Chapter 5: Grieving a death
Tending to new grief
My partner died peacefully on a palliative care ward. I discovered that there was still lots of grieving left to do.
I didn’t recognize how burnt out I was. I shouldn’t have gone back to work so soon after he died. I was surrounded by people but felt alone. It felt like nobody was caring for me when I needed it the most – because they thought I was okay.
After he died, I didn’t see the staff at the home anymore. They were such a huge part of our life, and some were like family to us. Now I’ve lost those connections too.
When someone you care about dies after an illness, this can be a time of “new grief.” The thoughts and feelings you experience in grief after the person’s death, may feel different than the grief you experienced about losses during their illness. You may have thought you had done all of your grieving beforehand or that you had prepared for grief after their death.
If you were a caregiver or the person had a long illness, you may feel exhausted or isolated. You may feel abandoned or neglected in your grief or feel a loss of connection with others who were involved in the care of the person. You may also wonder,
“Who will care for me?”
As you begin to find your own way in your grief and with the changes in life, treat yourself with patience and kindness. Expect ups and downs, and remember that grief doesn’t move in a straight line. There may be a time when it feels as though nothing is happening, as well as times when you glimpse better days.
When you are feeling ready, you might begin to reimagine your life. This reimagining is not about abandoning or forgetting the person who died or dishonouring their memory. You will be finding ways to change your relationship with someone who is no longer physically present yet can remain a significant part of your life as you move forward.
What may help
- Allow yourself to grieve as you need. Continue to name and acknowledge difficult feelings, such as guilt, anger, or regret.
- Use coping strategies that you may have developed along the way. Find and use available resources and supports. If you feel stuck in your grief for a prolonged period of time, seek support from a professional counsellor.
- Consider concrete ways to honour or remember the person who died, such as naming a tree or garden after them, starting a new tradition, or contributing time or money to a cause in their memory.
- Pay attention to your body. What is it telling you it needs?
- Look for activities that help to restore your energy, such as time in nature, short walks, listening to music, or a yoga or meditation class.
- If possible, don’t rush back to work or into new commitments. Take your time as you move into this new phase of your life.