which can cause a child to feel displaced with what they are truly feeling. Understand also that it is not unusual for children especially to seem separated from the death at first. This normally causes concern for parents and caregivers because they feel that the child is repressing feelings. However, this is more than likely just part of their grieving process. For children, it can take months or even years – for them to truly motion through the gamut of emotions that dealing with death can cause. And some, may not react negatively at all. This is especially true when the death is something they were expecting or that of a person that isn’t an immediate member of their family.
Perhaps one of the worst things about death is that we assume, as humans – that it is part of life. But living, the absolute prerequisite for death – in no way prepares us for dealing with loss. In fact, the only thing that prepares humans for dealing with death, is experiencing it for themselves.
People also assume that when the time comes to deal with it, we will operate on some sort of autopilot that will lead us out of the tunnel and into the light again. Then, facing death we realize that even as prepared as you may have thought you were, you just aren’t. This means that as a friend or loved one of someone who has experienced death, you cannot expect them to ‘come around,’ or ‘get over it’ within a certain amount of time. There are many people that never get over the death of someone they loved. And while to you it may seem irrational and you may want to help – you are left pretty helpless because you don’t understand their process.
Similarly, when children grow up without experiencing death – and become adults that have never lost someone close to them, they are more likely to have a more relaxed reaction when say, their mom or dad dies at the age of 90. Opposed to someone who has dealt with death at a young age, when perhaps it didn’t make sense and felt more like a punishment than a part of life, who is apt to be left angry from every death they experience. Then, every time it happens again, they revert back to those initial reactions they had as a child which makes the grieving process even more painful for them.
The Grieving Process
Essentially, the best way in dealing with death, whether it is because of someone close to you or because a dear friend has just lost someone close to him or her – is to remain open to whatever emotion comes your way. Dealing with death is a lot easier when people feel they have a support system, and the entitlement to be angry, sad, resentful, scared, worried, and even relieved in any order, at any time! Truth is, that no one really recovers from dealing with the loss of a loved one. There will always be memories and a life, from that day forward will always be different! Part of the reason that death is so difficult for people to deal with is that it is a mystery and that is one of those forces in life that none of us can change or alter.