The moments before and the moments right after someone you love dies are etched in your mind with crystal clarity.
If you weren’t present when they died, then you will still remember how and when you were told, where and what you were doing. Often our memory becomes cloudy afterwards, when we are grieving and struggling to make sense of a world without the person we love.
When someone you love dies, it’s almost impossible to believe, especially if it’s sudden and unexpected. The shock is enormous and overwhelming. Anticipated death (of someone who is terminally ill) is also a shock, just in a different way. The last few days, hours, and minutes spent with our loved one takes on great meaning.
Death is difficult to comprehend. We deny, we bargain, we plead, we weep, we ask why, we want to push Death away—all of these “stages” happening in seconds, wrapped in moments.
I replayed in my mind a million times what I might have done differently..
a running loop that added to the pain and helplessness I felt. How could I not save him if I was with him? The what ifs and if onlys. What if I had done this or that? If only he had said yes when I first suggested going to the hospital. He thought it was heartburn. He had no pain while his heart was taking its last beats. The doctors said he would have died even if he had been in the hospital. Moments I relived multiple times a day for months, long after I was told there was nothing I could do.
Do you have a running loop racing through your mind? It’s a natural response because the world feels scary and out of control, and we feel helpless and wish we could change the outcome. However, no matter what the circumstances are, the what ifs and if onlys will not change the outcome. The running loop may continue to happen for a while, but it will ease.
Take deep breaths. Be as kind and gentle to yourself as you possibly can. It’s what you need right now.
This is an excerpt from Debbie Augenthaler’s award winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope. Order your copy here.
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.