Like the body’s inevitable arrival at homeostasis, a bereaved person's mind settles-eventually. A peer-to-peer conversation from someone who has been there.
Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “God is like a mirror. The mirror never changes, but everyone who looks into it sees something different.” The same can be said for grief.
On the heels of the third major death of a family member in 15 months, I am once again in shock after my brother Ben passed away suddenly last month.1 He was 68.
In December 2013, my oldest sister, Anne, died after a brief and terrifying bout with stage 4 glioblastoma that ravaged her little body and left her young adult children without their mother. Then my mom, whom I call my first friend, died on June 29, 2014. This was an expected and merciful death of an 89-year-old mother of 6 who joined her husband, and my father, in the next world.
After Mom died, I initiated a breakup with a wonderful but noncommittal companion of many years. For some reason, that one bothered me the most, until this recent loss of my brother.
My mother called Ben and me her “Alpha and Omega.” He was the oldest and I, the youngest. We sandwiched the other 4 siblings and were given the questionable privilege of being “favorites,” a title I wouldn’t wish on anyone, for the great equalizer was the other and we were looked upon with suspicion by all (or that was my perspective).
Now that nearly half of my family has been wiped out, none of that matters.
Finding out about my sister’s illness on a social network prompted much confusion, but I fault no one for this, since it is the way of the world. My heart hurt after losing my mom, which set off a series of events that led to a moment of clarity that gave me strength to end the go-nowhere relationship with my boyfriend. These experiences hurt my heart continually, and once I even sobbed to my boss in the hallway of my workplace and later thanked her and my coworkers for their understanding.
The loss of Ben, as crushing as it is, reminds me that I am resilient. My heart and upper back hurt. I am eating too many carbs. But I no longer bristle when someone says, “He’s in a better place,” or when others suggest that I “Get out there and socialize,” when I am physically unable to move.
My family members are in heaven-this much I know. On the back of a birthday card Anne sent me 17 years ago, I wrote Billy Joel’s quote, “She can’t be convicted, she’s earned her degree.” I kept that card and it fell from a drawer in my apartment around the time she died. She paid her dues. Call it a sign, but in my heart I know she is having a party with the rest of my family (and our pets).
Every time my brother Ben and I would part ways after a visit to Pennsylvania, we prayed a Hail Mary in unison. That simple act of faith brought us together and helped us set aside our worries. A joint prayer with our loved ones can create a lasting memory. Whether that prayer involves a Hail Mary, a gaze upon a sunset, or a recitation of poetry, the memory serves as balm to the soul for the one left behind.
From a layman’s perspective, I would say that no response from a grieving person is a wrong response (unless it causes harm). Your need to be left alone should never be put down by well-intentioned friends and family. Nudging the bereaved can be perceived as a plea to “snap out of it.”
No one should be made to feel as though they’re “not doing enough.” If you want to sleep, sleep. If you want to eat, eat. Treat yourself with tender loving care (eg, don’t drink in excess, book a trip for later in the year, write your thoughts in a journal, allow yourself to cry).
Like the body’s inevitable arrival at homeostasis, the mind settles-eventually. Later you can address the depression and overeating if need be. For now, let go of the struggle. The dearly departed have paid their dues. So have you.
This article was published on April 6, 2015 and has since been updated.
Note to readers: As with all of our blogs, the opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Comments not followed by full names and academic titles will either be removed or heavily monitored. –Psychiatric Times
Ms Martin is Digital Managing Editor of Psychiatric Times. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
1. Martin, Equine Sports Medicine Pioneer, Dies at Age 68. The Horse. March 25, 2015. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/35534/martin-equine-sports-medicine-pioneer-dies-at-age-68. Accessed April 15, 2015. Also see: http://articles.philly.com/2015-03-30/news/60607011_1_equine-sports-medicine-life-partner-veterinary-medicine.