Embracing the Moment When it Sucks: Dealing with Death

“Hope is the feeling that the feeling you have isn't permanent.”  ~Joan Kerr

A year ago I lost my best friend of forty-eight years to a pulmonary embolism. It came quickly and unannounced, and it took him instantly.

I found out about his death on Twitter. Because of the length and depth of our friendship I had never known life without him. As often happens when we lose someone dear, I didn’t know how I would move forward.

We’re taught that peace and happiness come from embracing and living fully in the moment, but I often wonder what should we do when the moment sucks. How do we embrace the pain of heartbreaking loss without suffering anger and sorrow?

I don’t know that you can entirely. What my year without Blake has taught me is that to live in the moment, I really have to do just that, whether the moment sucks or not.

During the first weeks after his death I allowed myself to wallow in my misery, yet at the same time I took action. I didn’t just feel the pain; I did something about it. I responded to it, I listened to its needs, and gave it voice.

I blogged about him incessantly. I reached out to his large group of friends and colleagues to share stories. I embraced the moment even though I would have done anything to avoid it. Even though the pain didn’t totally retreat, in time, it lost its hold on me.

I allowed myself to spontaneously break into tears without apologies. I lived in the moment even when that moment was pure unadulterated sadness. The tears eventually subsided; by giving pain its moment, its moment passed.

Many people run from the pain when they lose someone they love. They drown out the sound and fury of the feelings by numbing themselves in a variety of ways.

They refuse to talk about it burying the feelings of the moment, which only makes them grow deeper.

It’s a year now. I don’t miss Blake any less. There will always be a crater where he once stood. But by learning to embrace the awful moments—the sad moments, the inevitable times when I remember he’s no longer at the end of the phone or the computer or walking the globe somewhere—I have learned that they, like everything, are not permanent.

The year has also taught me that when I act on those moments instead of burying them, I actually I have the power to turn the sadness into a type of joy.

In remembering who he was and what he meant to me, I find myself appreciating the decades we had and celebrating those.

If you have also lost someone you love, you might find these tips helpful in embracing sadness:

1. Talk about the person who is gone.

When Blake first died, all I wanted to do was talk and write about him. I found that other people in his life did, too.

It keeps the person alive—the memories, the laughs, the good times, and even the bad times. Giving a voice to who that person was allows other people to do the same. Acknowledge their loss and maybe share a story of your own. Nine out of ten times a Niagara Falls of stories will come pouring forth.

2. Keep visual reminders if it helps you.

I have photos of Blake on my desk, in my wallet, as my screensaver. I turn on my computer and say hi to him. I ask him to help me with my projects (he was a writing teacher).

By making him a visual part of my daily life, I embrace the loss but at the same time embrace the person. He may be gone, but he is in my sight all times.

3. Don’t hide your feelings.

When the sad moments come, when the aches of missing someone wash over you, embrace them. Don’t sweep them under the carpet.

When these moments crop up, I call his mom and we talk about him for a good half hour. We may cry, but by acknowledging our mutual loss and sadness and by giving it the space it requires we feel better and can move on to other parts of our lives.

I often write notes to our mutual friends. Just getting it down on paper and out in the ether helps a lot. Sometimes I write something on his Facebook Page or email a mutual friend. After writing back and forth, the sadness starts to face.

4. Celebrate the landmarks of a person’s life.

When someone passes away we often only acknowledge his or her death day. Also celebrate the days you would have celebrated when they were alive.

Last year a group of us got together and celebrated what would have been Blake’s  fifty-third birthday. We went to his favorite restaurant, ate all his favorite dishes. I even got him a birthday cake.

When I was choosing the cake, the girl at the counter asked if he had any allergies. I said he was dead. This took her aback to say the least.  But she responded with “I guess that means you won’t need any candles.”

“No, no,” I said, “We want candles, blue—his favorite color.” When the cake came all his friends blew out the candles and made toasts. We turned what could have been a terribly sad day into an occasion, a celebration of his life.

5. Don’t be afraid of the places you went or the things you did together.

I find many people stay away from places because they were the special places they had with the person who is gone.

I go back to the same restaurant and sit at the same table where we had (what was to be) our last meal together. I go to the same coffee bar and sit at the same spot where we had endless cups and worked on projects.

It was hard at first, but now I find it strangely comforting. I conjure him up, think of what he might say if he were there, and embrace the moment for all it is—even if it’s not all I would like it to be.

Embrace the moment for what is and then make the best of it. In doing this, you limit your pain’s hold on you and may even turn that sadness into a type of joy.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

About Tracey Jackson

Tracey Jackson is the screenwriter of films including The Guru and Confessions of a Shopaholic. She has just completed her first book, Between a Rock and a Hot Place which will be published by Harper Collins in February 2011. She blogs for The Huffington Post,  The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and daily on her website

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  • Burgh_grl

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for these important words & guides to getting through one of lifes most difficult passages…I will keep this close forever. Bless you!!

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  • klalota

    Thank you so much for this post. I lost my dad this summer and this post really touched me and made me feel understood.

  • Our society is big on numbing pain, in this case emotional. We look for ways to take it away, fix it, and quickly. So people will say, “aren’t you over it yet, cheer up, time to move on, it’s been a year, and other such lines. People, in general, are uncomfortable with one another’s pain.
    It takes tremendous emotional strength to “embrace” one’s pain. It is in allowing oneself to feel all the bad and icky feelings – sadness, pain, rage- and go through it that one can then come out of it whole and intact and hopefully with some kind of restitution.
    Great tips for embracing sadness. It takes courage, kindness to oneself, authenticity, patience and openness to oneself and others; but it’s the way towards integrating the loss and being able to live well with it.

  • Being in the moment even when it’s a sucky moment (ESPECIALLY when it’s a sucky moment) is something I’m learning to do right now too. I’ve been reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, and her idea of “leaning into the sharp points” has really stuck with me. During the saddest/worst parts of our lives, the natural instinct is to do anything to escape, to push it aside or bury it. That is the exact opposite of what we should do, even though to just stay in those awful moments is so ridiculously difficult.

    Thank you for such a great piece on such a hard subject.

  • Jennifer

    Wow. There are no coincidences, that is for sure. My grandmother, who was a HUGE part of my life and with whom I was very very VERY close, passed away last Tuesday and I have not known what to do with myself. I have been thinking exactly about how do I live in this moment when all I want to do is bury my head in the sand and tell the world to move on, I will come out in about a year. Thank you thank you thank you for this.

  • Babciaboop

    Very well written and helpful. It reminds me of a discovery made shortly after my husband died. I realized that you can’t step over pain, you can’t crawl under it, or walk around it. You must walk through the pain.

  • this was a very powerful entry. It made me tear up a bit. It sounds like you are a strong person for embracing the pain and celebrating his life. I loved this and I will keep all of this in mind as I go through life. thank you.

  • Four years ago I lost my best friend and husband of 15 years to a massive heart attack, he was only 46 years old the day he died (in front of me.)

    The numbing shock set in immediately, while my spirit floated just off my left shoulder–waiting until I was ready for it to return.

    I’ve learned how to go on living without my husband. it was and is an on-going process that included many sessions of wailing like a wolf unable to free its mate from a hunters trap.

    Writing! Letters to Robbie, letters to my God and Universe, letters to myself–letting the pain out through the tip of a pen guiding me through this journey that will always be a part of me and my spirit that reclaimed its place in my soul.

  • WA

    A heartfelt and heart warming post. It reminds me to appreciate each moment of my life, in all the ups and downs, the love and the fury, the speed and the peace, and most of all to appreciate the precious people in my life, each passing moment.

  • Grace

    Thank you for this post! I believe we can move forward and still own our grief and feel the sadness as well as laugh and celebrate your loved ones life. Please let’s not bury the memories and tiptoe around those that are grieving.

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  • Shannon

    I’m glad I found this article–thank you.  I am dealing with the loss of a loved one, and find myself struggling with wanting to bury my feelings in order to “move on” and not face the pain.  At the same time, I know I must experience the pain, accept what is, try to remain present, celebrate his life, and so on.  It’s hard.

  • Aruna Jshankar

    I just lost my very dear friend…I have been trying to come to terms with it and life without him.. How to get through pain while honoring his life and also picking up my life’s pieces has been on my mind ….Your article will certainly be very helpful in these difficult times and help me find perspective while dealing with his untimely demise..Thank you for the wonderful insights…

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  • me

    my uncle dead recently. just about 3 days ago. he die quickly without prolonged pain, and I’m thankful to God for that. it was just some regret that I have, for not spending time more with him a week before he die. I keep crying when remembering how his gesture, his happy and carefree personality, his way of reminding me good movies that come on tv, how he inform me about everything hip at the moment. he sure cannot do that again. I miss him already. I just wanted to share this. I’m in my progress of letting him and my regret gone. hope I can remember him later, and cerish the memories as well..