“The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Albert Einstein
In this bittersweet life of ours, not only all of us must die; all of us also must lose some of our loved ones to death. When this comes it can be unexpected, or it could be predictable but it’s a shock nevertheless. No matter your logical understanding, your body will be in shock. Emotions might arise you’ve never imagined.
Sadness can feel overwhelming. It can drain your energy until you have none even for the simplest tasks. It can feel like a heavy burning rock in your body. You may feel that life doesn’t make sense anymore. You might feel like you can never be happy again. Things you used to enjoy will fall into background. It can seem weird that all around you people are still loving, creating, and having fun.
Many little details will remind you of your loss. Things you used to share with your loved one, things you used to laugh about, things they loved and were enthusiastic about, little daily routines; even things that used to irritate you. Your body will need many weeks to get used to not expect them anymore.
Stages of grief have been described before, but I would like to add something to them, which is guilt. Similarly like a child, who feels their relationship with a parent is in danger, you might spontaneously feel responsible for everything. Even subconsciously, it may feel that taking responsibility gives you power to change something. You can question every little thing you’ve ever done. You can see every little imperfection, mistake, or even natural human limitations, as something you shouldn’t have done. You can easily feel responsible even for things which were never under your control. You can feel responsible for things which were the decisions of the one who died. You can blame yourself for not knowing better, even if there was no way to know.
Sometimes even with people you haven’t felt so good about, or you lost touch with them for years, when death comes it can be a shock to the system. I have a friend who divorced her alcoholic and abusive first husband over 20 years ago. But when he recently spent some time in a hospital with a life-threatening illness, suddenly intense sadness came over her. All the good memories came back out, while the bad memories somehow faded. She even felt guilty about every little mistake she made, regardless of how abusive her ex-husband was.
This is when you most need to practice self-love and self forgiveness. None of us is an angelic omnipotent computer with no personal needs. Imperfection is human nature. Perhaps you made mistakes but most likely they were not malicious. Your anger might have been the result of fear, or seeking balance; your impatience might have been the result of being overburdened or pressed for time. In any given moment there’s too much going on for human minds to process. You need to forgive yourself for being human.
Even in cases when you did things out of malice, the malice might’ve been the result of childhood fears or bad role models. If you feel your guilt is real, there are ways to atone for it (check the article How To Truly Forgive And Be Forgiven?). But most likely whatever you did had much less impact than you make yourself believe.
So treat yourself like you would treat a good friend in a similar situation. Acknowledge your sorrow, don’t try to hide or deny it, but don’t believe every unpleasant thought either. Find a balance between allowing the process of grief and encouraging yourself. Accept help from friends. It’ll probably make things easier for them too. Don’t make yourself work as you normally would. This is a rare and extreme situation of stress, probably the worst stress in a human life, and it’s ok to take it easy on yourself.
Many people feel like their loved one is still around for sometime after their death. You might feel a loving or peaceful presence. A skeptic might say it’s a brain‘s way to cope, but skepticism can be very very limiting too. Human brains are not able to even grasp the concept of four dimensions, let alone more than them. How can we claim that our brains are able to understand the true nature of reality if we can barely even comprehend advanced physics? Maybe there is much more than we could ever imagine.
Take care of your body. You might not be able to practice sports, but maybe you can take a light walk. If you don’t feel able to cook, allow a friend to do you a favor, or order some healthy food. Avoid eating junk food and neglecting your body, that would make you feel even worse.
Remember good times. Celebrate what your loved one was. Maybe you can even use your pain to motivate you to make changes in your life. Many people find pain can be the greatest motivator (check the article Turn Emotional Pain Into Passion And Inspiration). It would be great if it wasn’t so, but better ever done never. Dedicate your change and new decisions to the memory of your loved one.
Very very slowly, a tiny bit a day, you will feel better. The burning rock will become smaller and cooler, until it turns into a pebble. You will re-learn to enjoy life, maybe with more depth and appreciation. You will rediscover people around you waiting for your love. The memories of your loved one will become a source of warmth, perhaps with some melancholy, but not pain. And who knows, perhaps on the other side of what we call reality, you might become one again.