To lose someone important to you seems an almost impossible thing to happen. How in one moment can someone be here and then in another moment not be here? It is one of the hardest and one of the most painful things that we all have to go through, whether the loss is unexpected or comes after a long illness.
Trying to deal with your emotions as well as dealing with the practical things that happen afterwards will be a different journey for everyone. The most important thing to remember is that there will always be a lot of support for you on this journey.
How will you feel?
You may be very tearful, numb, shocked, angry, exhausted, apathetic and lonely.
Dealing with emotions
Talking is a good way to ease emotions. Talking to a friend, a family member, your rabbi, a health professional or counsellor can help the healing. Jonathan Sacks said, "Talking is part of healing because it gives us the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. Pain shared is pain halved or, more precisely, pain with some of the anxiety removed."
Maintain a schedule. Psychologist Linda Blair recommends keeping “simple things in your routine to reduce panicky feelings. It’s important that you see other people at least once a week because it will help ground you."
Get your rest. Emotional strain can make you very tired.
Eat well. A healthy, well balanced diet will help you deal with your emotions.
Avoid things that “numb” the pain, such as alcohol. It will make you feel worse once the numbness wears off.
Seek counselling. If it feels right for you, get in touch with organisations like the Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service.
The mourning process
In the book of Bereishit, it is written that he (Joseph) mourned for his father (Jacob) for seven days. This, together with other rabbinical references, has laid the ritual for the shiva—the traditional seven days that the mourners will sit. This very important and worthwhile ritual means that you are not alone for the first seven days. Your grief is shared with relatives and friends who will be with you for this first week.
If you need help with arrangements, you can ask your local synagogue for guidance.
After the shiva
Now may be a good time to deal with the paperwork—slowly. When you have to inform companies and organisations about changing the names on letters you receive from them, you will find the companies and organisations very understanding of your situation. A suggested list of people and organisations you will have to contact will be:
- Family doctor
- Local authority for council tax and electoral register
- Utility companies (gas, electricity, telephone, water, etc.)
- Bus company/rail company
If you are finding this hard to do, perhaps sit with a relation or friend while making the calls. If you need additional assistance, Paperweighttrust.com can offer practical guidance on administrative matters—especially if you have no other support.
Some months after the loss, you may still get correspondence which shows the name of your family member on the letterhead. You may feel upset or angry about this. More than likely, the letter is from an organisation you never contacted, so don't let it bother you too much. Just explain the situation to them so it doesn't keep happening.
The stone setting
It will be a year or almost a year since your family member passed away. Going back to the grounds can be a very emotional experience. However, you will be surrounded by relatives and friends to ease the pain.
Dealing with possessions
A very hard thing is deciding what to do with possessions that belonged to your family member. There is no right way to deal with this. You might want to keep some things and discard other things. It may take a while before you can decide what to do.
Any big decisions should be avoided for several months so that your actions are well thought through and not clouded by your emotions. It's more than likely that you will find some days better than others.
Over a period of time, you will find yourself putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new. Gardening, walking or any physical activity can be very helpful in the healing process. Keeping connected or renewing a connection with your local synagogue can be very useful in helping your healing.
Below is a list of resources that can help you through the process of bereavement:
- Coping with bereavement, from the NHS
- Dealing with loss, from the NHS
- How Does One Cope With Bereavement? by Nissan Dovid Dubov, from Chabad.org
- Sitting shiva, from ReformJudaism.org
- The Limits of Grief, available from the website of Rabbi Sacks
- What to do after someone dies, from GOV.UK
- What to do when someone dies, from Age UK
- What to do when someone dies, a downloadable checklist from Tower Hamlets Council
- Why Bereavement Counselling, from the Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service