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My Experience with Death and What I Have Learned

Grief and Loss

I recently came across this article, What Death Taught Me, in The Huffington Post. In this article, the author, Katie Dreyer, describes her experience of dealing with her mother’s battle with cancer and the death of her mother. She describes what she learned through these experiences and I began to reflect on my own experiences with death. I have experienced three major losses and have learned something different from each loss, and continue to learn from each loss.

My grandfather, or “papaw”, died when I was a sophomore in high school. He suffered a major heart attack and when the family was notified, he had days to live. We lived in a different state and I remember my parents giving me the choice to see him before he died. At that time, I was young and selfish and did not want to take time away from all the social activities. I missed out on an opportunity to see him one last time and I missed his funeral. I thought I “moved on” quickly and did not experience much sadness. Honestly, I was too caught up in being a teenager to really think about what I had lost. As an adult, I think about him and miss him often. I regret not seeing him before he died. I regret that he did not get a chance to meet my husband or my boys. I find myself saying “Papaw would have loved you so much” or “Papaw would have spoiled you rotten” to the boys. From his death, I learned that grief can intensify throughout life depending on the circumstances and milestones. I learned that feeling “fine” does not always mean that you are fine. I did not allow myself to feel grief with him until later in life and this delay did not decrease the amount of grief I experienced.

My grandmother, or “granny”, died after I had my first son. She had a heart attack and stroke that left her in a horrible physical state- one that she was unable to recover from. This time, I chose to fly out to see her as she was dying. I was able to spend a few last days with her and that meant so much to both of us. We had a special bond. The rest of the family did not love her the way I did because she was judgmental, rude, and kind of demanding. For some reason, that didn’t bother me and we were very close. When she died, I attended her viewing and funeral. When I walked into the viewing, I was a puddle on the floor. I cried like I had never cried before. I could not believe that was her in the casket when I had been talking to her days before. For months after her death, I had random episodes of tears and grief. I could not watch any movie or TV show that had any death in it because I would erupt in grief. From her death, I learned that everyone grieves differently. The rest of my family did not grieve like I did. I honestly do not think they were as sad I was, and am, that she died. I learned that experiencing grief does not make me immune to future grief. Because our grief is related to the connection of that relationship, each loss is different and painful.   I also learned that grief will change. At first, I could only focus on how much I missed her and how unfair it was that she was gone. Then that changed to still missing her, but thinking about fun memories with her or inappropriate things she had said or done that were so hilarious. I still think about her and picture what kind of relationships she would have with my children. Even writing about her now triggers that sadness of missing her.

My dog died recently. I know some people may not understand how this is a loss but to me, he was family. I had him for 15 years. He was with me through college, graduate school, getting married, and having children. My kids do not know a world without him. When he died, I instantly felt myself fall apart. I immediately thought that I would never feel okay again. I cried all day and am tearing up as a write about him now. I remember worrying about my kids and how they would recover. I did not want them to experience pain and grief. I would have done anything, in that moment, to shield them from that emotional hurt. I would have done anything to bring him back. As we sat in sadness that weekend, we spent a lot of time crying, talking about him, talking about our feelings, and looking at pictures of him. What I learned from his death is that you have to share with others how you are feelings and that this sharing is bonding. He died on a Saturday and I felt a little better on Sunday, and better each day that I was able to talk about his death and my sadness with my family. I was reminded that grief felt more intense because of my connection with him. Everyone in the family joked that he was “my dog” because he was attached to me when I was home. He followed me everywhere and always snuggled with me. He was only 4 pounds but my heart broke the day that he died. I have learned that the heart will heal even though he will always be missed. I learned that kids feel the same emotions and can also heal. I learned that not everyone has the willingness to share their emotional pain and that it is ok to offer them a space to share. My husband didn’t want to talk about his grief and thought it would “protect us from his hurt”. By offering him time and space to talk, he was able to share and feel some relief. I also was reminded that everyone will experience loss in their lifetime and that grief is a very normal feeling.

I would encourage you to reflect on what you have learned from losses in your life. Reach out to us today to schedule an appointment. We’re happy to help!

This post was written by Minon Maier – LMFT