Free Press Journal

Overcoming bereavement

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Dr Shrirang Bakhle tells us how to divert our minds and energy post the loss of a loved one

Mr. and Mrs. Kulkarni lost their only 19 year old son in an accident. As can be imagined, the couple was overcome with grief. And their ages excluded the possibility of conceiving again. Suddenly, a painful, childless future awaited them. But they did not allow their destiny to overpower their spirits. Instead of becoming a depressed, frustrated couple, they put their negative emotions to work. They decided to put their energies and resources to work. They started helping unfortunate children, who were in desperate need of help.

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Today, they are now looking after the needs of more than 25 children. They are leading a life of satisfaction. Death of a near one is the ultimate irreversible problem. All of us have to go through the pain. It leads to many types of negative emotions. Some people, like the Kulkarnis, are able to convert the negative emotions into productive efforts.

But there are many of us who continue to suffer for a long, long time in various ways. So, it becomes useful to understand the problems and the best ways of overcoming them. The biggest pain after the death of a loved one is the feeling that I could not save her (or him). Are all deaths avoidable? “If only I knew beforehand, I could have done this or that…” “If the patient she / he or the caregivers had taken more cares…” “If only the doctors had done this instead of that …” Such thoughts can give rise to unending pain. Sometimes, the sadness turns into anger.

And that leads to more problems. Anger is always directed at someone (including oneself). We can see many examples, where such anger leads to fights between family members – leading to more misery for all the people involved. The person is gone, but the bitterness between family members persists for many years.

It becomes important to realize that no human (including the patient) is perfect. Hence the care cannot be perfect. And that every death cannot be avoided. The only thing to be done is to learn the lesson and use it to help other humans in similar problems. And that is what the relatives of victims of a major fire accident did. They formed a group and had meetings with the fire department, other authorities and the public to improve the prevention and management of fires.

Another major source of pain is the feeling that I wish had spent more time with the departed person. Everyone is busy in their lives. A sudden death leads to a long term sorrow about not doing more for the person when s/he was alive. Some people get transformed by such feelings and become more appreciative of being alive and being with the persons they love. Every day becomes a reminder to relish the company of the loved ones around. It, then, seems wasteful to have petty fights with the loved ones. A perfect example of how negative emotions can lead to positive changes!

The death of a person of a similar age triggers panic in some people. Suddenly death looms large on the horizon. Some people begin to live in fear and lose sleep over whether they will see tomorrow. But then there are other wise people who feel reminded to get their check-ups done. So they go through the battery of tests to find out whether they have any major illness. This leads to early diagnosis and better outcomes. If the reports show that they have no major illness, it frees them from the fears.

Then there are some who develop dark philosophical attitude: What is the use of all that we do when we all are going to die ‘one day’? They start living in the shadow of death all the time – and become depressed. Now, consider the life a person who lives for 60 years. This person is going to live for 21,900 days. And will die ‘one day’. So, should this person be thinking about 21900 days that s/he is going to live – or think about the ‘one day’? We can see many people who live long, depressed life thinking about that ‘one day’! Yes, that one day is truth, but those 21.900 days are truths,, too! So why not start living all those days to the fullest!

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One major type of pain results from guilt. We can see many people who refuse to enjoy, be entertained or even laugh – many years after their loved one has passed away. One mother of two kids remained in mourning even three years after one of the kids passed away. “How can I enjoy when I have lost my son?” Her grief was so intense and persistent that the other child and the husband, too, started becoming depressed.

Death is a reality and grief is normal. But we can allow the negative emotions to haunt and depress us. Or we can turn that energy to become better persons.