It's been 9 days since my dad died after a brief serious illness, following a stroke on February 24th. And I was thousands of miles away. As an immigrant, I love most everything about living in the United States for the last 30+ years, except being so far away from my small family.
The last time I spoke with my dad, Janos, was on his 82nd birthday on February 19th. He was in good spirits, we joked about things and hung up without knowing that that was the last time I ever heard his voice. The pain is palpable, and the trip to Budapest, Hungary the following week was the longest, loneliest plane ride. I wanted to be there and think, this was just a mistake, he's really at home waiting for me but of course that wasn't the case. He's gone.....from this life, he's gone.
My sister and I immediately started on the tasks that needed to be handled. I had NO idea what to do, as I was not there 8 years ago when our mom died. She and dad did all the work. I didn't experience any of the horrible, painful tasks one must go through when losing a loved one. Like picking out an outfit for the person to be buried in, then taking said outfit and dropping it off at the hospital where he died. Like "tipping" the people who will put said outfit on him. Strange customs in Hungary. Then of course the entire arranging of a funeral that involves everything from picking a casket, and accessories (OMG!) to picking what font you want and what size and color on the casket. What flowers, what music, what what what.....make it stop! This has got to be the single WORST task for anyone to go through. When you're already grieving and are in a vulnerable, frail, sad state - to be bombarded with all the questions that most all of us shrink away from, having never gone through it. My sister and I both categorically declared that there's a snowball's chance in hell that we will be able to identify him before the burial, which is of course customary not only in Hungary, but also in the US. I can't. Just cannot. So after some strong convincing and also some tipping, we will be able to handle it with just a photograph and being able to describe the "outfit" :( The funeral will be on March 26th.
The stress and overwhelming grief comes in waves. Having to empty my parents' condo in the heart of Budapest is a monumental task. It's not only very very sad to go through all paperwork and clothes and everything of my childhood home, but it is also a task that seems insurmountable and overwhelming. There's so little help. It's really just a two of us. We have spent so many days there already and it doesn't look like we even made a dent in the amount of things that need to be gone through prior to just donating or selling. My sister, who is diabetic, is physically affected by the stress of it all. Her blood sugar numbers have been all over the place.
The only thing that has been helping somewhat with all this, is meditating and uses my tricks of falling back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of things and worrying. This kind of stress is brought on by a major life event, such as a death of a family member.
I have also been practicing Dr. Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing technique.
This is a wonderful breathing technique that takes only a minute and can calm down the whole nervous system. I’ve shared it with many patients and they have had great results. The basic idea is that you inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8.
Here’s what you do:
·Place the tip of your tongue so it’s touching the place where the back of your top teeth meet the roof of your mouth.
·Exhale completely, making a whooshing/ sighing sound.
·Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
·Hold your breath for 7 counts.
·Exhale through your mouth for 8 counts.
·Repeat the cycle 4 times.
Just one more word about meditation - it encourages the release of feel-good endorphins into the bloodstream, which boosts feelings of well-being, calm and empathy. Meditation helps lower blood pressure, stroke and heart disease risk, while also slowing brain and chromosomal aging. While all that's true, I can absolutely attest that it helps calm me and center me during the time of this extreme grief and stress.
If you're going through a similar situation, I strongly encourage you to try focus on small results; realize that this is a life event and grief and sadness are part of the healing process; but most importantly, take time to mitigate the physical symptoms you may be experiencing by practicing self care, such as meditation and / or breathing exercises, eating well, and getting sleep (though I can attest, that's not easy).
Blessings to all.