How I Supported my best friend through her end of life transition – Jane Jackson Soul Coach and Energy Practioner (to read more about Deborah & Jane’s journey together here is the link)
When Faced with Difficulty
What do you do, when your best friend is diagnosed with MS and possibly has two years to live? This was what Jane was faced with and this interview is about their journey together. Jane did what you would expect of a good friend, she jumped in to support her in so many ways. Helping her with daily living, supporting, planning her funeral together and dealing alone with the rawness of it all.
This journey was an emotionally charged one, instead of closing down they remained open, vulnerable and available to each other. Jane never judged her friend or tried to talk her out of it when she heard she was choosing suicide to end her life. For Deborah, wanted to leave on her terms and not be defined by her illness as she progressively got weaker.
However, the is an interesting and heartwarming twist to their story. One that will have you questioning “Is the choice to die really ours to make” or is there something more powerful at work here.”
Will it be a traditional funeral or celebration of life? That would depend on the person, or the family especially if the person died suddenly leaving no instructions. There are those brave souls who prefer to plan well ahead and will organize every detail for when their time comes.
For those less brave, they will prefer to defer it instead for fear it may bring death closer to them. What about those souls, who are conscious of the expense for a more traditional funeral? So will settle instead for a less expensive option. Or cost isn’t the factor; they believe they are protecting their loved ones from the ritual & pain of mourning?
We forget the importance of Rituals
It seems, in our haste to move on and quickly move through our grief, we don’t see how these rituals help with the healing process. We may consider them”old-fashioned and stuffy.” However, many do serve a purpose as they help you to accept the death. They also create space to feel supported during your time of grief. These rituals help create a container for you to mourn with your tribe and your community.
As we move on or rush through these essential rituals, what are we teaching future generations? How will they know what to do or deal with their grief if we are unwilling to show them? Often the guest of honor is not present at their funeral. Gone are the days when the guest lay in the front parlor for all to see. Children were usually present perhaps running around the casket, peering in and asking their questions. The adults would openly mourn and wail as they allowed their grief to flow. These parlors today have been replaced, and the task handed over to the funeral homes. Some people are even by-passing them, as they are opting for cremation with their remains scattered elsewhere. The celebrations of life are carried out in restaurants or other non-traditional space.
What will your choice be? There are indeed many options. Will it be the traditional route, one that has worked for centuries? Or something less traditional?
Personally, I find moving directly to a celebration of the person’s life can avoid your emotions. It doesn’t take into account the need to reflect or what your feelings are about the death. We need this time to process and is part of the grieving process. It is important to celebrate the contributions a person has made while here on this earth. Just not over tea and cake or wine and cheese with little reference to the person.
As a Society, already death averse, is this just another way for us not to feel or be with our heartache? We are condensing everything into a few hours. Is that the value we placed on the deceased?
Funeral & Celebration of Life
I’m in that delightful age bracket when scheduling a funeral or celebration of life into my agenda has become the norm. There was a time when it didn’t appear with the same frequency as now. Now I speak from a vantage point of experiencing these different funeral events. Certainly, one way to support the family is to go to the visitation and show you are there for them. Talk about deceased person and listening will show you care. Whether you attend a service at a church or funeral home you show the family they are supported by their community. These rituals create that container for grief to be held and allow mourning to begin.
My Experience with Celebrations of Life
A few years ago, at one celebration I attended, it was a mix of old and new combined. There were many friends and family members eager to share their stories of the person they lost all too soon to cancer. Everyone’s story was moving and filled with joy, and at times tinged with bittersweet moments. Or laughter. Each speaker allowed you to share in their journey with the deceased.
After a short while of listening, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It was interesting to note, how everyone was crying quietly, dabbing their eyes politely as if this shouldn’t be happening. The grief in the room was palpable, and I wanted to sob out loud. I was uncertain that if I did so, would others join in or would they look at me strangely? This wasn’t my relative but a person who had touched my life, so I did not feel it was my place to behave this way.
It isn’t Polite to Cry in Public
Besides my mum’s voice had entered my head “Anne, it isn’t polite to cry loudly in public” that was enough to shut myself down. I could no longer respectively allow my emotions free range. I would deal with them later at home.
With so much grief now being felt but never acknowledged, the family continued with their Agenda ending the moment with a singer. This was the transition moment. We were then invited to join them for a celebration of the person’s life over a cuppa tea and cake.
I then wondered how people could switch in an instance from pain to celebration in minutes. They had done a great job in creating the container for our collective grief, but this grief needed more. Perhaps an opportunity for quiet reflection, composing ourselves before joining the celebrations.
In our death averse and ever so polite society, crying in front of strangers just isn’t done. I often wondered if the family was still in shock and going through the motions. Or did they have ample opportunity to mourn prior being surrounded by family and friends so that they could now take a pause and start celebrating?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a proper celebration, however, immediately after death I think it is missing the point. I believe this is the end step of mourning, not the beginning. Two rituals are missing from the equation. This now leads to yet another discussion – another blog in the making!
Yes, indeed, there is life after A death. I’m sure you were curious to know if I was going to have some conclusive evidence to share with you. I’m pretty certain there is but that is not my topic for the moment. Let me explain…….
My Life Changed
November 17, 2011, began as a regular workday just like any other. I would drive to the office, say my hellos as I settled down to work. This began by me unlocking my computer and while I was waiting, the phone rang and I answered it. I then drove to the hospital to meet mum. Then two hours later we emerged, arm in arm numb and in shock. It was that one phone call, that would forever change our lives.
Once outside into a cool, overcast November day, pausing to see the traffic on the highway speeding by. With passers-by walking and talking all going about their business. To my mind, it seemed all wrong. Then this urge to scream “STOP, don’t’ you know my dad has just died bubbled up! It was confusing, their world got to continue while ours had stopped. I would swallow hard, being British and knowing how mum hated scenes I couldn’t create a fuss. Instead, I clutched her arm and stoically marched to the car. It was in that moment that I realized no one was coming to rescue us or take charge. We were on our own.
Our life from that moment on became one of business, no time to stop or think. Just endless To Do lists, “I’ll put the kettle on” would be mum’s mantra. I can’t even recall drinking any tea, but the kettle went on regardless.
Pivotal Moment #1
On the day of the funeral, it snowed, making everything look clean and fresh. Odd I recall thinking, it is only mid-November; had snow even been in the forecast? Perhaps this was a message from dad letting me know he was Ok and not to be sad. We were entering a new beginning for us all; a fresh clean page. I certainly found it comforting and it allowed me to get through that day.
After the Funeral
There was a certain comfort in returning to work, I had my routine back. My new routine would include a daily phone call to mum to see how she was. It was after the family returned to their own lives that I began to have trouble sleeping at night. I no longer had the multiple distractions, instead, I’d awake tired and restless for the day. Eventually, I sought medical help, thinking that perhaps sleeping tablets were the answer. This visit resulted in me being placed on medical leave. I felt so guilty and wondered if there was something wrong with me. Perhaps I was losing grip on reality or even malingering? A few of my colleagues had gone back to work after their parent’s funerals and appeared to be fine.
I would later seek the help of a psychologist to help me understand what was happening to me. It was the feelings of guilt that had me looking for answers. Unfortunately, this wasn’t helpful as he couldn’t understand why I was looking for help so soon. Good question – I was looking for answers that I didn’t have questions for. I just needed guidance to help with the guilt and ease the pain. I didn’t get any there. Apparently, everyone’s grief is different and it takes time. Even the books I read didn’t help much, as they also agreed you never get over grief? Rubbish, I thought and muddled along.
It didn’t take long for anger at feeling so helpless to show up. Finally, my boss, a surgeon gave me a clue. He called to see how I was doing, when I told him, his response was ”sounds like a reactionary depression”. A lightbulb moment, if there was a name for it, others must have experienced this as well. I was normal! My healing journey continued. It seems people can get so busy with all the arrangements that there is no time to grieve. This could result in your emotions getting blocked resulting in depression.
Many months later I found a coach to help me further. A friend had recommended her, she apparently could see spirits. How could I not go to her! She did healing sessions with angels and then we would look at my core value, my needs, and my beliefs. This work helped me connect me with me. Once I had a plan in my hand I began to feel hopeful and more myself.
My Healing Journey and Pivotal Market #2
Later that year I went on a retreat with my friend who is intuitive and works with flower essence. Interesting, believing I was healing, my friend would take me deeper into my grief. It seems music and art are a good way to release any lingering or deep-seated emotions. The exercise was to relax and listen to music as I was drawing. The music she chose was jazz. My dad had loved jazz and he was an artist as well, so a fitting exercise for me for sure. How could it not work?
After a few hours, I needed to move and went for a walk by the ravine behind her house. There is a bridge to cross and you can see a small stream that eventually flows into a pond. All was peaceful and still as I walked around. I heard all this commotion on the way back and saw it was the geese honking and flapping their wings. I wasn’t sure if they were practicing for flight or deciding who would lead. As I paused to observed they all took off and flew overhead. In that moment, I asked the geese to take my grief with them. I had decided it was time to let it go and return to the land of the living. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but that was the 1st anniversary of dad’s death. What a coincidence or was it?
Life Continues – Pivotal Market #3
A few months later I decided to retire. I realized that dad was not there to be disappointed by my decision to leave a good job with a pension. That was his belief that and it had worked well for him but not so for me. I retired and 4 days later my next career found me. I would become a grief coach.
There is Life After A Death
As part of my online study course, I received free tickets to an event in LA that my mentor hosted. My daughter, living in London agreed to go with me and we would meet in LA. It was on the last day of the event, after listening to death regrets stories and doing the exercises, I made a decision. I announced to the room that I wanted to go on to do the certification program. Life indeed was too short and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I had seen my parents put off things in their lives.
Coincidence at work again? For this would be the 2nd anniversary of my dad’s death. It felt right and that I was on the right track.
Remember when I said earlier that my world had stopped. Well, it had in a sense for that chapter in my book had come to a close. The next chapter in my new life without dad had yet to be written. Perhaps this was why I couldn’t make sense of my life. Now the next chapters were getting ready to be written.
The snow, the retreat, saying yes, was that Dad giving me comfort and helping me. I believe Yes, there is life after death and life after A death – I’m living proof of that.
Now, I am happy to say as a grief coach, I can help you find your life after a loss. If you’d like to find out more, please email [email protected] and let’s connect.
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