Everyone grieves in different ways, at different intensities, for different lengths of time. Grief is as unique as the person. The one thing that is common for everyone is the need for the pain to been seen and to share that pain with others. Funerals, wakes, vigils, memorials etc. are various ways for people to gather and to witness grief together.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies and David Kessler, a death and grieving expert, wrote about the 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages do not necessarily follow that order. A person may bounce back and forth between 2 or more of the stages over time. Acceptance doesn't happen all at once but often little bits at a time. In David Kessler's latest book, Finding Meaning, he states that the pain will eventually shift when a sixth stage of grief enters the picture - meaning. Finding meaning in a person's death helps you deal with the pain.
Find meaning in the good memories and the legacy the departed has left behind; carrying on a trait, a philosophy or tradition that is strongly associated with the loved one. My brother left his job in Toronto at a young age and began an online freelance business that allowed him to move to Montreal and immerse in the French language and later move onto France to enjoy the beauty, food and culture of the coastal city of Nice. The memory of his open-mindedness and pursuit of simplicity and personal freedom is an ongoing inspiration to me seven years after his death.
My dad died about 3 years ago. He had dementia, macular degeneration and prostate cancer. The most obvious decline occurred during the last 3 years of his life. In a way, I experienced little bouts of grief as his health and independence faded away. Giving up his car license, unable to walk around the block by himself without getting lost or confused, losing the mind/body connection and being confined to a wheelchair, no longer being able to play his clarinet or saxophone, moving to a nursing home, and the catheter and frequent infections as the prostrate enlarged, were some of the mini deaths I witnessed and mourned along with him. When the time did come to move him to the hospice, my acceptance and gratitude were there for such a peaceful place to play out his final song.
I was blessed to be with my dad as he drew his last breath. My mom says I have my dad's sense of humour, something he emanated throughout his life. Despite or maybe because of his blindness and dementia he was able to live in the moment and forget any discomfort that he experienced a few minutes previously. Fortunately for our family, he never forgot who we were. I enjoyed the fact that he remembered me, and to him I was still a youthful, high school girl. He made me realize that there is joy in any situation and that if you can't find the humour in life, what is the use in living.
My mom was a tireless caregiver and advocate. It was because of my dad's illness that she found her voice. Their relationship was strengthened and more tender because in his case, the dementia weakened his ego and allowed his true heart to shine through. In his moments of clarity, he spoke his truth from the heart and oftentimes, it was very profound.
Further meaning is given to death due to my belief that a person's soul or essence lives on once the body shuts down. The love and connection continues on in a new form. How often have people talked about feeling the presence of a departed loved one, witnessing the erratic behaviour of a bird or animal in nature as if trying to get their attention or coming across objects in strange places (feathers, coins) that made them feel that their loved ones were making themselves known. For me, the signs came in the form of a butterflies that would land on me or hover close to me when my heart desired to know my dad was still around. I asked my dad to be with me when I took my first trip to Europe in 2018. When I was in Amsterdam on a cool October day, I noticed the strange phenomena of a live butterfly on a white frame separating two black front doors. There were no other butterflies in sight - my dad was along for the ride. In Nice, France, on the day I was going to spread my brother's ashes, I walked a long promenade by the beach and there was a lone man playing a familiar jazz song on his saxophone - immediately my emotions rose and I felt my dad's presence.
Death is not strong enough to end love. Life takes on a new normal. We experience love and great loss but life continues around us. We will never be the same but we can grow from the grief and make our lives even more meaningful after a death. In so doing we honour our loved ones and we become whole again. We never forget, never stop loving or never break the bond. Grief is inevitable but the gift of eternal love makes it all worth it.