A Death In The Family

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

When death pays a visit. The initial announcement brings disbelief and shock. Survivors of the deceased are never prepared for the chain of events that are set in motion.

Following the death of a loved one, family members get an inexhaustible stream of sympathies and condolences from people who have no ties to the deceased (physicians, chaplains, funeral directors, and counselors). Their sympathies seem distant and rehearsed; it is obvious that professional protocol requires it. Despite that it is en règle for them to issue condolences, the survivors do find them comforting because they show respect for the deceased and recognize the impact off the loss.

Once the grim news sinks in several undesirably responsibilities manifest. Notifying friends and family is the first unpleasantry the survivors have to face.

In many cases, a death of a loved one reconnects the survivors with friends and relatives they haven’t seen for years. Each conversation is similar. Sympathies and condolences are offered, followed by hugs, kisses and small talk.

Everyone will say the standard line, “If there’s anything I can do let me know.” Although there is no doubt that some people mean it more than others, their sentiments are comforting and helpful as the survivors move to the next phase of coping with the loss.

The second set of responsibilities the bereaved face are making arrangements. The type of funeral service, burial verses cremation, casket or vessel selection, obituary placement, and choosing a final resting place are decisions that carry a huge emotional and financial burden. Handling these issues are extremely draining and stressful on so many different levels.

Once the postmortem arrangements are completed. The grieving process ramps up. In this phase, mourners begin recalling conversations, stories, and events that center on the deceased. The survivors look through photos and videos, which brings a brief sense of happiness, followed by a deep sadness and (usually) a loss of composure. The mourners’ emotional state is fragile and will seesaw often during this time.

As the funeral approaches, the survivors’ emotions are conflicted about the service; they are filled with relief and dread. There is a satisfaction in completing the arrangements and apprehension to saying that final “good bye.”

The mood swings that come with grieving defy logic. For example, the sick and joyous sensations that come when a memory is triggered, or the perception of invading a loved one’s privacy, while enjoying handling the deceased belongings are feelings that can’t be explained. Eventually these conflicting emotion will subside, but for now it is just part of the new reality the survivors have to endure.

After the memorial service mourners will feel like a huge weight was lifted off of them. This final step is quite helpful in bring about closure and speeding up the healing process. Friends and family will comfort the bereaved with another round of hugs and small talk. Slowly life will return to a semblance of normalcy.

A few days following the funeral, a particularly tough responsibility is going through the personal belongings of the departed. The loved one’s house or room takes on a somber atmosphere; just entering his or her space seems eerie. The sense is so acute that the survivors are hesitant to disturb the deceased’s property, even if it involves something as innocuous as deleting an app from an iPad.

I know the effects of a death in the family because I lost my mom Saturday, February 2, 2013. My sister and I were in an emotionally shattered state during the grieving period, but we were fortunate. Our mother prepaid her funeral, and she left us with a letter––she written five years earlier––detailing her wishes. She made all of the funeral decisions and plans beforehand so we didn’t have to. It was extremely beneficial that Mom thought ahead because at such an emotional time we weren’t saddled with overwhelming responsibilities while mourning.

The pain of the loss is still there, and it will surely stick with us for years to come. But the sting of massive debt on top of a huge loss is not a part of our grieving process because the fear of dying didn’t prevent our Mom from looking out for her family. While firmly in the Spectre of Death’s grasp, our mother comforted my sister and I with her love and foresight by saving us a lot of additional heartache by preplanning her funeral.

Looking back, I can honestly say that prepaying and planning her funeral was the most important gift Mom ever gave us.

A memorial service is intended to provide healing and closure. My experience is that they do just that. A big reason why Mom’s funeral achieved the intended result was she planned it herself. It was Mom saying “good bye” to us, not the other way around. My sister and I can’t imagine having to go through this process without Mom’s input. I encourage everyone to plan ahead, so when a death in the family occurs in your household the burden is lessened.





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