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Being 'strong' after sudden loss

(22 Posts)
Imperfect27 Fri 29-Jan-16 07:42:12

A couple of weeks ago my husband's best friend's son died. The loss was sudden and unexpected - he was only 27, but it seems he had a heart problem. I can see parallels in the way the dad is processing grief to the way I was when I lost my daughter, also suddenly and unexpectedly (aged 12 - car crash).

People say you are 'strong' because you 'function' - as if getting on with the day is remarkable. Like me, the dad delivered a eulogy at his child's funeral. People commented on how amazing he was to do that - oh my goodness, I understand - you feel compelled to do it as it is the very last thing you can do for your child. Also in my hearing people made comments like 'He has been so strong ... now the funeral is out of the way he can get on with life again.'

I wish more people would realise that the funeral is often the start of the true grieving process, not the close if it. I wish people would realise that it isn't a case of 'being strong' - this phrase seems to disallow being able to crumble, which we all need to do at some point. I wish people would realise that it actually gets harder for some time after the funeral, not easier.

When loss is sudden and unexpected we are actually thrown into a state of shock that means everything seems to take place in a bubble for a while. Being strong really doesn't come into it, but I do hope this dad does not feel under pressure to continue to 'be strong' and that instead he can go gently where he needs to. I think there is even more pressure on men to somehow be strong than women and this reslly can get in the way of grieving.

Anya Fri 29-Jan-16 07:57:20

The only people who will truly understand all this imperfect are those who have experienced the sudden loss of a child or grandchild themselves.

And I wouldn't wish that on anyone sad

baubles Fri 29-Jan-16 07:57:37

Your experience may be able to help your DH's friend understand that imperfect. flowers

mollie Fri 29-Jan-16 08:19:36

It seemed to me that what people meant when they said someone was being strong was that they weren't being embarrassing with displays of uncontrolled grief. And getting back to normal means acting like nothing happened and not doing anything that would put other people on the spot. The fact is that there is no going back and life is never normal again as we all know.

Individuals process their grief differently. No one appreciates being around someone who is constantly bursting into tears or wringing their hands but to be fair, that's what some people need. So we ought to let them get on with it and get it out of their system. Others hold it in and I suspect it takes them longer to really, truly come to terms but who knows. The point is that bystanders are uncomfortable with unusual emotion, don't know how to react or help so they want people to behave in ways that don't make them feel inadequate. It's time we learned how to deal with grief that doesn't involve the bereaved hiding their true feelings and 'getting back to normal' as quickly as possible to spare the feelings of the rest of society.

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 29-Jan-16 09:50:51

Back in the sixties, the vicar at my mother's funeral held himself tall, put his shoulders back, and told the nineteen year old bereft 'orphan' that was me, to "be strong".

Actually I was, vicar. No thanks to you.

Ridiculous thing to say.

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 29-Jan-16 09:52:04

I agree that the loss of a child must be the hardest thing to bear. I am not sure I could 'be strong' under those circumstances.

petallus Fri 29-Jan-16 10:48:56

imperfect27 what you say is spot on and helplful as well. We are going through some grief in our family at the moment. You are right, reality doesn't kick in until a few weeks have passed.

phoenix Fri 29-Jan-16 11:11:03

When my son died in the December I kept putting one foot in front of the other (so to speak) until the following May, when out of the blue I completely "crashed".

M0nica Fri 29-Jan-16 11:14:55

My sister died after a road accident and, as a family, we survived because we were prepared to be 'strong'. Being strong does not mean hiding or suppressing your grief, but choosing when to express it.

My parents were in their late 70s and having to cope with losing a child. When the family got together, and we did a lot in the aftermath of the event, we cried, we hugged, we talked endless about DS. I had a 45 minute drive from home to work and for at least six weeks I cried all the way to work in the privacy of the car and all the way home in the evening.

But life had to go on. My parents coped by being practical, my sister was unmarried and childless so they made all the arrangements for the funeral and all the other bureaucracy a death entails. My surviving sister and I had to earn our living and neither of us could afford to have prolonged time off work, or work at well below normal standards. My sister chose to tell nobody at work, she was a teacher and she said having that daily breathing space where nobody knew of her loss kept her sane. I had my own children to care for and help and DH.

And to put it brutally, there is no point in making a bad situation worse. We were devastated by our loss, but letting everything else round us crash as well, other than for a short period only makes life worse. There are also very few people who get through life without at sometime having to cope with a premature death. When my sister died I was amazed at the number of people I told, who then said that they too had suffered the premature loss of a sibling, child or spouse. What would happen if everybody let their life collapse after a premature death?

I still miss my sister, and odd events or memories can still bring me close to tears at the thought of all she has missed. But it was being 'strong' that enabled the whole family to survive.

phoenix Fri 29-Jan-16 11:21:46

Monica "What would happen if everybody let their life collapse after a premature death?" It's not a case of letting ones life collapse, we all deal with things in different ways. I certainly didn't choose to go into meltdown when I did!

mollie Fri 29-Jan-16 12:26:37

If some more people showed their natural feelings after a death our society might actually benefit from learning how to cope with death and grief. We're far too prissy about death and dying and loss but think it's OK to parade our sexual feelings out in the open 'because that's natural' and because 'I've got a right'... Well, dying is natural too and feeling devastated and unable to bottle it all up for a moment longer is natural too.

Imperfect27 Fri 29-Jan-16 13:50:26

MOnica I understand what you are saying. I had to be 'strong' as a single parent and wage earner and mother of children who had also been in the crash and consequently suffered from PTSD after my daughter died. I was much more concerned with them being ok than myself for some time. However, I think it is unhelpful to suggest that people should be strong as this can be interpreted as not being allowed to grieve and can place an unnecessary burden upon them.

I would also say that whilst people described me as 'brave' and 'strong' in the first few weeks I was simply functioning / getting through and I think this is usually the case when we have had a major, sudden and traumatic loss. When my father died of lung cancer, four years later, although I was very sad, the loss did not impact in the same way - ost probably because it was expected.

In my experience, whatever the circumstances of loss, people do need permission to grieve beyond the first few weeks and not to do so can be very harmful later in life. Furthermore, it is not a weakness, it is a necessary process that leads back to health.

As others have said, we all grieve differently. I was simply dismayed at some of the comments I heard being made yesterday that seemed to embody the attitude that as the funeral is over, everything is back to normal and he will be fine as he is being so strong. There is never 'normal' in the same sense again and experience has also shown that it can be a few weeks or months after the event that is the most difficult time.

My children will never really know the full extent of pain in me, - nor should they - but grief has to out somewhere.

loopylou Fri 29-Jan-16 14:20:41

Very well said Imperfect, it's survival mode.

'Brave', 'strong' whatever the word, it's a case of trying to keep going the best you can, I imagine. Thankfully I've never been in that utterly awful situation, but I've tried to support those who have.

It's a bit like the phrase 'fighting cancer' and almost implication that if someone dies from that hideous disease, then they didn't fight hard enough.

I too find it incredible that there's a 'all done and dusted, now back to normal' attitude once the funeral is held.

'Normal ' will never, ever be the same again, and the new normal will be different for each and every one of us.

M0nica Fri 29-Jan-16 15:56:45

I was quite specific I think it very wrong for people to equate being 'strong' with not grieving. To me, being in survival mode is synonymous with being strong. It doesn't stop you grieving or expressing grief. You can still be grieving years later but it is about picking up the strings of everyday life and getting on with it.

I saw a distant member of my family collapse completely after the death of her husband and a year later was still incapable of doing anything for herself and running her family ragged as they tried to provide her with 24 hour care. She ended up in a care home and blamed her children.

Anya Fri 29-Jan-16 16:42:29

It's truly unbelievable some of the really stupid things people say after a bereavement. The worst are to do with god, heaven, angels and so on.

Those who say we, as a culture, don't know how to deal with death, especially the death of a child, are correct. But in their own bumbling way most people are searching for something to say to bring comfort.

Imperfect27 Fri 29-Jan-16 16:46:22

It is so very sad when we see people who are completely overwhelmed by grief and unable to recover from loss. I am grateful that I have had the strength - both physical and emotional to have managed ok ... but even nine years on some days do have to be managed and , I suspect, they always will.

mollie Fri 29-Jan-16 16:46:42

Totally true, Anya. Even I, who has lost a son, bumble around trying to find the right thing to say on these dreadful occasions. I'm ashamed to admit it but it's true.

Anya Fri 29-Jan-16 16:55:39

Sorry to hear about your son Mollie sad - the truth is, there is nothing we can say to make it better, is there? X

M0nica Fri 29-Jan-16 18:08:10

I remember with affection and respect the manager (male) who came to my desk when I returned to work a few days after my sister died and simply said. 'I am sorry to hear about your sister, was it sudden?' (He knew it had been sudden) but it gave an opening for me to say as much, or as little, as I wanted and he stood and listened to me for several minutes.

I would never presume to say any words of consolation or comfort to someone who has been bereaved. There are none. I find the simplest thing is to go to them and say simply that I am sorry to hear about their loss. They are then free to say as little or as much as they want and you can then respond appropriately.

Imperfect27 Fri 29-Jan-16 18:21:05

Yes - just being there means a great deal.

So many heartfelt posts here. Thank you everyone.

'Bumbling' is about right - we just get through.

Hugs all round {{{{{ flowers }}}}}

Judthepud2 Fri 29-Jan-16 18:50:34

I often think that the old way of wearing mourning clothes was a useful idea. It gave others the chance to assess how the bereaved were coping by the colour of their clothes thus giving a clue as to their stage in the grieving process.

The comment about society expecting people to return to 'normality' after a funeral is encapsulated in the leave allowance after a bereavement. Get back to work and carry on as before without taking into account the emotional turmoil people may be experiencing.

flowers to all those going through the grieving process now.

downtoearth Fri 29-Jan-16 19:33:05

I found I was trying to make it easier on the people who where offering their condolences,so they didnt feel uncomfortable.I got used to not telling people how I felt,people have always said I am strong,I am not but other people who I loved where less able to cope ,I believe it or not am reserved where my feelings are concerned,GN has allowed me to express bit by bit how I feel,whilst supporting my my case we couldnt hold the funeral for 11 months,we where in limbo all that time,and nowhere near normality.
A woman who lived nearby lost 3 children in tragic circumstances,2 aged 7 in a fire they had started a fire in a school outbuilding they got trapped in,and a 21year old killed in a motorbike accident,our children played together and grew up together,she was the first to come to me,she didnt know the right words to say she said,I remember saying to her it isnt the words that are important you came any way...she was a strong person she had to be you have no choice when others are dependant on you..xx