When someone we love dies, they leave a great big empty space where they should be. We can feel that space and know the shape of it in a thousand different ways. The half of your bed which now remains un-creased, the empty chair in the sitting room, the desk with no occupier in the office, the bare cupboards because you don’t buy certain foods any more, or the decreased washing load which daily shouts at you that they are gone now. Each of these and many more reminders lurk in the everyday. Every one is a potential trigger to renewed sadness, or an outburst of grief at the deep and unfathomable loss.
Whilst you may be able to avoid some triggers to grief quite easily, such as shunning a certain restaurant where you loved to eat together, or deciding not to watch a film that he loved, or listening to a piece of music you chose for the funeral, some are not so easy to avoid. Before someone dies, we never think about these things and we don’t realise how hard the mundane can be in grief. If you think about how much you did together at home, and how many things you did for her at home, you can see where the problems potentially lie.
Cooking is something most newly bereaved people find difficult. With the low energy of early grief it is hard to get up the enthusiasm to cook for one. It reminds you of shared meals, happy conversation and a feeling of togetherness. Some of you might choose not to cook at all and snack only, or some of you might continue as you have but end up cooking too much out of habit. People often say the kitchen feels purposeless and uninviting after a loved one has died. It is a very understandable feeling.
One place people feel this space the most is in the bedroom. It may be that your partner was in hospital for a while, and you may have had a few weeks on your own, or perhaps there was a hospital bed downstairs. Even so, there has probably been years of bed sharing and not having someone there in bed with you now, is very difficult and upsetting. I have known people who have chosen to sleep downstairs instead of going up to bed rather than face that lonely place at night. Others will wait till they are dropping with tiredness before going up, to ensure they fall asleep right away and not have to think about it. Others may lie in bed in the wee hours, yearning for their loved one, maybe wearing their pyjamas or wearing an old sweater which smells of the one they love (all completely normal by the way).
The question is, can any of this be avoided or should it be avoided?
The answer is no. It is part of your journey through grief. It is natural and normal to feel the space acutely, and to mourn for your beloved. The saying goes, ‘you cannot go over grief, you cannot go under it, you cannot go around it, you have to go through it’
. Grief is a way of honouring the person we love and it keeps them close to us while we need them to be close in our hearts. So each space which triggers our grief, is serving a purpose, it allows us to express our grief and thinking about all the ways we miss that person.
There are a few things that might mitigate the empty space:
Keep the radio or TV on for company. It can be particularly helpful to put them on when you leave the house, so when you come back there is some noise in the background.
Ask friends to make you meals for the freezer for the early days.
Buy some ready-made meals for days when you cannot face cooking.
Accept invitations from people you feel comfortable to be 100% you with. It is company.
Think about changing the furniture around a bit, so it isn’t the same (if that appeals, it absolutely does not for some).
Display photos of your beloved; they can fill the space and be a comfort.
Don’t worry about talking to your loved one; it is perfectly natural to do that.
Sleep in a different room if you want, it might help.
Be gentle with yourself, look after yourself and try and get out into nature one way or another, it is very grounding and restorative.
Take your grief one day at a time. That is enough to cope with, try not to project into the future.
If grief has touched your life and you would like to share any thoughts and ideas as to what helped you cope with the space your loved one left behind, please share here for others.
Photo attribution: Photo credit: THX0477 via Foter.com / CC BY