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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What to Do First?

Your loved one just died.  What do you do first?  
The first thing we did, was go to her house, to see for ourselves that she was gone.  The firemen were still battling the blaze, and her vehicles were still parked outside.  We watched, held each other and cried.

After one of the firemen came to tell us that her body could be seen but they couldn't get to it yet, we went to a friend and neighbor's house to call home.  Since it was about 5 o'clock in the morning, we weren't surprised to not get an answer.  Our sons, Josh and Jason, were both adults, and were usually up late at night, then slept in as long as possible on Sunday mornings.

We began straightening the house.  Partly as "busy work", something to keep our minds on something other than reality, and party because we knew as soon as the word got out, we would be deluged by caring neighbors and family.  And we were.  All that day, we had food, paper plates and plastic silverware, cards, money, and lots of hugs and words of comfort.  For the next 5 days, we took in more food than we could possibly eat, so we farmed some of it out to neighbors and family.

Some things to keep in mind, once you have lost someone, especially in a sudden manner:

Don't do anything that takes concentration.  You won't have it.  You are in shock.  Everything is surreal.  You see people moving around you, talking to you, but don't expect to comprehend fully what they are saying, because your mind is not on their words. 

Don't make any big changes in your life.  You've already had the biggest change you could ever imagine. You will need to make funeral arrangements, and those will be incredibly hard if the loved one hasn't already made known their wishes.  They will be asking you to select a casket, or do you want cremation? What scripture readings do you want to use?  Our minds were blank.  The funeral home director helped us with some of these decisions, but later, we wished we had chosen different songs.

If the loved one had a house, don't sell it or make any quick decisions about it.  You will think differently after you have had time to think about it. If there are many pictures of the loved one, try to make a collage or a video with photos that show the loved one's personality and special memories.

Be prepared to write a lot of thank you notes.  Keep track of the gifts and donors, so you can write more personalized thank yous later. 

Eat. Drink plenty of fluids, preferably non-alcoholic. You will need your strength for the upcoming onslaught of well-wishers and the funeral. 

Plan what  you will wear to the funeral and any other services.  Don't wait until the last minute.

Lean on friends and family.  Let them help you.  Don't let your pride get in the way of your sensibilities.  People want to help.  Some will give money, some will help cook, others will drive you to appointments.  This is their way of coping with their loss, too.  You are not the only person affected by the loss of this person. 

Don't exclude the children in the family.  They may not fully understand what is going on, but they have excellent sensors for distress and anxiety.  They will know something is not right and will ask questions.  If they are too young to talk, they may be fussy and cry.  If you find yourself short on patience, let them stay with family or friends until you can get a grip on your own emotions.

I started a scrapbook of sympathy cards, photos, and mementos of Teresa's life. It was a bittersweet project and I shed tears, but it also comforted me.  It was the first of many "projects" that I used to comfort myself. 

When I am feeling strong emotions, I write poetry or fiction stories, or letters to the person who brought on the emotions, including the lost loved one.  In this letter, you can express all the emotions you are feeling, whether it be rage sorrow or denial, or even acceptance, although the latter usually doesn't put in an appearance until much later.

Dennis planted rose bushes all around our yard, and maintained them as his "gift" to Teresa.  She loved roses and when someone was sad, or she wanted to express gratitude or love, she would give them roses.   We picked out a casket with roses on each corner.  

I will write more ideas in later posts.  If you are following the path of grieving a loved one, please accept my most sincere sorrow in your loss. Hang in there.  It takes a long while, but eventually, your life will find a new normal.  Nothing will be quite the same as before, but you will learn how to survive.

"If God brought you to it, He will bring you through it" has been my favorite axiom in the past 18 years.  I'm not sure of the original author, but he/she is very wise.  God Bless.
Our daughter, Teresa Marie, in her LPN graduation uniform, around 1998.

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