The awful pain of the death of a loved one has been brought much closer this past month. My cousins have had to sit by the bedside of their mother for two weeks in December and, as I write this, they are sitting at their elderly, frail father’s bedside. The pain that they are enduring is something that I can only imagine. They have to find a deep and inner strength to carry them through these next few days, weeks and months.
This is not the first and will not be the last family who will have to do this but when it is your own family the depth of pain felt is so much greater. It is also not very uncommon for the spouse of a couple who have been very close and relied on each other for 40, 50 years and more, to feel that there is nothing left to live for and so give up. Although it is painful for the family left behind it is a wonderful testimony to enduring love and commitment. These couples are a true example to so many who give up when the tough times in a marriage come along.
To add to the family’s grief and pain it is necessary to carry out a number of practical issues as well. Clearly the first things to be done are arranging for the disposal of the body and any form of farewell that the person and/or family wishes to have. For many, death comes suddenly and so the family is in a state of shock and disbelief. For others, as in the case of my own father and this of my cousins, it is known that it will happen within a short period, but when death does come it can still feel unexpected, possibly because we do not really want it to happen.
As we always seem to be uprepared for death, even though it is the one thing that we are sure of, we spend time running around finding papers and making phone calls that we do not get the time to mourn and share our feelings with our family and friends. I was in just this situation when my father died in 1982 and I was just 32 years old. Dad had been ill from a stroke for almost seven years and he never regained his speech or the use of his right side completely. This was a heavy burden for my mother but she carried it with dignity. Unfortunately they lived in a small village about 2-3 hours drive from myself and one sibling and considerably more for the rest of the family. When he became bedridden we all tried to spend more time with them relieving our mother as much as we could.
On the night that he died both my mother and I were at his bedside and as he lay there and took his last breath I just thought to myself, ‘and now! What do we do with a dead body?’ Well we bumbled through with the help of family and friends but I found that I had spent so much time running around doing the practical things that I never actually mourned for him until four years later at his younger brother’s funeral.
It was this experience which got me thinking, ‘Why is there not some sort of manual on what to do when a person dies?’ There are manuals and magazines for everything else which occurs in life ranging from pre-birth through to old age but nothing to tell you what to do when a person dies. Finally I did the research and produced a handbook in 2010. Although my Mum died in 2009 it was a completely different experience because the practical side was in order so I had the time to deal with the painful. Everyone should have a copy as you never know when you will have to cope with a person’s death.