Dying is a lonely journey. Not only for the sick person but also for the family. As hard as we may try to avoid death, the truth is that we do a lousy job of it. Science and medicine will certainly postpone it, even staying healthy might seem to delay it, but the harsh reality is that death does not wait for you, it does not ask you, and it does not listen to you. Death ignores your feelings and wants; you do not matter to death…Death is the only certainty in life! We need to remember that our existence here is fragile, and we never have as much time with people as we think we do. If there is someone or someones out there that you love, don’t neglect that and don’t put off engaging with them because waits for no-one… Vic's Journey ended on 18 January 2013 at 10:35. She was the most courageous person in the world and has inspired thousands of people all over the world. Vic's two boys are monuments of her existence. She was an amazing mother, daughter, sister and friend. I will miss you today, tomorrow and forever my Angle Child.
For the past 25 years, I have worked with thousands of grievers. I have sat with widows and widowers, the young and the old. I have offered tissues to bereaved parents in their inconsolable grief. I have normalized, educated, listened to and championed those grievers who, through tremendous pain, still engaged with life.
In the decades since my book Transcending Loss was published, the grieving process has not changed. As I interact with grievers from around the world, I am reminded of the universality of grief. And though each person has their own journey, still they share many common experiences.
Yet, still, I see and hear so much misinformation and confusion around grief. Principally, this comes from the widely-held myths that grief should be easy, that grief should be short, that grief has closure, that people should get on with their lives unchanged and that ongoing connection with the deceased is somehow pathological.
So, in trying to set the record straight, I’m offering seven principles in this primer on grief intelligence.
Most people don’t learn these lessons until life thrusts them onto the roller coaster of major loss. However, if we can get the word out, then perhaps a new generation of individuals will feel more supported and understood when it is their time to grieve.
1. Grief is a normal reaction — Grief is the natural emotional and physical response to the death of a loved one. Although our society desperately wants to avoid the messiness of deep sorrow, there is no way out except through the pain. Typical numbing techniques such as medications, alcohol and food are only temporary distractions to dull the pain.
Letting oneself grieve by going directly into the pain — in manageable doses over a long period of time — is healing. Avoiding the pain simply forces it to go deep into the heart where it subtly affects emotional and physical health.
2. Grief is hard work — Grief isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. It involves tears, sleepless nights, pain, sorrow and a heartache that knocks you to your knees. It can be hard to concentrate, hard to think clearly, hard to read and easy to forget all the details of life that everyone else seems to remember. Grievers frequently feel that they’re going crazy and they sometimes wish to die. This doesn’t mean that they’re actively suicidal, it just means that they’re grieving.
3. Grief doesn’t offer closure — Closure is an idea that we like because we want to tie up our emotional messes with a bow and put them in the back of a closet. But grief refuses to play this game. Grief tends towards healing not closure. The funeral can be healing, visiting a gravesite can be healing, performing rituals, writing in journals and making pilgrimages can be personally meaningful and healing. But they will not bring closure. Closure is relevant to business deals but not to the human heart.
4. Grief is lifelong — Although we all want quick fixes and short-term solutions, grief won’t accommodate us. Many people want grief to be over in a few weeks or a few months and certainly within a year. And yet, many grievers know that the second year is actually harder than the first. Why Because the shock has worn off and the reality of the pain has truly sunk in.
I let grievers know that the impact of grief is lifelong just as the influence of love is also lifelong. No matter how many years go by, there will be occasional days when grief bursts through with a certain rawness. There will be days, even decades later, when sadness crosses over like a storm cloud. And likely, every day going forward will involve some memory, some connection to missing the beloved.
5. Grievers need to stay connected to the deceased — While some might find it odd or uncomfortable to keep talking about a loved one after they have passed, or find it disconcerting to see photographs of those who have died, it is healthy to keep the connection alive. My heart goes out to a generation or more of grievers who were told to cut their ties to their deceased loved ones, to move on, almost as if they had never existed. Such unwitting cruelty! It is important to honor the birthdays and departure days of deceased loved ones. Their physical presence may be gone, but they remain in relationship to the griever in a new way beyond form, a way based in spirit and love.
6. Grievers are changed forever — Those who expect grievers to eventually get back to their old selves, will be quite disappointed. Grief, like all major life experiences, changes a person irrevocably. People don’t remain unchanged after getting an education, getting married, having a baby, getting divorced or changing careers. Grief, too, adds to the compost mixture of life, creating rich and fertile soil. It teaches about living and dying, about pain and love and about impermanence. While some people are changed by grief in a way that makes them bitter and shut down, it is also possible to use grief as a springboard for compassion, wisdom, and open-heartedness.
7. Grievers can choose transcendence — Transcendence has to do with gaining perspective, seeing in a new way and holding pain in a larger context. Seeing one’s grief from a larger perspective allows it to be bearable and gives it meaning. For one, transcendence might mean reaching out to those who suffer. For another, it might mean giving to a cause that will benefit others. Grievers who choose transcendence recognize that they are not alone, that they share a common human condition, and that they are amongst so many who have experienced love and loss. They use their pain in a way that touches others. The pain is still there, of course, but it is transformed.
So I invite you to reflect on these grief principles, how they might be true for you and how they might be true for someone you know and love. Share and share again so that we might spread grief intelligence far and wide. Perhaps we can effect a change so widespread that grievers will know what to expect. Hopefully, we all can be comforted, in small ways, by that knowledge
Over the past 5.5 months I have received many messages of encouragement, prayer, support, empathy and an outpouring of love. Until now Vic’s final journey seemed so pointless and unfair ….
A million times I have asked myself WHY Vic? Why has she had to travel this horrifically painful journey? Why do her boys have to live and witness this pointless pain and suffering?
I realize now that Vic’s suffering has made us aware of the suffering of others. In my country we have a terrible poverty problem and only 5% of people dying have access to palliative care. Maybe Vic had to travel this terrible road so the world can become aware of the 95%’s plight.
Tonight I was reading through the comments I received on my latest blogs. I would like to share some of it with you. I randomly copied some of the comments for you to read:
Tersia, I am still with you, and so touched that you are so conscious of all that is going on around you. I hope that as Vic surrenders, as she is already doing,, so do you, so that this stage of both of your lives becomes an experience you couldn’t have imagined.
I hope as Vic begins to feel that gentle euphoria, you too get a share of it… the body and the mind are so complex and beautiful that not everything happens as we think it should, and I hope your grief is somehow eased and soothed. Thinking of you all, Valerie
PS I hope you don’t think this message is insensitive….
In the final stages dying is something we do alone. i have often thought i would like to enter that final sleep while my husband is out. maybe that is just me and my desire to spare him more pain. you and vic are so close and i don’t think there is anything that can be said to make this more bearable for you. my heart aches for you, your husband, vic’s boys, her siblings and extended family. just remember it is easier to be the one leaving. we know that our suffering is going to end. it is your suffering we despair. whatever is meant to be will happen and yet i can’t help but hope for you to have enough time to be ready to let go
November 14, 2012 at 07:29(Edit)My thoughts and prayers are with you and the family. I pray that you will all have peace in your hearts and minds as you await Vic’s release from this terrible suffering.
Amazing that you are sharing this difficult journey with all of us. This takes a lot of courage, and Vic is so lucky to have you (and the others) around her at this time. And we are so lucky to benefit from your sharing, should (or when) we find ourselves in comparable situations. But right now, my thoughts are with you and your family.
Ray’s Mom says: November 15, 2012 at 00:53(Edit) Tersia I wish you didn’t have this to bear, that your daughter could magically recover. God is with you and your daughter is so fortunate to have you near. Thank you for sharing this life experience.
optiesays: November 13, 2012 at 07:46(Edit) I am so glad that Vic has been blessed with these “extra” years but I am sure she is aware that they come at a cost to her and the family. We are never ready to say goodbye to those we love dearly. Vic’s suffering is terrible and my prayer for her is that the pain control will be well managed till the end. My heart goes out to you as a mother and grandmother, I cannot imagine what it must be like for you to have witnessed all that Vic has been through.
I have to thank you for bringing a subject most feel they cannot talk about out in the open in such a loving way ~
I would wish too be able to move forward with your goal with a hospice there in your area know If you need a latter writing campaign, or anything i can do from here please never ever hesitate to ask me please. You are making a beautiful thing out of the tragedy of Vic;s life being cut far too short.
sbcallahan says: November 16, 2012 at 03:06(Edit) it is only normal to want to hold on to your beloved vic. i do hope with all my heart that you can let her go if that is what she wants now. at this stage you know that her suffering is going to go on and no one is served by her continued pain. this is the hardest thing you will ever do but you can find the strength to do it. wishing you peace of heart
Barefoot Baronesssays: November 17, 2012 at 17:38(Edit) My God Tersia. I was instantly taken back to my mom who had stage 4 lung cancer that we were aware of just 2.5 months after diagnosis. I know the fear of the low oy2 count. I do know the fear of the oy2 therapy. What I did not know is the long lasting journey that you & Vic know.
Every post you share and I read I am left with this love for you both that seems to wash away all those things in life that matter not one bit. I have stopped sweating ALL the small stuff. There is something so loving & giving in your sharing with us, but more importantly Vic’s children are always going to have this. your journal of their mom’s life. I cannot think of a more loving, tender and generous thing for a mother and grandmother to do. my prayers and wishes are that this cathartic in a good way for you.
Although I am still behind in reading posts I have devoted m, myself to missing one of yours. Just may put me behind in commenting and I am wondering and hoping this does not cause you more pain having to come back to a memory of a few days ago. You tell me if so because I will understand and honor your wishes.
My gentle hugs to you both, Please give my love too. ~ BB p.s. you will forgive me please..I cannot hit the like button on your posts.
Barefoot Baronesssays: November 17, 2012 at 19:41(Edit) My Dear friend, You have choked me up with tears. You, who is going through so much have the sight to see beyond. I am humbled by your kind and generous words. I’d like you to know that any time you need a cyber-shoulder to lean on I would be honoured if you chose me at times, or all the time. You can even email me, you have my permission.
I am grateful Tersia for your words. I mean what I said that the small stuff is not on my plate anymore. If it arises I am able to just kick it to the curb with no further attention. You & Vic are enforcing this belief in myself every day Vic should know that all she allows to be shared is the most loving gift any human can give to another at this time when real wisdom’s surface. It’s amazing to me that at a time when it would be allowed to let her withdraw she instead reaches out to her children, her mom, and via your blog even her words.
Thank you so much for this message~ My love & gentle hugs to you both.
My Blogsays: October 20, 2012 at 00:43(Edit) I too wish your child could be pain free. After I read your post I logged on to Facebook. My daughter posted about her migraine, and how her meds aren’t working. I too suffer from migraines and blame myself for passing them down to her. I wish I could help. All I can do is love her and be there when needed. Keep up your strength. We’re with you and your daughter in spirit
thedarkest13 says: October 19, 2012 at 20:51 It’s amazing that you have that openness with your daughter and the living fear and pain is going to be there. We are made to feel loss and sorrow. Especially when it’s our children. I am truly sorry for what is happening and watching is not easy. Just enjoy what time you do have and make the most loving memories you can. You both seem amazingly strong and I don’t even know you. The love you have transcends these moments.
those moments between you and your daughter those drops of peace and happiness and joy save them like drops of pearls save them like diamonds rare that is a form of unending love that gives and gives and never expects be there like a rock for your child and i am sure she would win and survive our world is one of miracles too our world is an oasis rarities and your child too shall her courage prove just be there with a smile always give her the courage to stand taller than before she shall overcome her struggles soon prove all wrong and herself right she must win and win this time make sure you are there to know witness her strength, her wars, her fight love can kill the worst of fears and happiness shall soon return changing the way she views her life…
Andrewsays: October 22, 2012 at 03:51 I always found the roller coaster metaphor powerful during my cancer treatment, recovery, relapse, treatment, and recovery again and I think you have captured it well with Vic. Good for you to get away for a week – caregivers sometime forget that they need care too. Best wishes.
Gillian says July 4, 2012 at 04:56(Edit) Dear Tertia, Do not be so hard on yourself. You have so much on your shoulders, you are allowed to have emotions, you are allowed to get irritated, What you need is a good, well deserved mental rest where you stop trying to work things out yourself …… A long much-needed look at the beautiful creations, topped off with some quality time with a friend. And trusting someone to assist with Vic for 2 days a month. She does not want to feel that she is the cause of you being house bound. Read Matthew 11:28-30. XXXXX
dlmchalesays: October 12, 2012 at 20:48(Edit)I only bookmark a handful of sites that I “need” to follow; sites that do more than convey information – sites that cause an necessary evolution of my own humanity. Your site is at the top of that short list. I have so much empathy for what your family endures on a day to day basis, so much so that there are times I can’t even read another paragraph because it physically hurts to watch you and your loved ones afflicted so.
I know there are times when you feel like giving up. That is more than understandable and you should not run from those feelings….these types of reactions actually keep you sane. But know this: in your darkest moments, when all else seems insurmountable, ….you are not alone, in spirit, in prayer, in thought. You need never edit your writing to mask this incredible pain. In sharing such a violent and honest summary of your families pain, you bring a sense of belonging to something bigger to all those people who are enduring similar challenges. I can’t tell you why the unfairness of it continues. But I can witness that you have been a champion of love and a gladiator of emotional support. You make a difference in this fight…a big difference. We….the people who experience this on vicariously through your written word…also have an obligation, one that I commit to and cherish…and that is to be here for you when you need us. You are an inspiration to me.
micey says: October 23, 2012 at 21:12 Hi Tersia. I finally made it to your blog. I’m so sorry for the suffering your family is living through. I pray the Lord gives you strength to carry on each minute of the day. I pray He fills you with peace. I pray for miraculous healing for your sweet girl. I pray for the end of suffering. I pray you have a safe and wonderful trip to visit your family. I pray you receive many hugs from those you love. I pray you find rest for your weary soul.
in the final stages dying is something we do alone. i have often thought i would like to enter that final sleep while my husband is out. maybe that is just me and my desire to spare him more pain. you and vic are so close and i don’t think there is anything that can be said to make this more bearable for you. my heart aches for you, your husband, vic’s boys, her siblings and extended family. just remember it is easier to be the one leaving. we know that our suffering is going to end. it is your suffering we despair. whatever is meant to be will happen and yet i can’t help but hope for you to have enough time to be ready to let go
I am so proud of my beautiful Vicky who has made a difference in so many people’s lives. I am proud that is her most pain filled moments she can think of others who are less fortunate than she is.
I thank Vic for the vision of a Hospice in our city. I want to thank everyone who has sent us messages of comfort, support, encouragement and prayers… Thank you for walking with us on this difficult journey. Thank you for the love you have shown. Thank you for your prayers.
If this post does not make enough sense please forgive me. Today has been a very difficult one for Vic. She is so tired. I am just trying to make sense out of everything…..
The comments I extracted were absolutely random and does not minimize the value and comfort I experienced from the hundreds of wonderful messages I have received. Most of my readers/followers have life-threatening diseases, lost a child, suffer debilitating pain of their own and yet they care! Thank you.