Coping with a death

Sandra Cohen

Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the hardest things any of us have to face. Sarah Brealey talks to Sandra Cohen about the death of her beloved husband, and presents tips for coping.

"All you can do “is put one foot in front of another,” says Sandra Cohen, about losing Aubrey, her husband of 19 years.

She still misses him “every second of every day”, but she has learnt that things do eventually get easier. “You don’t want to hear it at the time, but you will get through it.”

Sandra, 70, from Leicester, cared for her husband for the last eight years of his life, after he was left disabled by a stroke and heart attack. The final years were hard but, she says, not as hard as living without him.

At the time, she felt she didn’t know how to cope, but three years on she’s able to share her advice for others going through a similar loss.

It's important to talk about the person that you’ve lost

“If people offer help, let them; they may not ask again,” says Sandra. “You probably don’t care whether you eat or not, so for someone to bring you a hot bowl of soup is a real help.”

She says that talking about your loved one is one of the most comforting things you can do. “It’s important to reach out to people – not to melt over them but to talk about the person that you’ve lost. People won’t bring up the subject with you because they don’t know how or they feel embarrassed, but it really helps.

“Touch means a lot too. A hug, or someone holding my hand for a minute, is very comforting.”

Keeping going

Sandra Cohen and her husband For most people, the emotional impact of bereavement is the hardest thing to deal with. Our bereavement adviser, Diane Mix, says: “Often the most difficult time is later on, perhaps after the funeral is out of the way. This can be when the realisation of what’s happened really kicks in, but it’s also when people may have stopped calling, and family members may have gone back to work.

“Look after yourself, get fresh air, eat small nutritious meals and get plenty of rest. If you feel like you are really struggling, ask for help from your GP, or a counsellor.”

Sandra agrees that things can get harder once the initial tasks have subsided. “You can wake up and feel like you don’t have a purpose. In my case, my husband and I had been together day and night. I’d stopped work; I didn’t have dependent children or pets. It’s vital to find a purpose. To me, that was doing voluntary work in the community.

“It might be a cliché, but bereavement is a journey and you go through so many things – grief, guilt and anger.”

Sandra sought help from a bereavement counsellor, which she found very useful, as well as spending time with friends. She says: “Don’t think that your friends don’t want to know you any more. Try not to feel like you are abnormal.”

Look after yourself, get fresh air, eat small nutritious meals and get plenty of rest

She also recommends preparing yourself mentally for moments of extra grief. “Try to find something to do on the days that you know are going to hurt – birthdays and anniversaries.

“Be prepared for shocks you are not expecting. You can be fine for a while and then you get what I call a plate-glass moment, when you walk into a memory and the shock of it is so painful.

“There will be times when you can go out and have a lovely time, like I did a few weeks ago – then I came home and howled, because I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

“One thing I always do is leave a light on when I go out. That way at least the house doesn’t feel so dark and alone when I come back.”

Sandra’s message of hope is that, no matter how dark things seem, you will come out the other side.

“Eventually you learn to live again. You don’t get over the loss of a loved one, but you learn to live differently.”

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