They either passed away suddenly without warning or you knew it was coming.
After they die, it’s easy to do all the wrong things.
It is easy to try to continue on like you are OK and suppress the emotions.
To get on with life because, well, the person that died would want you to!
Yet, the more pain you feel, the more you heal (video of me being completely vulnerable with grief is below).
The more you allow yourself to feel, the more alive you become.
The more you numb yourself out, the more dead you become inside.
The person you loved died physically. For you to numb out would be to join that death with them internally.
This is a vulnerable moment where life’s greatest pain and lessons come to the surface. If you try to opt-out from this painful period, you’ll collapse over and over again.
How NOT To Deal With Grief And Loss
I experienced both losing someone suddenly and losing someone where I knew it was coming. I’ve bottled it up and hid my feelings. I’ve allowed my feelings to express themselves fully.
The first time I experienced someone dying was my older brother. We didn’t have the best relationship. One day he only ate half of a hamburger and a little over a month later he died. He had a rare form of peritoneum cancer (if you search on google all you will find is peritoneal cancer) that once discovered, only took a month to take his life.
During that month, I didn’t step up and talk with him. He had a lot of friends and people seeing him all the time. I was in a state of shock and didn’t fully believe it was going to happen. I didn’t know how to assert myself and my needs.
Finally one day, I had my chance to spend time alone with him when they sent him home under the care of a hospice worker. I went into his room and sat down.
After only a few minutes, the cancer was slowly tearing away at his stitches holding together a massive incision on his stomach. He started yelling as loud as he could. He grabbed me and looked deep into my eyes and screamed, “GO GET A SHOTGUN AND SHOOT ME IN THE FACE!”
When the ambulance arrived, I got in the front seat and directed the driver on how to get to the cancer institute (he wasn’t sure). My one chance to settle things, to talk to him, to express myself, was lost.
One morning later I woke up to a phone call. I drove down to the hospital and saw bile dripping out of his mouth. He was gone. After a while of sitting there in the utmost worst pain a 16 year old could experience, the final zip of the body bag sealed this unreal pain’s mark on my soul.
Bottling In Emotions
Immense numbness followed. Life didn’t seem real. I would be floating about as if everything was good in a dissociative way, then I would randomly break down.
I remember laying in my bed at night and my body randomly shaking from the pain. I would listen to A Momentary Lapse Of Reason album by Pink Floyd and drift away into an array of fantasy worlds to try and numb the pain.
My family was torn up. I can’t speak for others, but I think we all lost a bit of ourselves. They say that a loss like this can bring a family together, but in my experience and witnessing other families, I think it can sometimes numb people out to each other. It’s like losing an integral part of yourself and of the family unit. Nothing is really ever the same.
Suddenly loving and caring about someone doesn’t seem as safe anymore. Nobody is born equipped on how to properly express such dark, deep, emotions.
I was lost in school. How could I relate to anyone my age after experiencing such a loss? When asked in class to talk about my summer, the real answer would have been to say, “I witnessed my brother’s stomach slowly get torn apart by cancer and he screamed in my face to blow his head off, now he’s dead and I feel completely numb and messed up.”
A few months later, I was introduced to marijuana. What a wonderful, wonderful escape.
Drug Addiction, Suicidal Thoughts, And Despair
Before I tell you about how I used drugs to escape the pain of the loss of my brother, it’s important to note I was already slightly depressed before it happened. At that point in my life, I actually had an amazing group of friends. I had a lot of people around me. My life was finally starting to turn around and I wasn’t nearly as depressed as I was in Junior High. After the death of my brother was one of the darkest periods of my life.
People always debate about whether or not marijuana is bad or not. Let me give you the answer: it is if it is bad for you. Addiction is never about the drug or addictive behavior. It is about deeper pain and emotions going on that need to be numbed out. Addiction is your brain telling you, “You don’t have to feel this, smoke instead.”
The drugs are the smoke on the fire. It is just that with drugs, once you go down the rabbit hole, your brain starts to rewire it’s reward system and down-regulates all its receptors. Congratulations, you now have to use drugs to feel normal and if you ever want to quit, it will take months to a year to feel like yourself again.
When I would smoke weed, I wouldn’t just take a couple tokes and sit back to watch TV and laugh. I would smoke until I was a vegetable. I would smoke until I was staring at all the houses outside the car window as they rushed by in the passenger seat completely gone out of my mind unable to communicate anything. I would smoke until I fell down on the floor, staring at my friend’s ceiling, mumbling in a messed up slur while watching things on his ceiling literally move.
For me, weed is bad.
I didn’t just smoke marijuana. I would take mushrooms every weekend, take reds a few times a week (I once combined reds with mushrooms at a rave, not a good idea), smoked salvia every single night for 2 weeks once, took LSD, methamphetamine once on accident, and a wide range of other things. I was secretly self-destructing and slowly killing myself.
My friend who was in an intense treatment center for his own drug addiction said he saw me spiral down out of control faster than anyone he had seen before.
A year or two went by and I realized I had to quit drugs. My journey off drugs was one of the hardest things I did, but I beat it. I also did it not by using my “willpower” but by solving my root issues.
Guess what? All those emotions I numbed out were on the other side of sobriety, patiently waiting for me.
How To Lose Someone and Properly Deal With Grief And Loss
Fast forward years later. My best friend suddenly passed away by having a seizure while driving at night. He knew more about me than anyone. It was pure unconditional love, two kids that met right around preschool and told each other every detail of their lives for 17 straight years.
I had gotten in an argument with him not long before he passed away. He was Mormon and confronted me asking me why I wasn’t. I had been abused by the Mormon church as a youngster so I had more negative views towards religion. The conversation didn’t end well.
A few days after, while sitting on my couch, I actually heard a strong voice inside me say, “Call Spencer up. You never know when someone can die.” I called him and told him I loved him and didn’t care about our argument. He died about 5-8 days later. That time, I didn’t have someone die with unresolved issues.
After he died, I just felt it. I vomited emotions out of me as if they were poisoning my body and my body wanted to violently purge them clean. I let out the pain in the most expressive way possible. I would buckle over from the pain and let the core of my being ripple out with deep despair.
I called people. I told them I was lost and just needed a friend to hang out with for a few hours. I told people I could use their support. I asked for help. I let people know I was in pain and that if they wanted to, I could use anyone to just hear me out and bounce my insanity off of.
A song randomly incubated itself into my mind a week after his funeral. I put pen to paper and wrote it down in 5-10 minutes. It just flowed from my heart as if it wasn’t even from me.
I wrote the song and played it on guitar. I played it in front of people. Years later, I played it in front of hundreds of people. The song holds a sacred part in my heart. It is what makes the pain real, keeping the effects of the relationship still alive.
In the face of my brother’s death, I chose to numb out. In the face of my friend’s death, I chose to wake up.
Feel Your Emotions, Get Support, And Never Hide Your Pain
When my brother died, I did all the wrong things. I pretended like I was alright. I numbed out with drugs. I didn’t let people in. I didn’t let people help or support me. I acted as if I had to be “tough” and just deal with it. If you want to maintain your emotional sanity, don’t do what I did.
When my best friend died, I surrendered to the experience. I respected whatever emotion came up, as if each one was a beautiful moment to not only feel my friend again, but to heal myself. Each emotion was a life lesson, a feeling that rippled from my deeper core that can never be understood by logic.
I expressed myself. I dropped the whole “macho tough guy” game and told people I was struggling. I got support.
If someone you love passes away, you can either numb it out and act like you are fine or you can allow one of the most beautiful life lessons to erupt from your inner being. You can either isolate yourself and spiral into a deep depression or you can expose yourself and let people gladly support you. You can pretend like your emotions and pain are fine and “get along with life” or you can just breathe and let your pain run its course.
If someone dies, now is the time to take care of yourself. Now is the time to slow down and let yourself process your loss.
Now is the time to let yourself go and feel fully. To feel anger towards the dead person, sadness about your future, crippling neediness and loneliness, it is all fine. Let them all run their course and don’t resist.
This is the time to look yourself in the mirror and in a deeper way than you thought possible, learn to love yourself. Learn to be alive. Learn to value your life. Learn to wake up and live before it is you that suddenly dies.
To numb out the emotions that come with grief would be to numb out one of the greatest lessons life has to offer.