It does not matter how prepared one thinks he is, the loss of a loved one is devastating and the grieving process can be quite different for different people. Looking back, most will agree it is a process and as such, composed of different steps. Some religious and ethnic practices may seem harsh at first, but may actually help one through the isolation that may be felt and pave the way back into society. For example, an Irish wake may seem tasteless to a grieving person who cannot imagine the “party” atmosphere following loss, but in reality can be a celebration of a life well led. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva for a week following a death, gives mourners time to be with family and close friends who visit and recall better and happier times, and can soothe distance felt by tremendous loss and help mourners slowly re-enter daily life.
Care givers can suffer terribly, going from being on call 24/7, dedicated to looking after a loved one‘s every need, possibly for many years, to a sudden large, black hole in their lives with nothing to fill it. Concerned family and friends may step in for a while, but as everyone resumes his or her own life, mourners must eventually face solitary days and nights. Many finally discover how it feels to be completely alone, and why it is so important to try to maintain one‘s interests and friends before and during an impending loss, regardless of how difficult this may be.
Part of the process may be finding the ability just to get up each day, and put one foot in front of the other. It‘s a beginning. In some cases, when family and friends live at a distance, forcing oneself to leave the house and do simple things like shopping for food and preparing it for one can be major events, but simple necessities may provide baby steps toward positive recovery. Although it may be difficult to function at first, it might help to imagine how the deceased person might expect the survivor to go on, enjoying life without his or her presence: no one wants another to suffer. Eventually, if one can afford it or endure it physically, travel might be considered either alone or in small groups.
As each day passes it is almost impossible not to remind oneself how things were just last week, one month ago, and one year ago. One lives through birthdays, anniversaries, and other meaningful holidays and events and slowly, ever so slowly, the pain does diminish. The amount of time it takes can be different for everyone, but eventually the day dawns when one may feel no less sad, but much less desolate and abandoned.
Healing takes time and some people may need to reach out to grieving groups or seek professional help for depression, sadness that extends for very long periods of time without relief. Life does go on and being able to look back at better times in a healthy way is essential and refreshing, and necessary for recovery.
With the loss of a spouse for example, and whether or not one chooses to remain alone, there is always the fear of being a burden to others or a “fifth wheel“. A certain amount of independence is needed and often essential when it comes to making decisions about financial matters from settling an estate to how and where one is going to spend the future. Many professionals advise that major decisions should not be made quickly; if possible, one should take six months to one year before contemplating any major changes in lifestyle. People who marry in haste or tear up roots to be closer to other friends or family, later might regret not thinking it through when in a better mental state.
As bad as one anticipates feeling, chances are, the actual event will be much worse and one can only hope that having personal financial matters and funeral arrangements well established in advance — no matter how harsh and heartless this sounds — will ease the path through what will be a heart-wrenching time.
Loss of a loved one is never easy and one will hear many platitudes from well-meaning friends. They may go over the head at first, but eventually some might begin to make sense: life is for the living – embrace it and rejoice in every day. Go out, smell the roses, and try to dedicate a part of each day to helping others.
Reflection on a death in the family by Jane A. Marlowe
These past weeks have been a kaleidoscope of emotions, remembrances and responsibilities. My husband, Paul, died on July 26 following a long illness. He suffered from a cascade of health problems, heart disease, complicated infections and spinal stenosis which limited his mobility. In the past few years he was confined to a wheelchair.
All of us experience death in our families and among our friends and know the many stages of grief which lead us to acceptance and strength to move on again. There is no clock, no timetable, and no schedule. We must begin almost at once to notify our families, make preliminary funeral arrangements, pick up loved ones at the airport and in our case, plan to travel to Connecticut, our home for most of our lives.
Conflicting emotions are suddenly in control. You know there are calls and decisions to be made but you are held in the moment by grief, pain, wishing you had sought help sooner, seen the warning signs a few days earlier.
One of our daughters had come to care for her father so I could make a quick trip north to visit our grandchildren. She took wonderful care of her father, good food, sitting in the sun, allowing him treats like little Milky Way’s with his morning coffee. I never did that!
When I returned, it was the first thing he told me and was he triumphant! He had several great days without me standing watch. Little did we know he would be gone in just four days. How I regret that I didn’t give him Milky Way’s with his morning coffee whenever he asked.
Our daughter returned home and Paul suddenly declined, going into Hospice Sunday night. He lived until early Tuesday morning. Our dear friend, Judy Mayo, shared Paul’s final moments with me, stood by me when I called our children and brought me home for a few hours rest. She made sure I ate a little something since food had slipped my mind altogether.
In our circle of friends, Judy is known as Paul’s “other wife.” Thanks to her faithful help, he attended church until almost the last week of his life and we were often out together. Paul loved to hear that remark, “his other wife.” It made him feel quite special, as well it should. Judy’s quiet strength and steady support helped me to move forward during the next difficult days.
Then the lists, three actually, helped to anchor my mind. We needed funeral directors in Ct. and locally to coordinate Paul’s transfer. My lists kept me focused on important tasks like scheduling church services and selecting readings and hymns for a reverent and proper liturgy. Another list noted proper attire for Paul, military service and cemetery documents and obituaries for local and Connecticut newspapers.
Our younger daughter arrived to accompany her father and me north. Suddenly the tasks on the precious lists dwindled, phone calls were made and received, airline tickets obtained for us (I forgot that task!) The third list included final arrangements, including visiting Paul prior to our flight to Connecticut, signing documents and packing.
Those days of preparation were not done without long pauses to allow ourselves to grieve and remember Paul when he was healthy and active. When we brought his clothes to the funeral home it was an emotional moment to know he would never wear his favorite cuff links in life again. Make sure you are accompanied by someone who loves you when you carry out this sad task.
Faith in a life hereafter, trust in all that we were raised to believe, the promise of a heavenly reward brought us through and will continue to sustain us. My hope for all our readers is that you will be graced with the love of family and friends and a deep well of faith in all you hold dear when you are called to take this final journey with one whom you cherish.
A message to parents by Steve Erlanger
Steve Erlanger is the Chief Operating Officer of Hometown News on the Treasure Coast. He’s a newspaper industry associate. Through this relationship, we learned Steve lost his son, Austin. The following is reprinted from Hometown News, sent to all Community Papers of Florida Association members for reprinting. His words send a powerful message to the parents of all young teens.
Steve said, “I would love for as many publishers to run this as possible. We are trying very hard to make something positive out of this situation. If this story could help one kid make the right choice, or one parent keep a closer eye on their children it will be worth it.”
Tuesday, July 5, a beautiful morning, even by Florida standards. The day after a gorgeous three-day holiday weekend. The alarm goes off at the usual 6 a.m., not that I really needed it. I have been getting up every morning between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. for the past nine years since we established, expanded, and lately, battled to make Hometown News the No. 1 community newspaper group in America and successful.
Most mornings I get up, grab the competition, (the daily) and sit on our back patio to see if there is any national news I didn’t see on TV the day before and who might be marketing with them that should be with us. Then I get ready for another great day at Hometown News.
This morning would be different. A morning that would change my family’s lives forever.
So, I get up at 6, grab my pants and head out to the kitchen to make my one and only morning cup of coffee. On the way through the house, the doorbell rings. I’m still a little groggy, and I think, who could be ringing the doorbell at 6 a.m. in the morning?
I look through the peephole, still a little blurry as it takes a few minutes to get these ‘ol eyes in focus, but I see a big guy, in some kind of uniform with a shaved head. Um? Why would UPS be delivering a package at 6 a.m. in the morning? So I open the door …
It’s an Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy. My heart starts to beat. What could he want from me? I step out, he looks at me and says, “Sir, do you have a son?”
“Does he have curly, kinda bushy hair?”
“Yea, what’s up?”
“It’s not good sir. He’s dead.”
“What?” I reply. No way, Austin is upstairs sleeping, I think to myself.
“Do you have a motorcycle sir?”
“Is it a Honda CR100?”
“Yea,” I reply, as my heart starts to fly and my mind goes in circles.
“Sir, your son is dead. He collided with a vehicle at the intersection down the road at about 3:45 this morning.” I’m … I’m, I’m stunned. I run to the front of the garage and try desperately to remember the code to open it. My hands are shaking and after three tries, I finally get the correct code. As the door slowly starts to open Iduck under at the first opportunity and run to the back of the garage where I am sure I will see the motorcycle. WHAT? WHAT? WHERE IS THE MOTORCYCLE? I run back to the front of the house where I had left the officer.
At this moment my beautiful wife, Austin’s mother, has gotten up after hearing the doorbell and steps out of the house. She looks at me with a fear I have never seen before, anywhere, and asks cautiously, “What’s up, Steve?”
As I turned to look at her, she could see the sheer agony and pain and confusion that was on my face, she screams, “WHAT?, WHAT IS WRONG?” I look into her eyes and with what I am sure was the most scared and sorrow-filled face she has ever seen, I said, “Austin is dead.”
The rest of our lives will never, ever be the same from that moment on.
One or two days ago, depending on when exactly you are reading this, we laid our 16-year-old son to rest.
16! 16! How could this happen to us? How could this happen to Austin? Why?! Why?! Why?!
Friends, readers, the point of this column is not just to share with you our misfortune and what is, unquestionably, the worst experience a person could ever have to go through. It is to try to get you and or your children to look at this experience and learn from it. If we can affect just one decision, one choice, save just one life and the years of agony that follow, it will be worth the space we have allotted for this column a million times over.
For those of you fortunate enough to not have gone through the loss of a child, God bless you. Thank your lucky stars and do everything in your power to make sure it stays that way. Unfortunately, it is not always in your power.
I knew I wasn’t ever going to be father of the year. I work too much, too long and have put most of my energies these past nine years into trying to make, and then keep, our company, Hometown News, growing and successful. Now, my wife, on the other hand, is Mother of the Year. She took care of our son, as well as me, got up every morning of the school year with Austin. Made him breakfast and made sure he was ready to take on the day. Would take him to whatever event or activity he needed to be, took ball room dance lessons with him. Make sure his homework was done. All of the usual things a “Mother of the Year” would do. I would usually catch him on the way out of the house in the morning, with my daily words of encouragement: “Have a great, positive day today. Try to make at least one person smile and make the right choices, Austin. I love you.” Then off he would go.
Austin wasn’t a perfect teenager. Well, yeah he was. He was a straight-A student, though he didn’t always get straight-A’s. He was the kindest, most caring, sweet, mature, giving and thoughtful young man most of my friends and associates that met him had ever seen. Yet, he was still a 16-year-old boy. I remember when I was 16. Tough time for all teens. New school, new people, new opportunities. Halfway between being a kid and being an adult. Tough times.
Austin was a kid who would try anything. Over the years he played soccer, football, baseball, took karate, ballroom dancing lessons with his mother, boxing, up at McQuirt’s Gym, was a certified scuba diver, took singing lessons, acting lessons; was a fairly skilled marksman. He was a member of the Vero Beach High School Choir and Show Chorus, could hit a golf ball nearly 300 yards, straight, and could skate on anything with one, two, three or four wheels and was one of the best hockey players for his age you will ever see. He also enjoyed his dirt bike motorcycle.
Through it all, in the short periods of time I could spend with him, I continued to impress upon him the importance of making the right choices.
Things aren’t the same today as when I was 16. The consequences of your actions are a lot more severe and the margin for error has nearly disappeared. I discussed with him many times the fact that one bad decision could change your life.
Over the past year or so, Austin made a couple bad choices. Decided to try smoking cigarettes, busted. Stayed out too late once, busted. Sneaked out of the house to see his girlfriend, busted. Each time he would be grounded for a week or a month or so. And he would have to endure the lectures from Dad: “You have to make the right choices, one wrong decision could change your life and all those around you.”
The morning of July 5, Austin made one bad choice. Now, I am sure he didn’t think it was really, “that bad of a choice.” He was restless, couldn’t sleep, (that’s what sleeping till after noon will do to kids) and thought he just might go ahead and visit a friend with whom he had been texting. Heck, it’s just down the road, what could it hurt?
I am also equally as sure that Austin knew, yes, he knew in his heart and head that if his dad or mom caught him going out of the house at 1 a.m., he would be in trouble. (For the teenagers reading, this is the first sign that it is a bad choice) But, hey, it’s 1 a.m. He could be back well before Dad had to get up for work. No harm, no foul.
So Austin opens the garage door, walks his motorcycle out and down the road a bit, gets on, starts her up and away he goes.
We are not completely sure how the story goes from here, but apparently he went to a friend’s house for a couple of hours, hangs out, chats, has a few laughs, talks about the future, (tomorrow) and heads home.
Well, somewhere between home and his friends house, Austin, riding a dirt bike with no lights, no helmet, just the wind blowing in his beautiful, full, luscious curly hair, enjoying a warm summer night and the only other vehicle within miles met at an intersection.
The poor man driving the van never saw Austin. Scouting the intersection, I am equally sure that Austin never saw the van, until the last second of his life. Fortunately for Austin, the impact instantly sent him to heaven. Unfortunately for the man driving the van, for Austin’s family and friends, we will suffer for a long time, some of us forever.
I know Austin did not do this on purpose. He did not mean to nearly destroy our lives. He was far too caring, considerate, loving and kind.
He made a bad decision. A really freaking bad decision. In life, sometimes that is all you get, one chance to make the right decision. You never know when that chance is. It could be today, tonight, tomorrow or in 10 years. If you push your luck, if you keep making bad decisions, it will catch up to you.
Some of us have been lucky. I know that I have had more than my share of luck. But a long time ago, after surviving some pretty stupid stunts, I vowed to always make the right decision. I tried to instill this into my boy. I wish I had done a better job.
Comforting Words about Death by Rev. Gordon Zanetti
Jesus extends a great invitation to all persons of every nation, race, and generation. He wants all people to come to him and learn from him how to live. He wants to give a vision that will enable us to desire heaven and set our sights on it, like pilgrims on a journey.
On this journey, we are often wearied by the cares and trials that face us; life can seem burdensome and oppressive. Sometimes this sense is caused by choices we have made or steps we have taken that lead us away from God. At other times, we are faced with illnesses and troubles we did not and would not bring on ourselves. Whatever the case, Jesus invites us to spend time with him and to learn from him. Then we will find rest.
Once we take this decisive step, we will experience the peace that comes only from the Prince of Peace. United with Jesus, we will be ready to learn from him. If our burden is caused by our own actions, he will teach us how to choose a new way. If it is caused by something beyond our control or power, he will teach us to hope in the reality of a place where there will be no more tears or sorrow. We will be comforted, we will be satisfied, we will obtain mercy, and we will see God. Our life in Christ will bring blessings to ourselves as well as others here on earth, and even greater blessings in heaven.
Experiencing the death of a loved one can take a person on a roller coaster of emotions. Not only do we deal with grief according to the specific circumstances surrounding the death, but we deal with it in our own individual way even though many aspects of the journey are common to all. Death is as much a part of the circle of life as birth. However, knowing and accepting this concept does not alleviate the feeling of loss.
There are a variety of grief support groups and one-on-one counseling sessions available if one wants to reach out. Many area churches offer grief counseling support groups free of charge (you will find their contact numbers in the Worship section elsewhere in this issue.) Most clergy are willing to talk about death and the spiritual aspects of life after death. Faith alone is an immense tool by which many are able to cope.
Finding an emotional outlet, support from family members, friends or peers can help in developing coping strategies. Open communication will keep the healing process moving. You may feel shock, denial, panic, guilt, anger or loneliness. You may become depressed or confused. You may experience a combination of these feelings or show physical signs of grief: loss of appetite, lack of energy or a feeling of anxiety. Most likely you will feel like the healing process is taking too long.
Coping with Grief:
- Recognize the loss, allow yourself to experience the pain, give yourself time to grieve and know you may take one step forward and two steps back.
- Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, stick to a schedule, plan your days and activities.
- Give yourself time. You’re going through changes, keep decision making to a minimum. Your thought process may be a bit clouded. You may be vulnerable.
- Avoid addictive behaviors including alcohol, drugs or overeating or other such diversions.
- Give yourself praise. You will grow as you work through the sadness.
- Be open. Begin to give of yourself to others.
- You may have relapses, but you will survive. Tomorrow will come.
We would like to thank Jane Marlowe and Steve Erlanger for sharing their experiences with us. We would also like to acknowledge Avow Hospice for sharing their Guide to Grief and Bereavement. Avow Hospice offers regular support sessions for any kind of loss free of charge. Call 239/261-4404 for the schedule. An Avow Hospice list of recommended reading titles, go to: www.avowhospice.org/Community/53/Recommended_Reading.aspx