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How to survive the death of a loved one


Only in rare cases is a person ready in advance for the death of a loved one. More often, grief overtakes us unexpectedly. What to do? How to respond? Says Mikhail Khasminsky, head of the Orthodox Center for Crisis Psychology at the Church of the Resurrection of Christ on Semenovskaya (Moscow).

What are we going through through grief?

When a loved one dies, we feel that the connection with him is broken - and this gives us great pain. It doesn’t hurt the head, not the arm, not the liver, the soul hurts. And it’s impossible to do anything to stop this pain once and for all.

Often a grieving person comes to me for a consultation and says: "Two weeks have passed, but I just can’t recover." But is it possible to recover in two weeks? After all, after a difficult operation we don’t say: “Doctor, I’ve been lying for ten minutes, and nothing has healed yet.” We understand: three days will pass, the doctor will look, then he will remove the stitches, the wound will start to heal, but complications may arise, and some steps will have to be taken again. All this can take several months. And here we are not talking about bodily injury - but about mental, in order to cure it, it usually takes about a year or two. And in this process there are several successive stages that it is impossible to jump over.

What are these stages? The first is shock and denial, then anger and resentment, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance (although it is important to understand that any designation of stages is conditional, and that these stages have no clear boundaries). Some pass them harmoniously and without delay. Most often these are people of strong faith who have clear answers to questions about what death is and what will happen after it. Faith helps to go through these stages correctly, survive them one by one - and finally enter the stage of acceptance.

But when there is no faith, the death of a loved one can become a non-healing wound. For example, a person can for six months deny the loss, say: "No, I do not believe this could not happen." Or "stuck" in anger, which can be directed at doctors who "did not save", at relatives, at God. Anger can also be directed at oneself and produce guilt: I did not like, did not say, did not stop in time - I am a scoundrel, I am guilty of his death. Many people suffer from this feeling for a long time.

However, as a rule, a few questions are enough for a person to sort out his guilt. "Did you want the death of this man?" - "No, I didn’t." “What then are you guilty of?” “I sent him to the store, and if he hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t get under the car.” “Well, but if an angel had appeared to you and said: if you send him to the store, then this person will die, how would you behave yourself?” - “Of course, I would not send him anywhere.” “What is your fault?” That you did not know the future? That an angel did not appear to you? But what have you got to do with it? ”

For some people, a strong sense of guilt may arise simply because the passage of the mentioned stages is delayed. Friends and colleagues do not understand why he walks so gloomy, taciturn for so long. He himself was embarrassed by this, but he could not do anything with himself.

And for someone, on the contrary, these stages can literally “fly by,” but after a while the trauma that they did not live up to, and then, perhaps even experiencing the death of a pet will be difficult for such a person.

Not a single grief is complete without pain. But it’s one thing when you believe in God, and another thing when you don’t believe in anything: here one trauma can be superimposed on another - and so on to infinity.

Therefore, my advice is to people who prefer to live in the present day and put off their main life issues for tomorrow: do not wait for them to fall on you like snow on your head. Deal with them (and with yourself) here and now, look for God - this search will help you at the moment of parting with a loved one.

And again: if you feel that you can’t cope with the loss yourself, if there is no dynamics in living grief for a year or two, if you have a feeling of guilt, or chronic depression, or aggression, be sure to contact a specialist - psychologist, psychotherapist.

Do not think about death - this is the path to neurosis

Recently, I analyzed how many paintings by famous artists are devoted to the theme of death. Previously, artists took up the image of grief, grief precisely because death was inscribed in a cultural context. In modern culture there is no place for death. They don’t talk about her because "it hurts." In fact, just the opposite injures: the absence of this topic in our field of vision.

If in a conversation a person mentions that someone has died, then they answer him: “Oh, I'm sorry. You probably don't want to talk about it. ” Or maybe just the opposite, I want to! I want to remember the dead, I want sympathy! But at that moment they are being removed from him, trying to change the subject, being afraid to upset, offend. The young woman’s husband died, and relatives say: “Well, don’t worry, you’re beautiful, you’ll still marry.” Or run away from the plague. Why? Because they themselves are afraid to think about death. Because they don’t know what to say. Because there are no condolence skills.

This is the main problem: modern man is afraid to think and talk about death. He does not have this experience, his parents did not pass it on to him, and so did their parents and grandmothers who lived during the years of state atheism. Therefore, today many do not cope with the experience of loss on their own and need professional help. For example, it happens that a person sits right on his mother’s grave or even sleeps there. What causes this frustration? From a misunderstanding of what happened and what to do next. And all kinds of superstitions are superimposed on this, and acute, sometimes suicidal, problems arise. In addition, children who are experiencing grief are often nearby, and adults with their inappropriate behavior can cause them irreparable mental trauma.

But condolences are a "joint disease." Why hurt someone else's pain if your goal is to make you feel good here and now? Why think about your own death, isn’t it better to drive away these thoughts with worries, buy something for yourself, eat tasty food, drink well? The fear of what will happen after death, and the reluctance to think about it, includes a very childish defensive reaction in us: everyone will die, and I will not.

Meanwhile, birth, life, and death are links of one chain. And it's silly to ignore it. If only because it is a direct path to neurosis. After all, when we face the death of a loved one, we will not cope with this loss. Only by changing your attitude towards life, you can fix a lot inside. Then it will be much easier to survive the grief.

Erase superstition from your mind

I know that hundreds of questions about superstitions come to the Thomas mail. “They wiped the monument at the cemetery with children's clothes, what will happen now?” “Can I pick up a thing if I dropped it at the cemetery?” “I dropped my handkerchief in the coffin, what should I do?” “At the funeral, the ring fell, why this sign?” “Is it possible hang a photo of deceased parents on the wall? ”

Mirroring begins - after all, this is supposedly a gate to another world. Someone is convinced that the son should not carry the coffin of his mother, otherwise the deceased will be bad. What an absurdity, but who but the son should carry this coffin ?! Of course, neither the Orthodoxy, nor faith in Christ, the world system, where the glove accidentally dropped into the cemetery is a sign, has nothing to do.

I think this is also from reluctance to look inside yourself and answer really important existential questions.

Not all people in the temple are life and death experts.

For many, the loss of a loved one becomes the first step on the path to God. What to do? Where to run? For many, the answer is obvious: to the temple. But it’s important to remember that even in a state of shock you need to be aware of exactly why and to whom (or To) you came there. First of all, of course, to God. But the person who came to the temple for the first time, who, perhaps, does not know where to start, is especially important to meet a guide there who will help to understand many issues that haunt him.

This guide, of course, should be the priest. But he doesn’t always have time, he often has an entire day scheduled literally in minutes: services, trips and much more. And some priests entrust communication with newly arrived volunteers, catechists, psychologists. Sometimes these functions are partially performed even by candlesticks. But you need to understand that in the church you can stumble upon a variety of people.

It’s as if a person came to the clinic, and the cloakroom worker told him: “Is there something that hurts you?” - “Yes, back.” “Well, let me tell you how to get treated.” And I’ll give literature to read. ”

The same thing in the temple. And it is very sad when a person who is already injured by the loss of his loved one receives additional trauma there. Indeed, to be honest, not every priest will be able to build communication with a person in grief - he is not a psychologist. And not every psychologist will cope with this task, they, like doctors, have a specialization. For example, under no circumstances will I undertake to give advice from the field of psychiatry or work with alcohol-dependent people.

What can we say about those who give strange advice and produce superstition! Often these are near-church people who do not go to church, but go in: they put candles, write notes, consecrate Easter cakes, and all the acquaintances turn to them as experts who all know about life and death.

But with people experiencing grief, one must speak a special language. Communication with grieving, injured people needs to be learned, and this matter must be approached seriously and responsibly. In my opinion, this should be a whole serious direction in the Church, no less important than helping the homeless, prison or any other social service.

What can never be done is to carry out some kind of causal relationship. None: "God took the child according to your sins!" How do you know what God alone knows? With these words, a grieving person can be injured very, very badly.

And in no case can you extrapolate your personal experience of experiencing death to other people, this is also a big mistake.

So, if you, faced with a severe shock, come to the temple, be very careful in choosing people to whom you are faced with difficult questions. And do not think that everyone in the church owes you something - people often come to me for a consultation, insulted by inattention to them in the temple, but forgetting that they are not the center of the universe and those around them are not required to fulfill all their desires.

But the staff and parishioners of the temple, if they turn to them for help, should not build an expert from themselves. If you really want to help a person, gently hold his hand, pour him hot tea and just listen to him. He does not require words from you, but complicity, empathy, condolences - that will help step by step to cope with his tragedy.

If the mentor died ...

Often people get lost when they lose the person who was a teacher, mentor in their life. For some, it’s mom or grandmother, for someone it’s a completely alien person, without wise advice and active help which is difficult to imagine your life.

When such a person dies, many find themselves at an impasse: how to live on? At the stage of shock, such a question is quite natural. But if his decision is delayed for several years, it seems to me simply selfishness: "I needed this man, he helped me, now he is dead, and I do not know how to live."

Or maybe now you need to help this person? Maybe now your soul should work in prayer for the deceased, and your life should become embodied gratitude for his upbringing and wise advice?

If an adult passed away an important person who gave him his warmth, his participation, then you should remember this and understand that now you, as a charged battery, can distribute this heat to others. After all, the more you distribute, the more creation you bring to this world - the greater the merit of that dead person.

If you shared wisdom and warmth, why cry, now that there is no one else to do it? Start sharing yourself - and you will get this warmth from other people already. And do not constantly think about yourself, because egoism is the biggest enemy of a grief surviving.

If the deceased was an atheist

In fact, everyone believes in something. And if you believe in eternal life, then you understand that the person who proclaimed himself an atheist, now, after death, is the same as you. Unfortunately, he realized this too late, and your task now is to help him with your prayer.

If you were close to him, then to some extent you are a continuation of this person. And now a lot depends on you.

Children and grief

This is a separate, very large and important topic, my article is devoted to it, “Age-related features of the experience of grief”. Up to three years, the child does not understand what death is. And only at about ten years old does the perception of death begin to take shape, as in an adult. This must be taken into account. By the way, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh spoke a lot about this (I personally think that he was a great crisis psychologist and counselor).

Many parents care about whether children should attend the funeral. You look at the picture of the funeral of Konstantin Makovsky and you think: how many children! Lord, why are they standing there, why are they looking at this? And why shouldn’t they be there if the adults explained to them that they don’t need to be afraid of death, that this is part of life? Previously, children were not shouted: “Oh, go away, don’t look!” After all, the child feels: if they remove him like that, then something terrible is happening. And then even the death of a domestic turtle can turn into a mental illness for him.

And there was nowhere to hide children in those days: if someone was dying in the village, everyone went to say goodbye to him. This is natural when children are present at the funeral service, mourn, learn to respond to death, learn to do something creative for the deceased: they pray, help at the funeral services. And parents often injure the child themselves by trying to hide him from negative emotions. Some begin to deceive: “Dad went on a business trip,” and the child eventually begins to be offended - first at dad for not returning, and then at mom, because he feels that she is not negotiating something. And when the truth then reveals ... I saw families where the child simply can no longer communicate with his mother because of such deception.

One story struck me: the girl's father died, and her teacher, a good teacher, an Orthodox person, told the children not to come up to her, because she was already so sick. But this means injuring the child again! It is terrible when even people with a pedagogical education, people of faith do not understand child psychology.

Children are no worse than adults, their inner world is no less deep. Of course, in conversations with them it is necessary to take into account the age-related aspects of the perception of death, but do not hide them from sorrows, from difficulties, from trials. They must be prepared for life. Otherwise, they will become adults, and they won’t learn how to cope with losses.

What does it mean to "survive the grief"

Surviving grief completely means turning black sorrow into a blessed memory. After the operation, a seam remains. But if it is well and neatly made, it no longer hurts, does not interfere, does not pull. So here: the scar will remain, we will never be able to forget about the loss - but we will no longer experience it with pain, but with a feeling of gratitude to God and the dead person for being in our lives, and with the hope of meeting in the life of the next century.

1. Recognize the loss

How to put up with the death of a loved one? To survive the loss, you must admit that it happened. At first, a man on a machine gun tries to make contact with the deceased - “sees” him among people in the crowd, mechanically tries to reach him, buys his favorite products in a supermarket.

In the usual scenario, this behavior is naturally replaced by actions that deny a far-fetched connection with the deceased. A person who performs actions similar to those noted above, normally cut shorts and thinks: "Why am I doing this, because he (she) is no more."

For all the apparent oddity, such behavior is normal in the first weeks after loss. If the irrational hope for the return of the deceased takes on a stable character - this is a sign that a person cannot cope with grief.

Give yourself time to get used to the loss.

2. Relive the pain of loss

How to accept the death of a loved one? It is necessary to survive difficult feelings so as not to carry this burden through life. If you do not immediately experience the pain, then returning to these experiences will be more difficult and painful. The delayed experience is further complicated by the fact that it will then be more difficult for the grieving person to obtain the sympathy and support of others, on which he can count on immediately after the loss.

Sometimes, despite all the intolerance of pain and suffering, the grieving person clings to them (often unknowingly), as for the last connection with the deceased and the opportunity to express his love to him. Here the following distorting logic works: stopping suffering means reconciling, reconciling means forgetting, forgetting means betraying. Such an irrational understanding of love for the dead does not accept loss.

Выполнение данной задачи нередко тормозят реакции других людей. При столкновении с негативными чувствами и сильной болью скорбящего у окружающих может появиться напряжение, которое они стараются снизить путем оказания не всегда корректной помощи:

  • switch attention (“get together, think about the children”, “you have to take care of your mother”)
  • try to immediately take something grieving in order to distract from experiences
  • forbidden to talk about the dead ("do not disturb him, he is already in heaven")
  • discount the uniqueness of what happened (“we will all be there”, “not you first and not you last”)

Allow yourself to feel pain and loss, give free rein to tears. Avoid people who prevent you from experiencing loss.

3. Reorganize life and surroundings

Together with a loved one, a person loses a certain lifestyle. The deceased took on responsibilities, helped in everyday life, expected a certain behavior from us. It is necessary to rebuild life in order to fill the void. For this, it is important for the grieving person to learn to do what the deceased did for him, to receive this help from others, and, possibly, to continue his work, if it suits his liking.

How to cope with the death of a loved one if you were connected in the closest way? If the deceased did everything around the house, choose the best option - hire a person to clean or learn the simplest actions yourself. If you have lost the spouse and mother of your children, take the organization of a comfortable family life onto you, ask for help from relatives, or hire a nanny. In the same way, mothers, if they lose their spouse, can, for example, master driving and take their husband’s place at the wheel to take their children to school and to sections.

This may sound cynical, but sometimes the loss of a loved one has advantages. For example, a mother-dependent girl said: “Mom died, and I began to live. She did not allow me to become an adult, and now I can build my life as I want. I like it". An adult has finally begun to manage his life. Agree that not all "adults" can boast of this.

It is good if the time that is freed is occupied with satisfying the true needs of the grieving person, filling his life with joy and meaning. This can be new or forgotten hobbies, communication with friends close or distant due to loss of friends, searching for yourself and your place in a new life.

It is important to rebuild life and your life in such a way as to minimize the feeling of emptiness.

4. Build a new attitude towards the deceased and continue to live.

A new attitude towards the deceased does not imply his oblivion; it defines a place for him, taking which he will leave enough space for others. This is reflected in an illustration of the thought of William Vorden describing a letter from a girl who lost her father and wrote to her mother from college: “There are other people you can love. This does not mean that I love my father less. "

Old relationships can be very valuable, but they should not impede new ones. How to help survive the death of a loved one: to build a new attitude - a person must realize that the death of a loved one does not contradict love for another man or another woman, that you can honor the memory of a friend, but be friends with new people.

Separately, it is necessary to stipulate the death of the child. Often, parents are in a hurry to decide to give birth to a new child, not having time to fully survive and accept the loss of the former. Such a solution is not so much a movement towards a new life as a denial of the irreversibility of losing the old (unresolved first task). They unconsciously want to re-give birth to a dead child, to return everything as it was. But only after experiencing the loss completely, mourning the deceased and aligning his emotional attitude towards his death, it is worth thinking about a new child. Otherwise, the parents will not be able to build a genuine relationship with him and will unconsciously try on him the idealized image of the deceased. It is clear that this comparison will not be in favor of the living.

Surviving the loss does not mean forgetting the deceased.

When to seek help

If you get stuck on the performance of any of the tasks described, if it is impossible to reconcile with the loss and learn new experiences, the work of grief can become pathological. It is necessary to distinguish between the normal work of grief from the manifestations of clinical depression, which requires medical intervention and psychological assistance (on average, every fifth grieving subject to it). Among the symptoms of serious depression, when help is required, it is customary to distinguish:

  • continuous reflection on the hopelessness of the situation, despair
  • obsessive thoughts about suicide or death
  • denial or misrepresentation of loss
  • uncontrolled or excessive crying
  • inhibited physical reactions and responses
  • extreme weight loss
  • constant inability to perform basic household tasks

Soreness of symptoms is determined not so much by their content as by duration, severity and consequences: how much they interfere with a person's life and contribute to the development of concomitant diseases. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for a non-specialist to distinguish the normal course of grief from its pathological form. If you suspect, do not postpone the visit to a psychologist or psychotherapist.