Over the last few years I have seen two dear friends lose both of their parents. In one case, my friend also lost her husband. I have lost my father and both of my in-laws and, with the passing of that generation, comes a huge sense of your own mortality and the prospect of being next.
This is not limited to my generation either. I know that in our fifties and sixties the law of averages determines that you will start to experience bereavement more frequently. The friend I was talking to last week is still in her thirties with a seven-year old son so she is feeling the loss of both parents within six months of each other very keenly. My friend who lost her husband is a few years younger than me and coming to terms with a different kind of future than the one they had been planning together as a couple.
Why this gloomy analysis? The loss of loved ones is a very hard thing to express and we Brits don’t really talk about death openly with other people. The younger we are or the more sudden the bereavement, the harder this can be. We are often left without any kind of emotional parachute to rescue our feelings or help us cope with everyday living.
Losing a partner is particularly harsh because you have chosen him or her to share your life with. The loss leaves you free-falling emotionally, skydiving through time and space not knowing when, where and how you are going to land. With or without a parachute there is always going to be a degree of pain.
Now put this into the mix when you are trying to hold down a job, run a business, be a caring partner, daughter and/or parent. At what point do you stop and give time to the essential grieving process? There is no instant-fix. It can take years to get over the broken heartedness of close bereavement. The pain fades but never really leaves – nor do you necessarily want it to leave because that pain is also part of the memory of that person.
In my workshops, I use the example of how people laugh at funerals to illustrate the breadth of emotion we experience in life. There is no pleasure without pain. When we laugh we are rebalancing our endocrine system by releasing happy hormones or endorphins to balance out the damaging effects of the stress hormone cortisol. The very anticipation of a good laugh or the physical process of smiling is enough to reduce your cortisol levels.
Laughter is a key part of the grieving process and has a hugely important role in restoring equilibrium. From a private chuckle to sharing some live comedy with hundreds of other people. It doesn’t have to be belly laughs here, a smile can be enough.
If you know somebody hasn’t got their parachute on right now, let them fly tandem with you for a while. It might not be as devastating as a bereavement, they may have employment issues or be mourning the end of a relationship. Laughing with them will lift their mood and sharing some happy memories might be enough to give them some solid emotional ground to land on when they are ready to face the world again.