Death: The Final Edge- Stage 1: Denial

D– Denial    E- Enrage    A-Acknowledgement & Adjustment      T-Torment     H-Harmony

Following on from my introduction blog on grief after the loss of someone special, the first stage of healing is actually Denial. Everything I write about is an accumulated expressions of feelings, thoughts and behaviours experience by my patients, friends or family after they underwent an emotional roller-coaster of heart ache and pain after losing a loved one.

My personal encounters is my greatest learning especially when I lost my beautiful Dad, Prem in 1992. Seeing someone I love, wither away in just over two weeks, is a challenge to explain. I was 19 years old, in university, following a career of becoming a teacher. My dad was so proud when my younger brother and I followed this path. He unexpectedly ended up in hospital on the night of my birthday, after enduring a sever stroke on his neck, triggered by an extreme heat wave in Durban, South Africa.  The daily visits to the ICU at RK Khan Hospital, always left us hanging onto hope. It is surprising how something that happened 25 years ago, seems like yesterday as all of the sensory radars in our unconscious mind become stimulated by just the thought of this traumatic time. The one person, who was the strongest, during this time was my mother. Her strength just goes beyond words.

In the morning of 26th February 1992, the nurses called to give us the great news that my dad was out of ICU and now in the general ward. The sighing feeling after a deep breath of relieved was an understatement. I smiled, for the first time in two weeks, as I expressed my reactions to my friends on the bus to Uni. That day, I wished that I could fast forward the hours, so that I could visit him in hospital, without being attached to all the medical monitors that was observing his progress. That evening I went with my mum and my brother to the ward he was in, with an elated feeling, totally opposite to what we all felt on previous days. I was fortunate enough wipe him down and apply lotion onto his dry skin. He smiled at us and I felt lucky again. When the clock above the nurses station showed the dreaded 8 ‘o clock indicating the end of visiting hours, I didn’t know that I would be kissing my dad’s cheeks for the last time EVER. I hugged him and felt his warm skin, which I so lucidly remember… right now.

As we entered our home, happy, a phone call from the hospital at 8.15pm, changed our lives forever. Within 15 mins, our elated heart, just deflated and shattered with the thought of living without my dad and never seeing him again. I know that you must be reading this and also feeling my family’s pain. Hundreds of families, daily, have to say heart-wrenching goodbyes to people who made huge differences to their lives. Many people have their own narratives, describing the last few minutes before their lives changed after their loss. I’ve heard many, tell me that we will heal from this tragedy but it takes time. I’ve heard that ‘time is the best healer’. And I’ve also heard that ‘it gets easier’. The more I heard ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, the more I wanted to run away and hide from the world. The thought of never seeing my father, was something that I wasn’t ready to accept. I needed my dad to hug me every day, I needed my dad to be there at my graduation and I needed my dad to be holding my hand at all my milestones and accomplishments.

I knew that all our friends and extended family meant well and they were trying to be there for us, but that’s what I didn’t need at that point.  After a few weeks, I finally got the courage to go back to Uni, with the support of my dearest friends, but I felt numbed to my core. Going home every evening was the worst. Seeing my mum, carrying on with her daily duties and putting on a tough front for us, actually made me angrier. I thought, ‘How could she forget that my dad is no more?’

But she was just being that resilient mother, hiding her pain so that it made it easier for my siblings and me. She never showed us a day of depression, she never showed us her anger but what she did continue to show us is the power of prayer and faith that my dad is in a better place. For the first few months, I was in denial that my died is no more. Over the years, many of my patients have also described that they used to think that their loved ones are still in the hospital or they are out shopping or they are on a short holiday break BUT then they felt surges of emptiness like how drug addicts feel when they are trying to get cleaned. The heart and mind feels the intense feeling of withdrawal.

But fortunately, our minds help us heal to a certain extend. It gives us the options of ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ mode. DENIAL is a flight mode many chooses, to wean themselves off their addiction to their loved one, who they miss with every molecule in their body. Denial is the first tool in our survival kit, which helps us pave the meaningless path without our loved one. Our unconscious mind, assist us by conjuring up a picture where we think that the person we lost is still around. It gives us just the right amount of pain that we can handle during that time, so that we have head space to regain our strength, to face the next stage and the rest of our lives.

So how do we survive the DENIAL stage?

  • No matter how much you want to be alone and bury your head under your blankets, being a hermit gives you the deafening silence that is torturous to your thoughts and self-talk.
  • Be honest and gentle to yourself… be mindful of how you are feeling and acknowledge that these feelings are temporary. Believe that they wouldn’t last forever.
  • Open yourself to the fact that your loved one has left their physical body however they have left their subtle energies in reminders around you…the smell of their clothes, perfumes, favourite music, things they used to do at particular times of the day, memories that were captured in hundreds of pictures and videos etc. It’s ok to cry when your thoughts are prompted by one of the many reminders. But take a deep breath in and consciously smile. Smile, because you were privileged to be chosen by their soul to share this journey until this moment. How special is that?
  • Keep busy…Do things that they would have loved doing. Go and participate in some community service eg. Feeding the poor, talking to the elderly in an elder shelter, volunteer your time and energy at your local hospice or animal shelter. Helping other people, helps you to heal your pain.
  • Be grateful– look around and be grateful for the loved ones you do have, extending a hug to you, or cooking you a meal, or giving you a listening ear, or allowing you to just be. If you are a parent, experiencing a loss, don’t forget that you have a duty to your children or spouse that is physically around you. Although your heart has a void that seems impossible to fill, hugs and kisses, coupled with new moments of cheerful experiences, slowly starts to permeate warmth in that emptiness again. New memories which are created, begins to override the pain at a deep unconscious level.
  • Instead of holding onto a closet full of clothes, shoes etc.…and I do know in some religious customs, you cannot get rid of anything for a period of mourning, do what you think will help your healing. Donate personal things of your loved ones, to the nearest charity shops. At least someone can benefit from your loss. This is the first step to physical detachment, which gives you mental permission to let go of the pain, hurt, fear, guilt that you are holding onto.
  • If you feel that you cannot heal by yourself, it is wise to seek professional help to take you through what you are feeling. It helps you to understand the chemical imbalances in your brain caused by grieving and the mental process your unconscious mind goes through to find solitude and peace again.

I wish I knew what to do 25 years ago, when I lost my dad. It would have allowed me to release that emotional pain and baggage, quicker. I hope that you are able to let go of the fear and doubt of not knowing how to live without a loved one, for the rest of your journey. Know that you are NOT alone.  The pain you are feeling only means that you LOVED and you were LOVED. This is truly special.

Sending you a big healing hug…..