My dear friend Daniel died last year at the tender age of 37. One minute he was here, larger than life, the next he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Despite believing he would come through it, mentally willing him, in less than three months he was gone.
I was at work the day the phone call came and the impact was like a physical blow to my body. The words spoken down the phone hit deaf ears and I was incapable of processing what I had just heard. To make matters worse Daniel had lived on the other side of the world in Sydney with his partner, so I couldn’t even congregate with the hundreds of his friends and family who had come together in unison.
I have lost Grandparents over the years, but never a friend and the tidal wave of emotion I experienced was an unfamiliar one. We may have all experienced a sense of loss at some point, perhaps over a relationship, job or even a pet, but the grief we experience at the loss of a loved one is almost indescribable, and what’s more, there is no short cut through it. Unlike anger or frustration for example, which we can overcome by placing things in perspective, grief is something we have to go through. We can experience a whole plethora of different emotions including denial, numbness, anger, guilt at past actions or harsh words, remorse at words never spoken, feelings of loss and yearning before we can even begin to come close to acceptance.
Some people can spend months or even years in this place and still not get close to acceptance. I often see clients who have lost a spouse, parent or child many years before and while they may have managed to achieve a level of functioning in their lives, they have still not got over the emotion of loss.
There is much we can learn from other cultures about ceremonials and how they celebrate life after death. Many religions believe that once a soul leaves the body, it is simply part of the cycle of life rather than ‘full stop’. In many Asian traditions, the celebration of life will go on for several days, marked with bright colours and music; a stark contrast to a Western funeral lasting only a few hours and awash in a sea of black.
Some traditions will take time to be with the body, wash it and dress it in special cloths, give thanks and say prayers to the life that was lived. Allowing relatives and the wider community to sit with the body, expressing words and thoughts can give those grieving a far greater sense of calm and inner peace. In the West many people die away from home and rather than spending time with the body, it is all too often taken away by a hospital or morgue never to be seen again.
However the loss of a loved one is celebrated or mourned, there is something we can learn about grieving well. Having a specific period of time to give ourselves permission to grieve can be more helpful than grieving 24/7.
For clients struggling to come to terms with their loss, a session of hypnotherapy can also bring about a huge sense of relief and release that they themselves may have been unable to achieve. Using a combination of approaches, clients are taken into a deep state of relaxation whereby they can hypnotically imagine talking to their loved one and speaking those final words that they may not have been given the opportunity to say, thus also allowing the unconscious mind to processes unresolved emotions.
It may also be the case that a client is still in a state of trauma about the events surrounding the death. I worked with one client who was still deeply traumatised by the death of her Mother over ten years ago. In particular, specific memories such as the last time she saw her Mother alive, the phone call she received from the hospital informing her that her Mother had passed away, and the day of the funeral playing heavily on her mind. Through hypnosis, we were able to process these memories and unhook the emotion from them, giving the client the peace and sense of release she desperately needed and longed for. Whilst we will never forget the people we have lost, we don’t have to live in a state of grief, depression or mourning about their departure from this world.
What surprised me following Daniels death was the strength I found to take something meaningful from his life. It reminded me of just how precious life is and how we need to make the most of it. It gave me the courage to follow my dreams, leave the corporate world behind and set up my own private practice as a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist. While I still miss my darling friend, I thank him every day for this gift and how it has given me the opportunity to help and guide hundreds of others back onto the path of happiness and joy.