Death and losing a loved one is hard, but there are healthy ways to work through it.
Losing a loved through death really affects a change. It’s nice to stay in the happy, positive side of life, but it’s unrealistic to not share the difficult parts of foster kids and life; especially when there is a death. This space is to share how we lost a foster kid we loved as our own, and how we managed as a family.
Just a few years ago, our family lost a child, a brother, and grandparent, and mother and more. At the time it was overwhelming, but we learned some important things along the way, that I hop to share to comfort you and give ideas to move through the process. We can even laugh together and talk about the beauty of our experiences now. We still cry too.
Learning how to cope with losing a loved one.
We all feel very experienced in handling the affairs of a loved one who passes. In a little over one year, we lost 6 immediate loved ones. The hardest loss was our shared-son we fostered and recovered from a very traumatic infancy. Incredibly I avoided admittance into a mental home, but there were moments that it seemed unbearable. At the time, I had NO idea how to do the planning for a funeral after a death. Because of this gap in societal conversation, I thought maybe we could share some tips to help you do it better than us and think it through before something happens or maybe afterwards. Death is inevitable for all of us, so we need to discuss this in a gentle way without the funeral business breathing down your neck and some bad decisions inadvertently made.
There are practical steps and very emotional/spiritual processes. Each person handles it differently, so I’ll give you some of these variations too.
1. Realization that your loved one is about to die or has died.
This one takes time. If you are able, no matter what you think at the time, GO be with your loved one during the transition of passing! It is actually very biblical and honorable to escort the dead. Some very spiritual things happen when you sit, sing, talk, and hang out, as your loved one passes…and we really try not to cry in the transition. Make it peaceful for them.
Sometimes we don’t make it to the transition, but we trust that for these situations, the right person or spirit was there to help ease the way.
In my experience, the first week of death is the strongest spiritually. You will actually feel and maybe smell his/her presence. It seems weird saying it out loud, but I think you should know this. It was very strange for us. Our family had many dreams and the children would want to share their thoughts during the night. There were both funny stories and sad. As emotions were expressed, others would say, “me too!” These things bonded our family together because we knew that it was special.
We also notice that this emotional “closeness” to the deceased person, seems to last around 12 months, then it becomes less and less frequent. It must be like being in two places at the same time for the deceased, but on a physical and spiritual level. We are only three years out from this death-loss year at this point, but I hope this closeness never goes away.
2. The Burial.
Personally, we did not want the expensive, gaudy box. Get someone savvy to help you here, plan ahead, or you can spend a lot of money in this weak time. We choose to keep it simple. Many people handle this different. Our approach was to sit and visit with our loved one, some ladies clean and dress the body and procure a simple pine box around $1,000. But when you share the responsibility, some want the $3,000-$10,000 box. What we discovered is that the funeral home tries to up-sell you on the fancy, beautiful burial coffins. No one even offered us the simple pine box. We had to really push for that option. Therefore, our first learning was that there is a less expensive option that is less of a financial burden that will not be offered to you – you have to ask for it.
Also, everyone has a ritual that seems appropriate. Be sure to do what is you! Don’t let others dictate the appropriate protocol unless you are okay with that. At the lowering, we get a shovel and everyone puts a bit of earth and lays rocks on the box. We sing and say our prayers. We also burn a candle for seven days and these are the things that give us a sense of helping. Having some involvement in this transition is good for both the loved one and us, the survivors! Others want to place flowers over the resting place.
3. Gather and Appreciate the Life.
A lot of grace is required, and remembrance of good deeds. The most amazing memories come out during this time. People will share incredible stories you didn’t even know about the person you love. Even as you are losing, the memories create a very special environment that dulls the loss. We prefer to have our burial service the day after death but sometimes we had to allow for long distance travelers. This is a hard awkward task but we found that each time we had the strength to make these decisions and accommodate close relatives.
In an untraditional manner, we ordered a bunch of balloons or asked someone to bring them to fill our home entrance. We did this twice; once for our shared son and second for Nana – it just felt right to us. We wanted to do something that showed our celebration of life and that would be pleasing to our loved one…and it helped our children with all the colors floating around.
For Nana, we asked people to give to the congregation and charity. We noticed that people are similar and want to “do” something, so offering these options, accepting donations towards the cost of burial helped others. Our tendency is to say we don’t need anything but letting go a bit helps the healing process for that person, so don’t deny them their offerings.
One of our favorite action items is to make poster boards. Initially it was for our children but it helped me feel better too! We all picked photos of our favorite memories to fill the time before the funeral. This was VERY healing and we felt it was honoring our loved ones. We put up these boards on easels at the gathering for people to see and enjoy. From time to time, we still pull these boards out and look at them.
4. We needed to DO something
What next? For Me…I Couldn’t handle another, “I’m so sorry”! Weird, but true. I also don’t like crying in front of anyone except my husband and children. I needed to unplug and head for the mountains. The closest I could physically get to the heavens and sit in peace. I got in a car with the kids and we called the trip, Priceline and a Prayer!
For $60-$65/night my children and I traveled 1,000 miles to the mountains and Canada for two weeks straight. We never knew where we would land the next day the next day. It was so miraculous. Without planning, we allowed the Spirit to lead us. We stopped at grocery stores and got organic, whole foods for the most part. Eating well is a critical way to support our body during this time and I wasn’t going to put our bodies in a funk during the grieving process. In this serendipitous adventure, our trip gave us experiences that are truly unexplainable and wouldn’t have been possible with a rigorous schedule. This was my way of letting go.
However, this doesn’t work for everyone. My husband for example needed work therapy. He stayed and worked and did a lot of physical labor. He had zero interest in traveling but encouraged us everyday and urged us on to see new things. The miracles that happened every day still amaze us. Even apart, it worked for us – me and the kids ‘to the North’, and hubby had to sweat it out!
One of my children needed a lot of holding and snuggled constantly. This was easy one, I guess I needed that too! Another child wanted to draw pictures all the time and needed to look and sit quietly in front of water. His drawings were disturbing of coffins in the ground and sad. But, he couldn’t handle losing his brother and this outlet helped him…. with my husband pressing us to travel all the way to Niagara Falls. He absolutely loved it and we knew it was a perfect opportunity!
And yet there was another child who needed to talk and ask a MILLION questions! This was great in bits, because we were each able to explain our beliefs and trusts regarding life. We had a lot of deep conversations about losing a brother, and an Uncle – depth for 6, 7, and 9 year olds.
The point is to find a way to do what you need to do and God will provide a way.
5. Journaling; trying to write everything down.
Many therapist suggest writing your thoughts down. I became obsessed with writing down everything I remembered about our little boy. The fostering, the cancer, the toxic relationships, the burdens, the balancing and more. When the funeral was over, the flood gate poured open! I realize that others will experience losing someone, but it doesn’t lessen the pain. For me, I was inspired to write a cookbook “Real Food Recovery” and create a nonprofit to help eradicate cancer. We had successes, despite losing our son from a fatal cancer and not having a choice for his treatment plan.
In closing, the greatest learning is that what comforts me may actually offend you and vice versa! Everybody grieves differently, and I had to learn how to accommodate the others’ ways of grieving. Some will disappear, others get angry and say hateful things. We had to remember that it wasn’t towards us, it was the person’s way of dealing with losing a loved one to death. Therefore, we work hard to love everyone through it, including ourselves.
Here’s a therapy site for the 5 Stages of Grieving that may be useful too!