Whether someone you know has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or you have had sudden and unexpected news of someone’s death, this is shocking. The topic of death and dying makes many people very uncomfortable and avoidant. It can be so “taboo”, that even emergency room and trauma physicians are uncomfortable talking with families about a loved one’s death. Having worked in a trauma medical center for many years, I know just how frightening and devastating it can be for people to have to cope with the threat of losing someone close to them. It doesn’t seem to matter whether a loved one has been taken from us suddenly, or whether we have had time to prepare ourselves for letting go of someone; the loss or anticipated loss leaves family members feeling confused and frightened. Often there is panic and overwhelming anxiety, and the uncertainty that loved ones have to sit with creates tremendous tension within and amongst family members. If the family is called upon to make difficult medical decisions for a loved one who cannot speak for themselves, this creates agitation and easily stirs up feelings from the past, including unresolved resentments. Death pulls up from within us the deepest of conflicts that we will ever have to bear.
When a family member has become a care giver for a loved one who is dying, there is a great expense of emotional energy. The experience can be very emotionally draining if someone does not take care of themselves in this process. Care givers can become so consumed that it changes their life entirely. After the death of a loved one who has been ill a long time, the care itself that has “anchored” someone through the illness is gone, and there may be difficulty finding one’s life again.
Family members are also very uncomfortable about talking to their loved one(s) about dying and often avoid any discussion with the dying person. These are painful and personal experiences, both for those that are dying and the loved ones who are caring for them. Death affects each person that is involved in multiple ways, including psychologically, physically, spiritually and financially.
Death and dying brings painful grief. If you are touched by a “heaviness of heart” and deeply troubled by the finality of death, you are not alone. Seeking psychotherapy helps to give sorrow words, ultimately accepting the unacceptable.