Top ten tips for responding to a mourner

Today I bundle under my new doonah cover, bought for its primary colours in a nod to the need for cheering up. My husband has taken our daughter to the playground, which she was unimpressed about, sensing perhaps that mummy’s retreat to bed reflected more than a sore throat (although there is that of course, too – the low immune response of grief taking its daily toll). Or perhaps she was just hungry. Who knows. She left the house swathed in a red and white check sheet which her father also used to wear as a boy, both generations emulating superheroes ready to fight off the baddies. She is my little hero, but sometimes I need a break. I feel the need to apologise for this to the gods that be, in case they think I no longer deserve her.

It has been what, three weeks? I can’t tell – since my sister died. I have started to feel guilty for still feeling bad. Shouldn’t I have moved on by now? Shouldn’t I be getting on with things? I read about one woman’s explanation, several years after losing a child – she still misses her everyday, but sometimes she is happy. I know losing my sister cannot be compared to losing a child, but I felt like I knew the sentiment.

I have begun to dig in a little, not wanting to forget my sister, not wanting to be happy just yet, as it would somehow dishonour her, mock my own grief, belittle her importance to me. I get angry at people who want to cheer me up, as if they are saying, it doesn’t matter that much. Of course that is not what people are saying – I know that. But that’s how it feels. The best responses are when friends don’t ask, how are you, but ask, how was this week – acknowledging the context, the different set of benchmarks you are operating within. But we in the West encounter death so rarely nowadays, that we don’t know how to sit with it; we don’t have the experience to know what a mourning person might need.

I don’t want this to sound like a complaint – I have received love and kindness from numerous sources, and I am lucky for this. Perhaps it is just the nature of grief, that you cast about, looking for something to fill the gap of the love you have lost. I do think it is also the lack of some kind of acknowledging ritual, or a period of mourning, something to dignify this loss, something to socially ‘see’ it.

The other thing that happens is, some people seem to think you should be less sad if the person who died had been ill or are elderly. Like it should be easier to lose someone who clearly was on the way towards death anyway. And maybe there is truth in this – the grief for Ally is for me somehow cleaner than it was for dad, whose death was a shock. But I want to scream to the world (and I think I and my siblings did this at her funeral): just because Ally was disabled does not mean I miss her less now. She was a whole person to me, right to the end.

When someone dies, you lose everything of them and you together. You lose the person  who you knew as a child, as an adult; you lose your history with them even if you still have your memories. You lose their complex presence inside your life, your skin, your flesh and mind. You don’t even know exactly what warmth they provided until it is gone. I suppose this is why I am drawn to quantum physical explanations of the soul. Because the loss feels so very very physical.

I have wonderful friends and loved ones taking care of me right now viagra india. Drawing on their sweet actions, I offer the following advice to people wondering how best to relate to a mourner in their lives.

Even if you have little experience with grief yourself, I hope the following will give you a few simple ‘ins’ so that seeing a mourner does not make you feel helpless.

Tips for responding to a mourner

1. When you hear of the loss, even if belated, I recommend that you send a card, call and/or better yet, send a small caring gift or token. Don’t SMS – or if you do, follow it up with something more tangible – eg even just an email, if it is a loving one, preferably more than one line.

2.  If the mourner does not return your calls, you can send an email or a card or persist in trying to call go on. Keep trying. It’s just that they don’t have any energy, but your thoughtfulness in persisting will make them feel loved.

3. A physical gift or token as I mentioned above, can be really appreciated. It could be chocolate, your favourite relaxing tea blend, or perhaps a massage oil. Whatever it is, as long as it is something you have thought about and want to share with the mourner – as long as it represents that you care – it doesn’t matter what it is or how small.

4. The mourner might not want to talk about it. That’s not about you, it’s about their process. I recommend occasionally offering subtle openings to talk about it if they want to – even if they said they don’t – they might change their mind half way through your conversation, once they have dealt with the initial discomfort of being re-submerged in their loss.

5. If you can, attend the funeral. Even if you think, I didn’t know the person who died all that well, it is a much, much appreciated show of support at a time when the mourner is feeling a great rent in their usual fabric of love.

6. Your mourner might still be feeling up and down, occasionally sad, depressed or angry, for many months and years. Give them a bit of rope, but you should not have to be on eggshells around the mourner, and if they take their anger out on you, it’s best if you tell them that is what they  are doing – they should not do that and if they feel angry, they need to find ways to let that out. It is never OK to let a mourner make you their doormat.

7. Be aware that some of the mourner’s moods are not about you; you don’t need to (nor can you) fix them; all you need to do is be present and acknowledge the pain. Often your mourner is just looking for permission to feel whatever they are feeling, even after time has passed, because our society denies the mourner that permission. But you can support the mourner with the permission to grieve, and you may find the mourner starts feeling better sooner as a result.

8. I think I want to reiterate that point: it is not your job to make the mourner feel better. Don’t take that on. We tend to try to fix things in our society, but grief cannot be fixed. It has to be lived through and loss has to be integrated into who we are after someone has died. It is up to the mourner to tell you what they need, and it is up to you to make sure they are not milking you dry emotionally.

9. If a mourner doesn’t know what they need, you might be able to suggest things (like time off – the main things we need are time and permission). If you think the mourner is becoming maudlin (ie re-traumatising themselves for no benefit), try distraction, fresh air, sun and light exercise. Bringing up politics and things happening in the wider world can also provide perspective, and anything which gets the mourner laughing is good for them. But don’t force these things – just bring them up gently, into conversation or activities. Let them take effect rather than didactically (or self-importantly) telling someone to get out of their rut.

10. Hugs, physical touch, and checking in as time passes – these should all be top of the list really. I think this is why I talk about gifts – most of my close friends live a long distance away, so gifts are a substitute for visit and touch.  If you live near a mourner, try to squeeze in a few drop-ins more than usual, and check in as time goes on too, even just a phone call here and there. Hugs generate oxytocin and connection, which the mourner desperately needs. And checking in is a great way of letting the mourner know you care, and that they are still allowed to be sad if they need to be – you acknowledge this each time you offer your open arms or ears.

Thank you to all the excellent souls who have done all of the above for me. You know who you are. xxxx

 

Grief and pain

The pain has hit.

Today was the first day I did not think to myself, ‘I can’t believe she is gone.’ Now that the buffer of shock has dissipated, the pain can be felt, as if the body was waiting for the mind to be ready to handle it. Just.

Grief feels like a weight on my chest, a nauseating swill in my gut. Today it hit me in the car driving to the shops with my darling husband and daughter. I felt like I could not move my head, or get up from the chair until it let me. It hit again later, when we got home – luckily it was nap time for my little person, so I went to bed and slept for two hours, then got up and waited for the lead to leave my system whilst I watched my husband do all the chores and play with our daughter.

I wanted to know why this happens. When Dad died, the Internet was still in its unreliable infancy. This time, I could ask Dr Google.

Scientists have documented the following physiological impacts of bereavement:

  • neuroendocrine activation (cortisol response)
  • altered sleep (electroencephhalography changes)
  • immune imbalance (reduced T-lymphocyte proliferation)
  • inflammatory cell mobilisation (platelet activation and increased vWF-ag)
  • hemodynamic changes (heart rate and blood pressure)

This explains why I feel exhausted but can’t sleep when I would normally like to. Why my fuse is short and my heart shakes. Why I have been fighting various lurgies and allergies this week. Why my stomach clenches as if something terrible or wonderful is about to happen – or I am about to throw up. The heart genuinely aches; the body is truly labouring with less air and under more strain. Doing the daily chores feels like acclimatising to high altitude mountain climbing, because you essentially are doing exactly that.

According to the research, these physiological responses are greatest in the early months after bereavement. In spousal bereavement or the loss of a child, the survivors experience increased mortality (particularly if they are elderly and so have less immune response in the first place): dying of a broken heart is real.

I wonder why the sorrow waited until now, when I am preparing to get back to work on Monday. Unfortunately, you can’t dictate to your body or your spirit a clear schedule; a project management approach to grief.

There are websites which provide advice about living with and through the physical pain of grief (I won’t list them here, but just google grief and you will see loads of heartfelt advice and suggestions). Practcal advice includes having massages, eating well, snuggling, and listening to sympathetic music. The advice I will try to take regarding working – instead of making to-do lists, make a list of everything you got done at the end of each day; say no to things you don’t have the capacity for; get more sleep if you can, and exercise.

When my dad died 15 years ago, I was very hard on friends whom I didn’t feel responded the way they should have. I was young, and they were young, and I was sensitive and in shock. Everyone responds differently – as one website suggested, one should not expect to get the reactions one wants, but be open to forgiving and accepting this. I was not, last time around. I want to be this time, because I know my own pain last time made me lose more than I needed to when my dad passed away.

I have received some beautiful and really interesting replies about my soul searching posts. People have given me their own insights and I am hugely grateful. Does anyone else have any ideas, or experiences to share? I am so intensely curious – what do you think happens after death, based on your experience? And if you don’t think there is a ‘soul’ or ‘energy blueprint’ after death, how do you find meaning for your life?

I may have seized on quantum physics and the soul as a way to avoid feeling the full terror of there being no point at all to each individual life. If you have a different solution to this, please share it.

 

 

 

 

Quantum physics and the soul

Today I woke up sick with a cold. It is as if my body, upon hearing me think about starting back to work today, had other, more realistic ideas.

I am watching comfort DVDs and eating the chocolate which came courtesy of Julie Lovell. It feels surreal, using the old tricks of the trade to ease my way through depression for this particular affliction.

I have been resisting thinking of my sister as a phenomenon of the past, the way I spent years not thinking of her as disabled, but simply as an individual of different characteristics to most. That was until she herself described herself as disabled but not in a defeated way, simply as a matter of fact, an aspect of her reality to deal with. But she is not here to tell me, in her straightforward way, ‘Well, being dead….’

I can’t feel her any more.

Those first few days, as I wrote in my previous post, I could feel her confused soul, seeking its way forward. But after that, I have felt not so much nothing as very distinctly that she is not part of the world I inhabit any more. There is a coldness to it, and maybe this is an artefact of numbing myself to the reality, or maybe it is because she has passed into a different realm of unknowability, or maybe it is because, as I am starting to believe, she no longer exists as Allison but as a set of frequencies unattached and unaware of itself.

After my last post, I googled ‘quantum physics and the soul’ and discovered that I am not the first person to theorise the soul as a set of coded frequencies. Several physicists – one at Cambridge University, one at Princeton, and one at the Max Planck Institute – have theorised similarly that this is possible. (This one is the most similar to my thinking about wave-particle duality and the potential for the soul to continue as a set of frequencies).

I wonder if the soul has no mass, in which case, it could theoretically continue forever unless interrupted. But I also think that such a post-death collection of frequencies would be unlikely to be self-aware without the physicality of a body / matter, and therefore would not be capable of directing itself into another existence, unless it is the soul of a great meditative practitioner whose brain frequencies have been altered through years of practice to actually incorporate some sort of directive awareness. If the soul has mass, then it exists in space-time like the rest of us and cannot continue indefinitely, except perhaps in its wave-aspect. Hmm.

I have started reading Tibetan Buddhist texts on what happens at and after death, and the theories are similar to mine and those of the quantum physicists, except that they are far more detailed. The Buddhists theorise that the ‘soul’ is shaped by the life of the person (which makes sense – the brain is elastic and shapes itself according to genetics, environment and experience). They believe that good karmic works during life set the soul up for a positive rebirth. In quantum physics, you could describe this as the soul’s set of frequencies having a predisposition to connection (in life, known as ‘compassion’), which means that the soul is drawn to similar frequencies or quantum states. Potentially, this could be a new life. The soul blueprint is absorbed and imprinted in that of the physical being it has joined, so you would have no idea of it but in this way, knowledge is imprinted and continued and evolves with each physical iteration.

OK now I can see I am sounding crazy. But the fact is, if there is a soul, there must be a material explanation for it. Otherwise it is just crazy talk. We should never rule out anything that might be possible simply because of the prejudices of the times we live in. We would still think the earth is flat and the centre of the universe if we did that.

The Buddhists talk about different realms which the soul enters after physical death, and possible ‘reincarnations.’ These depend on how well the soul can direct itself after death, and how trained for connection it is. In gross material terms, I can imagine a swirling soup of soul space, except I know this isn’t what it would look like because that would have been detectable. In quantum physics terms, I think it more likely that the soul (perhaps I should call it a quantum blueprint? There must be a less loaded term…), if eternal in its wave aspect, writes itself into the quantum layer and yet can interact with matter, and possibly is attracted to matter, and so may at times iterate in the physical world.

Where is this leading me? To other worlds? To other universes? If the soul can exist, does exist, at a wave level, then it could feasibly exist everywhere, at all times, massless, echoing throughout the vacuum, a potentiality encapsulated in the DNA of the sub-atomic multiverse. What then makes it a physical reality? Does it have an inherent attraction to physical form? To – life? I don’t want to ask the question,’ why’? because this goes in the wrong direction – it starts to assume without proof that there is a choice behind all of this. Better to ask, ‘what’ and ‘how,’ at this point.

Do we encapsulate all possible selves within us? Is this what it means that we are all interconnected, that we are everyone’s mother? Outside of spacetime and inside spacetime simultaneously? I used to hypothesise as a child, that Jesus taught us how to access eternity right now, in a moment. Perhaps this is what I meant? That eternity is living within us?

This is contingent on the soul having no mass. If it does have a mass then that could explain why it is attracted to matter at some point, rather than continuing indefinitely. Perhaps it does both? Perhaps it has Higgs bosons and wave aspects simultaneously?

Perhaps I am just looking for an explanation for what is really just a projection of my own mind, desperate for a way to sublimate its loss?

Here I am stuck. Any ideas, any other amateur quantum physicists out there?