Death is inevitable, yet the loss of a close friend or family member is accompanied with a range of emotions. During this holiday season, and all seasons, it is important to recognize and address the trauma of surviving a loss of a loved one…because YOU are worth it!
Have you ever had a sibling or a roommate move out after living together for an extended period of time? If so, you have experienced what it is like to really notice someone’s absence; suddenly the house is quieter, the bathroom is sadly cleaner, and you feel oddly emptier. This experience, magnified infinitely, is similar to surviving after someone near and dear to you passes on. You become intensely aware of their absence, and it is often accompanied by unavoidable waves of grief and sorrow. This is a type of trauma.
A close friend’s mom passed away when we were freshmen in High School. I remember her putting on her game face, acting grateful her mom was free of cancer, but I knew my friend was a mess inside. I cannot begin to imagine how quiet her house must have felt, or how sad mealtimes must have been, or how many nights she must have cried herself to sleep thinking of all the things her mom would miss–graduations, marriage, babies. Losing her mom to cancer, at age 15, impacted this friend in ways she did not and could not understand at that time.
Everyone deals with death differently. My friend acted like nothing happened and continued living life as normal. Several years down the road, however, she snapped. She got into drugs, alcohol and risky sex, eventually got pregnant, and entered into a marriage she was not ready for or committed to. Years later, she cleaned up her life and is now in a different, stable marriage with additional children. After years of avoiding grieving the loss of her mother, she has started to confront her grief and I am encouraged she will continue to heal from the trauma of surviving the loss of her mother.
My clients, and friend, have taught me many things about the trauma of surviving, and I wish to share some of those with you today! As we enter the holiday season, past and present losses can be felt deeply and I want to give you some tools to help you navigate this season, and all seasons:
- Talk about it–but only when you are ready. Let others in. Hibernating for a period of time is understandable, but eventually the time will come when you need to let others in. Start slowly by sharing with a few trusted people. Sometimes, this may be safest with a trained, experienced counselor or therapist.
- Welcome the flood of emotions. Do not feel the need to “be strong” for anyone else. Allow yourself to feel the sorrow, the anger, the devastation, the relief…whatever it may be. Let that emotion have place in your heart and recovery.
- Recognize you will need to recreate “normal.” Your life will never go back to how it used to be. That is the tragic truth of loss; it changes everything. But YOU and only you have control over the new normal you choose to create in your life. Let that empower you.
- Do what you love with those you love. Practice self-care and self-love. Travel. Exercise. Pick up or make time for hobbies. Spend time with those you love.
- Cherish the memories you have. Whether this means displaying pictures, making a photo album, or organizing family videos, celebrate the life and legacy of your loved one. By cherishing the time you did have, those memories can become more poignant, than the memories of the loss.
- Give yourself time to heal. Recognize that grief is an emotion you need to process, and work through–just like anger, frustration, or resentment. Acknowledge the fact that your grief will be ongoing and that there will be harder days than others. Be okay with that and give yourself whatever time you need to heal.
Living through the death of a loved one is an incredibly traumatic experience, and it merits endless blog posts and conversations. Sometimes my friend will sheepishly admit through tears that she is not “over” losing her mother, and I have to remind her that it is completely okay! Navigating life without those we love most is and will be ongoing. It requires that we talk about it, give place for each emotion that arises, create a new normal, practice self-care, cherish memories, and give ourselves time to heal. I have a deep appreciation for those who live on after the loss of close loved ones; please contact me today and allow me to help you in the healing process. I am here for you!
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Cluff Counseling: “Are You are Secondary Survivor?”
- Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
- Cluff Counseling: “Facing the Holidays Alone”
- Cluff Counseling: “I Don’t Have Trauma…or Do I?”
- Cluff Counseling: “Life After Trauma”
- Cluff Counseling: “Reliving the Horrors: PTSD”
- Cluff Counseling: “Strength in Numbers: Support Groups”
- Focus on the Family: “Coping with Death and Grief”
- Huffington Post: “10 Things I Learned While Dealing With the Death of a Loved One”