How to deal with grief.
June 8, 2010 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Tips on coping with grief? My dad passed away a couple of weeks ago and since then i've been pretty much paralyzed with grief. Is there anything i can do to get over this quickly, or at least get a handle on it, because it's affecting my interpersonal relationships, and interfering with quality time with my 17month old.

Anytime i close my eyes all i see is his smiling face and then it makes me break down - so much that i'm even afraid to go to bed. The kicker is that i was 6000 miles away when he passed and i feel so guilty that i wasnt there to make his final hours more tolerable...(he had a protracted illness and his last days were apparently very traumatic for him and everyone around him).
I also keep wavering as to whether to go for the funeral or not. As much as i would like to, even the thought of seeing him dead makes me hyperventilate! I dont know whether to preserve my last image of him as that smiling old man i saw last year, or go and be forever scarred by seeing his dead body. But then again i feel i have to go for "closure", whatever that means. It'll be an effort to travel 6000 miles with a toddler in tow and being pregnant to boot, so i really need help in deciding what to do.
I do go to church but even that is bringing no comfort.
To recap:
1. Any tips/ideas on coping with grief
2. what can i do to bring back some joy into my toddlers life once more?
3. Should i go for the funeral or not?

posted by ramix to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry for your loss.

I think you should go to the funeral if you think it will give you closure, and you can be around your family members. You don't have to see the body.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:00 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may be a stupid question, but have you been to a funeral before? (A lot of people haven't, since we do so much to shield children from death anymore.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on June 8, 2010

I think going to the funeral with your toddler could help bring back some of that joy--just think of how nice it can be to have children at funerals, the joy and life amidst the death. I suspect you'll be able to pass off your child to lots of helpful relatives and friends. Funerals can be celebrations of people's lives, and the reminiscing can be cathartic. I also think if you don't go, you will regret it.

And you can definitely avoid seeing the body. Just let folks know you don't want to see it, and don't hang out up front if it's open coffin.

Or, if there's any way your toddler can stay home for a day or two while you go, that might make logistics easier.

It's okay to feel this grief--don't let guilt on top of everything else drag you even further down. I don't know how to help you get over it--I suspect time is key here. I also think the closure of the funeral can help with healing.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:18 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss and I recognize that I know very little about your situation but I think one of the best things you can do for yourself is take a long walk or run or yoga or something. Moving physically will help you move emotionally and if you do something like taking a walk, you can take your toddler and it will help the two of you reconnect. Can you do something like Mommy and Me yoga or swimming?

I won't tell you to go to the funeral but it has helped me deal with death before. The thought of not seeing someone one more time has always struck me as odd. I really don't remember much about seeing my mother and my grandfather in their caskets, I think of them as being their smiling, living selves. Seeing them at the funeral, I think, just made my mind connect that person and the concept of death, so it's sad and a little jarring but not so much so that it spoiled the good memories. It helped make it final but not in an ugly way.

I hope that all makes sense. Best wishes.
posted by kat518 at 11:23 AM on June 8, 2010

You should go to the funeral if you can. It can help provide closure. Which sounds so cliche, but I never really understood the value of niceties and rituals and having a certain kind of community around me until my dad died.

Also, it'll get easier. I promise you. This crazy numb feeling will ease up after more time passes. My advice--which you should take with a grain of salt, because grief is very personal and I am no authority--is not to try to squish your grief down and get over it as quickly as possible, but to just live with it as time passes. It is what it is, and the spaces between the pain will get larger. There is, in my opinion, nothing you can do to make it go away, nothing that will make it not touch every part of your life right now, even your relationships with people around you.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by hought20 at 11:26 AM on June 8, 2010

It's OK to cry. It will probably help for you to go to the funeral if you can, and cry there with other people. Grief is hard, much harder than I'd expected intellectually (my precious son died earlier this year) but sharing it does seem to help me. I think you'll feel worse if you don't go to the funeral, and if you have family there it will help rejoin you to life. If you can stay longer than just for the funeral that would be good too. Don't expect too much of yourself, just let yourself be as sad as you need. And don't expect to feel happy for quite a while, it will take months or even more to feel "normal" again. My condolences to you.
posted by anadem at 11:26 AM on June 8, 2010

My deepest condolences on losing your father.

Go to the funeral. Being with family and going through the ritual can be difficult, but I it will also be both cathartic and comforting, now and down the road.

If the funeral is open casket, you don't have to view the body (but it may not be open casket anyway). Let people know your preference ahead of time. It's fine.

You have options for your daughter, too. You can 1) Travel with her and a) arrange for someone to take care of her during the funeral or b) take her to the funeral itself; or 2) arrange for someone to stay with her at home, so that traveling is easier on you. Any of those choices is fine. You know your needs and your daughter best. Don't be afraid of making the "wrong" choice -- whatever you decide is right for you.

Finally, try not to fight the grief. I mean, yes, there will be specific moments where you want/need to have some composure (speaking from experience, I know that breaking down in the middle of the grocery store -- for example -- can be a tad inconvenient)... but in the grander scheme of things, try to see that grief, in and of itself, is not some sort of "problem" to be solved or eradicated or gotten through quickly. It's perfectly, absolutely natural, even as difficult and unpredictable and painful as it is. It is a necessary component of being human and having loved.

In terms of healthy coping strategies, I think that things like yoga and regular exercise can be helpful. Seeing a counselor, even for the short-term, can also be helpful and comforting.

My best to you.
posted by scody at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm so very sorry.

Don't feel like you have to be the perfect mommy while you're going through this. Take what joy you can from being around your child, make sure his/her needs are taken care of, get babysitters when you need to (even if you just need the time to curl up in bed and cry). Your child will be fine. My sister was about your child's age when our mother lost a close family member; some days the only thing that got Mom out of bed was taking care of my sister. But I don't think she was on the floor playing with her like she had been before -- and it did no lasting harm to either of them. It didn't harm their relationship, or my sister's development, or her ability to enjoy life. As Mom got better she returned to her old self, but I wouldn't expect it to happen overnight. Cut yourself some slack and allow yourself time to deal with this grief. Your baby will be fine.

I would go to the funeral. If it's an open coffin, feel free to hang back if you want to -- you don't have to prove anything to anybody. But being around family members, the only other people who really know what you're going through, is invaluable at a time like this.

I wish the best for you and your family.
posted by katemonster at 11:39 AM on June 8, 2010

If you're comfortable around your relatives, then the funeral could be a great way to touch base with them. The best funerals put death within a context of human love and the greater design of the universe. Don't panic if right now you feel like you're not getting over takes time. Try to take your toddler out in public to take your mind off it for a while.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:40 AM on June 8, 2010

I am so sorry to hear about your loss.

Go to the funeral, if you are able. I don't imagine you will be stuck with that new image overriding all other images. We had an open casket at my father's viewing a few years ago, and I really don't spend any time dwelling about that particular bit, I remember him as he was, alive.

One thing: you do not go into detail, and so I am not sure how bad it is, but I would encourage you to expect that your father's recent death to affect your interpersonal relationships. You experienced a great loss. Of course you need to be able to care for your child, and if this is not happening, then maybe you need some additional help. But of COURSE your grief over the loss of your father would change the way you relate with people right now. It feels really bad, but it is to be expected.

This is very, very hard. I don't know whether you need to ask friends if you can lean on them, or if you need to go for some good hard runs, or if you need to ask a doctor for some anxiety meds, or what. But I promise it gets easier. Feel free to memail me if you want.
posted by teragram at 11:46 AM on June 8, 2010

It's okay to cry. It's okay to be sad. I do think, though, that whether or not you choose to go to the funeral (and honestly? I think you'll regret it if you don't), you need to focus on finding a way to acknowledge the death, rather than just putting your completely valid feelings aside in favor of putting on a happy face for your toddler. In fact, as suggested by other comments here, I think it's a good idea to give your child just even a little bit of a sense of death and grief. They're normal, important parts of life, and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.

You might consider doing something to mark the occasion with your child and immediate family. Consider planting a new tree in honor of your father. Have a little tree planting ceremony--maybe find a quote that makes you think of your dad, read that, and share a memory or two. The new tree can then be dad's tree--and your toddler can grow up seeing it and feeling connected to it and, therefore, to your father. This can be a way for you two to talk about him, for you to share memories with her, and for you both to see how life (like the new life inside of you!) continues at even the darkest times.

Best of luck to you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:46 AM on June 8, 2010

My beloved, best-man-I-ever-knew, rock-of-our-family grandfather passed away 4 years ago. He was, essentially, my dad.

My mom and I both fell into something a lot like what you're describing, ramix.

I really didn't want to go to the funeral. I didn't want to see him, bereft of life. I didn't want to be around other grievers, for fear of making my own grief worse.

But I went. And I'm glad I did. I got to my grandparents' house and immediately started cleaning, cooking, running errands, weeding the front yard, and just generally caring for my family.

That busyness brought me out of my funk. I literally didn't have time to grieve— and I don't mean that in a bad way. I was doing something for my grandpa; something that he would have wanted me to do. It felt good to be needed, to make my grief a public and tangible thing, and to see that life and family, in fact, do go on.

I went to the wake, and even though I didn't want to see him previously, I felt it was the brave thing to do, for some reason. Something I needed to do to move on. (If you had told me this was the case before the wake, I wouldn't have believed it.)

I just walked right up and just stared. After that, I didn't cry anymore (or very little, anyway). Why? Because that wasn't my grandpa. That wasn't the man who puttered around his garden in dirty Hanes t-shirts. That wasn't the man who, in college, jumped out of a moving convertible. That wasn't the sweet old man who actually came to my metal band's shows. That wasn't the man who loved my grandma for 53 years.

It was a thing that looked like him, but my grandpa is still alive somewhere in my head/heart. Seeing the body hit it home.

(Cheesy and emotional, I know. But we're talking about moving on, and sometimes moving on means feeling sad, sentimental, cheesy things.)

I'm sorry you're going through with this, and for your loss.
posted by functionequalsform at 11:50 AM on June 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It is better to go to the funeral and experience the pain than to not go and regret it forever.
posted by desjardins at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Go to the funeral.

Be easy on yourself, a few weeks is nothing.

Scarring won't come from the dead body, it comes from the death itself, and there's no way to avoid being scarred by the death of a beloved parent, any more than you can avoid getting a belly button left behind when the umbilical cord is cut.


With regards to the guilt, one thing that really helped me is Byron Katie's questions in her book, 'Loving What Is'. It's definitely not a grief book, and if you followed the advice strictly you wouldn't apply it to yourself right away, but this is how it helped me.

She says that we don't think our thoughts, they think us. They pass through our brain and they may or may not have anything to do with reality. When a thought causes pain, don't just believe it, question it. Go through these questions. You might not end up shifting positions right away because we don't control our thoughts. But over time it can lessen the control the thought has over you.

Your thought is: "I should have been there during his final hours to make them more tolerable."

Is that true? Can you really know that it's true? In the scheme of the world and everything happening in it and everything anybody can know or do, can you really know it's true that you should have been there? Can you really know that you would have made those hours more tolerable?

How do you feel when you think that thought?

How would you feel, how would you be in the world, if you were incapable of thinking that thought? If there were just no way for that thought to even come into your head?

Then she also suggests doing turnarounds. Change the thought around. "I shouldn't have been there", and find at least three reasons why that thought could be as true as the one you're thinking.

Take care of yourself, you will be okay.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:05 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everything you're describing is completely normal.

Give yourself- and your father- the honor of your grief.

If it persists an unusual length of time- say a year- then speaking with a professional may be in order.

My mother died of lung cancer in 2008; I've been in therapy for two years.

It sounds like this was terribly recent- and it sounds like you're putting some heavy expectations on yourself. ('How can I put happiness back in my toddler's life?')

Best wishes; Take it a day, or a minute at a time.
posted by mrdaneri at 12:23 PM on June 8, 2010

Go to the funeral. My grandmother passed a few months ago and the funeral was hard, but actually rather wonderful. There were so many great stories about her and so many people who loved her there -- it was nice to be surrounded by that at the time.

As for grieving: everyone grieves in different ways; don't expect to grieve "normally." Be gentle with yourself but also know what you need. If you think you'll benefit from therapy and talking it out with someone outside of the situation, do that; just take good care of yourself. Also, consider talking to your priest/minister/pastor/whatever at your church and/or the spiritual director there -- they're there to help you especially during times like these.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by pised at 1:29 PM on June 8, 2010

Sorry.... ((hugs))

I would go to the funeral.

I will also throw this out there: My wife's grandma (whom she was very close to) passed away. She never really got over it, until a year and a half later, when my father passed. It was almost like she was grieving but not moving forward through the grieving process, until it started all over again. Grieving is funny that way; it's hard to know how to do it, how to ignore it when you have to and still give yourself time to get through it.

And what everyone else said in the thread.
posted by Doohickie at 1:34 PM on June 8, 2010

With the exception of my father's death, I have had the option to attend or not attend the funerals of my grandparents. It's not that I didn't love then dearly, but that there was travel and time off and i wasn't sure that it would do much for me. In all cases, I was very glad I went. The closure was important though I still get sad when I think about how they aren't here anymore, especially my dear Grandmother, but more important was being with family. Seeing their friends pay respects. Remembering them. Laughing and crying with others.

Since you are already so full of grief, I think you should go, with or without your toddler. I think that funerals can be very positive and life-affirming in a funny way.

And give yourself time. Losing a parent is one of the worst things life throws at you, I think.
posted by amanda at 1:47 PM on June 8, 2010

I think any pain of being at the funeral would outweigh the regret of not going. I've lost my dad and my sister and found it difficult to not have had a formal funeral for either (their choice). If there is a funeral it will probably be helpful for you, long term, to go. Culturally ok-d closure rituals like funerals are pretty important for many people.

posted by ShadePlant at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2010

If you are close enough, go to the ocean. I know this sounds simplistic but standing on the beach can be a great help.

Best wishes.
posted by greensalsa at 2:11 PM on June 8, 2010

Going to the funeral will surround you with family, and bringing your delightful little toddler will not only add perspective, hope, and some cheer for the mourners, but will be something s/he will actually enjoy, I promise. I know this sounds weird, but I was at some wakes of elderly relatives I was too young to know, when I was too young to understand what was going on, and I mostly remember being smiled at and fussed over.

If the question is whether or not to go to a funeral--particularly of someone you loved very much and had a healthy relationship--the answer is always to go. There's no do-over on this.
posted by availablelight at 2:41 PM on June 8, 2010

I am sorry for your father's death. I do have to say that you are wrong if you think you can "get over" this quickly. Grief passes according to its own schedule. This loss will be with you for a very long time (and by that I mean the rest of your life). That is the way of the world. People die; we grieve and continue with our lives.

Guilt is natural, and you needn't beat yourself up over not being there at the end. Are you afraid that somebody in the family is going to say something? Only a complete jerk would dare utter something so idiotic.

You are going to have all your relationships affected, at least for the time being. Please go to the funeral, and take your toddler. If there is one thing that can help you with this loss, it is attending the funeral and being around your family. And you have it backwards: your child(ren) will help bring joy back into your life, not the other way around.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:13 PM on June 8, 2010

I'm so sorry, ramix. I agree with others RE funeral. I missed my gran's funeral, as I was overseas and wasn't informed that she'd died until I got back a week later or so. I never got the same sense of closure that I did with my dad, whose funeral I did go to. There was nothing I could have done about it, but I still feel sad that I didn't go.

Cut yourself some slack. It's ok to not be ok. It's ok to feel like crap. It's ok to grieve, it's normal.

When dad died I spent a lot of time and energy comforting everyone else. I could cope with their grief. Their grief was contained and manageable. It was a problem I could solve. I think the reason that you're so worried about your relationship with your daughter at this time is a similar kind of thing. She is something that you can do and focus on and be constructive with. That's not me saying that it's a bad thing, it's a great coping mechanism!

Finding ways that to take control in an uncontrollable situation usually makes me feel better. Even if it's small things. Especially small things when you're so wracked with guilt and grief.

Take it one day at a time. There isn't a race. There isn't a prize for coping. Don't feel like you have to be the best at grief ever. Do what you need to.

It does get better. It does get easier. It takes time, but no-one wants to hear that when they are going through it.

posted by jonathanstrange at 1:41 AM on June 9, 2010

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