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Frequently Asked Questions

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We have developed questions and answers from bereaved families with the hope of normalizing what you might be experiencing.

Grief is such a mix of intense pain and emotion. Most people living it wish they could be over it in a month. You might have questions about your loss and try to make sense of what makes no sense. It is a difficult time when you might also question yourself, your feelings and reactions. It may help you to know that others have gone through the same situation and a similar range of emotions.

For Parents

  • How does the death of a child impact the family dynamics?

    For parents, the loss of a child is devastating and confusing and turns their world upside down as they acknowledge that we were not able to protect them or prevent this awful event. Your instinct is to make sense of what you have heard, or to make someone responsible. At times your family will think that your focus is only on the lost child, making everyone else invisible. This is not true. Often times, you just need time to process the loss.

    The relationship between parents may be strained while processing the loss of a child, especially if one parent did not approve of their child’s career choice. When we blame, instead of support each other, fault is passed from one to the other. It is important to remember the grief process is an individual path, which one must be allowed to travel through at their own pace. Neither parent is ultimately to blame nor is responsible. 
    Other children in your family may be confused. Not only have they lost a sibling, which they must digest their own way, but the parents they knew only moments ago have forever changed, which may result in feelings of rejection as they are looking for the same support and understanding that you used to provide. They may not understand why their parents are not able to provide that, or seem to be consumed by the lost sibling while they are still here. 
    Parents may become overly protective of their living children (understandable at this time) but the children push back or withdraw making the emotional stress and family dynamics even more challenging. Keep the lines of communication open, hear what is being said or asked. Do not expect that everyone in your family feels the loss or expresses their pain in the same way at the same time as you do. We are all individuals and our feelings are as unique as our personalities, none of them are wrong. 
    Over time the family will process the loss, work through the grief and emerge with a new family dynamic. There is no timeline; supporting each other is the key. Keep in mind not to criticize, but rather love unconditionally.

  • How long will it take for the pain to go away?
    There is no timeline or certainty that the pain will ever completely go away. Rather, it changes over time. The initial heart/gut wrenching pain that occurs on day one, dims as we process and accept that our loved one has gone and is not coming back.  As the numbness wears off and acceptance follows, so the pain seems to change. It becomes easier to get up in the morning, talk and laugh about our lost loved one. The hole is still there and missing them will never end but it has become bearable and not incapacitating, allowing us to live in the moment. When we can think about our loved ones without sadness as the first emotion, we have worked through the grief. However be aware that one is always susceptible to a grief tug, no matter how many years have passed.
  • My son died 8 months ago. I cried for 2 weeks and have not cried since. Is that normal?
    Yes, each person reacts differently during the grieving process and there are no rights or wrongs. The path through grief is an individual one and not a straight line but rather a roller coaster of up and downs. Just because you have not cried outwardly after two weeks does not mean that you are not grieving or did not love your child; rather you are processing your loss in your own individual way. The question back would be why do you think that you should be crying? If it is because you are listening to others about how you need to grieve or mourn then perhaps listen less to those around you. If rather you feel that you are not working through your loss, then possibly reaching out to someone to talk through your feelings is the better option. Many resources are available, such as psychologists and social workers.
  • Is it normal to not be able to concentrate and understand what people are saying to me, or remember what I was told?
    Yes, you are in shock and grieving. Your body is trying to take care of you which results in some cognitive/mental functions being off for a while. This will not be forever and they will return overtime. Most importantly, do not judge yourself. Suggestions are to write down tasks that you want to do for the day, ask a person to repeat what they are asking or ask it another way. Try to take a daily walk outside, sleep at least 8 hours each night and eat a healthy diet. Give yourself permission to grieve and take a moment for yourself.
  • Is it normal to compare different kinds of grief?
    Unfortunately, people have a tendency to compare how people react to grief and loss to others who may have experienced the same. They may even try to decide whose loss is worse. The fact is each person’s loss or grief is important and individual to them. The impact of the loss to the individual depends on the relationship the two people shared and should never be compared with someone else’s loss. Grief is not a competition, the loss hurts us and impacts us in different ways.
  • I feel like I am going crazy. Is this part of grieving?
    This is a common feeling and part of the grieving process. As a rule it is suggested that a person not make any big life altering decisions for the first year after a loss. While journeying through the grieving process, we are trying to make sense of something that may never make sense.
  • Will the pain ever go away?
    Not sure it ever goes away but rather changes over time. It becomes part of our new normal, no longer paralyzing and all encompassing. There will be days, months or years where we may not feel it, and then some thing or event will trigger a grief tug which pulls you right back to that pain for a moment.
  • I don’t think I will ever get over the death of my loved one. What do you suggest I do?
    Give yourself permission to live and find joy again. There is no timeframe for this to occur. It is very individual. Getting over the death does not mean you have to forget your loved one; you can still incorporate them in your life. Make new traditions with them in mind and honour memories. You can do this by lighting a candle at a child’s wedding for the lost parent, or making the favorite meal of the child you lost for a family celebration. When you are ready, ask “What would my loved one want for me in my life?.” You will hear them say they want, no, need you to live and enjoy life. 

For Spouses

  • How long will it take for the pain to go away?

    The pain felt from the loss diminishes over time. There is no set time for how long that will take, as every grief journey is unique to the individual experiencing the loss. The pain may ebb and flow. Sometimes the pain will subside then almost without warning, come crashing in. The more that you try to avoid that wave, the harder it could hit you. As time passes, the waves become less frequent. Just let it happen. It may lessen the impact and the intensity of the moment may not last as long.

    Everyone experiences the pain of loss in different ways, and each person has their own time frame as to how long the pain of losing a loved one will last. Some days it may feel like the loss happened just yesterday and other days, it may feel like it happened a long time ago. There are different kinds of pain, such as the physical pain (changes in appetite and sleep habits, for example) and then there is the emotional pain. With self-care, regular exercise, and taking some time out of the day just for yourself, your appetite and sleep habits may improve. As for the emotional pain, with time you will be able to cope with the loss better and often the days leading up an anticipated emotional event can be much more difficult than the day of the actual event.

  • Is it normal to not be able to concentrate?
    Some people have a terrible time getting the necessary paperwork done, concentrating or remembering things they’ve been told. A good friend may be able to help with paperwork, make notes and mark your calendar, in plain sight, with important dates. 
    It is very normal to feel like you are unable to concentrate. Some feel like they are living in a fog as their mind tries to process the loss of their loved one but the world wants them to function normally. You may look normal to those around you but you might be having difficulty making decisions and processing the information people are giving you. Making lists of the things you need to get done, even brushing your teeth, can be helpful. When you look at the list at the end of the day, you can feel good about the things you’re able to cross off. With time your list will become shorter with only the most important things written on it because your ability to concentrate will increase.
  • I’m having trouble sleeping/adjusting. Is this normal?
    Sometimes going to bed is tricky because your mind won’t quiet and being alone in the bed takes some time getting used to. A long pillow nestled against your back may offer comfort, giving you the feeling that someone else is with you. A sleep routine may be helpful (ex: a bath before bed, meditation, etc.). Consulting with a physician or talking to a counsellor may help. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a sleep aid, but some other suggestions include meditation, soft background music or white noise, turning the temperature down to make the room cooler, and tricks like counting all the prime numbers. If you are having trouble sleeping consistently, do consult with a professional. 
    Many communities have support groups and that may help with adjusting to your “new normal”. Attending a support group for those dealing with a loss, people who understand your journey, may help you feel more normal and you may make some good friends along the way.
  • My best friend no longer talks to me…?
    This is not an uncommon occurrence. A good friend may be having trouble dealing with the grief they feel over the loss or are unsure of their role and afraid to say the wrong thing. A phone call to this person or a “coffee date” may help to reconnect with your friend. 
    There can be many reasons why some of your friends stop talking to you. It could be just as simple as not knowing what to say or being afraid of saying the wrong thing. Perhaps they are unsure of how they can help and are waiting for you to let them know. Sometimes it only takes reaching out with a suggestion to do one of the regular activities you use to do together (coffee, gym, shopping, walking, etc.).
  • Will I ever be able to have another relationship?
    It is totally possible! Just be sure to give yourself time to deal with your grief. After the loss, you may need time to figure out who you are and what it is you want out of life. This can be a potentially susceptible time for you so proceed with caution. 
    This is a very personal decision only you can make. Just give yourself enough time to heal from your loss before. You may find you are not the person you once were. But it is possible and the choice is totally up to you when you are ready to make that decision.
  • My spouse died from an illness and I feel guilty that I’m feeling good just a few months after they have passed away. Is this normal?
    First of all, there is no “normal” in grieving and everyone has a different timeline. Grief is multifaceted and there are many different types of responses to grief. No one person grieves the same. Sometimes when you lose your spouse due to an illness, you may start the grieving process while they are sick and not even realize it until after they’re gone. In this case, you may start to feel better sooner. This is your own personal journey and no one but you can determine when you should or shouldn’t start to feel better again.  Remember your story is yours, and only you can write it.

For Siblings

  • I am feeling so guilty that I am alive and my sibling is gone that it makes it hard to feel okay with enjoying life. How do I deal with these feelings and will they go away?
    It is important to honour these feelings that come up and when they do, to remind yourself that the death of your sibling was not your fault. It was a terrible thing that happened to your sibling, and it can be difficult to accept this as one tries to navigate life without them. 
    These feelings may arise during major life events such as a marriage, the birth of a child, and birthdays, (both your sibling’s and your own). For those of us who are still alive, it is important that we give ourselves permission to enjoy these moments. 
    When it feels right, talk about your sibling with your family and friends during these moments. Include a photograph of them at a table at your wedding, or if you give birth to a child after their passing, talk to your children about him/her and share photographs and fun family memories. It may be helpful to find heart-warming ways to still include your sibling at various family events as you move forward in your life.
  • I feel robbed of the opportunity to share the future with my sibling. How do I move beyond this feeling of anger and loss? 
    As you work through feelings of grief, you will experience a wide range of emotions. Some will come to the forefront at different moments. They can also be dependent on how you lost your sibling. 
    As you work through your grief and you begin to accept the loss of your sibling. The anger that you feel will probably begin to shift and dissipate over time.  It can be helpful to deal with these feelings much the way you would with the feeling of guilt, by finding ways to include your sibling in events. When you and your family are ready, it can be fun to imagine how your sibling would have reacted to certain things if they were there.  If you and your family are not in a place to do that together, perhaps just taking a moment to think about your sibling can help, by honouring them and their memory in your own private way.
  • I feel alone, like no one understands how deep this pain is.  How do I deal with this?
    (My brother was one of my best friends so when I lost him I also lost a confidante)  
    This is where peer support can be very helpful. To be able to share stories and talk about your feelings with someone who has been through something similar allows us to normalize our emotions and to connect with someone who has felt the same deep pain.  
    Peer support is helpful if you have been isolating yourself after your sibling’s death. It can provide a human connection with someone who “gets it”. If someone says something to you that you find hurtful or upsetting, it can also be helpful to address these issues with a HOPE peer volunteer. People frequently do not know what to say to someone who has experienced a loss, the feeling of misunderstanding or anger may overtake us, but it is important to remember that this is generally not intentional on their part. 
    By addressing such issues, you create a space for yourself and those who care about you to have a healthier dialogue. This can help you feel more comfortable spending time with them going forward and help curb the desire to isolate yourself.
  • It’s been years since I lost my sibling, how come it still hurts so much? 
    There is so much of our lives intertwined with those we love and have lived with. It can feel as if a part of your past, present and future has died along with your sibling. Special memories that only you and your sibling shared now only exist within yourself.  
    If you and your sibling were close, you have lost a confidante and someone who understands what life was like growing up. If you were not close, you may be questioning whether or not the years to come would have helped you get to know each other better or form a closer relationship. If you have other siblings, those relationships can also bring other memories and issues to the forefront. Perhaps you are not as close with your surviving sibling(s), which can create a different kind of grief. 
    Every time your family gets together, a piece of the puzzle of your family will be missing and sometimes that emotion will feel stronger than the feeling of joy that you are all together. We cannot force ourselves to not feel the hurt and pain of the loss, but we can learn to live with these emotions. It is important to honour these feelings when they come up. There is no time limit on grief; our sorrow will feel heavier at some points in time than in others. If it feels right, share these feelings with other members of your family, talk about your sibling and keep their memory near to you. It is not the same as having them there with you, but it can be a comforting way to keep them close.
  • Will I ever be able to feel happy and not feel guilty that I am happy?
    As you move through your grief, these feelings will change. As you begin to accept the loss of your loved one, you will find that you will begin allowing happiness in again. When you start feeling guilty about being happy, it can be helpful to remind yourself that it is okay to be happy. You still have a life to live and it is important to give ourselves permission to be happy. It doesn’t mean that we love or miss our sibling any less. These are important things to remember. The level of happiness we experience in our lives has nothing to do with missing someone who is no longer with us.