- Don’t bottle up feelings
- Do express your emotions
- Don’t avoid talking about what happened
- Do take every opportunity to review the experience
- Don’t expect the memories to go away- the feelings will stay with you for a long time to come
- Do take time out to sleep, rest, think and be with your close family and friends
- Do express your needs clearly and honestly to family, friends and officials
- Do try to keep your life as normal as possible after the acute grief
- Do remember accidents are more common after severe stress so take extra care
- Don’t forget that children experience similar emotions, so let children talk about their emotions and express themselves in games and drawings
- Do send your children back to school. Let them keep up with their activities and make sure their teacher knows what has happened.
A memory box is simply a place where you can store certain items from your loved one e.g. special piece of jewellery, a football shirt, photographs, spectacles, perfume, after shave, items of clothing etc. As you can see the list is endless. The important thing is, you have a specific place for these important items, so when you want to see, hold, or smell them, you know exactly where they are stored. Some clients use a pillowcase, or a drawer – the storage place doesn’t really matter. Other clients have told us they use a memory box when ‘they want to trigger some tears’. Sometimes you can feel emotionally full up and you just want to have a good cry. Looking in a memory box, smelling a scarf, or bottle of aftershave, can be just the trigger you need for this good cry and a beneficial emotional release. I briefly mentioned memory boxes in the first email.
The benefit of an album is that it’s easy to have it in the lounge on the coffee table i.e. it’s available to see at any time. Not just for you but for friends and family too. It helps people to talk about the deceased person and trigger positive happy memories of holidays, football matches, dance classes etc. An extra bonus is that friends can often recall something from a certain picture, which you weren’t even aware of, or had possibly forgotten. Allowing family members and close friends to write a comment under pictures also helps to build up a lovely supporting commentary about the person who has died. As you move forward the album might not be on top of the coffee table but on the shelf underneath. As you move further forward you might put it in the drawer under the shelf. It’s still close to hand but you may not be looking at it every day. You are actually moving along your grief journey and this is really positive for you. An album can also trigger tears when required…
When do you start to change things and why bother? What are you going change and maybe why are you considering doing anything anyway? Well basically, it’s because you have decided to move forward and you’re trying to get on with your life. This is a natural process and is really positive for you.
One man described how he wanted to move back into the bedroom previously shared with his wife. She had been ill for a few years and needed additional space for her disturbed sleeping pattern. Her husband felt guilty because he wanted to move into ‘her room’, change the décor and install a new carpet. In other words he wanted to make it ‘his own space’. However, he managed to overcome his ‘emotional guilt’ and realised his feelings were irrational. The room was re-decorated, new carpet installed and new bedding purchased.
It was then he realised he had made a positive and correct decision and one which helped him move forward.
Similarly, a widow wanted to ‘claim back’ the garden shed her late husband had filled with ‘bloke junk’ e.g. things he thought just might become useful one day. So she experienced similar emotions and guilt thoughts as the gentleman above. The useful items were kept and the ‘bloke junk’ was dumped. She realised that if he had been able, he probably would have undertaken the clear-out himself, but he couldn’t. So, she was able to move forward, while shedding some tears, as really old useless items were dumped. She felt it was a healthy process which really helped her with her grief and emotions.
Taking down pictures of a loved one is another emotional roller coaster. Not necessarily taking down all pictures, just a selection. When someone dies people often put up many pictures around the house to remind them of their loved one. Some people can’t look at pictures at all, but I’ll cover that elsewhere. Again, there comes a time when you want, or need to change things. Maybe take some of the pictures down to store in a memory box.
But then the emotional and guilt thoughts kick in, “How can I be considering taking down that picture?” She/he has only been gone less than a year. However, the drive, the need, the desire for this type of action is actually really positive when you are coming to terms with your loss. Other pictures will probably remain in place, or be put in a new location. It’s just that your home is now your area and you can change things to meet your needs.
This is a really difficult process to start and people normally find it an emotional time. Some have ‘guilty’ feelings about what they are doing. However, it really is a necessary step to take to help you move forward. Don’t let anyone tell you when to start. It’s your choice and you will just know when it’s the right time. It helps if you start with disposing of items that you can’t remember being worn or maybe really old and worn out. These won’t give you such an ‘emotional hit’ because you simply can’t remember them being worn. Clothing and personal items (e.g. a set of golf clubs) are always welcomed at charity shops. By giving you are helping others, particularly if the charity is one linked to your loved one’s illness.
As you move forward (and this is often the case with widows/widowers) you may be purchasing new clothes – close friends might be trying to persuade you to go out and socialise. Part of this process is often a trip to the shops for some new clothes, and then more storage may then be required. This logically helps with the next part of disposing of your loved one’s clothes because you need the room in the wardrobe, or drawers. One client shared with us that he dealt with much of his wife’s clothes by putting them in storage bags in the loft. He not only gained the space, but he was able to take items to a charity shop when he was feeling emotionally stronger.
It’s the ‘step by step’ approach which makes it just that bit less painful. Maybe start with just half a wardrobe, or a few drawers. The main thing is that you have started and are moving forward. Adopting this approach can work when a garage, or a shed, or a sewing room is being changed.
In summary, the reality is you’ll probably keep a number of pieces of clothing and artefacts – and why shouldn’t you? It’s the fact you have ‘dealt with’ many items which helps you come to terms with your emotions and grief.
As you move forward following the death of your loved one, your life will start to become normal again. Okay, it’s a ‘new normal’ but you will probably return to work, going shopping, start playing football, or netball again and just try to get on with your life. Yes it’s difficult when you start, but it’s a necessary process which will help you in the coming months and years.
The ‘guitar string’ reference refers to things that you tend to do naturally e.g. talking with friends over a coffee, having a few beers down the pub etc. Often clients will tell me they felt guilty because they had been out the previous day and really enjoyed themselves. They hadn’t been thinking of their loved one all the time because they were chatting and enjoying themselves. This means they were concentrating on the conversation and having fun, which was really good for them!
It will be good for you too, as it will show you are adapting to your new situation. One of those 1000 guitar strings has just snapped – you have actually been able to do something you wanted to do, without continually thinking about your loss. You have been able to become slightly detached from your loss for a short time.
So you are demonstrating to yourself that you are able to ‘let go’ a little bit – and each time you do this, just imagine one of the guitar strings breaking. Don’t worry, you’ll never run out of strings, but it seems to help clients to visualise a physical ’letting go’ i.e. snapping string.
Also, I’ve previously mentioned guilt and why bereaved people often feel guilty about how, and why their loved one died. This is looking at guilt from the past.
But, what about potential guilt about your new future? This is more relevant for adults who have lost husbands/wives/partners. People tell me and my colleagues that when they start to socialise and enjoy themselves again, they feel guilty. Shouldn’t I be terribly sad all the time? Well actually no! It’s not an ongoing requirement. You already realise you feel sad because you have experienced a traumatic moment in your life. However, you have to get on with your own life at some stage. You need to remain healthy to help other bereaved relatives within your immediate family. This might be children, or ageing parents. Ideally, you don’t want them to be worrying about your state of health and wellbeing.
A gentle way of introducing new social opportunities is to join a walking club, where there is often a mixture of couples, widows and widowers. These new acquaintances will probably have previously experienced people joining the group who have been bereaved. It can be a good way of learning to socialise as a single person, and to break a few more strings…
When someone dies, many people want to look at lots of pictures and often they’ll hang these on the wall within the family home. Which is fine, but be aware of the points previously made in ‘Changing things in the family home’.
However, some clients just can’t bring themselves to look at pictures of the person who has died. This can be a problem because they also say they don’t want to forget what the person looked like.
So, a possible dilemma.
A way to deal with these concerns is to visualise what your husband, wife, daughter, son etc., actually looked like.
What colour was their hair? Were they tall, or short? Were they well-built, or slender? Did they have freckles, and what colour were their eyes? What was their hair like: wavy, straight, long, or short? What style was their hair cut in? Did they wear glasses and if yes, what sort of style? Frameless, half round, designer? And typically, what clothes did they normally wear? A jeans person, or more formal?
When you used to take pictures of them, did they stand still, or mess about just as you took the picture? Maybe pull a funny face, or tilt their head to the side because they knew you would always say to stand properly.
Did you have to remind them to pull their tummy in, or brush their hair?
As you can see the list is lengthy because your relationship with your loved one was absolutely unique. By thinking of your loved one in this way you are simply, but accurately, describing them from all the memories in your mind. In other words you have a vivid picture in your own mind, so why not put a ‘copy’ of this visualisation i.e. a picture, on the wall, on a shelf, next to your bed?
Clients have shared with me that when they have thought of it in this way, they have managed to put up a picture and therefore overcome their fears of not remembering. To help them retain the memories pictures may create, many people write a brief note on a ‘Post It’ which they put under or behind the picture.
People often tell us that sometimes their friends don’t tend to mention the name of the person who has died. This is usually because your friends are trying to protect you and don’t want to upset you. However, you might be feeling the exact opposite! You might want to talk about your loved one. So how can you change this situation? Try introducing their name into normal conversation e.g. maybe refer to a favourite holiday – ‘Can you remember our holiday in Spain when (deceased name) was trying to order a meal in Spanish and ended up with an octopus? It doesn’t really matter what you say, but you are giving your friends permission to talk about your loved one.
In the early days of a grief journey people tell us they only have unhappy thoughts. They find it difficult to think past the recent death of a loved one. However, what seems to work is to try and replace unhappy thoughts, with happy thoughts. For example, these will normally come from shared happy times during years of a relationship; holiday memories, parties with friends and growing families. So compile a list of these happy memories and when an unhappy thought enters your mind, just focus on one of two of your favourite happy memories.