Sad parents relief
January 18, 2012 4:48 PM   Subscribe

What worked for you when you wanted to keep your control in sad situations?

My elderly (80+, but still fully active) parents will attend to the funeral of a very dear friend early next week. The man has been around in their private and professional lives since the early nineteen fifties.

History suggests that my dad especially will hold his facade until the last minute and then, being somehow entirely unprepared for the emotional onslaught, will have a really hard time during the event. I would like to be a kind kid and help them to prepare for, and handle the situation.

Any insider tips, mental preparation, mantras, even "alternative" medication?

Many thanks.
posted by Namlit to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do they want this help? Are they looking for tools to stay calm? If not, I'd check with them before suggesting anything. It's perfectly appropriate to be sad in sad situations, and it's emotionally healthy to express grief.

If they are looking for tools to stay calm, I would suggest taking deep, controlled breaths, at a constant rate. Keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth can help, too. Having a bottle of water and taking small sips is also helpful.

Ultimately though, I'm a strong believer in using the funeral process as a way to help me along in my grieving process, and for me, crying is part of that. I just try to tell myself that whatever I'm feeling, is okay and appropriate. And that it's totally fine to fall apart. It's also totally okay to feel empty, and like you won't cry at all. Letting your emotions guide you, rather than try to control them can be incredibly cathartic, and less stressful than trying to tell yourself not to feel a certain way. Loosing a friend is devastating and it's okay to be sad.
posted by nerdcore at 5:12 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Dittoing nerdcore. Catharsis isn't a loss of control. It's a way to regain it. The mind needs to purge itself periodically and when faced with something impossibly sad, bottling it up till it all spills over isn't as healthy as letting go of that sadness and working through it. Good luck. I am sorry for your parents' loss.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:17 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If I understand your question: you want ways to help your parents keep their composure, possibly to shield them from embarrassment or to protect them from spiraling into complete despair.

Ensure you all have clean handkerchiefs. Make them eat something before the ceremony (no matter how upset they are, even some saltines will help, but preferably something with a little fat and protein to keep them full.) Avoid new medications and "alternatives" - the last thing anyone needs while they're trying to keep it together is a weird drug reaction. Encourage them to use their usual sleep aids, whatever those are, the night before the ceremony. Above all, reassure them that you're there and will help without judgment, and that you will follow their lead about what help they need and want.

As far as helping them cope with the loss: A funeral is a safe physical and ritual space in which to express grief. If there's anywhere a man can completely lose his shit without judgment, it's a funeral. There's less potential for embarrassment there than, say, at the grocery store on the way home. Reassure your folks as needed that there's no shame in being seen to grieve.

I think a lot of people are afraid if they come a little unglued, they will fall down a huge black hole of despair and never come out. This is an unlikely outcome and should be treated as such - again, reassurance might help. Mourning is hard and painful, it's exhausting, and it happens in unpredictable fits and starts. I found it helpful to remind myself that no matter what happened, time was going to keep passing, and I would be okay as long as I kept going. (Specifically, I kept saying "Just keep swimming" from Finding Nemo, but I bet that you can find a more apt "mantra" for your parents - "one foot in front of the other" or something.)
posted by gingerest at 6:21 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree that I don't think he actually needs help. This is a sad situation and that's a pretty normal way to express grief.

I think maybe you are the one who needs to prepare for it. It's hard and helpless-feeling to see your parents upset like that, but that's what happens when you lose someone. I know all you want to do is make him feel better and make it less painful, but there really isn't anything you can do. Just be there for him, let him fall apart. If he gets really unhinged--which is to say, gets violent or repeatedly makes the other mourners uncomfortable, you might have to walk him out to calm down or even take him home, but assuming he's just crying and grieving, let him do it.

If he doesn't seem to be able to collect himself enough to function (which is to say, do the basic things he needs to do, like shower) after a few days or so, then you might consider intervening. But for now, just hang in there and be there for him.

I'm sorry for your family's loss.
posted by elizeh at 7:04 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents are in their late sixties and early seventies and have lost several close friends. Friendships that were longer than my whole life! They know much more about this kind of sadness than I do. It's very affecting to see my parents go through this, partly because I know I will, too. It's hard to know how bottomless it will feel.

I agree that maybe you're the one that needs to prepare for it. Try to be a calm presence in the situation, no matter what happens.
posted by sweetkid at 9:03 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

After a funeral I was at where no one cried, someone commented, "I hope at least one person cries at my funeral." Another time, at the reception after the funeral of one of my family members, there was a guy who really did just fall apart in the middle of chatting with me. I was very touched by this show of emotion, in fact thankful for it. I think it would be great if your father didn't think falling apart would be so bad. Easier said than done for some people, I am sure.
posted by BibiRose at 9:22 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently attended the funeral of an elderly family member (grandmother) whose death was sad but very peaceful and not unexpected. In the days before the funeral, the family mood was pretty relaxed, mostly people catching up with relatives and sorting through estate stuff. Basically the most loving but non-angsty mourning possible. So I was caught off-guard by how many relatives, including me, just lost it at the funeral service, for varying reasons: an uncle broke down after greeting a friend past seen at another, still-painful funeral, a cousin moved to tears by a eulogy anecdote, I started crying seeing my tough cousin cry.

This anecdote is really just to say that I don't think there's much you can do to prepare for grief, because you don't know when or how or why it will hit you, let alone if/when at a funeral. The funeral is the ceremonial statement "We the beloved of Deceased declare our right to be sad en masse for a while, please."

Things that helped us:
- It felt really good to acknowledge the death to each other one-on-one. Example, me to uncle: "I'm sorry your mom died." Uncle: "Thanks. I'm sorry your grandmother died." Same person, different relationships. Your parents lost their good friend; you lost your cool not!uncle who was maybe like a parent or trusted adult to you.
- Collect good and funny stories about the deceased. They will help people be less sad. And this may be the last time these people are all together to share them.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:51 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just last night I returned from the funeral and burial of a great friend whom I'd known for 25 years, since before his voice changed (and practically before mine did). It was extremely difficult, and in fact I have tears emerging just from typing this sentence.

It is going to be hard no matter what. I am a kind of stoicly sensitive guy (in the way that I am quiet, wondering why nobody appears to feel as bad as I do. Ironic, I know), and the way I got through both the viewing and the funeral/burial was a combination of abject grief (crying openly), deep breathing (while walking up to the viewing), and numbness. There is no cure. The miserable grief is a natural part of losing someone dear and I now believe it to be the apotheosis of healthy response, regardless of how other people are acting. It is absolutely not maudlin.

Though grief counselors might recommend Xanax or Ambien or other things, this experience has convinced me that there is no better way to handle this then to buy into it completely. Everything else is just going to delay the inevitable, possibly spawning worse problems in avoidance.

Just be there for them. Stand silently, or maybe relay things your parents have said before when they now can't say for themselves. The most helpful thing anybody did for me over the last week was to be there, as I (repeatedly) broke down, for hugging, talking, or listening. The most useful phrases I would use in your position is "It's hard," "you'll get through this," and "it's going to be OK," because that's pretty much all it is. Everything else is different for everybody, it's fucked up, and there's no escaping it. Sorry to be existential, but it is what it is, and that person is now gone. Life will now be different. It takes time and emotions to realize that for oneself (I still don't believe my friend is dead).

I was alternately inconsolable and numb in preparation, and I likely would not have made it to the funeral (from the West coast the East on a moment's notice) without my friends to shepherd me to the airport and drive to the events. I was even late and missed my flight, with thoughts of flaking the entire time, yet I got another flight and made it through everything. Be the person who keeps their eyes on the prize, your parents will benefit. This shit is pure humanity, and not attending is a lightning bolt to regret for the remainder of one's life, which is no treat.

Your role here is to ensure that attending is non-negotiable, and to make it happen, no matter what it takes.
posted by rhizome at 11:31 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, fuck composure. Leave that for the emotional cripples and distant connections.
posted by rhizome at 11:32 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Tanks all for your thoughtful answers. Marking two best answers, one practically, the other emotionally most to the point; I could mark all of them.

[To react to a few sidelines here. No, I don't know whether they want this help; I am working on being prepared in case they do. So that answers the second bit: yes, it's me who wants to prepare now.]

The complicating factor, I now realized, is that the funeral is likely going to be quite a public event with a huge attendance, so the acceptance of that "safe physical and ritual space", might be compromised by very many people 'watching'. I think if the subject comes up, I'll just assure everyone over and again that it's okay to be sad.
posted by Namlit at 3:49 AM on January 19, 2012

OK to be sad is exactly it. Though he died young, my friend's funeral had hundreds of people due to his professions (I don't want to be too specific). The viewing was a line for over three hours. It was quite public in a civic way, though I did not see any media.

Everybody's there for the same thing and everybody deals with it in their own way, even if they choose not to express anything. The safe physical and ritual space is protected by everyone's intentions, which is to focus on the dead person. This is why Fred Phelps gets people so itchy.

I realize now that my composure comment was quite pointed, but the issue is that e.g. (purely) professional connections will have a different sense of loss, vs. family, friends, and so on. Having a more intimate relationship with the person allows for wider expressions of grief, this is part of the social contract that binds us all.

You should be talking about the funeral as a bygone conclusion if they'll need to be convinced at all. Buy the tickets now. Pack for them. Make it as easy as possible.
posted by rhizome at 4:58 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whoops, I also agree that food is #2 on the list behind getting them there. I'm sure I ate quite a bit fewer than 5000 calories last week, and I've really only had two decent meals besides that so far. It's the pits, but it's perfectly natural. Things'll look up soon.

I thanked my friends profusely for ensuring I attended, which involved no small amount of cajoling, I tell you what.
posted by rhizome at 5:04 AM on January 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks rhizome again, (and: sorry for your loss!). The packing and getting there will be looked after by a good friend, who'll drive them all the way from Bremen to Amsterdam and back. I will mention food. I am in another country, still not sure whether I'll make it there in person. So that's another thing.
posted by Namlit at 9:22 AM on January 19, 2012

Most funeral homes have a private room for the immediate family and especially close friends of the deceased for just this reason. Even at a funeral, some people just don't want to be watched while they mourn.

So you could remind them (or the person they're going with), to scope out the "Family Room" ahead of time and help your folks get there if they feel they'd like to get away from the rest of the mourners for a bit.

Churches and other places of worship sometimes have such rooms too (or more likely they'll have a room where parents take noisy children so they don't disturb services.) That would be an option too, if your parents felt the need.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2012

Response by poster: Well, that's how it goes: I managed to get there too, and actually I ended up being the one having the hardest time of all, so that my dad afterwards felt he needed to say that it was okay. Much wisdom here in this thread. Thanks all again.
posted by Namlit at 2:09 AM on January 26, 2012

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