Life is especially painful and challenging, and this is especially true with the unexpected death of a loved one. Even when the loved one has been ill, we are never prepared for the loss. It reminds us God has His own timeline.

There is numbness, disbelief, and shock initially. What follow are the grief and all the mixed emotions that come with it. We can feel sadness, anger, confusion, despondency, and what seems intolerable pain all at once.

Author Virginia Morris states in her book Talking about Death Won’t Kill You, “In the immediate days after a death, some people feel intense pain, while others respond with cool detachment. Each person’s response is simply one way of coping with the loss.”

Grief is one of most painful experiences and is a very personal one. It can take weeks for some to grieve or it can take years for others. The emotions felt can leave a person physically drained, but the exhaustion is also positive. It means the person is feeling the emotions instead of not feeling them.

We sometimes want to rescue our loved ones from their pain. People have to experience the pain in order to heal. We suffer with our loved ones, but being supportive involves acknowledging their pain, allowing them to feel their feelings and not trying to rush them through the process. We can be a safe haven for them if we allow them the freedom to express their feelings without judgment. People often hold back their feelings for fear that if they express what is in their hearts when they are in the depths of despair, they may be perceived as weak or broken.

There is no right or wrong to how someone feels. We feel what we feel. Letting go is intertwined with the grieving process. Morris stresses that recognizing and accepting the person for who they were, what you didn’t like and what you did will help you reconcile the loss. “If the relationship was full of conflict, you may be left with unresolved anger . . . now there is no one to confront. You will have to reconcile the relationship on your own. If the turmoil persists, a support group or psychotherapy can be invaluable.” Eventually, we sort through the memories, keep those that bring us comfort and move forward.

It helps to remember that the pain will not remain permanently. What is constant is our love for those we have lost. For many, prayer, meditation, and their spiritual beliefs are an integral part of healing. By allowing the grieving process to take place, life will eventually begin to return to normal and the sorrow will come less frequently.

Take your cues from your loved one, look for clues that this is a good time to offer support, and when the door is open, listen. Don’t worry about what you are going to say in response. Listen with your ears, with your eyes and with your heart. Resist the temptation to offer advice about how they should or shouldn’t be feeling or to say you know how they feel, even if you have been in a similar situation. They may not be ready to share in your experience and we never really know how someone else is feeling. Opt instead to reflect back what you have heard so that your loved one feels understood. That is how connections are made.

Offer to help with specific things that need to be done. After the initial shock has worn off, be there for the long haul. Everyone heals at his or her own pace, so be patient, show up, and give your loved one all the time they need.

It is these times that remind us that heartache and suffering are an inevitable part of life’s journey. When we love, we are vulnerable to experiencing heartbreak. It is part of our make up as humans to form relationships that bind us emotionally. Because of these bonds, we are wounded when we lose that person we love. Heartache is inevitable, but life without love is no life at all. By moving forward and living a fulfilling life, you honor the person you’ve loved and lost.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. If you have questions or concerns, email askseniorfocus@aol.com