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« 11. Self-calming the pain of grief, by Patricia Boyle »

Written by Patricia Boyle, from Manjimup, Western Australia.

My precious son Garth, aged 20, died in March 2003.

These are my thoughts on how to calm and manage this type of emotional pain.

Emotional intelligence tip 1: Accept & recognise it

In year 8 or 9, Garth made a photo frame in wood-work class at school. This frame 'hung around' for a long while and I eventually rescued it from a rubbish bin a few years ago. I am so glad I did.

The other day I took this beautiful photo frame to the local picture framer and had Garth's kindy photo put in to it. The lady who did the work said 'the frame wasn’t square so if the photo and card frame appear crooked, that’s why'. I told her it didn't matter, it looked absolutely perfect to me. I now have this unique framed photo hanging in pride of place in my home.

Don't hide your loved ones away – have them there to remind you of how precious they are. Their memory is alive and well.

Emotional intelligence tip 2: Face it head on

Adding beautiful colours and flowers can help.

Anyone who has had to bury a loved one will know the pain of watching them being placed in their final resting place.

If you have the chance, plan something special, a lasting memory that is pretty and good to remember.

Garth's casket was rosewood. Everyone at the funeral was asked to place a handful of rose petals into a basket that the immediate family would take to the cemetery.

At the grave I sprinkled thousands of many-coloured rose petals over the rosewood casket. The sun shone over all of us. It was a beautiful and lasting memory of him. 

Each visit to his grave reminds me of the many colours of that last day.

Emotional intelligence tip 3: Follow through until the end

Garth left no will and a property and mortgage for me to deal with.

Initially I approached Public Trustees to handle this for me but when they declined, I actually felt relieved.

I thought that I didn't want to deal with this, I didn't want to face handling my son's estate, but when it was handed back to me and I had no choice, I began to relax about it.

I became focused, I worked through the steps with my lawyer and began to make plans on how I would present the house for prospective buyers.

Being Garth's executor is an honour and I will have control over the finalisation of his life's work.

To me, it's a way of saying 'thank you for the honour of raising you and thank you for giving me more of life's experiences'.

Emotional intelligence tip 4: Allow yourself to remove the pain

Even though I was grieving, within a month I allowed myself to continue with my own life.

I went to a dance on Saturday night and enjoyed dancing with the man I love, the man that my late son accepted into our family.

I felt guilty about enjoying the night out, worried what people might think, but dancing is one thing that I can get lost in and it was a medication for me.

Emotional intelligence tip 5: Laughter is OK, get your feelings out

It's OK to laugh in the face of tragedy.

Following my son's death, some people were extremely rude, inquisitive and insensitive. In the early hours of the morning, four days after his death, I was so angry I couldn't sleep. I got up and composed the following:

There's nothing funny about a funeral.

Have you ever lost a loved one? A son who was your first born, your beloved baby? Once you come to grips with this devastating news, you then have to face a multitude of other grievances, and stupid comments and questions. Here are my answers to just some of them:

  • Did he leave a note? Well yes, he did, and it said, "Make sure you bury me upside down so the whole world can kiss my butt".
  • Can you hold the funeral at lunch time so we can have time to get there and get home again? Well gracious me honey, I can do anything you like – as long as it suits the deceased's mother and father and the precious grieving brothers.
  • Will it be Friday as it gives people a chance to stay overnight? Well, let me see, the coroner won't be finished until late Tuesday, and our beloved baby won't be back with us until that night, so I 'spose if we move our collective butts we could rush it through just for you.
  • How did he die? Well we're not sure at this stage, but give me your name and number, and we'll get back to you.
  • Why do these young people do it, can’t they see they're hurting the ones who love them? I guess if they could see that they would still be here with us and they wouldn't have put themselves through all this anguish. Maybe they just do it to get back at insensitive dead-heads like yourself.
  • I can't understand these young ones. OBVIOUSLY
  • How are you? (Classic) Look into my eyes! A picture tells a thousand words. If my eyes are red it isn't from the dust of a sand-storm in the middle of the desert.
  • At least you still have two lovely boys. 'Scuse me, I still have THREE lovely boys. I have one in my heart and two standing beside me.

Emotional intelligence tip 6: You're not the only one

When you are experiencing pain or grief, you think you are the only one.

A few days after Garth's funeral I went back to the grave with some more flowers. To my astonishment, there was a small basket of flowers at the head of Garth’s grave. My initial response was 'who dared to put those flowers there'? I didn’t say anything and I left them there, together with my flowers.

I talked about this with my sister. I said that I felt that no one else should be allowed to touch my son’s grave, but my sister pointed out, "Pat, you aren't the only one grieving, Garth touched many hearts. You have to allow other people to show that they care and that they are also sad".

When other people want to help you or share their pain with you, remember that they also care for you and they also feel the pain.

Thanks to our special guest contributor, Patricia Boyle.

Thanks to Patricia Boyle for her generosity in writing this. You've touched my heart Pat. Managing emotions such as grief, is not easy, but the ways that you talk about are full of emotional intelligence, self-awareness and love. They are a joy to include here.

Find some moments of peace

If you're finding it hard to let go of burdens or cope with grief listen to our MP3s "Happy not hassled: Easy meditations to calm your emotions". There is no one way to deal with grief, there are many. These MP3s will help dissolve the bitterness that may arise and help you find moments of real peace amongst the tragedy.