At some point, most people who live past adolescence realize that they are not going to get out this life, alive. Death is a natural, and unavoidable, outcome of living. (As of 2014, this is a fact of life…) Some cultures and societies work at pretending that death is NOT inevitable and this denial is built into the structure of the culture. Americans seem to frown on death like it is weakness in life to give in to death. In this culture, youth is celebrated and old people should only participate in celebrations of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. There would be more television programs about older people if the culture were not in such denial. Now, I am not saying that we should have another “reality TV” show about older people’s last days amongst the living but it has been a long time since programs like the “Golden Girls.”
But the point of this blog article is not about denial of death and dying. It is about the emotions people feel regarding the loss of family member or friend to the process of dying. In the past, people lived with or near their families and families cared for each other with process of “passing away” done at home surrounded by family. Families would embrace the transition and it was a “natural” process. It is often very different in present day families.
Image that you were a child of divorced, or unmarried parents. You have been estranged from your biological parent due to divorce, or substance abuse, or prison, or large geographical distances and you learn that your non-custodial biological parent is dying. You may already harbor anger and resentment toward this parent for not “being there” for you and now you cannot even “get even” emotionally for the neglect (real or imagined) because the object of you anger is now leaving you due to a terminal disease process. How do you deal with your anger and your ambivalence toward this parent? From professional experience, I know that people often turn this anger inward. Depression often manifests. Anxiety can surface. Adjustment disorders may become inflamed. It is natural to be depressed or anxious. Though this is a natural response it remains often elusive as to how to deal with these strong emotions in “positive” ways.
Some cultures and religions suggest that you experience the loss of a significant person to better learn “your” lessons of this life. The perspective of surviving this loss can make you stronger. Everyone deals with loss differently. Some people want to escape their pain and avoid this strong emotion by getting involved with substance abuse. Some people use other behaviors to avoid their pain like playing too many video games, engaging in unsafe sexual experiences, or possibly other dangerous, but distracting, behaviors. A healthier way of responding to this difficult experience might be to get professional support or support from “healthy” family or friends. This might involve discussing the anger or the sadness in appropriate ways. It might involve discussing the loss and the void left when the person passes. It might include discussing the unfinished business. It might include discussing life beyond and how to consider filling “the void.”
Children or poorly articulate adults have serious challenges communicating their pain, anger, frustration, upset, and loss. They require assistance in a safe, “non-judgemental” relationship. They need to be told that their feelings are not un-natural or bad. They need to be counseled on how to express this emotion in safe and appropriate ways. They often need to be supported with positive alternatives forms of expression and positive choices to move forward in their lives. Often they have been “cheated” from the experience of telling their estranged parent or significant person the anger or pain they feel about their disappointing relationship. Alternative forms of communicating their feelings should be explored such as painting, drawing, writing, photography, or forms of sculpture.
It is hard to deal with the loss of a loved one (or significant other.) It is difficult to communicate your pain and ambivalence. Some people, especially children, need more assistance and support, from healthy, non-judgemental adults. I am sorry for your trauma and your loss. I can feel your pain. I have experienced this pain, myself, and it is not easy. Please take good care of yourself.