For the first few weeks, do not worry about what you will do, where you will go or what lies in the future. Now is not the time for resolution, answers or forward movement. This is simply the time to cope, to get by, to survive. There will be time to process later. Right now, you simply need to take care of you.
Treat yourself as if you were in intensive care because you are in the process of going through one of the most traumatic experiences you may endure. The challenges you have already faced, both physically and mentally, will leave you vulnerable, exhausted and weak. It’s imperative that you focus directly on yourself and on any dependents. Find ways to get your needs met first in these few weeks. If you have small children, consider having someone stay with you to assist in their care.
Find Someone to Take Calls
If the person who has died is in your immediate family, you will be receiving many phone calls, visitors and cards. Designate someone to deal with the calls and questions. Most callers do not expect to speak directly with the family but simply want to express their condolences.
Seek out a friend or family member to help with any final arrangements that are your responsibility. You may be the person who needs to organize the funeral service or you may have insurance agencies to contact or an estate to settle. While you should be involved in these areas, it is important to have another person be your eyes and ears and ask the questions that someone in shock does not think to ask.
Let Your Body Lead You
Grief affects us all differently. Some of us may become very active and busy, while others may become lethargic and sleepy. Let your body lead you. If you feel tired, sleep. If you feel like crying, cry. If you are hungry, eat. Don’t feel you need to act one way or another. There are no ‘shoulds’ right now, simply follow the lead of your body. A word of caution: with the shock of losing someone tragically it is not uncommon for people to turn to medication. This can be as minor as a sleep aid or as major as consuming large amounts of alcohol. Try to resist these urges. This will not make the grief any easier; it will just postpone it until you cease the self-medication.
Wills and Arrangements
While those that die a lingering death often have wills and have told their loved ones what they would like as far as funerals, burial, etc., one who dies a sudden death has frequently not indicated to family and friends how they would like to be treated in death. This presents an extra burden to loved ones, since they are required to go ahead with arrangements under assumptions of what their loved ones may have wanted. With our emotional and physical levels depleted, these decisions become even harder. You may find it helpful to discuss your options with a close group of friends or family that knew your loved one.
Expect to Be Distracted
During the first few weeks your mind will be filled with racing thoughts and unfamiliar emotions. Many people report having difficulty with simple tasks. Losing one’s keys, forgetting where you are while driving and sluggish reaction times are all common. Take special caution. Don’t drive when you are distracted.
Have Someone Near You
If possible, choose a close friend to be near you throughout the first week or two. Let this person help you make decisions, hear your fears or concerns and be the shoulder for you to lean on. Later, as you move through the grieving process, it will be very helpful to have someone who has ‘been there’ and understands what you are talking about thoroughly.
These days will be long and challenging and there may seem no resolution for your pain. That’s all right. It is acceptable to feel hopelessness and as if life has lost its purpose. These are natural and normal feelings. Trust that life will go on, and that in time, you will re-establish your place within it. For now, simply take care of yourself. Trust that there will be light again.
Adapted from I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye by Brook Noel and Pamela Blair