The initial shock and how to limit it

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Shock and how to limit it.

Death has an almost unlimited capacity to shock. And strangely that is as true of the long expected death as it is of the sudden and wholly unexpected death. The sudden breach in the possibility of any kind of mutual relationship, the finality and irreversibility of it, catches us off-guard, however prepared we thought we were. And then there is the mystery of it. Is there really nothing of him left other than this empty box of a body? Where is she now? Is she now at all?

If shock is an almost universal companion of death, the ways people manifest it are legion. You may be well aware of how you react to it; more probably, not, or at least not much.It would be helpful if you take a few moments now to review how you have reacted to distressing or grievous news in the past: With tears? With anger? With self-pity? With loss of functioning? With withdrawal, either physical or emotional? All of those are common - and absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.

People vary too in terms of the time they take to “get over” shock. Some people are more resilient than others, but sometimes resilience is, as it were, only skin deep and the person who seems to be “coping very well” may, sooner or later, go through a very miserable patch indeed.

For one of the most common after-events of shock is depression - which itself can take a number of forms, from not eating to not sleeping, to being unable to concentrate on the simplest task to being overtaken by unexpected bouts of weeping.

So what can you do now to protect yourself from these destructive emotions? We suggest three things, all of them simple in theory; sometimes less so in practice. First, as we have already suggested, reflect on how you typically deal with shock or upsetting news or circumstances. Knowing yourself is always helpful. If you find this difficult, find a close friend or relative and talk it over with them. Share memories of a distressing situation and how you both felt at that time.

Second, talk about your feelings to anyone you trust. It is sometimes said that men find this hard. Some do; so do some women. But our experience is that it takes only one or two people to say out loud how devastated they feel, for everyone to join in - and be glad to do so. It may be a cliche, but it is good to talk. Yes there is a danger that your friends and you can magnify your negative feelings in a kind of competitive hysteria, but in our experience that is very rare, at least in the British culture. More often , discovering that other people feel as shocked as you do helps to minimise the negative impacts of shock.

Third, unless you are an outlier extrovert, don’t be afraid to take time out by yourself in silence and solitude, preferably after you have had the sort of discussion and sharing outlined in the last paragraph. Then address your feelings. Name them. Speak to them. Tell the deceased, out loud, what you think of them. “Hello, fear. Yes, I am very frightened of having to live alone. Do you remember, Jack, I made you promise you would never leave me alone. Daft, we both knew, but you, bless you, assured me I’d be ok. Well, here I am, gripped by this dratted fear. But I promise you now, Jack, I won’t let it get me down.”

Grieving can be a long and painful business. But the initial shock will wear off. When it does, you know you are at least on the road to recovery. Now you need to follow the road.