First of all, why is this one of my favorite topic? I sometimes hear, why are you interested in such a heavy topic? For me it’s not heavy, it’s deep. I learned over time, that I have to die a lot of times during my life time (in terms of letting go, giving up and surrender) and that connects me even deeper with life and myself. Living fully means constantly dying. I will write more about that later.
Today I want to start with the disappearance of death from our daily lives and the disappearance of rituals around death from our social and cultural life. And the individuality of grief.
When was the last time you saw a hearse? For me it’s decades ago, when I was young, even a kid. It was always a moment of holding the breath when we saw a hearse passing by and we realized, oh my god somebody has died, not really knowing what that means, only that someone is gone forever and that this is judged as bad or even wrong.
And then they slowly disappeared. I guess it was years later when I finally realized that there were no hearses anymore. But at that time, I didn’t question it, I just noticed it. Years later it felt like death is no longer present in our daily life.
When my mom died, which is now, 17 years ago, I was completely overwhelmed and not prepared at all, even though we knew it was coming. I was not even able to talk about it. Whenever my mom started to talk about her death, I negated it. I didn’t want to talk about it and I thought it was because of her. I thought that she would think, I agreed with her dying. But it was because of me. I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want to feel the immense pain of imagine her dying and I didn’t want it to be true. And when she finally died I was completely overwhelmed, surprised and far from prepared. I didn’t know what to do. It was in the middle of the night, when the phone call came and I went to the hospital, but my mum already passed away. I waited for my sister to arrive, as I was completely lost and not even able to go inside that room to see my Mums dead body and being alone with her. Together we went inside and I was holding my Mums hand for a moment, unable to realize and feel what has happened but being in flight mode instead. After a short time we left and that was the last time I saw her.
The next days we were just functioning, trying to get that funeral organized, trying to figure out how to do that and what we want. There was no time for grief. We didn’t take the time. There was also no time for saying goodbye, although we could have made the whole process a slow goodby and letting go process. I just wanted to leave it all behind and go back to normal. Not realising that death and grief IS part of normal life.
I didn’t know how to grieve. I was resisting her death and therefor felt completely stuck. Stuck between grief, anger and not getting it. Which resulted in being numb. It took a couple of months, and also a therapy to get to that point where I was able to grief and find access to my tears.
After a while I could see, all the „mistakes“ I made during this process out of not knowing and not being taught. If I had another chance, I would make it totally different, but I didn’t know at that time and it was part of my learning process. I became more and more aware and interested in the topic and sometimes friends who lost someone came to me to ask for advice, how to deal with the loss and how to say goodbye. I told them my story and I told them:
Take your time! Take your time being with your dead loved one. Take your time to let it all in, to feel it all, experience it all. Be with the dead body as long and often as you need before the funeral. Most undertakers make it possible that you can go there and spend time with your loved one. That helps you realizing and accepting the loss and saying goodby.
Have a conscious ceremony where there is a lot of time for grief, for tears, for gratefulness, acknowledgement, partying, dancing and so on. If possible and you want that, expose the body openly at the funeral to say goodbye, because that makes an important part of the realization, that the person is gone. Seeing the dead body letting the loss sink into every cell of your body. For me it’s an essential part of saying goodbye to a very closed beloved person. I became aware of the cultural habit we had in earlier times and in some rural parts of Germany still have, that dead people are laid out up to three days openly for relatives to come and say goodbye. Before my Mum died I found that a very strange habit until I finally understood the benefit of it.
I imagine it is also of high value if you have the chance to be with the person in their moment of dying and maybe help to clean the dead body as a first part of the process of saying goodby and letting go. All of the things that we might find scary or strange are so important and precious to bring them back into our normal life because than there is no need to go back to normal life.
There is no normal life, if death is not included.
I also give the advice to talk about the loss and the corresponding feelings as much as necessary. And for friends, ask the mourner how they are feeling over and over again. That helps for the integration process and also helps, if you don’t know what to say. We often avoid talking about loss and grief as we don’t want to remind someone of his/her loss, whereas in fact we don’t want to deal with our own feelings, that come up, when we see someone grieving.
And when you think that you will get rid of your grief, when you have said goodby very consciously, than be prepared…
It might be with you for the rest of your life. Not always there consciously, not always sensible, but suddenly accessible when you get triggert. As a deep, heavy feeling or just slightly being touched. As in relation to your own loss, empathy or just without any reason at all. And as absurd as it might sound, there is a profound beauty in grieving. Not describable with words. Like a deep opening and intense connection to source, to life, to death, to the core of existence, to every human being, animals, plants, every cell in the material world and the energy of the universe.
There are so many judgements around how long and how much you should or should not grieve and whats the appropriate behavior at a funeral. But there is no wrong or right. It’s a very individual and personal process how you grieve and how long and how intense. And it can alter every hour, minute or second. This can be confusing sometimes, but trust in what you feel. Let your body guide you. Of course we can get trapped in the grief, but that happens mostly when we don’t give it enough space in the first place.
Involve your children as much as they want to be involved in the process of dying, funeral, saying good bye and grief. They often have a much more natural approach to all of this, as they are still more connected with the invisible world and we can learn from them.
I have learned so much from my Mums death. For me it was the transformation point of my own evolving. Today I would say that my Mum gifted me her death, so that I could evolve and find my own unique path of growth and life. I am forever grateful to her and the experience of her death.
I think we have to bring death back to our lives as we ourselves will have to die some day and we might be able to prepare for that. But that’s another story and I will write about that in one of the next parts of these series of articles.
I would like to add some FUNERAL GUIDELINES FOR BEGINNERS 😉
Be open and vulnerable.
Don’t hold anything back, show your grief and tears and know that everybody grieves individually.
Be there for each other, but don’t pretend your strong when you are not.
It’s o.k. to be overwhelmed.
Feel into your needs and meet them. Ask for help.
Be yourself, express your grief in your own unique way. Whether it’s showing your tears and emotions or the need to dance and laugh.
Take the role of supporting the loved and very closed ones in turns, so you don’t get depleted. Maybe you need time for yourself.
This ritual of saying good bye is a very tough thing to do, the more important it is to slow down, take your time, feeling it all and celebrate it.
Remember that the funeral is only the first step in the process of letting go. When you get back into your daily life, you will have to deal with the absence of his/her presence. This needs integration and is an individual process. It can be helpful, after the funeral, to still be there for each other and make regular gatherings, Zoomcalls or rituals and share about your feelings. Whatever feels good for you to keep supporting each other in this process.