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End of life: What happens when you lose a loved one


            Adulting is a challenge sometimes, and is particularly difficult when your personal resources are running low or you are proceeding on fumes at the bottom of your reservoir. End of life is difficult. It’s as much about living as the beginning of a life. End of life is a trial as you watch a loved one make their way along their last journey. You can prepare for it, but the emotional impact will still affect you.

            End of life is an individual thing. A person may pass quickly, or they may linger for a long while. Family and friends are urged to speak from the heart, even if the person who is dying is unresponsive. They can hear you speak even if they can’t respond.

            Hospice may be recommended to you by the medical community. You may feel like you need to be at the bedside, unwilling to leave your loved one. You may be gently urged to go home to rest, to take care of yourself. Hospice will have someone at the bedside around the clock, assuring you that your loved one is not alone while you take care of your personal needs so you can be there when they most need you. The compassion and kindness of the hospice team is a great comfort for the family.

            Grief also varies from person to person. Everyone does not grieve in the same way, in the same time frame. The late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the five stages of grief. Everyone doesn’t go through all of the stages or in the order that she wrote of them. You might bounce between some of them as you come to terms with your feelings. The stages of grief are responses to your feelings.

            The first stage is denial, which helps us to survive after the loss of a loved one. “It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle,” writes David Kessler, who co-authored two books with Kubler-Ross. As time passes, we begin to deal with our feelings, all of the things we couldn’t think about at first.

            Stage 2 is anger. You might be angry with God – Why did he let this happen? You might be angry with whoever you perceive caused this death. Or the person who died. Or even yourself. The anger is necessary for healing.

            Stage 3 is bargaining. You may want life to return to the way it used to be and try to avoid the feelings of loss.

            The fourth stage is depression, which is different from the depression of mental illness. Kessler writes, “Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural; a state to be fixed, something to snap out of … The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual.”

            The last stage is acceptance., “This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is a permanent reality,” Kessler writes. (

            Some people become so overwhelmed by grief that, to avoid the pain of loss and confusion, they turn to drugs and alcohol to numb themselves. According to , there are many ways grief can lead to addiction, including:

  • Hidden grief that has never dealt with.
  • More negative feelings caused by the use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Using a harmful substance to replace a person or relationship.
  • Not having the proper coping skills.

            If you need help negotiating your grief, bereavement assistance is available through hospice and other programs. If substance use has become a problem, help is available through agencies like Family Recovery Center. You don’t have to suffer alone.

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