At first, you’ll question reality. You will hear your own words, but they’ll sound foreign — apart from you. The ground will still reassuringly push back against your toes when you walk out of the room, but you will wonder if they are your feet. Like in a movie, you will negotiate the world convincingly. Yet, you are an actor playing a part. It is not the real you.
Be assured that this will pass. Life has changed incomprehensibly in a fraction of a moment. It will take a few more moments for your psyche to advance accordingly. This is not disconnection. This is not denial. It’s shock.
Grief will not be far behind. It’s an overwhelming, disconcerting, disjointed grief. Some will try to ignore it. Others will wallow. How you manage this grief says more about who you are and less about the gravity of the loss. There is no correct way to map this journey. We each travel this road separately.
My gentle advice to you is: Remember that separate does not mean alone. Others will not feel what you are feeling, but that does not prohibit sharing parts of your journey, the most arduous, at least. Surround yourself with people and things — even if they have lost your interest and have lost meaning.
Interest and meaning return. The sun rises and falls. You will not break.
By far, the greatest danger lies ahead. In the days and weeks and years. You may be plagued by a demon so consuming it will devour your hours and your conscience. It will haunt long nights and merciless days. It will cause the ground to shake relentlessly under your feet, knocking you off balance.
I’m talking about guilt.
You will feel guilty for not spending enough time, or spending too much time with them. For not calling the nurse right away, or calling too quickly. For pushing the morphine that last time, or withholding it. Even the quiet and peaceful deaths end here. It is love’s last grappling with earth-shattering loss. We are not programmed to let go of that which we cannot control.
And we can’t control death. So we feel guilt.
This guilt will plague you. It will turn grieving from a process to a permanent state.
Don’t let it. Your loved one died because it was time. Nothing you did would have changed that.
Let this forgiveness be one last act to honor the dying.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of Five Moments: Short Works of Fiction and I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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