This is an excerpt from Larry Patten’s A Companion for the Hospice Journey which is available on Amazon or though his website Hospice Matters.
He has died.
She has died.
You are numb. You can’t concentrate. You can’t imagine eating again or you graze junk food throughout the day. You can’t sleep, always feeling tired. Or you sleep too much, but can’t shake the never-ending exhaustion. Friends express kind words, though you barely comprehend anything said. Of course, there are others who say oddly hurtful words. Their clichés become arrows piercing your heart. (If God needed another angel or opened windows when doors closed, why couldn’t the Almighty collect angels and shut doors with someone else?)
But maybe not yet.
Let’s say it is days or weeks after your loved one’s death. Casseroles from friends wait in the fridge. Plans are underway (or just finished) for the celebration of life or graveside services. The out-of-town family is still in town. You’ll call Social Security and your insurance provider tomorrow to clarify benefits.
There are lots of things to do. There are lots of people around you.
But that day arrives, when the stale cookies and frozen meals are all gone. The kids have flown back home. Your best friend has returned to work. The to-do list of contacting credit card companies and obtaining the death certificates has been completed. Now what?
But that day arrives in the kitchen or bedroom—whether in a tiny senior apartment or a big house with a big yard in the suburbs—where your home is so, so, so quiet. Deathly quiet.
But that day arrives when everything about life seems “back to normal.” The months (or years) spent caring for a loved one are over. Hooray! And yet you had so wanted a little more time with him or her. Caring for the other gave you purpose. Also, truth be told, unless you keep busy, certain questions nag you:
- Did you make the right decisions?
- Did you call hospice too early or too late?
- Did you really honor your loved one’s wishes?
Grief is sneaky.
At some point, the hospice that cared for your loved one will contact you. They will tell you they are still thinking about you, and will give information about their grief support resources. Some hospices have quite a few options. The hospice where I work has grief counselors, support groups, and various workshops. We send letters and make phone calls to stay in touch. Smaller hospices, with limited staff, may not have many “in house” resources. However, every accredited hospice will provide opportunities for ongoing grief support. It could be offered by the hospice, or available through individuals and groups in your community. A hospice will always help you find support after a loved one’s death.
Do you need that support?
Here’s one secret for most grievers: No, you don’t. Many never do anything intentional for their grief. They plunge back into careers and families. The busier the better, many grievers would tell you if they ever took any time to chat. Eventually, the heartache of loss decreases, the unsettling flare of bittersweet memories fades, and the sharp-edged regrets recede into the background.
Who really needs any “help?” Stay focused. Stay goal-oriented. Stay the course.
Here’s the other secret . . ..
Everyone could benefit from some form of grief support.
If you work for a company offering bereavement leave (three days, two weeks, etc.), it’s not enough. You may pretend healing is determined by the calendar, that a month or a year after a death marks the official return to “normal.” Pretending is not healing.
A loss hurts. And can continue to impact us.
Grief hurts in quiet ways. For years, every Saturday, I called my mother to talk. It was our time, our ritual. And then it ended. Now, years after Mom’s death, an early Saturday morning can feel off. Unsettled.
Grief hurts in fickle ways. Several people I’ve known whose loved ones died suddenly have altered their routines. They no longer shop at the “old” grocery store (can’t stand the sympathetic glances from the friendly clerks). They avoid certain parts of town (where the favorite restaurant is located). They make sure that new acquaintances don’t become friends (and therefore are not part of another loss).
While I don’t doubt that most, after a beloved spouse or parent or child dies, can return to some variation of normal, much has changed. Talking with others about your loss and grief, formally or informally, will help. Take advantage of your best friends, of people you trust. Don’t think the key people in your life “have no time” or “have better things to do.” Your good friends will make room for you. You may need to openly—and painfully—relive some of the last tough days. Partly, do that with someone you trust because you are your own worst critic. Your self-doubts and second-guessing, if only “heard” by you, may get louder and louder. Let a dear friend give you another perspective.
However, if I ruled the world, I would “force” everyone to participate in the grief support a hospice offers. Say “yes” to the unobtrusive phone calls and mailings. Why not meet with a grief counselor for a few sessions (and longer for some) or try a grief support group? A counselor can help you understand what is “normal” about grieving. A group reminds you that you’re not alone in your struggles. Sleeping patterns do change. Eating habits do change. Irritation (at yourself, at friends, at strangers) will be greater.
It is oft and rightly said: the only way through grief to healing is by openly, honestly grieving.
We would never hesitate to seek help with mending broken bones. Grief is worse.
Grief hurts. Grief breaks us. Seek help with the healing. When hospice calls or writes . . . listen.
A Companion for the Hospice Journey received Honorable Mention in the 2019 Writer’s Digest awards for self-publishing. It has been recommended by nationally-known writers involved with dying, death, and grief. Barbara Karnes, a hospice RN and author of the best-selling Gone From My Sight, said that Companion “was like having a heart-to-heart conversation about one of the scariest topics I know: dying. This book is direct and comprehensive, yet oh so gentle . . .”
Hospice Matters link: