As a funeral director, I am often asked, “What is the most important task of funeral week?” The answer may surprise you. Many think the most important task is to bury or cremate their deceased loved one. Indeed, this is a critical task: it is not, however, number one. The number one task for the survivor during funeral week is survival.
Recently, we have seen the ill effects of losing one’s loved one in the case of mother and daughter, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. The loss of one’s significant loved one is by far, life’s most stressful event. Everyone knows that stress over time can cause one’s health to falter. If regular stress is left untreated, disease and eventually death will result. The stress that accompanies the death of a loved one, however, is so powerful that it does not require time to do its dirty work. Its ravages can cause immediate death within the circles of love and kinship surrounding the decedent. When experiencing loss, normal and high-level stress pale in comparison. Unlike the passing of a loved one, stress at work or home are potentially resolvable through changes in behaviors, situations, or attitudes. The death of a loved one, no matter what you change, remains the same; he or she is gone, and will not miraculously return.
What then can one do to significantly reduce their risk factors upon the death of a loved one? This is an important question, and the answers are not readily available. At the close of each arrangement conference with my clients, I always address their individual health issues and plan of care during funeral week. Although I am not a medical practitioner of any sort, if I can determine that the survivor has a chronic disease or illness, or if he or she is elderly or feeble, I immediately suggest notifying or visiting his or her physician. I review basic life sustaining necessities such as hydration and nutrition and also suggest that they enlist the assistance of others to help get them through the difficult week ahead.
My primary concerns for my clients are many. I worry that they will forget to take critical medications such as blood pressure or diabetic pills. I fear that they will forget to eat proper foods or drink plenty of fluids, causing their immune systems to weaken and allowing illness to set in. I worry that they will be unable to sleep and may suffer the dangers of sleep deprivation, or that the preoccupation and confusion brought on by death may bring about debilitating accidents. Above all, however, my primary concern is that the extreme stress under which they are suffering may bring about their own deaths.
The stress of death may affect one’s well-being in several ways. A noteworthy few are:
Irregular or rapid heartbeats
Severe or persistent headaches
Various Mental Disturbances
Of course, if one already has chronic illness or disease, one should keep a keen eye and monitor any changes in their condition. If any number of the following indicators are experienced in concert and are ongoing, one might consider a medical check up with their family physician to eliminate the possibility of other illnesses.
Increased heart rate or blood pressure
Expanded or constricted airways
Diversion of blood away from the gut and skin to the muscles
If you are experiencing funeral week, please be aware of the perils that may befall you. Take proper care of yourself and manage any ongoing or existing illnesses or disease. Seek out the advice of your doctor and ask others to help you with stressful decisions and tasks. Above all, be mindful of your stress level and how it is affecting your health. Should you feel overwhelmed, ask for assistance immediately.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.