Wednesday 1 February 2017

Bereavement - coping with an unexpected death

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of my fathers death.  At the time it was totally unexpected. I was 24 and the shock was immense. My father had a sudden heart attack and died the day after returning from Florida, where he'd been on holiday. To make matters worse, he'd returned for the funeral of my mothers sister. I was living away and didn't even know he was back in the county until my brother called at 8am to say he had died.

At the funeral, I was numb with a sense of unreality, my father was a towering figure in my life and it had never occurred to me that he was mortal. To make matters worse, I was working at BT and my boss was completely unsupportive, even lying to me about my compassionate leave entitlement and telling team members I was 'off skiving'. As a result, I left BT, unable to work or respect her.

Emotionally I was in tatters. None of my friends had suffered a similar experience, my family were all struggling to cope and I felt totally isolated. I was in a state of total denial and my preferred coping mechanism was alcohol. It probably took me two years to get back on a totally even keel.

Several things helped, all of which were the result of circumstances rather than active management of my issues. The first thing, which was fairly tragic was one of my friends fathers passed away. At his funeral I broke down in tears and had to leave. I was finally mourning my own fathers passing. A friend quipped 'I didn't know Roger was so keen on Steves Dad'. Sad though his passing was, it was the cathartic experience of being able to finally let go. It also helped to be able to discuss my feelings with a friend.

The next step was when I started doing Yoga. We had an excellent teacher and there was emphasis on relaxation and dealing with issues. This also helped greatly. About 18 months after, I had a long chat with my mother. She confided that she was angry at my father for leaving her alone. She knew this was irrational, but that was how she felt. I encouraged her to go on a cruise and said 'you've got to let go of the anger mum and start living again'. She took this on board and started a new phase of her life. My Yoga teacher had told me that letting go of the past is the only way to move forward. This was the greatest lesson.

If there are five things I learned, they are as follows.

1. It takes time to grieve when you lose someone unexpectedly.
2. You need support from people who understands the experience.
3. You need to support others family and friends and they need to support you.
4. Your colleagues at work must be supportive and sympathetic. If they are not, get a new job, if you possibly can.
5. When the time comes, be prepared to let go and move on.

Nothing will dull the hurt or pain. But with the value of hindsight, I can see that you can eventually move on. Never be afraid to cry and ask for help.

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