Ten Things you need to know about Dealing with Death
1. If you didn't make it happen, it's not your fault.
2. You are the most important person, now.
3. Don't feel bad about feeling bad.
4. Not everything that is sad is bad.
5. There is no timetable.
6. The stages of grief don't happen in a tidy sequence.
7. There is no time limit to grief.
8. It's OK to think hard thoughts.
9. It's OK to be relieved.
10. Keep memories not reminders.
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For a long time, I was a solicitor in general practice and although my specialism was complex litigation, over the years I had a lot of experience in dealing with the elderly in a wide variety of physical and mental conditions and the bereaved of all ages.
When my own mother died, I realised that so much of what I had learned, of the experiences I had seen and the help I had been able to give remained with me and I was able to stand back and see myself and those around me with the eyes I'd been privileged to develop as a result.
I gave basic rules to my father. He laughed and thought that it was amusing to have a structure that he could refer to when he found circumstances became difficult.
The fact is that, especially for the first really close death, most of us have no idea what is happening. Yes, we can do the administrative tasks and we can robotically clean the house and feed ourselves but we don't really understand why we, emotionally and logically, respond the way we do. Worse, we are scared by our lack of ability to understand and control those responses. This book isn't about why we feel like we do: it's about how we respond and some very simple coping mechanisms.
We worry about the wrong things and we feel all kinds of illogical emotions and, because we don't understand those, we worry even more. We try to come to terms with the big picture when, at such times, all we can understand and deal with are small details.
We are terrified that our memories will fade or that we will remember the "wrong" things, or that we will somehow fail to show sufficient respect or, even, to mourn in a socially acceptable way.
Here (expanded, embellished and with a bit more humour) are the ten rules that I told my Father.
He doesn't laugh at the rules now.
Death is shit. Being the one who is left behind is even worse. You can't get a grip on basic things, you burst into tears when you don't expect it, you laugh when you don't expect it, you get angry with people who don't deserve it, you get frustrated because you have no control and you get frightened because it's not only the familiar horizon that's changed, it's also the ground you need to step on next. It seems as if nothing is or ever will be the same again and in one important respect, that's true. But the world around you goes on doing what the world around you does. There will be small changes, perhaps in the way people treat you, for a while but then, while people won't forget quickly, the world will carry on pretty much as it did before. The same people will smile as did before; so will those who scowled. While your personal world has ruptured, for everyone else, it's not significantly different and, in sometimes that's hard to deal with.
The ten "rules" here won't stop you grieving. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's important that you grieve as you think is right for you. Mostly, these rules remind you of the common sense that you lose during times of grief. There's nothing clever, nothing world shattering, just some brutal realities because it's important that there is a voice of pragmatism. There are no mealy mouthed words, no ambiguous expressions, no social-worker or soft-psychology tones. It's plain speaking for a time when you have enough to deal with without having to translate or read between the lines.
When someone dies, there must be a focus on the living while respecting the dead. It's not a balance: it's an imbalance in favour of the living. But emotion and convention push that balance the wrong way. This book adds weight to the side of the scale you are standing on, to help you remember that you are the most important person in this situation.
Thanks, Mother: without you, I would never have thought of writing down these rules. And Father: keep reading them so you don't forget them. That's why they've been written down.
For everyone else: I hope they help.
Kuala Lumpur, 2015
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© 2015 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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