How to Deal with Losing a Loved One Back Home
By Cynthia Popper
On February 19, 2014
A few weeks ago, my mom died in California. I was teaching in Saitama when I got the news, and it was by far the most shocking thing that’s ever happened to me. Here are some thoughts about coping with loss in Japan, and what I’m doing to get through it.
Find out your company’s policy on bereavement.
Luckily, I work for a company that’s incredibly supportive and cool—I’ve heard that’s not always the case for foreigners working in Japan. My work is giving me pretty generous unpaid leave so I can go to the memorial and be with loved ones. I’ve heard stories of company reactions ranging from stoic to paternal, so brace yourself and understand what you’re able to do to keep your job and deal with your situation.
Treat yourself well. I mean really well.
Want to sleep? Sleep. Sleep a lot. Eat like a queen. Now is not the time to be practical or stingy with yourself. If you’re like me, you have an ongoing laundry list of things “you ought to get to.” Yeah that list is under a shopping bag full of chocolate and massage oil somewhere. Massages, onsen, vitamins, fresh made juice, high-quality food and lots and lots of water. The physical pain of grief was also unexpected, so taking care of your physical self is just as important as tending to the mental stuff.
Be with people you trust.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a mushy-smushy, Oprah Moment kind of girl. I want to be alone, I like to be alone, so for me, the disconnection of distance isn’t entirely unwelcome. That said—my friends here have been so supportive: bringing me food, dragging me out on occasion, and helping me find professional resources for dealing with grief. Talking helps.
I’ve been writing a lot about the things I loved about my mom. No doubt you’ll go through the usual stages of grief, and they can be exacerbated by the distance and isolation. Writing it all out is super-therapeutic, and lets you purge the stuff you might not be ready to talk about with anyone else.
Here are a few resources. Most don’t take NHI, but do have sliding scales or can work with you if you need help.
Tokyo English Life Line (TELL): They have a free, confidential hotline and can refer you to a grief counselor.
If you’ve been here a while and have additional tips to share, post them in the comments below.