Dealing with Grief and Death in Recovery
"Always look at what you have left.
Never look at what you have lost."
– Robert H. Schuller >>
The death of a loved one is an incredibly painful event
It is a life-changing disaster, a hurt that may seem impossible to be rid of. It’s important that we grieve, but it is just as important that we recover. Enrapped in the seemingly insufferable sorrow of death, I can see nothing ahead but blackness, incredible aching, and crippling fear.
There are many things that a person can do to encourage the healing. There are just as many that will prolong the grieving process. Adrift on a sea of overwhelming and crippling emotion, how do I know what to do? Fortunately, we are not alone here. Many have walked this path before, and they have left words of comfort and wisdom for us to use.
What follows is a collection of thoughts and ideas that have proved useful to me and others. They may be of help to you, they may not. These are offered only as that--the possibility of some modest relief. I myself have no advice worth anything. I can only share my experience.
I miss them terribly.
Of course you do. Feel the pain to the bottom of your heart and find the love there. Hold on to that.
Life will never be the same again
Of course not. But life is change. Trying to hold on to yesterday only brings pain. If I’m going to find happiness, I must accept the world as it is. Endless change brings endless new opportunities.
I am overcome by my guilt.
You don’t have to be. Within the world of my mind, I can control my thoughts. I am only overwhelmed if I chose to be. Anytime I feel overwhelmed or trapped, I need to remember that this thought is only that—a thought. I don’t have to act on it.
Why me? Why him?
These are not useful questions and they only prolong my pain. Bodies break. Crazy people put bullets in good people. Disease is very democratic. In the depths of depression, good people commit suicide. Stuff happens that’s nobody’s fault.
I must keep my grieving to myself
Bullshit. Whenever I tell on my disease, it loses power over me. Whatever it happens to be: depression, grief, addiction, anything. This doesn’t mean I should unburden all my troubles on whoever is close by. No. But you know the ones who will listen without judging. Maybe it’s your next-door neighbor, your minister, or a cousin. This is where a grief group is particularly helpful. Don’t isolate.
I am loathe to admit it and I’m ashamed that I feel this way, but I’m glad it was him and not me. One of the spiritual principles of the good life is to abandon all shame and blame and guilt. They are negative emotions that cloud my thinking and affect my behavior. Nothing good comes from them.
My own death
Death of a loved one forces me to address my own mortality, which can be frightening. I may have to rethink my spiritual beliefs. The church that I attended for so long may not have the answers I need today. Don’t be afraid to look at yourself.
Other people will offer a lot of it. Thank them for they are saying they care about you. But just take that part of their suggestions that are helpful. Take what you need and leave the rest.
Let me tell you what you need to do.
Hardly. There is no one right way to deal with you loss. What works for one person may not help you at all. Like our relationship with God and life, it is a road we must walk by ourselves.
Parting from a loved one always hurts, whether a friend moves away, a child gets married and moves away, of a kindergartner heads off to school for the first time. This is normal and we get over it. Let it be so with dying.
Pain shared is pain reduced. Find a grief group, join it. Go to the meetings even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t be afraid, share your pain. Speaking up in group will help you find the solace you need.
All relationships end
except the one with your Higher Power. Friends move away. Parents die. To expect any relationship to last forever is to hold onto magical thinking. But Love, once born, never dies.
Death of a child.
The worst thing that can happen to a human being in this life is the death of a child. It is devastating beyond your wildest imagination. It wrecks marriages. It has no equal for pain.
We don’t weep for our lost loved ones. We weep for ourselves. We are the ones who feel the loss and must carry on alone. We feel sorry for ourselves. Crying is good, it is a form of catharsis. Feeling self-pity is a negative emotion of the first order and must be gotten rid of if we are to recover from our loss.
It’s perfectly okay to be angry. It is natural, appropriate, and perhaps necessary for healing. But I must not let my anger drive my thoughts and behavior. Remember, anger is only an emotion and it is driven by my fear. I must ask myself, what am I afraid of? I can dump my fear anytime I can recognize it is working in my life. And this--impotent anger turned inwards becomes depression.
He was too young to die
Nonsense. No one is too young or too old to die. Every moment of life is a precious gift and if we only have a handful, we are blessed by it. The loss is mine, for I see a future that is empty of my loved one. I see the “what-if”, the “could’ve been,” the “if only” and it makes me sad. But like shame and guilt, these thoughts are negativities that must be jettisoned. They only prolong the sorrow.
It hurts so bad
Yes, of course it does. But that’s okay. It could not be otherwise. But don’t dwell on your pain. Think of something else, drive the thought of pain away, change the channel on the TV of your mind.
I’ll never get over this
Hogwash. Don’t limit yourself, your future, or your Higher Power. If I believe life is hard by its very nature, I condemn myself to a life that is difficult. Expect to get better. Expect something good to happen. The good thoughts you put out in the universe will come back to you, many fold.
I don’t feel a thing
Many of us have developed an emotional clamp that prevents us from consciously feeling harmful emotions. But rest assured, the grief is still there and it must not be allowed to fester. Seek it out. Remember, bad things left to themselves always get worse.
Grief is a form of insanity
At the very least, it is depression, with loss of appetite, energy, or pleasure of any kind. Beware: the pain is so severe and the depression so deep that my ability to make decisions becomes impaired. Try not to make any big changes in your life at this time.
You are not responsible for death
You can neither give life nor take it away. In the end, at the end of the game, we all go home.
Death is not the enemy
Suffering is. When the body breaks, it’s time to go home.
God has not abandoned you
He doesn’t let evil things happen. He did not send a drunk driver, leukemia, a heart attack, or a terrorist’s bullet into your life. God does not test us nor send us trials and tribulations to challenge our faith. He gave us free will, and there will always be those who abuse this privilege.
This too shall pass
It’s true. Every day will be a little better than the last. Have faith that tomorrow will bring joy as deep as your sorrow. The program teaches that we should live one day at a time. Just like when we battled our addiction, we may need to deal with one hour at a time, even one minute at a time. One foot in front of the other. Keep walking, don’t stop.
Embrace life with all its ups and downs
Life is a gift, a rich and wonderful experience and grief is part of that. You have to take the whole package. But don't be afraid, it all evens out in the end.
Death is not the end
We are all children of God and we all partake of his love. He did not bring us this far to abandon us now. Remember the parable of The Prodigal Son. We ventured into the world on our own and royally screwed things up, only to find that our Father has been waiting patiently for us to come home.
Ask for help
Reach out to others: minsters, a psychologist, a support group, those you know who have gone through this before. Like many things in life, I don’t do this very well by myself. I need the help of others. Ask God, as you understand him. Pray for relief from pain, for insight, for strength to get up and back into the world.
You have many good ones. Let them warm you, but don’t let them be a source of pain. If I think of my memories as reminders of what I have lost, I will hurt. If I think of them as treasures given to me by the one I lost, I will feel better.
Don’t be afraid
You are okay.
Get over it
Okay, you may not like this part, but you have to get over it. They say normal grieving time is one to two years, but that for addicts and alcoholics it is often five to ten years. Move on. Life is more than loss, much more. It is joy, family, poetry, a good football game, a lovely sunset, a dinner with friends. Grab it with both hands. It is your inheritance.
Joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin
The depth of my sorrow determines the amount of joy I can hold. Hold onto the pain, feel it in your heart and to the very core of your being. But don’t hold on too long. Let it go. Watch it walk away.