The Acute Loss Period – Stage One: Hearing Phase

French poet Molière wrote, “If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.” It’s no secret that feelings of shock and sadness come on quickly when a loved one dies. You may know this pain firsthand if you’ve lost someone close to you. Here at Cypress Lawn Funeral Home, as we’ve helped San Francisco Bay Area families plan funerals, burials, or cremations for generations, we’ve seen how tempting it can be to push down these feelings until after the service is over. But doing this can hurt your healing process or maybe keep you from beginning the path to healing at all. Those first moments right after the event of death until the onset of grief is called the Acute Loss period, and how a person reacts during this time is very important.

That’s why we offer our Acute Loss brochure for free to anyone who wants it – either a hard copy or a downloadable PDF. We want to help create as much awareness as possible about the Acute Loss period – each of the seven stages – and how to handle each one. We think these steps are so important that over the next few months, we’ll be talking about these stages in depth on our blog, describing each stage and providing practical advice for those experiencing them.

Today, we’re taking on the very first stage in the Acute Loss period, called the “Hearing Phase.” This begins after that first moment when you hear about the death. Maybe it was a phone call in the middle of the night. Maybe a member of law enforcement came to your door. Or perhaps you were driving to work in the morning or out to lunch with a friend. Maybe it was a shock or maybe it had been a long time coming.

Whether you’re the first to hear or the last, we typically all receive news like this the same way: through our ears. After such a shocking call, it’s normal to immediately think, “I can’t believe they’re gone.” It’s also normal to suppress emotions at first. The news catches can catch you so off guard a feeling of numbness often sets in.

Hopefully, if it was someone close to you, you heard it either in person or over the phone. It’s very sad, but we hear from people all the time who had the misfortune of learning about a loved one’s death through a text message or a social media post. This is why we encourage everyone to make that first contact as personal as possible, especially if it’s a close friend or family member. And to prevent someone else from having to find out that way, we also advise family members to hold off on any social media posts until they’re absolutely certain everyone has been told. This is a part of taking responsibility for making it as easy as possible for others to walk through the Hearing Phase.

So, regardless of how you hear, you begin to cope by reaching out to others and seeking comfort. Here are some practical ideas to get you started:

  • After you hear the news, take a moment to yourself and think about what you just heard. What are you feeling? Anger, sadness, relief? Don’t be critical of yourself in this moment. Just experience your feelings and acknowledge their existence without judgment.
  • If you are overcome with emotion, you may need to reach out to someone close for help – particularly if you have details that need to be attended to for the loved one who has died. Don’t try to do this alone.
  • Ask yourself what your next steps are. If you are next of kin, you will need to contact a funeral director. Make it one you can trust to walk you through the decisions you have to make and who will support you with aftercare resources.
  • Call someone who doesn’t yet know about the death. Maybe you wouldn’t want them to hear the news from anyone other than you. You can help them begin their own Hearing Phase. Sharing the news also allows you to talk through what you’ve just heard – to hear it for yourself in your own voice. This can help bring a sense of reality to the experience and help the healing continue. Don’t underestimate the power of your ears in the healing process.

If you are ever in need of a listening ear, remember our team is available 24/7. We don’t think of ourselves as simply funeral home professionals. Our responsibility to you runs much deeper than that. We want to be a safe place for you to grieve.

Join us next month as we describe the second stage in the Acute Loss period, “The Sharing Phase.” If you would like additional information after losing a loved one, we also have aftercare tools that can help immensely. Reach out to us any time.