By Jill Roper
I grew up in what would be called a perfect family. My immediate family consisted of my Dad, Mom, two older brothers and me. I had a wonderful relationship with my mom. I was the baby girl that she had waited years for. She gave me so much in life. Anything I wanted, I was given. Together we did everything; we traveled to Europe, ate at 5-star restaurants, and attended cultural events; she was my best friend. I was also blessed to have a close relationship with my extended family, especially my Aunt Sherlene, whom I loved dearly. Life in small-town Oklahoma was simple and seemed, to me, to be perfect.
It was on a beautiful fall day in October, I was only 20 years old when my life was turned upside down. I was newly married to my high school sweetheart and studying at Texas State University. I had just finished midterms and was leaving class when my husband called and asked me to meet him immediately at the local Walmart parking lot. I thought this was odd but meet him there anyway. It was there that he explained to me my mother had been killed. My sweet mother, whom I had never lived without, whom I could NOT live without, was killed instantly in a car accident. I heard him saying the words, but disbelief set in. I could not understand and absolutely could not accept what he was saying. Through the pain, I was reminded that I would still have a family, and especially my Aunt Sherlene, by my side. She promised me that “you will always have me.” These words brought peace to my heart, only to be grief-stricken again a week later. She was diagnosed with stage 5 cancer one week after my mom passed away. She died three weeks later. I had lost two of the women who were dearest to my heart within a three week period. The grief did not end there, within the next 11 months, my uncle was diagnosed with and passed away from brain cancer. His death affected me in a different, yet no less profound, way.
Through these deaths, as well as the death of other family members, I experienced overwhelming heartache, hurt, sorrow, sadness, and GRIEF. The intense pain of losing loved ones has shaped me as a person, and now, as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I want to help others who are dealing with loss. Through my journey, I have learned two important lessons: Lesson One: Loss Affects Us All The loss of a loved one is an inevitable part of life. The sadness and emptiness felt after a loss is something that may continue to surface for years and even through a lifetime. While grief is a normal reaction to loss, it can sometimes develop into other complications and even depression. Knowing what to expect and how to get help when needed can help individuals navigate through dark waters. Lesson Two: Grief Is A Journey There is no “right” pathway through grief. Grief is universal and people from all walks of life feel sorrow, pain, and mourn when someone they love passes on. While the path of grief and healing is individual, there are some common experiences that many people feel. Elisabeth Kubler Ross articulated these stages. People will experience different parts of these grief reactions at different times and sequences, and that is normal. The five stages of grief are:
Sometimes, additional help is needed to navigate the process of grief and loss. Therapy and support groups can be a valuable resource and place to relate to others who have gone through similar painful experiences. Side Bar: After losing someone to death remember:
• Take one day at a time, maybe even one hour or one minute at a time. Give yourself time to heal.
• Concentrate or focus on all that is good. Be grateful and thankful for the time you had with the loved one.
• Do not become stuck in a place of feeling sorry for yourself.
• After a death, you must continue with your own life, but at the same time accept the pain.
• Cry if you need to.
• Talk to someone and share the feelings you are experiencing.
• Create a way to remember or honor the loved one.