In The Blink of an Eye
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

By: Gabriel Constans

There is no way to prepare. No way to brace yourself or let yourself down easy. When a loved one dies suddenly or their death is perceived as sudden, your entire world is turned upside down and inside out.

Luckily, our bodies have a built-in coping mechanism called shock. In a state of shock we muddle through the fog of hearing what happened or remembering what happened, if we were there. We talk to people, go through the motions, attend the funeral, take care of matters that need attention and don't remember half of what we have done or not done. Life can seem like a dream. It's not real. There has been a mistake. It was someone else's husband, partner, friend, child or parent that died. We may find our bodies feeling sluggish, exhausted, heavy, "not ourselves" and want to sleep, sleep, sleep.

While our body, mind and heart can feel like they're in a deep freeze, intermittent fears and worries about the future or "what will happen next" can cause us to be simultaneously on the alert (hyper-vigilant).

This mixture of feeling detached, numb and empty, combined with moments of intense apprehension and anxiety, are the double-whammy of sudden loss.

As the days pass and the numbness wears off or lessens (without another loss) all of these intense physical, mental and emotional reactions usually subside and decrease and the full impact and implications of the death on one's life start to come into full focus. That is when many are surprised to feel the depth of emotions and grief. "I was just starting to feel better," people say. "What's happening?"

We've just come out of the fog of shock and are suddenly confronted with feelings of anger, sadness, frustration and/or guilt. Our fears, anger and resentments start getting misdirected at surviving family members and friends or at ourselves. We burst out crying at the most inopportune times. We may try to "stay busy" or increase the use of other stimulants or substances to "get rid" of the pain, to suppress it.

If you have experienced a sudden death in your life, here are some healthy things you can do to care for yourself or another.

Upon notification find a safe place to be and surround yourself with people who will keep you going, give you food, call, stop by, remind you of daily needs, take you for a walk.

Eat one good meal a day.

Exercise; even when you don't feel like it.

Rest and drink lots of water, to counteract our body's dehydration during grief and sorrow.

Breathe. Remember to consciously take deep breaths throughout the day and night.

Keep going. Don't give up. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel, even when you're in the depths of darkness. Life changes, feelings change, attitudes change, perceptions change and our understanding and appreciation of life are often awakened in the painful process of mourning.

Find a way to acknowledge and release your pain in a safe manner. Make it a daily habit, if even for only ten to twenty minutes. Try to pick the same time each day. During this time, talk or write to the person who died. Look at pictures. Go to their gravesite. Visit the spot their ashes were scattered. Light a candle and/or some incense. Recall the past, events and memories. Say a prayer. Scream, yell, cry, wail, walk, run, chop wood, paint and/or make something. Be creative. Whatever you do during your daily ritual of remembrance, do it with the person who died in mind and in your heart. By taking the time on a daily basis to grieve the loss of the person who died (and all the ramifications of that loss), the moments that you lash out at others or try to hide from the pain, will tend to decrease. The overwhelming avalanche of emotions will diminish in frequency and intensity.

These suggestions and exercises do not make anything "go away" or stop the pain altogether, but they will take some of the constant sting off your daily life and leave you some room to breathe and catch your breath. Even though grief from sudden loss is symbiotic with feeling out of control, you can choose to let yourself be "out of control" in a safe, supportive environment and at a time of your choosing, in order to have more control over the rest of your life.

If sleeplessness, anxiety, depression or intrusive images persist, there are a variety of ways to obtain help. See your physician and/or contact a mental health professional.