When someone we love leaves or walks out the door our immediate reaction may be one of hysterics, deep sadness, relief, and sometimes, even jubilation. These feelings eventually dissipate and new feelings take their place. The feelings that replace the initial feelings are more intense, and stored deep within our brain, skin and sense of smell. They are our memory of the person who left.
Forget trying to distract yourself from these memories, because it won’t work. It may provide a temporary reprieve or chance to act happy when you really don’t feel happy, but the memories will meet up with you again as soon as you are alone and vulnerable. The only cure is to feel and experience these memories and re-live them again and again. Time, and time alone, will fade the memories, but if you just lost the person you love most, time is a cruel healer. Time takes time, and the pain is now and intense.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things to witness is that even though this person was everything to you, they aren’t everything to others. Life goes on, and your world will keep turning, barely missing a beat. Your loss won’t stop anything, and even though you may feel bewildered wondering how everyone else can go on as if nothing happened, they will. You will be the only one feeling as if you lost a part of yourself when you are going through this.
You cannot bring someone back who is gone, but you can embrace the memory instead of trying to resist it. Here are suggestions that can help you or help you help another who is struggling with letting go and memories. Before you begin to try and help, it is important to recognize the universal feelings we all feel after someone we love leaves.
1. Anger. Men may exhibit more anger than women, but both usually feel some degree of it. The anger is usually directed at someone else, or something, but most likely they will assume some of the fault and may direct it at themselves.
2. Non-stop crying is common more so for women than guys…but guys will usually be more irritable and easily frustrated. Both are struggling with what they feel.
3. Numbness sets in and it is a coping mechanism. It allows both men and women to get through the day.
4. “What ifs” take over. Both men and women play the relationship over and over in their heads. This actually is part of the healing of grief, so it is important.
5. Medicating the pain. Men usually gravitate toward alcohol or women to medicate or comfort the pain of losing someone. Women usually turn to other women, and food for comfort.
If someone you love is going through the pain of losing someone they love, the single best thing you can do is to listen. Listening restores balance, helps them feel connected, and really does help the grieving person move on. Here are a few more helpful suggestions.
1. Take care of yourself. Whether you are the one going through grief or you are helping someone who is grieving, it takes an emotional toll on you. Make sure you set time aside to care for you and your needs. Going through the motions of getting a massage or going to church helps restore balance and the numbness begins to dissipate. If you are a friend of the grieved, self care provides nurturance. You won’t be able to support your friend if you lose yourself.
2. If you are the friend of the grieved, know when your friend is in need of professional help. If your friend becomes debilitated by their grief: not able to get out of bed, choosing unhealthy coping mechanisms, becoming increasingly isolated, or talking about suicide, you should seek emergency help.
3. As much as you can, encourage your friend to attend social gatherings of family and friends. Other people who care about you and/or your friend, can provide a source of comfort and help support you while you are supporting your friend.
When you lose someone you love, you are fragile, and need time to reflect, and re-live those memories. If you have a good friend who will experience the loss with you, the healing stage can be less tragic, but no matter who is there to help or not, it takes a long time to get over the memories. I work with people who have suffered severe losses and the one thing it has taught me time and time again, is that most of the time sad memories fade, but never disappear. –Mary Jo Rapini
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