Coping with the grieving process

As mentioned previously, a very close and important friend of mine passed away a week ago. Given that my IBS decided to kick in after only 4 hours of sleep tonight, I figured I might as well write about what I’ve been through over the past week.

A friend of mine who has been helping me cope referred me to this article describing 15 things to be aware of during the grieving process. Some were common sense (or “obvious” as I might say), but others were not. I’d urge anyone who has lost someone close to them to read that article.

As for me, well, it’s been strange. I thought I’d list off what I’ve gone through and what I’m doing a week later to still cope with the loss and dramatic change.

  • My initial reaction when I was told of Sam’s passing was disbelief. This had a bit to do with how I was informed of it, and is also why I called the Calgary police. If you’re in a situation where the person who’s giving you the information is a third party or someone whom you’ve had little or no contact with before (much more likely in situations where you’re friends with someone online), it’s almost certainly worth calling the authorities (if not for concern, solely for peace of mind).
  • Once the police confirmed things, my emotions ran the gamut in a matter of seconds; keeping my composure while still on the phone with the authorities was almost impossible. Sadness and confusion were the primary two feelings I had. I kept saying “but I just spoke to her 9 hours ago”, i.e. “how is this possible?” It took a few minutes before I started crying, and I did so for something like 10-11 hours straight afterwards.
  • The first day consisted of a non-stop barrage of all emotions; sadness, confusion, guilt, anger, denial, anxiety, hope, and even happiness (the latter two having to do with hope that Sam was finally with her sister). There was no “roller-coastering”; it was all constant.
  • The 2nd and subsequent days consisted of a roller-coaster of emotions. I’d be feeling one or two things, then suddenly those would taper off, replaced by two others only 15 minutes later. I’ll admit this was slightly easier than a torrent of emotions that couldn’t be stopped, but it was a lot more stressful and draining.
  • Sleep was extremely difficult to achieve, especially the first night (I think the first night I got maybe 3 hours at most). I had to use a combination of melatonin + theanine + dyphenhydramine + clonazepam more than once.
  • For the first 2 days my appetite was completely shot. Tea and toast were about all I could tolerate (and on the first day, even the smell of toast made me nauseous). It wasn’t until the 3rd day when I could actually have a full meal, and even then I could only eat about half. As someone with IBS, this impacted me greatly, so I was thankful once my appetite returned.
  • After 48 hours I became self-aware of my depression. I knew because there were key/important tasks which I had to do (ex. go grocery shopping, get the mail, etc.) which I just couldn’t be bothered to do. After about 4 days I was able to do these things, but they took a lot of dedication/focus.
  • On the 3rd day I spoke to my mother (whom I get along with quite well), and she gave me a lot of insight/tips as someone who has lost both per parents as well as close friends over the years. I’d advise anyone going through grieving who still has their parents (and gets on well with them) to talk to them about how you feel.
  • It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th day where I felt fully comfortable helping mutual friends try to get through their grieving. I tend to be a long-winded person, while most of our friends tended to be terse/short in their responses, so it was hard for me to gauge their emotional states. And because of that, sometimes giving someone a hug was all I could think to do.
  • The “anger” phase did not hit me as hard as it did other mutual friends (one in particular put her fist through her closet door). For me, anger had mostly been replaced by the feeling of sadness/loss, amplified by shock.
  • I didn’t — and still don’t — feel any kind of “void” inside of me. I’ve had that feeling before, usually after long romantic relationships that ended badly, but not during this. Instead of a void, I feel like time has simply stopped/stood still (cue Rush’s Time Stand Still). I feel Sam is still with me in my mind and heart; maybe I’m lucky in this regard.
  • Also unlike most people, I never really asked the “why?” questions (ex. why did she have to die, why is this happening to me, etc.). Part of that has to do with my own experiences and beliefs (religious but not really), but for most others asking “why” is common. It wasn’t until day 5 or 6 where I did finally did ask “why now?” (i.e. why did she have to go now and not, say, next month, or 4 years from now, etc.) all while knowing I’d never come to terms with that answer.
  • My operational cycle (what I do at what time of day) has been completely destroyed by all of this. I would usually spend my early-to-late evenings, and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, talking to Sam. Now I find evenings extremely lonely and feel awkward as a result. Likewise, night time (which has always been my favourite time of day) has become significantly less enjoyable. I tend to be in worse shape at night now than I was prior to her passing, but daytime is still not a particularly enjoyable time for me (and never has been).
  • Per recommendation of my mother, I talk to Sam sometimes when I feel like I’m having a tough time. Since night time is hardest, I tend to talk to her then the most, including (as dopey as it may sound) reading to her while in bed (I happen to be re-reading the Dragonlance series from when I was a teenager, and I know Sam liked fantasy). I imagine this will dissipate as time progresses, but for now it’s the one way I cope during evenings.
  • I still cry occasionally, often unexpectedly and seemingly for no reason (no trigger). I figure there must be something going on in my subconscious that kicks in and affects my emotional state. Thankfully these states don’t last long, usually only a few minutes, but it’s still enough to remind me of everything that’s happened.
  • Finally: one of the things I started doing almost immediately after this happened was collecting everything Sam had ever sent me (pictures, songs, etc.) over the past few years. I also took down notes of what all had transpired, times of events, saved copies of her obituary pages, her WoW guild character pages, and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to explain without giving precise (personal) details. This was hard to do at first but gradually got easier with time. I’m at a point where I can open that folder and see her face or photos of her dogs and feel a bit of comfort, rather than pure sadness.

Overall this whole experience so far has been a stressful one. I’m not a particularly optimistic person in general, but one positive is that the event has caused me to contact many of Sam’s friends whom prior I had no communication with. I wouldn’t say we “bonded”, but there was definitely something positive in talking to someone who also knew her that I hadn’t spoken to before. It also allowed me to find out that in January 2014 her friends in Europe will be planting a tree in her memory.

I guess I’ll close this blog post with a key point: no matter how much easier things get, I will never forget Samantha. Herein lies some irony: November was the hardest month for her to deal with because it was when her sister passed away a few years ago. And now, for me, November will have similar sentiments attached to it (combined with other things like good Thanksgiving memories and visiting a girlfriend at the time in Arkansas).