How to Heal After Experiencing a Close Death
I'm no stranger to experiencing close deaths in my life. The first time it happened was when I was three years old, and it was my dad. I remember growing older and asking questions about who he was, watching old VHS tapes of family gatherings to hear his voice, and wishing that perhaps the coroner had gotten it wrong and he was living in a different state somewhere. The thought of him not having his memory and existing elsewhere was more manageable than accepting that he was gone and I wouldn't know him. Right before he passed away, my mom and I began living with my grandparents. They helped raise me along with my grandpa's sister, aunt dot, and my other grandparents on my father's side (granny + granddaddy). Being raised by people already in their late 60s and 70s when you're born is hard. It's felt like every few years, I have to say a difficult goodbye to one of them. My mom had begun losing mobility due to her Multiple Sclerosis. The less she was able to do, the more they stepped in. I was incredibly blessed to have a village that I had close relationships with and took care of me. It's also gut-wrenching to live in fear of losing one of them because you're keenly aware of their age.
One by one, many of my parents have passed away throughout the years. My grandpa passed away my freshman year of high school. My Aunt Dot passed away my sophomore year of college. My grandma passed away in the summer of 2019, and my grandaddy (dad's father) two weeks ago in 2021.
Through each loss, I've developed a grieving process and outlook on life that gets me through it. Each time it's happened, my heart breaks and then puts itself back together a little bit stronger and kinder than the time before. Grief has become something I use to make me a better person, connect with those around me more deeply, and a reminder to love openly and fiercely while I'm here on earth.
Here are the ways I've learned to cope with close deaths and how I view life.
1) Cry As Much As You Want To I'm not shy about crying. I cry every time I watch the Lion King, although I know the story from start to finish. Crying is cathartic and enables me to express my emotion healthily. Once I do it, I feel relieved each time. I'm intentional about allowing my feelings to come, embracing them when they do, and letting them out immediately. There's a stigma around crying within society that it equates to weakness which is the furthest thing from the truth. Allowing yourself to be emotionally expressive is a brave, strong, and healthy practice and helps grieve a loved one.
2) Reframe Your Time With The Person I have a process and reframe that I do each time a person passes away. At first, I grieve losing them in my life. I think of the memories and feel sad that I won't see them again in the same way as before. I go through this process because I must acknowledge that absence in honor of the person.
I also begin thinking about all of the good times I shared with the person and how they influenced my life. I think of funny stories and personality quirks that made our relationship and that person unique. Then, I began to express gratitude for having the opportunity to know them. I could have never met any of my grandparents or great-aunt because they could have been gone by the time I was born. Instead, I was gifted time with them that I will cherish forever.
3) Enjoy Time With Loved Ones When I go through the death of someone close to me, I make sure I enjoy time with loved ones. I still go to happy hours and talk to friends on the phone. I lean on the people I trust most to discuss my feelings and share joy outside of the grief. Going through a tough with other people lifting up my spirits always makes the transition easier. It also reminds me to appreciate all the lovely humans still around.
4) I Believe I'll See Them Again I'm a believer in God, and the Bible says our bodies are borrowed, but our spirits never die. I know that I will see everyone again when I'm called home to God because of my faith. My faith has allowed me to look at death not as goodbye but instead as "See you later. I don't know how soon, and I'm not rushing it... but see you then".
5) Give Yourself Time + Allow The Process to Be Fluid My process of grieving isn't linear. I can find myself crying one moment over a loved one's memory and laughing at another one. Sometimes I'll feel like I've gotten to a good place and become reminded of something that brings back sadness. I allow it all to be what it is.
Time heals all, and it makes the grief easier. However, it's essential to embrace the journey and go through it as long as you need to. I'm also not sure if I've ever stopped grieving any of their deaths but instead have been able to cope well and express my emotion when it comes up.
Remember: to grieve someone is to know you once loved. And what a treasure it is to know love no matter how long.