Learning from Death: How We Change When Losing a Loved One

There is no easy way to write about death that doesn’t risk trivializing it or being overwhelmed by it. Fortunately, I have never suffered a tragedy, such as the loss of a child or spouse or family member before their natural time.

You don’t have to lose someone or face your own death to learn from it.

I have spent a lot of time personally and professionally with people who have had to grapple with the questions that none of us have answers:   

Why did this happen? 

What did I do wrong? 

How can I make this pain go away? 

If I could only have… 

With all the pain of loss and grief, I do like one aspect of what death does to those left behind: it pushes out all the extraneous noise of our lives and forces us to deal with only that which really matters. Most often, someone who has been shattered by a loss is very, very real. It’s almost like you’re speaking to someone on a drug when what comes out is pure, true, and undefended. 

I find such experience deeply grounding, and I enjoy being in an atmosphere of such truth. It is at such times that I understand what might draw someone to work in hospice care. The opportunity to work in an environment where everything is on the line, where there is no point in pretense, where life is stripped down to the bare essentials: it seems to me it’s like a spiritual backpack trip. You have only what you really need to survive; everything else is extra baggage you don’t want to carry. You are reminded of how little you really need, and how simple and pure life can be.

 Sometimes when I’m working with a couple, and they’re sniping at each other over the “he said/she said” of married life, I cut through the static with the following intervention:   

I have them sit across from each other and fill in the blank to the sentence – “If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, what I would want you to know today is…” 

That gets their attention. They immediately drop out of the argument and say things like “I love you” or “I’m sorry I wasn’t a better husband/wife.” 

Why does this happen? 

I think most of the time, most of the day, our ego is running the show. We are concerned first and foremost with the survival of the “I” of the ego. This can take countless forms, but just a few examples to help you know what I mean would include:  

Worrying about what I get out of this situation

How I look to others or wanting to hurt someone who hurt me

Wanting to fend off possible criticism

Needing to be right  

All of the above actions are about the importance of Ego.  

We don’t know what happens when we die. 

Although most of us have beliefs about it. Here’s one of the things I feel relatively sure about: the ego dies with the body.

If any part of us survives our physical death, I cannot believe it is that aspect of us which worries how we look, if only because I see how that drops away in those who have just lost someone. 

Letting death be our teacher, through making us aware of what truly matters, is one of the best ways I know to be truly alive.  

If you knew you were dying tomorrow, what would you do differently today?

If you’re struggling with loss, grief, and death, we’re here to help with Imago  and . We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!  

 Josh GresselThis blog post was written by Josh Gressel, a clinical psychologist and certified Imago therapist in practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He is the author of  (University of America Press, 2014) and “Disposable Diapers, Envy, and the Kibbutz: What Happens to an Emotion Based on Difference in a Society Based on Equality?” in Envy at Work and in Organizations (Oxford University Press, 2017).  He has just completed a book on masculinity.  

Check out Josh’s website: joshgressel.com

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Suicide remains leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 29 in S’pore

There were a total of 400 reported suicides in Singapore in 2019, up from 397 in 2018, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said in a release in Aug. 3, 2020.

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Suicides increased across most age groups

Most age groups registered a slight increase in the number of suicide deaths in 2019.

Deaths as a result of suicide dropped to 8.00 per 100,000 Singapore residents from 8.36 in 2018.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for youths aged 10 to 29.

Notably, the number of suicide deaths amongst those aged 20 to 29 years remains highest compared to all other age groups.

20 to 29 years old group vulnerable

In 2019, 71 youths aged between 20 and 29 years took their own lives.

Suicide accounts for about one-third of all reported deaths in this age group.

Seeking help

Of those who revealed their age, youths between 20 to 29 years old accounted for approximately 17 per cent of total calls attended to on the 24-hour hotline, and making up for about 37 per cent of Email Befriending clients.

In particular, the number of calls from this age group rose to 4,124, up from 3,396 calls in the previous fiscal year ending March 2019.

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Problems encountered

Through interactions with clients, SOS observed that these individuals often cite issues with romantic relationships, difficulties coping with one’s mental health and struggles managing challenging situations as contributing factors that led to their acute distress.

In a survey recently conducted by SOS to understand the community’s perception towards suicide, one in three in the 20 to 29 age group, responded that they will not consider contacting others for help when they are emotionally overwhelmed.

Stigmatising beliefs around suicide emerged as a common barrier to seeking help for this group.

The fear of embarrassment, being judged, along with the sense of hopelessness that nothing will help, were prominent reasons that surfaced in the survey findings.

A total of 2,497 respondents participated in the survey, of which 580 were aged 20 to 29.

Gasper Tan, Chief Executive of SOS, said: “While the rise in calls is an encouraging sign that youths are recognising the importance of their mental health and need for early intervention, the high number of suicide deaths in this age group is concerning.”

“Much more remains to be done as a community to further understand and address the issues that may prevent our youths from seeking help”.

Highlighting the integral role of advocacy in recent years, he added: “As the lead agency in suicide prevention, SOS will continue to harness these efforts, drawing on the strength, support and network of the community in our programmes and outreach”.

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SOS text-based service introduced

The launch of SOS’ text-based service, SOS Care Text, has been brought forward in recognition of the hesitation of calling the hotline for some individuals in distress or contemplating suicide and their preference for another option through text messaging.

Referring to the increase in the number of calls into the 24-hour Hotline and emails during the Circuit Breaker period, Tan said: “During these trying times, it is crucial that SOS is able to readily provide an alternative form of emotional support while catering to the changing communication preferences of the community.”

Respondents to the SOS survey had also indicated text-based services as the most preferred platform to seek help, reflecting the timely introduction of this offering.

About SOS

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is a secular, non-profit suicide prevention centre.

Established 1969, SOS has developed into a professionally run and managed organisation that adopts a holistic approach to suicide-related topics, focusing on prevention, intervention and postvention, an intervention conducted after a suicide for loved ones and friends.

With the mission to be an available lifeline to anyone in crisis, SOS offers emotional support to people in crisis, thinking of suicide, or affected by suicide.

All information shared with SOS is treated as confidential and people can choose to remain anonymous.

Top photo via Unsplash

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The CBN,listed the objective to include engaging a minimum of 370,000 youths within the ages of 18 to 35 years in agricultural production nationwide over the next three years in order to reduce youth unemployment.

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