I call this blog lessons learned from living for a good reason. This past 2 weeks brought my family face to face with a sudden death. My husband' sister died 2 weeks shy of her 89th birthday. I keep saying it was unexpected and sudden. She had recovered from a stroke 6 years ago and the doctor said there were some residuals and he wasn't sure how much longer she could live. But she did live an active and busy life for 6 more years.

We always talk about a death as sudden and unexpected. To accept this reality is not easy. It seems so human to not immediately recognize that someone who was alive and communicating with us even minutes before is no longer here. It is not something that we do right away. I remember being confused by people who participated in the Child Bereavement Study telling us that that their spouse's death was sudden even though he or she had been declining for some time. They were also reeiving hospice care. They explained that they thought it would be in another day or another week; not just then.

My sister-in-law had been a first grade teacher. She continued to be interested in books for children who were learning to read. My daughter took a children's book from her aunt's home that she knew her 5 years old son would enjoy. Her son did enjoy the book. When she turned to telephone her Aunt to share his excitement, she realized that this was not something she could do anymore. The disbelief is there for a long time as we slowly change our behavior to accept the new reality.

My sister-in-law came alive in another dimension as we talked about her, read her memoirs, and brought her back into our lives in a new way. My husband found it very important to tell people about the life they led as children, about her life as an adult and as she aged. She came alive for those of us who knew her and those who knew my husband. Her grandchildren and ours learned a good deal as well.

As we made plans to go to the funeral in another state my son was involved. He came to our house with his 2 daughters ages 7 and 5. My impulse was to talk as little as possible in front of them. I wasn't following my own advice, until my son reminded me of what I say to others about children's need to know what is happening and to be involved. The girls listened as we made plans to go to another state for the funeral. They knew what happened and in their way tried to be helpful by staying out of the way. Again, lessons learned from living. They were living proof that it is important to let children know what has happened. We explained that "Saba's (Grandpa) sister died; we are sad, we are going to the funeral that will be near where she lived in another state; when we come back home there will be a mourning period in Saba's house." They came when we returned home. They did participate in the prayer services at our home. They moved about freely, coming and going as they needed to. They saw our tears. They understood and were not afraid. They were not grieving as they might if it was a closer relative involved more in their daily lives, but they were respectful and pleased to be involved. My husband was also comforted by having them there.

I always insist that what I learn about grief comes from the people I work with. They are the experts. I also say that there is no "them" and "us" when talking about people who seek professional help at such times. We are all human and we all will experience the death of family and friends. We too will be mourners and we were mourning . It is in our awareness of our common human experiences that we can help each other.

About the Author

Phyllis R. Silverman, Ph.D.

Phyllis R. Silverman, Ph.D., is a Scholar-in-Residence at Brandeis University Women's Studies Research Center.

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