The shock of losing a loved one, be it sudden or following an extended illness, can paralyze the best of us. A cloud of anesthetic numbness envelops our hearts that may not only disrupt the state of our bodies but our minds and souls as well. There is an insidious fog that sets in and we may feel as if we’ve lost control of life itself.
Frightening though this fog may seem, our hearts are not designed to take in the intense pain of loss all at once, so this natural survival mode actually has merit. It gives us the ability to perform the functions we most need to attend to — and endure.
Many who attend funerals relate that they are surprised at how well the family members are “holding up” — appearing contained and calm. I’m sure I appeared in control at my husband’s funeral after he was killed in a car accident all those years ago. The shock of his death led me to move through the visitation properly, greeting those who came to honor him, listening to their stories and accepting their sympathetic offerings. But I recall feeling very little emotion. It was much too painful to “feel” the reality of why all these people were gathered in that sacred space.
At the beginning of the grief journey when all seems lost, it’s okay to allow those who surround you to assist in the care of your needs. When you feel as if you’re walking in a dream state and don’t have enough energy to pay a bill, mow the lawn or even get out of your chair, know that you don’t have to at that moment. It’s okay to allow or recruit someone else to take care of it for you for a time.
In the aftermath of a loss questions begin to arise and some decision making may be required. Confusion and a sense of powerlessness may feel overwhelming. When your thinking is foggy due to initial grief, everyday decisions seem monumental and choices beyond the everyday seem altogether unattainable. And for many who have lost a spouse or a parent, it can become a frightening prospect to make choices without the input of the now absent partner.
I have learned from experience that in the earliest tides of grief, questions must be met with respect, and decision making, if at all possible, should be put on hold until the fog lifts. That includes any life changing choices, such as selling a house, moving to a different city or remarriage.
Current experts, who have studied the nature and affects of grief, agree and warn that making decisions in the first year — and some now say the second year — following a death loss is chancy at best and may cause secondary loss.
Jan was so devastated by her husband’s unexpected death that she sold their home and most of their belongings within three months. She distributed her husband’s treasured possessions and all of her photographs, save a few, feeling she could not live with that which reminded her of her deep sense of loss. She moved into a smaller home in a nearby town with all new furnishings. A year and a half later as we sipped tea on her porch, she confided that although she was physically comfortable in her new surroundings, she was still unsettled and awash in grief over not only the loss of her husband but the self-initiated loss of all the tokens that held memories of the life they shared.
Now that’s not to say there aren’t decisions that must be attended to immediately. Time and circumstances may determine the pressing need to make choices. you want to recruit someone you trust to assist in making those timely decisions, knowing that ultimately the final decision rests with you. But if you have the time to settle in the aftermath of loss and adjust to the changes in your life, take it. There is no rush. Grief has it’s own time table and your journey is uniquely your own. Take your time discovering the answers to the questions that arise over time. Allow the emotions of grief to wash over you and the memories and tokens of the past comfort you. Life will inevitably challenge you to move on. Follow your heart and you will know when its time. The choice is up to you.
Kay Cozad is a certified grief educator and news editor of Today’s Catholic newspaper. She is the author of “Prayer Book for Widows,” Our Sunday Visitor, 2004, and can be reached at
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