Experiencing multiple losses in a short period of time is devastating - and it happened to me. For clarification in this coping with loss article, we are referring to deaths. Of course, losing a marriage, a home, a job...all of those are losses, too. But I am here to share my personal stories of the love I received all of my life from my small family and how, in a short period of time, much of it disappeared and I was left to restructure and redefine a future I'd never planned for.
Grieving Multiple Losses: A Coping With Loss Article
This coping with loss article is for those who experienced multiple deaths in a short span of time. It is my personal story how I made it through many losses without losing myself.
Surviving Multiple Deaths In Family At Once - It Wasn't Always Like This
I never dreamed I'd have to cope with multiple deaths in family in a short period of time. Before describing what happened, it is important to explain a bit about my life and family tree first, to give you a sense of just how few relatives I had to begin with.
I am an only child. However, both my dad and mom were only children, too. Where size of families is concerned, you can see how tiny mine was throughout my life. I had my mom, dad, two sets of grandparents and some great aunt/uncles who were siblings of my grandparents. My parents divorced when I was a toddler, so I did get "step" relatives through remarriage, whom I love very much, but in this article I am speaking mainly of biological family tree members...my roots, my history.
I was born in 1968 and lost my grandfather I adored in 1976 (he died of cancer at 54 years old) when I was only eight. To this day I miss him, because he was so devoted to me and we spent so much time together (he would "spring me" from my preschool and take me to the horse race track!).
But after losing him, I was given two decades without loss. Twenty beautiful years of not having to say goodbye, having precious time and making memories with my small, intimate family.
Then in 1996, I lost both of my grandmothers (one in April, one in November). I hadn't recovered from the sudden loss of one when my other grandma, who was dying of cancer, passed away the day after Thanksgiving.
But after working through those two losses which occurred in a short span of time, I was once again fortunate to have peace and love with my relatives until 2010, for about 15 more years - that's when everything began changing in my life forever.
Pets And People Keep Dying Around Me!!! When Multiple Deaths Changed My Life
In 2010, multiple losses began to happen. They didn't all happen at once, but in two solid years I lost everyone in my biological family tree except my dad and my daughter. I look at photos from my daughter's middle school graduation in 2009 and they are ALL gone with exception of my dad and daughter. Keep in mind that I do have a wonderful husband, stepchildren and grandchildren, my daughter and two stepparents still in my life - but as for my roots, almost everyone left me at once.
- my great uncle passed away. He never had children or a family of his own, so he was at every holiday and was extremely close with my mom and me.
- my grandfather who was still active and living life to the fullest (he had remarried) had a sudden heart attack while unloading groceries from his new pickup truck he'd bought. I was extremely close with him.
- had to put my 12 year old dog, Clementine, to sleep
- my great aunt (grandfather's sister) passed away
- I lost my mom suddenly on January 27, 2012 - a loss I wasn't prepared for and am still working through each day. We were very close and she was the battery in our small family. Traditions, gatherings and everything disappeared overnight.
- my sweet cat, Toto, was only six years of age. A few months after losing my mom, it was discovered she had a terminal illness and had to be put to sleep without any warning.
- My grandfather who died in 2010 had remarried - his wife died in 2012
As you can see, everything that was familiar, nearly everyone I loved since birth, places I called "home" all disappeared with exception of my dad and daughter. Again, I do have family by marriage who I love, but as far as family history...almost everyone left this physical world in a short span of time. I also had no siblings to lean on during all of this loss.
Surviving Multiple Losses And Grief - What Happens When Loss Won't Stop
For the sake of organization, I've decided to give each area of multiple losses and grief its own segment - because they are challenges and obstacles that can negatively impact the healing process. Certainly you might find some of these experiences in losing one person, but they are all but guaranteed to appear when you are grieving many at once.
This coping with loss article is specifically about the experience of (and some solutions for) coping with multiple losses...it isn't about grief in particular. However, I have written numerous articles on the topic of loss, and have posted those links here:
The main experiences that stood out in my experiencing multiple losses were irrational fear, "skipping" grief and losing familiarity/feeling lost in your life. You will find these topics below....and solutions to overcome them
Dealing WIth Multiple Deaths - The Irrational Fear
One of the hardest obstacles to overcome, when experiencing multiple losses and grief, is that you get overwhelmed with fear and think it will never end. Your fears can paralyze you - nightmares that your remaining family members will pass away, too.
For me, I was not afraid for my own mortality - but I felt I didn't have one goodbye left in me and was terrified of my breaking point. Then in came the irrational fears - I was constantly scared if my healthy family members, even my remaining cat and dog, showed any sign of not feeling good (was it cancer? was it terminal?). If someone looked more pale than usual, I would panic that I'd lose them soon, too.
- I would remind myself that death is a natural part of the life cycle.
- I reminded myself that I was given a gift of having a long period of life with my small family. Would I have preferred losing one person every 3-4 years? Absolutely not.
- I would tell myself that my overwhelming grief is due to the fact that I had a small family that loved me so much. Some people never experience that love in their lifetimes, but I was feeling this pain because I was so fortunate to have a life surrounded by love.
- I said to myself that living in fear isn't truly living. I had healthy, loving relationships in my life right now that were being pushed aside. Each day with them is a precious gift, so it is time to thank the universe for those I've lost as well as those who are with me at this moment.
Grieving Multiple Deaths - "Skipping" Grief Of Some
Another problem I encountered while grieving multiple deaths was feeling forced to skip my grief. As one example, any of you who have lost a cat that you adored know that just that experience can hurt deeply and for a long time. I loved my little cat, Toto, that much...but she died unexpectedly just months after losing my mom. I sobbed when I was told she couldn't come home from the vet and had to be put down right away...but then what?
If I hadn't been coping with multiple losses, I would have been flooded with friends and family offering condolences for putting my cat to sleep. But where do I put that grief now? I would feel foolish reaching out for support over my cat when everyone knew I just lost my mom.
Inside of me, I still cried daily over the loss of my mother, so there was no "room" inside to grieve for my cat like I would have if I hadn't lost my mom.
Another odd feeling that took over was that I was almost embarrassed by all of these losses. I didn't even mention half of the deaths I experienced in forums because it sounded "crazy." The last thing I wanted were people to agree with me that I'm "cursed" or have it bad. I wanted positives thrown to me as life preservers...how do you do that with a list of loss this long?
- There is no hierarchy. Of course, losing my mom was the hardest loss, but my mom's death doesn't "trump" the loss of my grandfather, my pets, my great uncle. They were all gifts in my life - special loves. Now that I've had some time to work through my grief, I make sure to think back fondly of favorite memories of everyone I've lost, share funny stories, look at photos...and that's ok! Honor each of their memories as you would if they passed away years apart.
- I don't promote holding pain in, but you don't have to tell everyone about every loss in your life at once if it doesn't feel right. Again, I wasn't looking for "oh my gosh, ANOTHER loss? You poor thing!!" I wanted to process each loss on its own in a positive way. I couldn't find that help in those who pitied me (though they meant no harm).
- Don't feel guilty if you don't feel as devastated by one loss as you do another when being hit with so many goodbyes. It's hard for the brain to know what to do with all of that pain. It is important, however, that in time you do acknowledge the loss of everyone as an individual when you are able to - don't "skip" over grieving a death for the long haul. It will catch up with you.
Coping With Multiple Deaths - Feeling Lost In A World That Isn't Familiar Anymore
The experience of coping with multiple deaths in a short period of time, whether losing many friends in a sudden accident or experiencing the death of numerous family members in a short time, has one thing in common - everything that was familiar is now gone.
For me, those two years took away:
- My grandfather's home - a place we would get together to celebrate events when I was in my home state in Montana.
- It took away my Illinois home and all of my holidays and traditions that my mom had every year (Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) including her special recipes and dozens of decorations she would bring out.
- My birthday and Mother's Day will never be the same - my mom always celebrated my birthday by calling me to sing to me - she always spoiled me and sent funny gifts as well as sentimental ones. Mother's Day is quite obvious.
In sum, the two places that felt like a homecoming whenever I'd visit, like a big hug (couldn't wait to pull into the driveway) disappeared in a short time. Expecting to walk into my grandfather's house where he and his wife lived, or my mom's where she would entertain, play Christmas songs on the piano and sing, with my great uncle tapping his toes...that world is only in my memories now and in a few short years, all of those people have passed away. Feeling lost is an understatement. You want something to feel safe and familiar, but it's all gone in the physical sense.
There is only one solution for this shocking change that took everything/everyone you knew and loved - keep living and making your own, new traditions for your loved ones who stand before you at this moment. Every person I now miss had their own losses and grief throughout their lives, yet they still kept living, dancing and smiling. Look to the past only to relive a fond memory with a smile on your face, but do not live in the past. Start new annual traditions, go visit others you love who miss you and be thankful each day for those you love who stand right in front of you. Nothing else matters during our time here...just love.
I've Read All Of These Elisabeth Kubler Ross Books (And More) - Loved Them
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