Understanding the lessons from grief

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Gordon Fong looks back at a year of loss that left his family stunned – and shares what he has learned about coping when tragedy happens

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It’s always good to remember, as we make it through another Christmas season, that the holidays can be a difficult time for many people. The colourful TV adverts and magazine photographs of happy family gatherings may have been the total opposite experience for some people this year. For me, this was the first Christmas without dad, who had recently passed away from a severe bleed on the brain.
Actually, if an author set out to write a story of family tragedy, they would have looked at my last year and paused, thinking ‘this is too much’. Because it wasn’t just my dad.
On the day my dad died, mum came to the hospital and told us her eldest brother had just died earlier that morning.
Two days later, I had to wake my mum to tell her that her eldest sister had just died. Within minutes we were in the car, to go and comfort that family.
Just before dad’s funeral, we visited my favourite aunty. I always remember her kind words, and it was pleasing to see her smile and hear her laughter again. However, once home, we heard she had collapsed and been rushed into the critical unit at hospital. We didn’t even have time to go home after dad’s funeral service because we needed to go and say our last goodbyes to aunty, who was waiting to be taken off breathing support.
There was to be one more sad event, for one more of my mum’s siblings. The youngest sister would lose her 12-year-old grandson to a brain tumour just two weeks later.
The whole family was just stunned and numb.
Reeling.
Five gone in such a short space of time.
Funerals were interspersed with the weddings that had been planned for so long. I learned a lot from this short period.

Be there
I saw the importance of having others around in numbers, whether visiting the hospital or the bereaved household.
I also saw patients who had no visitors whatsoever; I think that is worse.
Even families dealing with their own grief travelled to support others. Be there if you can – they can always say no.
Once dad was in his own side room, the whole family took a turn to watch over him, 24 hours a day. It was an opportunity to say what we needed to say and to help during his times of discomfort.

Don’t be quiet
Remember to talk about those you’ve lost; their good parts AND bad parts. Even joking about them helps keep their memory alive. Those conversations might bring some emotions, but when shared, I found it comforting.
Share photographs on social media or in private messages – in their turn they might bring out some unseen ones from others.
Enjoy those memories.
Try and remember that grief and a strong wave of sadness can catch you at any moment or be prompted by any situation. Something so simple as seeing their favourite drink on a supermarket shelf, as I did, or hearing a place mentioned that was a favourite family holiday destination. Turn it into a positive memory there and then, if you can.
And we all need help sometimes. Reaching out to friends, family and the many support organisations is important.
Gordon Fong is a business owner known for being a champion of Southbourne

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