Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When someone dies, how do we live?

In the last 7 months, I have known and will have attended 3 funerals for people who I have known personally.  I am 32 years old and I have never known anyone to die besides my grandparents (at a normal age).  The people who have died have all been under 65 years old with two of them being under 50 years old.  One person died suddenly of a heart attack while two people died after battling cancer for years.

It is challenging to know how to grief and how to live.  After my friend died in January, I was grieving and traumatized by her death for months.  Part of the reason I was traumatized was the fact that she was not given liquids by hospice care.  I didn't agree with the decision and yet I had no authority to change the decision.  Also, I ended up being kicked out of the facility after visiting for a week because I was "interfering" with her death.  Or more accurately, I didn't agree with their standard of care for my friend because I felt that it was inhumane.

I felt myself emotionally detach from my friend who was also battling cancer because I could not emotionally handle losing a second close friend to cancer.  My friend who died in January, I drew much closer to emotionally in the last few weeks of her life; however, with my friend who died in June I felt myself pull away in the last couple months of her life.

I don't know which is worse, to pull close to someone and suffer tremendous grief after their death or to pull away and emotionally guard yourself.  I guess it depends on where you are in your life and how you need to live and grief.

If I would have drawn close to my second friend who died, I don't know if I could have pulled myself out of the deep pit of grief.  Everyone does grieve differently and some people grieve in healthier ways than others.  It seems that for me, depression and isolation was the way that I handled the initial shock of my friend dying.  I found myself crying at random moments, not enjoying the things that normally enjoyed, and feeling very pessimistic about life and the direction of living.

Thankfully, I was able to have great closure at the funeral of my second friend.  The closure that I had was connecting with a friend who stayed close by her side every day until she died.  She prayed for her, talked to her, and helped her to eat healthy.  She was doing everything that I would have done if I had the emotionally strength and energy.  I felt relieved to hear that she had someone who did draw closer, who did put herself in a vulnerable situation for the sake of her friend.

We all have different roles to play and the important thing is that we do play our role at that specific moment for that specific time.  I feel happy that my friends knew God and that they are in heaven, but I don't understand it.  I don't understand how to grieve in a healthy way and how to be able to live at the same time that you grieve.  To do all that you know to do, but to leave it in the hands of God because we cannot decide when and where and who dies.

My friend's dad died of a sudden heart attack this past week.  The third person and the third funeral in 7 months; I am so sad for his family, for his wife and his two children.  I am sad that he wanted to be a grandpa and never had the opportunity to be a grandpa.  I am sad that no one got to say goodbye before he died, that it was so sudden that he was gone in an instant.

I wish that we could do more, love more, live more, and grieve the way that we need to without losing ourselves or losing our own lives.  We are here for a great purpose and it is important to find a way to live through the grieving process and help other people to grieve in a healthy way.

In other cultures, the grieving process is a bit different than it is in America.  In South Africa, my husband's culture, the viewing of the body usually happens within the home.  Hundreds of people come to walk through the home and to see their lost friend, family member, or loved one.  Neighbors come daily throughout the entire grieving process (however long it takes for the family to grieve) bringing food and helping to clean or do basic things that are difficult to accomplish while you are grieving.

It seems that in America, people tend to isolate themselves and grieve alone.  They cry in their car by themselves, in their room by themselves, or anywhere where they do not have to look vulnerable.  I know that this is not everyone in America, but it seems that this is common in America compared to more collective cultures.

I am not sure what is the best for each particular person at a specific point in their lives, but it seems that having support, being able to talk and release heavy emotions and burdens are important.  I think that we can learn a lot about grieving from other cultures who take the time to grieve, who take the time to support those who are grieving, and who continue to live throughout the process, however long it takes.

I hope that I do not have a 4th funeral to go to this year.  I hope that I can learn to love better, to help support those who are sick better, and to grieve and to live through the grieving process.