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Hi there,

When we bruied my father he was placed in a holding crypt at a mueslim until the new mueslim is being buit right next to excisting one,which will be ready late June early July.Anyway I organized the licence to exhume him and then place him in the new mueslim crypt.My question is should I be present while they are doing this?I will be seeing the coffin all over again and not sure if this will be doing more harm than good.At the moment I'm for going but my regret it later.May I have your advice please.Ang

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My dear friend,

I can understand your concerns about “seeing [your father’s] coffin all over again” and your wondering if “this will be doing more harm than good” -- and I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” do in this situation – but I’d like to share some information with you (and others reading this) that might help you make some sense out of where you are, and what you may be feeling, at this point in your grief process.

For weeks, months, or even years after the death of our loved one occurs, it is normal for the shock of loss to continue in a wave of disbelieving "aftershocks." Think of it as a gradual process of weaning and disconnection. ( “Forgetting” that her loved one is gone, for example, a person may find herself setting an extra place at the dinner table, expecting her deceased husband to walk in the door at the usual hour or to be on the other end of the line when the telephone rings.) Each time something like this happens, we are confronted once again with the brutal reality that our loved one is forever gone. It becomes a sort of tug-of-war struggle between denial and reality, and it is a very necessary part of the mourning process, as gradually and slowly over time, our mind comes to accept what our heart cannot.

At times over the six months since your father died, you may have found yourself thinking, “I just can’t deal with this. It’s too much for me to handle right now.” That is denial talking, but it is a defense that serves a very useful purpose in the normal course of grief. Especially in the early months following a death, denial blunts the impact against the brutal reality of the loss, it offers a temporary respite from grief, and it allows a person to process those overwhelming feelings more gradually. On one level you recognize and acknowledge that your father has died, but on another level you’re unable and unwilling to grasp all the ramifications of that reality.

Denial becomes a problem only if it is used deliberately to avoid the reality of death or to escape the emotions resulting from a loss. For example, you may be avoiding reality to one extent or another if you:

•Speak of your father in the present tense.

•Refuse to believe your father has died.

•Pretend your father is away on a trip.

•Leave clothes and other personal articles belonging to your father just as they were for months after the death, and get very upset if anyone moves them.

•Dispose of anything and everything that serves as a reminder of your dad.

•Neither talk of your father nor speak his name.

•Downplay your relationship with your dad.

•Search in an effort to re-create your father’s presence.

•Stay so busy with work or travel as to be running away from your grief.

•Resort to chemicals (drugs, alcohol, nicotine) to block out the pain of loss.

What can you do to help yourself? The following Suggestions for Coping with Denial are taken from my book, Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year:

•Understand that denial serves a normal function, especially in the beginning. It is your mind’s way of protecting you from more pain. Besides, your brain doesn’t “get it” because it is loaded with memories of your loved one. Although this person has died, the one you love continues to exist in your memory and in the memory of others.

•The goal here is to acknowledge the truth and accept the reality that your loved one is dead. Denial must be dissolved eventually, but there’s no specific time frame. It becomes a concern only if it interferes with your ability to function normally.

•In the days ahead, as you find yourself connecting with the reality of your loved one’s death — however gradually — take time to consider the following:

•Are you pretending that things are all right when they are not? Try being more honest with yourself and others.

•Are you keeping busy with tasks unrelated to the death of your father? Distractions may keep you occupied but don’t help you move toward resolution.

•Are you facing up to the truth of your pain? What would happen if you opened up the protective shell you’ve built around yourself?

•Have you taken a hard look at what is gone and what remains? Try taking stock, counting, reciting and recounting what’s been lost.

•Can you face the fact of the death squarely, by naming it, spelling it out and talking it out? Try replacing delicate words and phrases such as passed on and passed away with more truthful terms like died, dead, and widowed.

•Try some confrontations and experiences to jolt yourself out of your denial. Confront the reminders rather than avoiding them — both pleasurable and painful: people, places and situations. View your loved one’s body; visit the grave site; reread old letters; smell a favorite cologne; look at photographs; go to church; listen to songs; gather meaningful sayings and phrases; visit special places; wrap yourself in your loved one’s clothing.

•Let others (especially children) see your tears and participate in your sorrow; it shows them know how much you care and assures them it’s all right to feel sadness when you lose someone you love.

[source: Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year, pp. 20-21. © 2000 by Marty Tousley, APRN, BC, CT. Publisher: Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower St., Phoenix AZ 85014, 602-530-6970.]

It is evident from your posts in this forum that you are consciously and deliberately moving forward in your struggle to accept the reality of your father’s death, my friend. You’ve shared with us the story of his illness and his last days; you’ve started talking to your dad and writing letters to him; you’re able to look at his photograph now when you couldn’t bring yourself to do so before; you’re considering going for counseling or joining a grief support group – these are all very concrete and positive steps forward, and I want to recognize and honor you for taking them.

As for whether to be present when your father’s coffin is moved, consider this: What’s the worst thing that could happen – that you would cry or “fall apart?” Play it out in your mind, or talk it over with a trusted friend or relative – then take steps to plan for any and all possibilities. If you decide to be present, maybe you could build into the event an escape for yourself. Perhaps you could arrange to have a relative or friend go with you and be available to take over for you, if you found that you had to leave. Think about having someone else to drive you there and back so you don’t have to worry about getting home safely if you’re too upset to drive. The point is this: if the very thought of doing this produces overwhelming anxiety, then how can you break it down into manageable pieces that you will be able to tolerate? Sometimes we think we’re not “doing grief” properly if there are parts of it that we prefer to avoid – but YOU know yourself better than anyone, and YOU are in control of how much you are willing and able to manage in any given situation. Dose yourself – take your grief in smaller doses according to your ability to tolerate it. Grief is very hard work, but you don't have to do it all at once, and you don't have to let it manage you. You can learn to manage your grief in your own way, on your own time frame. And always keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to do this – there is only YOUR way, and you must discover that for yourself.

I hope this helps, my friend. Please know that we are thinking of you in the days and weeks ahead, and we are holding you close.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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