October 2nd, 2013
Question: My boyfriend just lost his best friend of almost 10 years suddenly to heat stroke within the last week. He is beside himself with grief and I’m not sure how to deal with him. He goes over to the family’s house until four in the morning, drinks all the time now and he takes his anger out on me. When he finally calms down from being angry, he apologizes and says that he’s just going through a lot right now and says he knows I understand what he’s going through. The Memorial Service is today and I’m not sure how he will be acting after this, it scares me in all honesty. Today he will have to face the fact that his best friend is gone and not coming back. I feel terrible that this is the first death that has hit close to home.
We have talked about what he’s feeling and I can empathize with his pain. My problem lies in the fact that in the last two years I lost my fiancée, a month later my mentor, six months after that, I lost my grandmother and a month later my great-grandmother. I was very close to both of these women. I understand the devastation of loss.
Since we found out about his best friend’s death, I have been trying to be patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve been doing his cooking, cleaning, staying up until all hours of the night when he cries and can’t sleep, and I’ve been caring for his dog; all the while neglecting the responsibilities of my life. Lately, when he goes into his moods of anger and sadness, I start to run out of patience and get angry. Not at him, but just in general. I want to scream at him and tell him when he has lost as much as I have, then he’ll have a right to be angry at people and the world. I realize that I am still bitter about each and every loss that I have suffered, especially that of my fiancée. I feel selfish for feeling like I do; when all I want to do is just be there when he needs me. But this anger and bitterness is starting to get the best of me. What can I do to help myself and him?
Dear Reader: Grieving is full time work. Currently you are doing the work of two people when you should be focusing on your own grief. Two years with multiple losses is still a relatively new loss. Here are a few things to ponder:
- Verbal, emotional and physical abuse is never okay. Just because your boyfriend’s best friend died does not give him the right to treat you poorly. You are not a “bad” girlfriend for leaving him when he is in these moods. Do not feel guilty or feel sorry for him. Many people grieve and do it without scaring their friends and family, especially those that are trying to help them.
- Alcohol makes the grieving worse. It covers up the pain for a short period of time but when the effects wear off the pain is still there and sometimes worse. I would suggest you talk to your boyfriend about abstaining from alcoholic beverages until he can cope with his emotions. The sooner he starts facing them the sooner he will start to heal.
- Take care of you first. The only person who can take care of you – is you. Focus on your own grief work and set firm boundaries. It sounds like you are getting worn out and exhausted from taking care of your boyfriend. When you take care of yourself emotionally and physically you will have more energy to give to others. It is okay to tell your boyfriend that you want to be there for him but he also needs to be there for you. If he can’t be there for you then you might need to put some distance between you while you both work through your grief.
- Go see a therapist together. I would suggest you go to couples therapy to have an impartial third person help you learn skills that will ease your grieving process. Going together can help strengthen your relationship and improve communication skills as well.
- If your boyfriend will not go with you to see a therapist, you should still go for yourself. It is all too easy when trying to help others to let yourself be “used” or taken advantage of in a bad way. When this happens, tempers tend to flare.
- If your boyfriend will not take any suggestions, and continues his behavior, you may have to consider taking a “time out” or time away from him. Tell him why you are doing so, but that he can call you whenever he is ready to treat you well, and to share in your mutual pain of loss.
Remember if you take care of yourself first then you will have more emotional strength to give to the relationship, your boyfriend and others.
September 25th, 2013
Question: Over the past year I have had a few families ask whether we handle pet cremations and assistance with pet loss. We really haven’t contemplated offering these services before but since families are asking for them we are re-thinking this possibility. What should we know about people who are suffering from the loss of a pet?
Dear Reader: The loss of a pet can hit people just as hard as the loss of a loved person — especially if they have not had any children or lived by themselves. Their grief can be very intense. Sometimes pet loss is more difficult because the animals could not speak and let their humans know what was wrong or what they needed. There can be guilt associated with the care of a pet just before their demise. When assisting people who have lost a beloved furry friend I would suggest you treat them with the same care and compassion you would an individual who has lost a human companion or family member. Besides the tips below you might want to consider putting an area on your website that addresses the issue of pet loss. (See French Funeral Home at www.frenchfuneralhome.com.) Feel free to copy and distribute these tips to your families, while of course, preserving our copy write. Read the rest of this entry »
September 18th, 2013
My husband came up the stairs holding out the phone with a pleading look in his eyes. Could I please just take a few minutes and talk to his mother? She had just lost her brother to a heart attack. This was a brother that had just gone to Thailand for an experimental treatment to heal his congestive heart failure. The family was in a shock. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was on the mend!
Death is no stranger to this family. His mother had just lost an older sister in January and yet still did not know how to react or what to do to this latest loss. I started to assess the situation. If you are helping or assisting a friend or family member this list might be helpful for you.
Questions to ask:
- “Tell me about the death — when did it happen? Who was there?” People want to talk about their loss. It helps make it more real for them in their own minds. Read the rest of this entry »
September 11th, 2013
Dear Kelly: I read your column on listening. However, sometimes one just must say something. What are the appropriate words to say when someone is grieving?
Dear Reader: Sometimes it is really hard to say just the right words to a person who is grieving. It can tend to be an awkward moment for both parties involved. The person who isn’t grieving stumbles around and tries to find something they think won’t offend the grieving person. This isn’t surprising since we aren’t taught how to grieve or to help a grieving person. At Beyond Indigo many of our grieving members talk about the words that are not helpful. One of our volunteers, Jim, lost his son two years ago and this is what he says about certain pat phrases people have given him and his feelings about these sayings.
“He (She) is with God!” I am sure that is the case, but they shouldn’t be with God; they should be here with us. Read the rest of this entry »
September 4th, 2013
In modern society, pets are more than furry creatures who look cute and are fun to cuddle. In fact, according to the American Human Association, an overwhelming nine in ten owners view their pets as members of the family. Pet spending has kept up with change in status, with “The Telegraph” reporting an annual level of spending upward of $43.3 billion. Read the rest of this entry »
August 26th, 2013
Question: I have been a Funeral Director for the last 11 years and it is still hard for me personally when we have funerals for children. Is there anything you can suggest that I can do to take care of myself personally during a funeral of a child?
Answer: Losing a child is never easy even when the child is not your own. Children are the hope for the future and should have so much of their life ahead of them. When a child is lost so are the dreams and the hopes of the future. It seems unnatural to be taking care of the final arrangements of a child. Because of this, many funeral homes don’t display caskets, vaults or items related to child loss. There is for many a sense of loss of innocence when a child dies. Expectations are cut short, and the deep, unexpected grief of the parents of the child is an additional factor that makes taking care of the child and the family difficult.
Here are some things you might do to take care of yourself while helping a family who has lost a child. Read the rest of this entry »
August 19th, 2013
Question: What is the typical time frame someone exhibits signs and symptoms of grief?
Answer: People start exhibiting signs and symptoms of grief from immediately after the death to continuing up to seven years later. However, a person may not realize they are grieving or what are the signs of grief. Many times on Beyond Indigo message boards we have members ask “I am still crying shouldn’t I be over it since the funeral was a week ago”?
Therapists, doctors and other grieving professionals have been studying grieving for years. They keep discovering new aspects to grieving because it is such an individual unique process. However there are some things that are similar for all grieving individuals.
Each person normally goes through the following four phases. These phases do not occur in any particular order but tend to happen during different stages of the grief process. Read the rest of this entry »
August 12th, 2013
Question: Our family dog died last week and my son is beside himself. We held a small funeral for Scruffy and then had him cremated. Should I be worried about my son’s grief?
Answer: Pet loss, and the grief related to it, is just now coming into sharp focus. Researchers are beginning to contrast how the loss of a pet can affect a person with the loss of a relative or a friend. In 2006, the Journal of Death Studies (Volume 30: pages 61-76) did an article about children and the loss of a pet. Here is some information from the article which might be of help to you.
- Depression and anxiety might occur over the loss of a pet but it probably won’t be as intense as the loss of a family member. Read the rest of this entry »
August 5th, 2013
Question: When grieving people come to see me at the Funeral Home it is easy to tell they are in a different frame of mind then non-grievers. What exactly is going on emotionally while they are grieving? What are they aware of or not aware of? Maybe I should be presenting my information differently so they perceive what I am saying. I would appreciate your help.
Answer: People who are grieving are definitely operating out of a different place then people who are not grieving. I call this the “Grief Space”. Within this space different thoughts and feelings are occurring to the grieving person than occur to those that are not grieving. If you could see this ‘space’ it would look like a bubble that surrounds the person. If you could look into this bubble you would find:
- Limited Awareness of physical events: Grieving people tend not to be too aware of their physical surroundings nor do they care as much about doing so. If the house stays dirty or they forget to eat it doesn’t cross their own internal radar. People can lose awareness of national events, local happenings and family news. It just blurs together. I have even heard of people breaking bones and not being aware of the pain from the break. Read the rest of this entry »
July 15th, 2013
Question: So Many people lose their significant others. How can I help them cope?
Answer: No matter how long you have been married or living with your mate, their death comes as a shock. Your partner was your mate in life to help enjoy the good times, to endure the bad and make each day a little brighter. When you loose your mate you experience grief in different ways then if you had lost a parent, a sibling, a friend or a child. Many times you have to restructure your life to reflect that there is just one person instead of two. Depending on whether you are male or female will also determine how you respond to the loss of your mate. What makes losing your mate so different then other types of grief?
1. If you are man, society may have a different assumption on how you should grieve and be less accepting of your grief. You might hear:
- Be strong!
- Don’t cry!
- Move on why are you still sad?
You may actually have to tell people it is okay for you to grieve and you will cry if you want to. Remember people are uncomfortable around grieving people if they themselves have never grieved.
If you have been a caregiver you might be eating worse then when you were married or had a mate. Perhaps you have tended to have a less balance diet and have been eating many of the fried foods. Perhaps you aren’t eating many meals, or are skipping eating significant meals.
2. More Health Risks. People who hae lost a mate seem to be more likely to get sick physically and mentally. This is not overly surprising because of the intensity of grief you are facing but it is worth noting.
- You have a greater chance of being depressed, even up to a couple of years after the loss of your spouse.
- Elderly individuals may suffer low-level depression that could go unnoticed and be related to grief.
- There is greater chance of suicide later in life…especially for mean without partners.
- You immune system is weaker.
- There is a higher chance of turning to addictive substances such as tobacoo, drugs and alcohol, which make you a risk for other health concerns.
- If you had a great marriage or partnership, it is more likely your health will suffer after the loss.
Now it is important not to allow yourself to become depressed just by reading what can happen to your health. Cheer up. Forewarned is forearmed. You don’t have to be sick if you are aware of your health and keep an eye on it. Make sure that you eat well, or at the very least are mindful to eat something, sleep and drink plenty of water. It is the simple things that work, but they are also so easy to forget. If you start not feeling well don’t shove the thoughts aside thinking things will get better . Go to the doctor and be proactive instead of trying to get well later.
3. Adjusting is individual. People grieve at their own rate. People also adjust differently.
- The younger you are when you have lost your mate the harder it is for you to adjust. The theory is that not only have you lost your “present” but you have also lost your “future”–depending on where you are in the life cycle. People who have been married for 30 to 40 years have already lived a larger part of their life. Younger people have lost the future in children, grandchildren and other family events.
- Remember each loss is not just a single loss. You have had multiple losses. You have lost the person to have a conversation with over dinner. The person to help you get dressed for fancy occasions or help with the maintenance of your house, doing groceries, laundry and bills. Be prepared for the pain from these losses to show up when you least expect it.
Going on in life without your mate will probably feel like you are starting over in some ways. It is hard journey to walk but it can be done. Remember to watch your health, have a good support system, and take care of your first. Grief is not a destination but a journey.