SURVIVING THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE
75 TIPS FOR COMFORT, CONFIDENCE, AND CLARITY
This survival guide will:
Answer specific questions regarding the onset of grief through the bereavement period.
Address critical aspects of grief events.
Lay out a logical process for moving from mourning to new life.
Copyright © Judy Strong Survive Strong Resources 2014
The crushing news of a death triggers shock and confusion. Knowing what to do right now is critical. Support and resources will provide guidance and stability as you manage this crisis.
Assess the moment. Determine what is happening and what you need first.
Cope with shock and confusion by following the advice of professionals. Hospital staff, police officers, hospice personnel and first responders can tell you what to do and where to find help.
Find resources. Immediate help may begin wherever the death took place, i.e. hospital, hospice, highway, or at home. Look for someone who can provide good, ongoing support and guidance, whether friend or professional. Choose someone whose judgment you trust and with whom you feel comfortable.
Create a simple routine. Your emotional and cognitive abilities will be compromised, so give yourself a workable schedule to do what is necessary.
Maintain a daily regimen of self-care. Sorrow, pain, frustration, and other negative emotions, will be with you for a long time. Replenish your resources and refresh yourself.
Decide how much exercise you need to boost your energy levels and keep from bogging down. Start with short and simple routines, and increase as you begin to heal.
Devise a plan to handle phone calls in the early aftermath of death and loss. Ask someone who knows your family to notify others and to answer the phone when you are fatigued. People mean well but you will become overtired if you try to speak with everyone.
Keep paper and pen or pencil by the phone to jot down information you may need. Your cognitive abilities are compromised during trauma, and you may even forget your own name!
Say no to offers to “handle everything” from well-meaning friends or family members. It seems a relief at the time, but you need to know what is happening, what decisions are made, and how your affairs are being handled. Help means helping you, not doing it for you.
Contact your place of worship, if appropriate, for help in planning services. Understand the types of services you may have and choose whatever you really want, even if that’s several services. The basics include funeral, memorial, a reviewal, and graveside.
Research funeral homes for disposition of the body and help with the services. Ask for references. Funeral directors perform many functions. Listen attentively and ask questions.
Plan to stay in touch with clergy or counselors. Grief is unpredictable and you may want help early on or later, as you begin to heal. Call as soon as you feel the need.
Respond to offers of help by mentioning a couple of things you need immediately. Have a mental list and relate it to your friend or family member. Be clear about what you want.
Begin a dialogue with family members to discuss services, burial, expenses, memorabilia, and estate issues. There may be conflict and disagreement, but decisions must be made. Write down ideas for consideration and promote common sense solutions to problem areas.
Contact professional people for advice on any matter that requires a clear decision. Experts know pros and cons and can keep you from making costly or disappointing choices.
Ask someone who won’t be attending services to stay in your home until you return. Burglars read obituaries. Someone inside is better than a neighbor “watching your house”. Back doors and windows are easy entries for burglars.
Consider the different methods for disposition of the body before making a commitment. Cremation, burial of the body or the ashes, scattering the ashes, keeping in an urn, entombment (a mausoleum), are all options.
Ask the cemetery custodian about requirements for headstones, markers, flower containers or other distinguishing memorabilia. Before you purchase a marker, be sure it will be acceptable. Mistakes can be costly.
Search papers for last wishes of the deceased, if not included in the will. Though the service is for the survivors, some wishes may be especially memorable.
Practical responsibilities, like finances and legal issues, shouldn’t detract from the real need to mourn. These important items benefit you in the long run, but may seem frivolous at the moment. Determine a time line and enlist help as needed. Remember that this is about your (and your family’s) future and you should make the final decisions.
Determine the whereabouts of important papers – will, trust, financial statements, social security card, and estate planning documents. These papers will be necessary for handling the estate and for determining your financial future. Familiarize yourself with their contents.
Consult an attorney to handle any questionable aspects of the estate or personal effects. If there was no will, you may have to go to probate court to finalize the estate.
Locate a notary public to help with some aspects of the paperwork. Most banks have notaries and the charges may be minimal. A notary can ease the strain of handling legal transactions and may save you time and trouble. They don’t replace legal or financial counsel.
Gather your papers and documents in an envelope or business file as you work through the estate issues. This keeps everything in one place and makes it easy to find the documents you need when keeping appointments.
Keep written records of conversations you have, both in person and by telephone, that pertain to legal and financial business. The person’s name, company, nature of business, and any information or instructions should be written down. Memories are unreliable.
Assess your financial needs and status. Be clear about what you require and about your resources. Bills and taxes have to be paid, even though you are in mourning.
List the legal documents you have on hand and which ones you are still looking for. Some papers are needed immediately, others can wait. Transacting business for an estate requires certain papers you must provide.
Save everything you find. A piece of paper may not seem significant, but could very well be required for handling business.
Categorize your documents – financial, legal, family records – for clarity. Some papers will overlap, but become familiar with the text/content of all your documents.
Notify necessary offices, businesses, and government departments of the death. Insurance companies, social security, pension plans, and investment companies need to know soon about the changes in your status.
Consult your tax advisor as soon as possible. A death may change your tax status and may take extra time to figure. Even if tax time is many months away, ask for relevant information that may save you time and money.
Determine legal proceedings regarding probate. Ideally, probate will not be necessary, but there are several reasons a will or estate is probated. Ask an attorney and follow instructions specifically.
Record any questions you may be aware of regarding finances, property, debts, liens, titles or issues with children. Being on top of the situation is important for your legal status and your peace of mind.
Appoint a representative (if not yourself) who is organized, has basic business skills and knowledge, and can see the estate through to conclusion. Even small estates can run into complications.
Decide which your permanent residence is if you split your time at different locations. Dual residency can change the way the estate is handled and how taxes are determined. Often, property in each location has to be handled in that state.
Order a minimum of fifteen death certificates. Each business transaction requires a copy and it’s less expensive to order right away. The funeral director can advise on this matter.
Decide early whether you will sue for malpractice. There is a statute of limitations, so if you think there was a problem that should be addressed, consult an attorney. You may ask your family attorney for references.
As immediate grief yields to a pattern of understanding and acceptance, the mourning period begins. There is no exact time frame for this. It may begin whenever you decide it has begun. Emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms are still very present, but a few goals have been set, and a clearer view of life is emerging.
Take inventory of your emotional state regularly and assess whether you are overwhelmed or in need of professional help. The emotional pain, as well as the responsibilities can take their toll, and seeking help early can head off more severe problems. Take care of yourself.
Contact your doctor when you first experience loss. He/she should be aware that you are bereaved and may have you come in to talk. Trauma and grief are major occurrences that affect you at every level, and your health care professionals should be made aware of the situation.
Recognize that those close to you may be more aware of your overall needs than are you, and listen to their counsel. Seek counsel if you need it or, if you are unable, then a friend or family member should contact your doctor.
Enlist the help of others if fellow grievers become difficult or burdensome. Others will mourn the loss of your loved one and may seek more comfort and closeness from you than is appropriate or comfortable. Conserve your energy and focus first on your own well-being and those closest to you.
Encourage openness with grieving children, your own, or those close to you. They will need considerable comfort, attention, and understanding. Get help with this if necessary.
Hire help if you need it. Friends, neighbors, and family may pitch in for a while, but if you’re fatigued, hire help from others, if only temporarily.
Move forward slowly, availing yourself of whatever help you need. Others will encourage a faster recovery than is usually realistic. Grief groups, counseling, and self-care practices will help you direct your energies toward managing pain and accepting a new life.
Join a group, or groups that appeal to you, one in which you feel comfortable. There is a variety of styles in grief recovery, so call for information and discuss the format.
Count your losses. In addition to a loved one, you have lost precious aspects of your life, both together and as an individual. List them and give thought to how each loss will affect you now and in the future.
Identify the problem areas in your situation. What is difficult to manage? How can it be resolved? Seek advice for options and ideas.
Stress your own peace of mind when making decisions regarding a problem. Some may disagree with you, but you have to live with your decisions, so consider carefully.
Open up, if you are comfortable, and talk to others about your feelings, fears, and concerns, especially with group members and survivors. Shared experiences give comfort and sometimes offer helpful ideas regarding problem areas.
Provide comfort and support to your bereaved family. Children of any age will be confused and deeply saddened. Because they may not say so doesn’t mean they aren’t in pain. Tell them how you feel, and then ask them to share their feelings, and be patient.
Acknowledge the sorrow and bewilderment you feel to those who ask about you. Pretending to feel and be better than you are closes the door to genuine comfort and support.
Create an environment of openness with other close survivors. Some will find grieving difficult. Expressing emotions brings relief to you and encourages others to do the same.
Open a dialogue with leaders and members in a grief group situation, when you are ready. The real value in such a group lies in the fellowship of sharing and understanding the pain and anguish of loss. Simply tell the group how you feel right at that moment.
Listen carefully to expressions of sorrow by others, relating as you can and acknowledging their need for comfort. Everyone’s grief is personal, but we can lighten each other’s burdens.
Creating a New Life
Stepping out into a new life takes courage, hope, and confidence. The life you once had informs but doesn’t dominate your new life. As your need for balance and well-being become clear, a new vision emerges, giving you energy that fuels new growth. Give yourself permission to face the unknown affirming your loved one’s presence in your heart and mind, while you work toward healing and wholeness.
Set goals early because, though you are not ready, your life has already changed dramatically. Moving forward is taken in small but sure steps, prioritizing your immediate needs first. Something as simple as reading a book of meditations may be a good start.
Write down the things you need to change and review the list often. Mourning diminishes cognitive abilities and you can’t rely on your memory. Self-care and practical responsibilities often compete for a griever’s time and energy. Most things can wait. Emotional healing comes first.
Give yourself permission to rest and contemplate your situation. It will take time to come to terms with the trauma and loss that has taken place. Putting thoughts and feelings on a back burner just gives them room to grow. Work through as much as you can handle at a given time.
Return to work when you are ready. Most companies have a flexible plan for handling personal situations. See how things go for a few days and, if you need more time, ask for it. Part-time for even a week may give you the edge you need to get back to your job.
Talk with the human resources director where the deceased person worked and be clear on your options regarding health insurance and 401k funds and pensions. Ask about flex plans or any other sources of income. Rollovers need to be done within sixty days.
Journal about your grief and loss, if so inclined. Studies show that grievers who journal heal sooner and better. Your journal can be done any way you like: sentences, numbered lists, general ideas, pictures, however you want to record what is happening. Look back every few weeks and see where you are.
Memorialize your loved one through a collection of pictures, cards, letters, and tributes. A memory book keeps the spirit of that person alive and lets others know that this person mattered.
Clarify, assess, and deal with issues objectively. This may be difficult, but one of the goals of grieving is to remember your loved one and to move forward in your life.
Make a memory book with a child. Children fear they will forget the one they have lost, and a book gives them a tangible keepsake. A child can write notes, draw pictures, include photos or memorabilia they have saved.
Read books by survivors, as well as by professionals, to gain insight into the mourning process. Go slowly and take what you need.
Join a new group or take up a new hobby. Stretching your mind and enlarging your circle of acquaintances gives you a breather. Something not too demanding or time consuming may be ideal.
Seek professional counseling whenever you feel it will help you to understand what has happened, and how to heal. Friends may or may not be helpful, but a professional person is both supportive and knowledgeable, and will guide you through the mourning process.
Stabilize your daily schedule. The beginning of healing is managing each day with an eye to clear thinking and peace of mind.
Reach out to other grievers you meet and consider spending time together for sharing and friendship. Use good judgment. This shouldn’t be burdensome.
Laugh. Touching base with the lighter side of life, even during mourning, is not disrespectful. Remembering the humorous side of your loved one, or simply watching a funny movie, helps you keep a healthy balance.
Keep surviving children at the top of your list for giving comfort and attention. They need the wisdom and understanding of adults to grieve effectively and work toward healing.
Reorganize your priorities whenever you feel burdened or overwhelmed. Rest and responsibilities should be balanced throughout the day.
Listen to your heart and give yourself the comfort you need. Others will be there for a while, but then you are on your own.
Claim this difficult and painful time in your life for growth and solace. You will look back and see the positive aspects of mourning, though at the time it all seems dark and hopeless. Write something positive in your journal every few days.
Channel your thoughts to the person you really are, in spite of this deep anguish. Affirm your strengths and decide how to use them for healing and recovery.
Conquer your fears by facing them. Decide what you need to feel secure, ask for help, and push through them. Facing them loosens their grip on you.
Give thanks every day for blessings. They may be few, but find one or two things for which you are grateful and express your thanks. Grief is a work and a process. Decide what you want at the end and visualize it every day.
Survive Strong Resources LLC was founded by Judy Strong, a survivor, writer, and educator. Its purpose and function is to support, comfort, and educate grievers and those who care for them. Please visit Judy’s website, www.survive-strong.com for products and services, and for information about Judy’s commitment to the grieving community.