Loss, especially due to death, is a difficult matter to write about because death is final. However, the year 2020 has forced many families to face this reality in different ways. Since the beginning of the year, the world experienced tragedies in different forms and dimensions. The Ukrainian plane crash in Iran claimed the lives of 176 people on board, the death of Kobe Bryant sent chills across the entertainment space, the current Coronavirus pandemic claimed more than 500,000 lives and still counting across the globe and several other deaths have thrown millions of people into grief.
In April 2020, I became an ‘Angel mom’ – my child, Ifeoluwa Amari, stopped breathing at week 35 – a devastating experience for any mother. Loss of a child, at any stage of life, is something no parent should experience. But life, itself, is a mystery, and this becomes a lived experience for some people like me.
Grief is the aftermath of a loss, it is the healing phenomenon that must take place after the disruption caused by a loss, but, with your permission. Grief is part of life. Everyone will experience a loss or more at different stages of life. Regardless of your faith, whether you are well behaved or not, generous and kind or not, rich or otherwise. It has nothing to do with your standing as a human being. The notion that the loss of a loved one is a form of punishment is completely idiotic because a loss is a natural phenomenon of life. In as much as you are alive, you are bound to lose someone close (parent, sibling, spouse, child, colleague, etc.) at some point in life. After all, no one will leave this planet earth alive. The question is: would you be willing to accept this reality?
At first, it will appear unreal but denying the existence of grief only postpones and prolongs your real pain. It is perfectly okay not to feel okay, express sadness, and allow the grief process to take its course. I chose to put this out to reassure someone going through this strong emotion. Believe me, you are not alone and what you feel is valid. Grief comes in one or all of the following ways (based on my baby-loss experience, but relatable to all forms of death-related losses.):
- Loss and Emptiness: The fact that you no longer see your loved one will highlight emptiness, especially for a stillbirth. Being no longer pregnant while your body performs as if the baby is alive will seem cruel and bewildering for sure.
- Restlessness: Settling back to the usual routine becomes daunting. Many interesting activities become meaningless; things will lose their appeal. The ability to concentrate on simple tasks will diminish, simple decisions become difficult to make. Forgetfulness will be noticeable and life may seem out of control.
- Feeling Invisible to Others: Life goes on! This is particularly true and obvious when you lose someone close to you. The world will never stop because of your loss, and that makes you invisible and angry. The world cannot feel the pain that is encompassing you, even if they try to empathize with you. Your whole world stopped, not theirs.
- Anger: This is inevitable! You will feel the unfairness of the world, you will ask the ‘why me’ question. Whether there is a satisfactory medical reason for your loss or not, you will still be hurt and hostile to the people around you. You may blame God, the caregivers, government and everyone who you believed could prevent your loss. The truth is you have every right to be angry. You have lost something very special. When the late ex-Governor of Oyo State passed, the deceased wife took out her anger on the current administration for not conferring the deceased an executive care that could save his life. This is an example of anger in grief.
- Guilt and Regrets: As humans, we sometimes see ourselves as a superhuman who owns superpowers to avert unpleasant situations. After the loss of a child, the parents often believe they failed as super parents who could not protect the child. We will playback the scenarios and think of what we could have done to prevent the loss. Our minds will go over to the past and recreate it for a better ending. Guilt is the anguish that comes with the disappointment of being powerless to conquer death.
- Friends and Family: Dealing with friends and family become a delicate issue because they all react differently. Ideally, in a time of grief, the love of friends and family circle comes through. However, do not be surprised by some responses from them. Even the closest to you may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking to you. Others may become impatient when you ‘don’t get over it’ quickly. Their attitudes will most likely hurt you but note that they did not have the same relationship/bond with the person that passed away. Therefore it is expected that their grief will be less intense and that some of their actions and words will seem thoughtless and even unpleasant.
- If you have other children: Children do not understand that death is permanent. It is important to explain in the simplest terms what happened. Watching Keke Ighodalo singing happily at her mom’s funeral made my heart sink because she does not have an idea of how the incident would change her life. My 7-year-old eagerly anticipated his baby sister but did not quite understand why I returned home without his sister. As much as we tried to explain what death is, he refused to accept that his sister died, he often corrected us that she simply went back to heaven. We decided to leave it that way until he understands more.
- Anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays can be difficult going forward: One sad reality is that the loss of loved ones stays in our memory forever. Many events, gatherings can magnify the sad feelings. It is best to find closure in cases like this so it is easier to celebrate the life and time of the loved one. I lost my daughter a day to my son’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. Therefore, she’s memorialized in our hearts, forever.
Being emotionally distant to everyone, including your spouse, is common. You lose enthusiasm, nothing is fun and you care less about everything. Grief exposes all the unhealthy parts of our relationship with others. Some of your associations with others that have been superficial are revealed and you will crave deeper connections with some friends.
If you have felt one or all of these strong emotions, congratulations because you are normal. Grief is a very powerful emotion. It will be all-consuming initially, but over time, it changes, not automatically better but different. Permit yourself to go through all these feelings, without being stuck in despair and bitterness. Cry as often as you want. It is not a sign of weakness, rather it is an excellent way to release built-up tension. Do not allow the hush-hush culture to push you into burying your emotions, release them, and talk about your loss as much as you want. Society’s pressure will inundate you into moving on too quickly without healing, do not give in because you may end up a bitter, short-tempered person. You need to heal and be whole again, and without grieving, you cannot be comforted. Be deliberate to live again because a loss is debilitating, only your will can help defeat it.
However, after your loss, please seek professional help if you:
- Have furious hostility toward others.
- Refused to be comforted by anyone.
- Have thoughts about self-destruction.
- Become distant from your partner, family, and friends.
- Use alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of grief.
- Have difficulties sleeping or eating, several weeks after the demise of your loved one.
- Unable to speak about your loss without breaking into tears, several months after the loss.
This article is dedicated to everyone who has lost someone dear to him or her.