After Death Etiquette…

What an odd thing to write about!  Before November 13, 2017, no one could have convinced me I’d be writing at all, let alone about what to do after someone dies.  But, here I am.  Oddly enough, 2 weeks before my Beloved died, we stood together in a cold hospital room with a friend who had passed shortly before we arrived.

I remember thinking, as we drove to the hospital to meet the grieving family, that I had no idea what to do or say.  I had NEVER been in that situation before.  I had only ever seen someone post death in a casket.  I had never experienced supporting a grieving family right after their loved one had passed.  I was nervous to say the least and truly apprehensive about the whole situation.

After Clint and I left the hospital that night, we discussed all we had witnessed and questioned whether we had done the right things or what we would do in the same situation.  I noticed some in the room not crying at all.  Others were sobbing hysterically over his body.  I remember feeling so awkward as I watched the “extreme, emotional outburst”.  I feel quite cold now as I look back.  It was as if I was not fully “there” and I was looking at everything much like my body was present but my emotions were not.  Frankly, watching someone be so hysterical made me uncomfortable and there were others present in the room that were trying to tell her he was gone, with Jesus and suggested they needed to get control of themselves.  They tried talking the person into leaving the room to get their composure.  As the person was crying and saying goodbye, we were standing in the room holding conversation quietly with those not crying.  The whole thing was so strange and awkward and surreal.

I do not look down on the people trying to “help”.  In fact, I wanted to do it but stood motionless, frozen…truly not knowing what to do.

On the way home, Clint and I spoke much of death and what we do in the same situation.  I wondered aloud if I would ever react that way.  I’m a pretty logical person.  Our friend was gone.  The body she was hysterically sobbing over was “just” his shell.  We discussed that same night visiting someone’s burial plot.  We questioned whether we would ever be the kind of people that would go visit.  Clint even remarked that he probably would not, because it isn’t where your loved one is.  I agreed.

Two weeks later I stood next to my husband as his soul departed from his body.

I will NEVER forget the thoughts I had in those last moments I had with him.  By the time we were allowed to be with him, it was as if he was already gone.  Only a faint heartbeat gave me hope he might still be able to hear those he loved and that loved him surrounding his bed telling him we loved him.  I did not cry.  I whispered the things I wanted to say to him in those last moments until my brother in law came up beside me and told me he was gone. I wanted to be strong for him all the way to the end.

GONE

In one split second, I found out what my reaction would be to losing someone I loved and adored with my whole heart!  As I was sobbing, I distinctly remember recalling the conversation Clint and I had shared 2 weeks prior.  I kept thinking this couldn’t be happening.  This happens to other people.  Not us!  I remembered thinking it was just a “shell” when I had witnessed that 2 weeks before.  He wasn’t really there.  But, the reality is, my brain wasn’t able to conceive of that truth.  And, even if it could have, that was the body I loved!  Those were the hands I held.  I loved his hands!  Those were the lips I kissed.  Those were the arms that held me. Those were the legs that ran all over the place helping everyone he could.  We were one.  That was my body.  And, in that moment, I didn’t WANT to care who I bothered by my crying or how long I was with him.  It was all I had left.  It was the last time I would feel his warmth.  It was a sacred moment NOT to be rushed.  Sadly, I DID care what others thought!  Even in that moment, I cared.  I have many regrets.  I wish I would have crawled up in the bed with him.  I wish I would have asked for time alone with him.  I can’t go back.  And, that’s ok.  I’ve made peace with it.  But, I felt compelled to write what I’ve learned going through this for several reasons.

One reason is to equip you if you ever find yourself in the same situation.

Secondly, so you feel more equipped if you are ever walking with someone who is experiencing this.

  1. If you are in the situation, you do whatever you want to!  If you want to be alone, say it!  If you only want some people with you and not others, say it!  If you want to crawl in bed with someone, do it!  It’s all you have left.  Don’t look back and have regrets or feel cheated.
  2. If you are there as a support, allow the person to react any way they want to.  If it is “extreme”, go get hospital staff.  They will know whether or not it is “extreme” and will be able to deal with it in an appropriate way.  For those of us not experienced with grief and loss, it is a highly uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.
  3. Unless the person wants you in there to be with them, excuse yourself and let them and their family have that time.
  4. Don’t rush the griever.  If they need rushed or the hospital is saying it’s time to go, then go ahead and say something or have staff let them know.  But, again, this is all they have left.
  5. If you see anyone trying to tell someone how to grieve, don’t allow it.  I wish I would have lovingly encouraged the others that day to step outside the room and allow the person sobbing hysterically to have her time with her loved one without an audience or others trying to stop her.

I don’t know  quite why I felt compelled to write this this morning.  Maybe because I just got word another family may lose a husband and father.  I just don’t want anyone to ever have to go through anything like that unprepared.  Ultimately you can never be truly prepared for situations like this.  But, maybe you’ll be able to recall this and find it helpful in some way.

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