Overcoming the death of a loved one

Sunday September 9 2018


Death brings a lot of emotional crisis to those left behind when a loved one passes on. Many go through a lot of pain and take long to heal.

Florian Kajala,42, for example is still grieving his wife, four years after she died. It was a sudden death. The mother of his two sons complained of a headache which lasted for only three hours. The doctors could not save her life.

According to Florian, life has never been the same. Rahabu’s absence is felt everywhere in their home. She used to take care of everything from house cleaning, tending to the garden, taking care of their sons and himself (Florian), just everything.

Although he has a househelp, the difference is so very clear. Florian says no one can fill the gap his wife Rahabu left. The house has since been very quiet and so have their sons. They too are still grieving their mother’s death, which pains Florian a lot.

Florian says raising their sons alone has not been easy given that he spends most of his time at work. Their first born, aged 15, is in Form III and the last born,13, is in Form I.

“My wife used to lead us in prayers every night. Now that she is gone, we rarely pray at night. Every time we pray together, we get fresh memories of her,” says Florian, tears welling up in his eyes as he stares into space.

Both good and bad memories keep flooding his mind and he sees her image every time he enters their bedroom. During the first year of his wife’s death he would wake up in the middle of the night and would remain awake for hours.

But like they say, time is the best healer. Today he can sleep through the night though he still remembers and mourns her every single day.

Why it takes long to heal

A Dar es Salaam-based psychologist, Charles Nduku says there are many reasons why people grieve for so long.

“Some do so out of love, some get hit by guilt conscious because after the loss they realise how poorly they treated their loved ones. While some grieve due to the loss of a family bread winner as they remain orphans” says Nduku.

The psychologist says it is important to try to get some sleep during bereavement to avoid health complications that can lead to depression. One has to keep themselves busy to reduce the feeling sad periods.

A Morogoro-based sociologist, Gozbert Lawa advises people who experience sleeping problems following the loss of a loved one to engage in exercise to help their bodies respond to sleep.

Lawa says trying to engage in their hobbies helps relax one’s mind and helps them sleep. In the process this helps keep depression at bay and hence suicidal thoughts.

Five coping stages

Psychologist Nduku says there are five steps that people go through on the journey to coping with grief. He mentions the steps as being denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Nduku explains denial as being the first stage of grief. This he says helps us survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on.

“Denial helps us pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle,” says Nduku.

The second stage, anger is a necessary stage of the healing or recovery process. “Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.”

The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this?

With bargaining stage, before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only your loved one would be spared. Please God, you bargain, I will never be angry at my wife again if you will just let her live.

After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realise this has all been a bad dream? We become lost in a maze of if only or what statements,” he adds.

Commenting on the last stage Nduku says, acceptance is often confused with the notion of being all right or ok with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel ok or all right about the loss of a loved one.

This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognising that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it ok, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it, he says.

Such a long journey

Marina Shirima, 35, a primary school teacher shares the same experience as Florian. She has been grieving the loss of her sister for four years now. She was raised by her sister following their parents death when she was four years old.

Holding back tears, Marina tells me that talking about her sister’s death is the subject she avoids as it brings so much pain every time she talks about it.

“My sister died of cancer four years ago. It is has not been easy dealing with the loss as she invested a lot of love and money in me after my parents died a long time ago. I just can’t move on with the memories I am carrying in my heart,” says Marina.

Uncontrollable pain

She has been unable to control her pain and cries almost every day. In the first two years after her sister’s death, Marina would sometimes lock herself up in her room and cry.

The only time that she did not cry much was during some training in February 2017 that kept her busy and distracted. She would get tired and sleep the moment she hit the bed.

Marina believes in the power of prayer. Prayers have helped her a lot since during prayers she cries and allows herself to mourn once again, hence reducing her pain in the process.

“I hate how some people think I am over grieving,” she says.

Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor in Kinyerezi, Rev Lucas Liundi says, the most important thing to do to help a grieving person is to learn to be a good listener. Let someone pour their heart to you about the loss of a loved one and what it means to them.

“I will pray for you to get over this is a common phrase for most Christians though sometimes these people never pray for you as promised. Instead of telling someone I will pray for you, just pray for that person at that particular time,” advises the pastor.

Commenting on why people spend years grieving, the pastor says, the loss of a loved one involves of lot of changes and adjustments in the family. People close to those surviving grief should try to be patient with the victim as it is a long journey to overcome.

“I have seen people grieve for years. It is not an easy step to go through that everyone can just simply get over it. Such people need to be treated with patience,” says Pastor Liundi.

Sarafina Joseph agrees it takes time to heal following the death of someone so close to you. She hersefl has lost many relatives but she says it took her a very long time to finally accept and move on after she lost two people she considers to have been so very close to her heart.

“I used to cry a lot every time I remembered my niece and my elder brother who were so very dear to me. At least I can now think about them with much less pain. To avoid crying, I normally brush aside the thought of them,’ she says, fighting off tears.