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On May 13th, my precious mother died from a reaction to heparin five days following bypass surgery. As sad as it has been for me, my father is just completely devasted. In July, they would have been married 55 years, and he loved only her for the 61 years that they knew one another. He is in good health, but I am worried about him, emotionally. Before my mom died, I had never seen him cry. He was taught to hold in emotions, but now everytime I see him, he breaks down. It tears my heart out to see him in such pain. I know that this is part of the process, that there's no way around the hurt, but I have always been the kind of person who wants to "fix" everything, to make it ok again. When he's alone or out walking, he talks to her and a couple of days ago, he said he heard her call his name. He said it was so clear that he actually went downstairs to look for her. Yesterday he told me that just before he woke up, she came to him and kissed him. He said that it was so real that he still felt the pressure of her lips after he woke. If any of you have ever had experiences like this, I would love to hear about it, or if you just have some advice, I would be grateful. Thanks

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Dear Phyllis,

While I hope that others will respond by sharing their experiences, too, I want to share with you an excerpt from my book, Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year, which I think addresses your concerns and I hope will alleviate some worry on your part:

mystical experiences in grief

Of all the various ways that grief can express itself, perhaps one of the most unsettling is to experience the presence of a lost loved one— days, weeks or months after the death has occurred. When one so dear to you is gone, it can be very hard to accept that the person is really dead. You may find yourself thinking and dreaming about your loved one much of the time, and it may seem that everything around you is a reminder of the person you have lost. Once in a while you may temporarily forget that your loved one is gone, and you’ll look and listen for him or her—and maybe even think that you’ve seen, heard, smelled or touched the person. Part of you believes your loved one is there, yet the other part of you knows that’s not the case. At some point you may think you’ve received a symbolic communication or message from the person who has died. Some people find this to be very frightening and disorienting, while others find it to be quite helpful and even comforting. In any case, it’s important to know that such experiences are very common and perfectly normal during times of loss. Sometimes as long as a year after the death of a loved one, people will report sensing (hearing, feeling, seeing) the person in the room. They believe the person is there, yet they also know their loved one is dead. They may feel very foolish or embarrassed— they may be very frightened— and they often wonder, "Am I going mad?"

No one knows why grief produces such powerful, mystical processes— but we do know that hallucinations, communications, dreams, visions and visitations are a frequent experience of the bereaved. They are by no means abnormal, and they do not forecast a complicated grief reaction. While some people find them distressing, it is generally believed that such mystical grief experiences have great power and personal significance for the griever, and may be an important if not vital part of healing.

suggestions for coping with mystical experiences

- Make use of your dreams: record them, or share them with someone who will listen but not interpret them for you. Keep in mind that no one is a better expert at interpreting your dreams than you are.

- Don’t judge yourself or others who have mystical experiences, and don’t think there’s something wrong with you if you’ve never had them. Grief responses differ from one person to another, and it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions during the grieving process.

- Don’t worry whether such experiences are real or simply a figment of your imagination. If they bring you comfort, does it really matter? And if such an experience is unpleasant or frightening for you, make certain that you talk to someone who will support you.

[source: Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year, © 2000 by Marty Tousley, Hospice of the Valley, Phoenix AZ, pp. 22-23.]

Your story illustrates why I so often encourage people to learn as much as they can about normal grief, so they will better understand the process and know better what to expect.

If you’ve had little or no experience with bereavement, you may be caught off-guard and feel totally unprepared to deal with it when it happens to you or to someone you love. Not knowing what to expect, you may be wondering whether the reactions you’re seeing in your dad (or those you may be experiencing yourself) are normal, and you may be dreading whatever might be coming next. When you’re armed with an understanding of grief, however, and know what feelings and experiences you can normally expect, both you and your dad will be able to face the weeks and months ahead more readily.

Since you have access to a computer and a telephone, there is a wealth of information, comfort and support, right here at your fingertips. If your dad isn’t comfortable with the Internet or doesn’t have the energy to do this research himself, you might offer to do some of it with him, or do it on his behalf.

You might begin by exploring the pages of my Grief Healing Web site, which contain several articles I’ve written on various aspects of loss, inspirational writings and poetry by other noted authors, lists of recommended readings and categorized links to dozens of other helpful resources. Consider taking (or giving to your dad) an online e-mail course on grief, such as The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey. Find out what “in person” bereavement services are available in your own community. Use the Yellow Pages and call hospitals and hospices near you. Ask to speak with the Bereavement Coordinator, Social Worker, or Chaplain's Office to get a local grief referral. Many hospitals and hospices provide individual and family grief support to clients for up to one year following a death, and offer bereavement support groups to the general public at no cost. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization maintains a database of hospices for each state in the United States. To search for a hospice in your own community, click on Find a Hospice.

Although I’m deeply sorry that the death of your beloved mother and your loving concern for your grieving father are what brought you here to us, Phyllis, I am grateful that you found us and that you’ve reached out for help. Like lanterns in the wilderness, we are here to help illuminate the pathway as you and your father travel through the darkness of your loss. The path may be unfamiliar, dark and treacherous, but the light from the lanterns can make the journey feel safer and less terrifying.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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Thanks, Marty. Your words were very helpful. Like my father, I have also had dreams about my mom. The first few were very frightening, but the most recent was very comforting. She hugged me in my dream and told me that it was hard for her, too. I asked her not to leave and she said that she had to. Like the kiss from her in my dad's dream, I could still feel her hug after I woke up. It was a very comforting experience. Phyllis

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As sad as it has been for me, my father is just completely devasted..... Before my mom died, I had never seen him cry. He was taught to hold in emotions, but now everytime I see him, he breaks down. It tears my heart out to see him in such pain. I know that this is part of the process, that there's no way around the hurt, but I have always been the kind of person who wants to "fix" everything, to make it ok again. 


I recently lost my wife after over 40 years of marriage, so I can appreciate/understand how your Dad must feel.

Yes total devastation describes quite well how I feel and I imagine your Dad feels likewise. sad.gif

Don't worry about not being able to "fix" everything right away. It may take a very long time for your Dad to accomodate his great loss. He will never "get over it" as a BIG part of his life is gone.

The best you can do is simply be available to him -available to listen to his memories of your wonderful mom and to share your memories also.

My daughter has been a great comfort to me in these devastating times. It's good to be able to cry and have someone understand your grief.

Kindest regards,

Walt C.

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