(10) My Path To Bereavement

Imagine that I was aware of starting my bereavement much sooner than 13 years after the death of our dear daughter. I am still wondering whether my wife would still be with me in that case. So to all of you who lost a person who is dear to you, seek support the sooner the better.

I used to see images I could not explain to myself. Later it turned out that these images showed me moments in my future. I didn’t understand them and was not able interpret these images, so you can image they weren’t of any help to me and in other words it scared me a lot. Our daughter saw much more images and people of which she was not afraid. She discussed these with us and she was even able to interpret them. My wife didn’t like this at all, but I saw a few pieces of the puzzle of my life starting to fall in place.

After the death of our daughter she showed me many more images. She knew I was visually oriented, hence, she communicated to me by showing images only. Brilliant images with indescribable beautiful colors. The shades, their intensity, the warmth and emotions these colors showed were indescribably beautiful. It was something I had never seen before. And then the peace those images radiated. Words like brilliant and impressive, all words with which you try to describe these colors and these images were a far cry from what I was allowed to see. The images gave me support, they also indicated that there is much more after our lives on Earth and because of this I was able to scramble back little by little.

Both, my wife and me, were looking for much distraction to release the stress in our bodies caused by the death of our daughter. We had a massage every week. I went to the Sports Center and later yoga. My wife played tennis several times a week, exercised Tai Chi and later also went to the Sports Centre. My wife cried quietly at night while during the day she was the happiest person you can imagine. My body slowly de-stressed, she couldn’t relax. I tried to help her by instinctively doing those things that could release her stress, but she didn’t accepted this because she didn’t want me to deal with all her emotions that came free. She wanted to protect me because I had much grief too. She didn’t want me to feel her sorrow and grief in all its intensity.

My wife accepted no help at all and tried to resolve it in her own way. Eventually she died of a broken heart. We both foresaw her death but she didn’t want to talk about this, with nobody.

Despite his grief, my son kept me up and running. The teams at my work kept me up and running. In addition to the daily puzzles during our work we had a lot of fun. I have treasured friends who kept me on my path. Wherever I was, the teams gave me much support all the time; they were my Golden Teams. We have been on vacation a few times my son and me, which was fun and brought us closer than we ever had been. But when I was alone I became a different person.  In the two years after the death of my dear wife I have never been so ill in my life. There were moments I didn’t want to live anymore; I obviously didn’t know how to cope with my grief.

My employer didn’t want me to retire. My job was awesome so I didn’t. However, the last project spoiled all the fun and love for my job. Yet there was always that huge urge that I had still to do something that is important for my future and for all of us in this world.

After my retirement, some 13 years after the death of our daughter and about 2 years after the death of my wife, it became very difficult for me. My energy disappeared, felt depressed and whatever I tried to do didn’t work out; I was so … tired. By chance, not sure whether chance exist, I found a document that explained how people deal with processing loss. There were statements and comments that were also applicable to myself. At that moment I recognized and acknowledged that I was working on or maybe starting the bereavement due to the loss of my daughter and my dear wife. The first step was finally taken.

Now imagine that I was aware of starting my bereavement much sooner than 13 years after the death of our dear daughter. I am still wondering whether my wife would still be with me in that case. So to all of you who lost a person who is dear to you, seek support the sooner the better.

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(9) Painting The Landscape Of Grief

Let’s try to start “painting” the landscape of grief today. Not in black and white only but, in the full spectrum of colors we observe. We can see and interpret colors in various ways. Rationally, when we talk about the colors themselves e.g. blue, red or green. Emotially, when we say that a color is warm, cold, dull or merry.

An introduction

Let’s try to start “painting” the landscape of grief today. Not in black and white only but, in the full spectrum of colors we observe.

We can see and interpret colors in various ways. Rationally, when we talk about the colors themselves e.g. blue, red or green. Emotially, when we say that a color is warm, cold, dull or merry.

Grief

The concept of “grief” has a wide range of interpretations. Those interpretations though, may vary from culture to culture or from language to langue. For this blog I will use the “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” where grief is defined as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” but, also as “an unfortunate outcome”. In other words the concept of “grief” varies from the loss of simple addressable items such as the loss of a necklace up to the loss of the person who is most dear to you.

When you are acquainted with someone you like you become related to each other, you get a bond with each other. Overtime the bond gets stronger as more and more facets (or colors) introduce themselves in the relationship.

The bond is broken by the loss of your dearest. It is not only the loss of the person but also missing the hug in the morning, the happiness and love you received, or simple things as a cup of coffee that was ready for you when you arrived at home. And then suddenly there is nobody standing next to you and you have to do everything yourself. All those things cannot be replaced because nobody means to you what the other meant to you, the one you lost. And then there are the things that remain which will deepen the loss of your dearest. The strength of that special bond also relates to the level you was dependent from the other. The greater the strength of the bond the more difficult it will be and the longer it takes to get “free” from it.

When “grief” is related to an “unfortunate outcome” then there will be the emotion of the loss but it won’t go as deep as with the loss of your dearest. You can address this emotion much easier and you are much more able to find a rational cause and resolution for your loss. The 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) from Elisabeth Kübler Ross’ model will be dealt with in a (very) short time. Often we even do not realize we are going through a process of grieving.

The two sides of a coin

Personally the concepts of emotion and ratio form the two sides of a coin. When I observe myself I can see two things all the time. I see an emotional side that is busy processing grief as a result of the loss of my two loved ones. I miss the conversations, their love, the hugs, the jokes, and the “I love you” we said to each other regularly every day. We not only told this each other, is was the way we lived. My emotional side looks inward, feels all those emotions that are dealing with my loss and my grief and follows the heart. Despite the loss my emotional side is essentially warm, cheerful and full of love and the decisions it takes are through the heart.

I also see an observer, my rational me, which not only observes but also protects my emotional side. It also observes my friends, the people who support me, the people I meet and the world in which I live. My rational side is cold, bleak and mainly business like; decisions are motivated by the brains. My rational side would love to be more friendly but doesn’t understand how to do this.

It’s not always easy to live simultaneously with both my emotional and rational sides. Sometimes the emotional side has the upper hand, sometimes the rational one. In retrospect, I think my rational side is protecting my emotional one from going down in grief. I am not sure, but I suspect that the time I need for the processing of my grief this way will take a bit longer. But, I have to admit that the days that I am happy and sad at the same time, when I am in harmony, are in most cases my best days. It’s who I am.

Bizarre … happy and sad at the same time. Once I realized this it turned out that it happened much more often in my life. The loss of a job because the company I worked for went bankrupt, but also the joy of a new job. It had to be that way when I discovered in retrospect that I should have taken the new job much earlier. My daughter who, when she realized she was going to die, was sad because she would leave us, but at the same time she was happy because she finally got rid of a disease where she had suffered from all her life.

Happy and sad at the same time, it’s more common than you think and I assume most of us recognize this. By this simultaneity we can, despite the loss, change the cold and bleak colors of sorrow into warm and merry colors.

The start of processing grief

The processing of grief starts as soon as you realize this. Someone who is ill gets sicker and sicker and eventually realizes that the disease affects her/his life. A relationship between partners is getting worse and worse and eventually both realize it ends with a divorce. An adopted child is searching for its biological parents but realizes they can’t be found anymore.

The processing of grief doesn’t start when the loss happens but it starts as soon as you realize this, which can take days, weeks, months, even years. My processing of grief for the loss of my daughter started 13 years after her death, and at that same time started the processing of my grief for the loss of my wife who deceased 2½ years earlier and also at that same time a new phase in my life began. It was the beginning of one of the roughest and most stormy periods in my life that I wish on anyone.

But I know one thing for sure. My rational side protects my emotional side so it can continue to work on the processing of my grief. The friends around me who are listening to me all the time are helping in the way they can. I know it for sure, I will come out OK.

To be continued.
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(8) What Can We Do With Models?

Many models exist in today’s world. A model like Newton’s Law, remember the apple falling from the tree, is pretty accurate but has its flaws. We have models for traffic control or navigating ships. Models predicting the stock market, or the heating in our house. We have models for human behavior or assessing your type of personality. We have many … many models in use today in almost every aspect of our daily live.

Many models exist in today’s world. A model like Newton’s Law, remember the apple falling from the tree, is pretty accurate but has its flaws. We have models for traffic control or navigating ships. Models predicting the stock market, or the heating in our house. We have models for human behavior or assessing your type of personality. We have many … many models in use today in almost every aspect of our daily live.

Many models exist in today’s world. A model like Newton’s Law, remember the apple falling from the tree, is pretty accurate but has its flaws. We have models for traffic management or navigating ships. Models predicting the stock market, the climate or the heating in our house. We have models for human behavior or assessing your type of personality. We have many … many models in use today in almost every aspect of our daily live.

Models may be modern but not necessarily new. Many models we use today were developed decades ago, some even ages ago. Once there is a model which can applied in your area of expertise it can be used for assessing the situation you are in, or for suggesting options to choose from for improving this, or predicting the outcome of actions taken… or… actions you are intending to take. Applying a model this way provides security, certainty.

A model has its downsides though. Just to name a few, a model is a simplification of reality, sometimes a far cry of the real thing. Or people use a model as a tool without understanding its background and its limitations. Or people have become so reliant on a model which controls a process, like flying a plane, that as soon as it demonstrates unexpected behavior they don’t know what to do anymore in order to quickly take control of it themselves.

I have met many people who are using models as the sole truth. They see it as reality, that is their reality, and anything else is either not true, not possible or even considered beyond normal. So, don’t be shocked when a model does not work for you, especially when you need to deal with… grief.

A famous model in dealing with grief is “The 5 Stages of Grief” developed by Elisabeth Kübler Ross. The 5 stages i.e. (i) Denial, (ii) Anger, (iii) Bargaining, (iv) Depression and (v) Acceptance are not intended to be worked through and ticked off. The stages could be used as sign posts to help understand what you feel, or where you are in your bereavement. The model also describes what is meant by each stage, what could be felt or observed. More importantly by using it this way the model provides guidance.

Another model that is more generally applied is the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator” which defines your personality type. The model characterizes your preference (i) of the general attitude, extravert vs. introvert, and (ii) your preferences within your mental functions, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling and judging vs. perceiving. Once you understand your type of personality the model provides behavior and communication guide lines in relation to other people.

It does not necessarily mean that all of us “walk through” Elisabeth’s model in the same way. By applying Myers-Briggs we can conclude that all of us will respond differently to each stage. It could be that you are not even aware of one or more of the stages. It also does mean that the duration in dealing with our grief is different for each of us. Some of us will not even complete the process. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy and enjoy life.

Be careful though, your partner, children, family and friends are different personalities, living and raised under different conditions, within different timeframes and hence are dealing with their grieve in a different way than you do. There is no doubt about that, it’s a fact of life.

The first hurdle you need to take is becoming aware of what is happening with you. That could take weeks, months, sometimes even years; it all depends on your personality and how you live. Once you are aware of, or observe your feelings then the models can explain what is happening to you. Then you begin to understand … and to look forward again and… and you start dealing with your grief.

So does that mean that you have dealt with your grief at this point, that it is done and dusted? No, not even close. Does it mean that you can ever deal with your grief, that it will be closed in a foreseeable future? Yes, maybe… but… maybe not.

Personally I am certain that I will take my grief with me in the grave. Does that mean that I am unhappy? Certainly not, I am a very happy person but sometimes … when you hear that special sound again, that special tune again, when you smell that special perfume again, when … then I travel back in time to those moments we were happy together. I feel all the pain again … but… differently … it’s as if I am sad and happy at the same time … it’s an ambivalent feeling.

Hence, yes we can use models for guidance but, we cannot predict how you specifically will respond.

It is what it is. It is has made me the person I am today; as will happen to each of us at some point in time.

(7) I Will Not Leave You

The doctor was leaving. At the front door he took her by the shoulders and said, “You need to understand that it won’t be much longer.” In despair she returned to the room and sat next to the bed.
“Dearest,” she asked. “Are you leaving me?”

The doctor was leaving. At the front door he took her by the shoulders and said, “You need to understand that it won’t be much longer.” In despair she returned to the room and sat next to the bed.
“Dearest,” she asked. “Are you leaving me?”

“No,” he replied resolutely, “I will not leave you.”

“Then tell me what you feel.”

“It’s odd, he said. “I can’t explain it.”

He was too tired to talk any more.

The next morning, Friday,  she could see that he had taken a turn for the worse. His breathing was irregular. His words, “I will not leave you,” kept resonating with her, giving her comfort even though she didn’t understand them.

Sophie, their cat, stayed with him during his last few days, sitting closer and closer at his side. That evening, he was restless but around midnight he became calmer. His sister offered to watch over him so the others could get some sleep.  After a brief hesitation, she accepted the offer.

Upstairs in bed, she hit her pillow again and again in anger and grief. Some time later, just as she had fallen into an exhausted sleep, her sister-in-law woke her.  It had happened, he had stopped breathing.  Together, they had fallen asleep but only she woke up again.  It was Saturday 1.25am.

With all the arrangements that had to be made, it was only on Sunday that she had a moment to rest in her bedroom for a while.  With her family there, she had not yet shed a tear.  Even though he was in the other room, she felt that they were together. She was sobbing, gently, when she felt three kisses, one on each eye and one on her lips, just as he had always done when she was sad.  Bewildered, she opened her eyes and there was Sophie, with her muzzle close to her face.  It happened again a few days later, and a third time exactly one week after his death.  Through her grief she felt his tremendous support and warmth, even though he was physically gone.

Sometimes she asks Sophie for a kiss from him but no more have come. Still, she is convinced that he was with her when she needed him and she no longer doubts what happens to us when we die. Her husband, although physically gone, still stands right next to her, surrounding her with his warmth.

And of course there is sadness at the loss of his touch, but love conquers all.

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(6) Mourning … Why Don’t We See It Brighter?

Life is made up of opposites and we are always looking for a balance. Everything in life should be in balance. No ugliness without beauty. No evil without good. No profit without loss . No darkness without light. No past without future. No happiness without grief . No hate without love. These are all examples of a opposites that are balanced, you also could interpret these as the two sides of a coin. One side doesn’t exist without the other.

Life is made up of opposites and we are always looking for a balance. Everything in life should be in balance. No ugliness without beauty. No evil without good. No profit without loss . No darkness without light. No past without future. No happiness without grief . No hate without love. These are all examples of opposites that are balanced, you also could interpret these as the two sides of a coin. One side doesn’t exist without the other.

Then why do most of us at the loss of a loved one go so deep in mourning? Why would you not be happy and proud that you both were allowed to walk jointly a part of your life paths? Why would you not be pleased that you have enjoyed with each other? Why would you not be pleased with everything you may have learned from each other? It’s just not fair to the other, there is so much to share. It is also not fair to yourself that you are not aware of or do not remind the beautiful things you have shared or were allowed to do for each other. On top of that, there remains of course the physical loss of a loved one, the proximity, the loving attention to each other, no longer being able to see or touch someone who was close to you, to get used to the fact that you now have to do everything yourself .

When I look back in my life to my two buddies that I lost then I can’t perceive so well anymore the negative things and the sadness. The positive things and beautiful things are very relevant and very bright in my memory. That realization did not only clear my head but also gave me much joy. It made me able to look ahead, to look forward to the future.

Life is like driving a car. You look through the windshield at what is on your way and at what that is coming at you and you also look regularly through your rear view mirror to see what is behind you and to determine whether that may have an impact on your path. Although you are regularly looking backward when driving the car, you don’t do this continuously.

Hence, when driving a car you are typically looking ahead, i.e. most of the time. When that is not the case and you are only looking through your rear view mirror, while drivingforwards, then accidents happen. The same is true for bereavement. So every now and then looking backward is good and even important you should not forget what happened there, though not all the time, not continuously.

When start looking at the future and see its possibilities and the opportunities that are there for you, then you don’t only help yourself but you also give the loved one who you left you a huge compliment. A compliment in terms a of thank you for all we have shared together and for everything we have enjoyed together. Thank you for what I have been able to learn from you. Thank you that you have kept me or brought me on my path of life. Thank you for the confidence in me that I now can continue on my path.

Unfortunately, your dearest has left you. The farewell was emotional. Looking back, you have enjoyed a lot of things and have learned a lot from each other. Please, as an ultimate thank you to your dearest, let all the lessons you have learned from each other not have been in vain.

In my humble opinion, this is what it’s all about. In my humble opinion this is true love and the meaning of life.
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