If You Lost Your Loved One After a Prolonged Illness
In this age of medical miracles, many people lose loved ones after witnessing their arduous and difficult struggle with a prolonged illness. This passage is fraught with pitfalls. While caring for your loved one through an illness to their passing becomes a sacred journey, the difficulties and struggle can change the shape and duration of your grief in surprising ways.
Anticipating the passing of a loved one is to experience that loss, or it is so close as to be indistinguishable. In this way, your grief began with news of the illness and continued for the duration of their struggle. It kept you in a heightened state of alarm and delivered a steady drip of adrenaline and other stress hormones. This has already wreaked emotional and physical havoc on you: sleeplessness, fatigue, indecisiveness, eating disorders—either eating and drinking too much or too little—sometimes irritation, anger and always anxiety.
Perhaps the sun occasionally burst through the clouds during this time. There came sudden hope and the emotional rollercoaster slowed down and sometimes even stopped for a period of time. Only to have that hope snatched away again.
Intermittent stressors cause more damage than sudden trauma.
During this time, you were dangled on the edge of a steep precipice waiting to fall. Suspended over this great uncertainty, you witnessed the person you love struggle and endure great discomfort and pain. Often each new day only brought more and greater agony.
When an approaching death has been clouded by pain and suffering, there is only one normal response when it is at last over. Relief. Not just the normal relief, but a knock-you-to-your-knees kind of relief. The person you love is no longer suffering. Their pain is gone. Your loved one is free. You are free. The intensity of this relief upon your loved one’s passing can be crazy powerful.
Relief (and even joy) can be the most honest and natural part of grief.
Please read that sentence again.
The force of your relief is in no way a reflection of your love.
Rather it measures the difficulty of the passage you and your love one just exited.
It is important now to make a conscious effort to let go of memories of your loved one’s struggle, of their pain and suffering. This tends to happen naturally over time, but there is no reason to wait and many reasons not to, especially if you are troubled by recurring images, thoughts and memories of your loved one’s suffering.
Whenever an unpleasant memory of their struggle emerges in your mind’s eye, do this simple exercise: Stop whatever you are doing and pause. Draw five deep and slow breaths—this alerts your consciousness to a meaningful shift in thinking. Then, simply replace the painful memories with happy memories of the time when your loved one was healthy and vibrant—full of life. Travel down a sunlight path made of your favorite memories until you feel the emotional resonance—the vibration—of these memories.
Employing this memory replacement produces a miracle.
Finally separated from your loved one’s struggle, your love begins to intensify.