- Because death and dying remain taboo subjects in America, many are largely unprepared for the bereavement process.
- Not just emotions but a variety of practical matters usually come into play when a loved one dies.
- More resources are becoming available for those experiencing bereavement.
The death of someone close, whether family member or good friend, typically triggers a wide range of emotions steeped in the powerful feelings of loss and grief. This is normal and understandable, as the disappearance of an individual who has played an important role in our lives is an undeniably sad affair. Even if expected, the death of a loved one is commonly a painful experience unlike any other and one that can linger in some form for the rest of own lives.
Although death can be said to be the only certainty of life, many Americans are wholly unprepared for it when it knocks on the door of a loved one. We are simply largely unequipped to deal with the range of emotions that often arise due to our culturally based, deeply seated fear and denial of death and dying. Death remains perhaps our last taboo subject, with even the mention of it discouraged in polite conversation in part because it serves as a reminder that one day we too will be no more.
If that were not enough, a host of more practical issues frequently have to be addressed by one or more people when a loved one dies. These can include, as a January 2021 Consumer Reports article explained, obtaining a legal certificate of death, transportation of the body, notification to a doctor or coroner and family and friends, handling the care of dependents and pets, determining any employee or other organizational benefits, arranging the funeral or cremation and possibly a memorial service, and securing the home of the deceased (and turning off the utilities).
Putting the individual’s will into probate and transferring the assets of an estate are major tasks all their own, with an attorney, accountant, and investment advisor often brought in. Bank accounts, life insurance, and pensions may come into play, and the Social Security Administration and IRS will have to be notified. Last, but not least, closing out the social media accounts of the deceased should be considered, or perhaps posting a memorial of some kind on them.
Most or all of this exhaustive to-do list has to be addressed during the most intensive part of the bereavement process, creating a double-whammy effect on our psychological well-being. It can be easily seen how juggling the litany of pragmatic considerations while navigating the emotions involved is no easy thing, particularly given our lack of training in such matters. Is it any wonder that the death of someone we cared much for can present one of the biggest challenges we are likely to face in life?
Thankfully, more resources are popping up to help Americans manage this important and too often neglected experience that almost all of us will encounter multiple times. The aging of baby boomers has a lot to do with this, of course, as the parents of that generation die in considerable numbers. Quite a few boomers (currently in their late 50s to mid-70s) themselves are heading to the big Woodstock in the sky, leaving children, siblings, cousins, and friends in a state of bereavement while at the same time trying to handle the earthly logistics associated with death.
A few helpful grief-loss support services are:
- Guardian Angel: Guardian Angel offers Wills and Lasting POAs. By helping to break down the taboo attached to dying, they want to help everybody plan for, and through death.
- Closure: Closure is a Netherlands-based company that informs all organizations after a death.
- GriefShare: GriefShare is a network of groups that meet weekly to help the bereaved face move toward rebuilding their life. A good example that reflects the emotional support aspect.
- Apiary: Apiary is a comprehensive care coordination platform supporting employees through all of life's challenges. They offer services to companies to support bereaved employees.
The best of such resources, in my opinion, is an app aptly named Empathy.com. The Empathy.com app was built to support families in the days, weeks, and months after they lose someone. It helps with everything from planning a funeral to claiming benefits to dealing with an estate, with an abundance of expert articles, as well as step-by-step guidance and chat support offered through a user-friendly app, which also features grief audio episodes.
Given the numbers involved—57 percent of Americans lost a loved one within the last three years, and 540 hours of work are required to settle a loved one’s affairs—grief and loss support represents a potentially huge business. Look for the bereavement industry to continue to expand over the next couple of decades as more of the once largest generation in history complete their life’s journey.