Dealing With Grief?
Recently my grandfather died. He was actually my great-grandfather, but my real granddad died when I was a kid so my great-granddad was more like my granddad to me.
When I was around twelve years old, a great-uncle of mine died and it was my first funeral. The Islamic process of grieving is really different to the one of Christian grieving. There's a period of mourning that's observed by family that isn't really known in Christianity. Having those few days to just grieve are really therapeutic. Deaths come at the most unlikeliest times, even after a period of prolonged illness they catch us by surprise and we're reminded of the loss of a loved one and what it can do.
The Christian funerals I've been too have been radically different to the Islamic ones I've been to. I've noticed that they weren't as comfortable with crying and dealing with their grief in public compared to the Islamic funerals. There's a culture in Britain of the 'stiff upper lip'. I believe that while it may be good sometimes, I don't think that it's beneficial to people when it comes to the loss of a loved one. I found myself 'holding things in' because I was worried that I would make the people around me feel uncomfortable. It amazes me that the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions differ from each other when they're so closely related, all springing from the same area of the world.
In Judaism there's a whole process that helps people grieving, including periods of time to observe and a lot of symbolism that's been proven by psychologists that is fantastic mentally to help with closure. When someone dies, you stop the clocks in your house, you draw the curtains and after the funeral one washes his hands to symbolise that the dead are buried.
I once heard that the Hebrew word for “death” literally means something along the lines of “being without a body”, to exist without a vessel, that the body is a shell for what's really inside it. I don't think that I necessarily agree with the idea of heaven and hell, but to me this makes sense because when those around me died I thought of this. They may be dead in body, but my memories of them are still alive. I think of the Buddhists who believe that life is eternal suffering, I remind myself that life is suffering and that they are free from these shackles.
At my great-uncle's funeral it was an open casket, and both the women and the men were separated, but at the Christian funeral I saw that everybody was together. It was an open casket funeral: it was intense. People were hitting themselves with grief, rocking back and forth and although I felt intimated by it because of the upbringing with my Christian mother, I fully understood why this was happening.
Different cultures have so many ways of grieving, I think it's amazing. In the west we wear black to mourn, but in Hinduism it's traditional to wear white, to show purity and your thoughts are only focused on one person. The ancient eastern mysticism religion of Jainism dictates that heaven and hell don't really exist as separate entities outside of our environment, but they're states of minds and things we encounter during the lightest and darkest periods of all of our lives.
I identified highly with the way that my grandfather mourned my great-uncle; I can understand and sympathise how hard it is to be with a sorrow so heavy that there's nothing left to do. I can comprehend the anger, the need for closure, the periods of time observed and how this could help.
The rituals of funerals and death may be long gone in Protestant culture, but in eastern Orthodox Christianity they're still really apparent, and I found that I benefited from the procedures that one has to go through after the death of a loved one.
Ultimately, no matter how you grieve or what religion you practice, the person gone and the circumstances remain largely the same. It's still a death, there's still a loss and it's important to know that showing emotion isn't a bad thing and that talking - although an overused cliché - does help. No matter how unhappy you are or how angry you feel, it's important not to hurt yourself or other people around you.
The feeling of unbearable loneliness is hard to handle, the void that is felt is intolerable and this is normal. During the first few days of my great-grandfather's death I wanted to lock myself in my room and grieve, but people around us need our help as much as we need theirs. Perhaps if you're still in school or university, the people, teachers and lecturers can be a good support system. I was worried about going back to school, worries about coping with it, but teachers where overwhelmingly supportive and understood if I wanted to just be alone or if I needed to leave the room.
Talking to people that don't know you can be of a lot more help than to people in your family you may not feel that close with, but again, it's all relative to people. It can be tough talking to parents or family you aren't close to, however by breaking that boundaries of the stiff upper lip culture you will grow closer to your family and it can repair relationships that may be strained.
Remember that you are never alone, people can and will help you when you most need them. Talking to families can grow distant, friends can sometimes be the ones to rely on. They're not just there for the odd drink and gig, hanging out and watching movies. They're the shoulder to lean on when times get tough, you shouldn't ask for it; their support isn't optional, it's mandatory. After all, isn't that what friends are for?
There's a level of benevolence in all of us, it's important that people stick together when things get tough.
For information on organisations that can help with family and relationship issues click here.
For information on death click here.
If you need to talk to someone who can help contact meic