Dealing with practical issues after loss

When you are grieving you may wish the rest of the world would stop, but it doesn’t. On top of all the emotions you’re dealing with, you may have to deal with the practical things that have to be done when someone dies as well as chores around the house like cooking, cleaning and paying bills.

It is okay to get angry about the changes and finding yourself suddenly responsible for looking after yourself, and maybe a whole family. You may feel like your normal life has been stolen from you. This isn’t fair and definitely not what you asked for.

Check out the tips below or you can also connect with other young people who’ve been through it using our online community where you can also chat to a CanTeen counsellor.

One of the first and saddest things is thinking about their funeral. In many cases (especially if you’re younger), other people might organise the funeral. But it is important to know about what is happening so that you can be part of the planning if you wish or have to make any decisions.

A funeral is a very personal occasion. There is no ‘right’ way to do it. Your family’s cultural and religious traditions might play a part in how it goes. If you had a chance to talk about it before they died, your mum or dad or sister or brother may have given you some ideas about what they would like before they died. Your family will probably start to plan a funeral within a couple of days after your mum or dad or sister or brother dies. But there’s no rush, it doesn’t have to happen straight away.

Most families choose to use a funeral director to help them organise the day. They can help you decide things like:

  • Will it be a burial or cremation?
  • When and where will the service be? It can be anywhere – like the beach, a footy field or your garden.
  • Who will lead it? It doesn’t have to be a religious service if that’s not you.
  • Who will speak at the service? You can read letters from your sibling, poems or bits from the books or movies they liked. Don’t be afraid to make people laugh.
  • What sort of casket or coffin? Who will carry it?
  • What personal touches – like music, flowers, photos or booklets – can you add that show the person’s personality?  Cover their grave in cricket balls instead of flowers?
  • Will there be a ‘wake’ after the service? This is a gathering that could be anything from a cup of a tea and a biscuit to a raging party.

If you want to be involved in the funeral, make sure you tell your family. You might like to do a special reading, write a letter or poem or just talk about your mum or dad or sister or brother and share your memories. You could also help to choose the music or put together some photos.

What if I don’t want to go?

Many young people find that it helps them to go to their parent’s or sibling’s funeral to celebrate their life and share their sadness with their family and friends. But if you don’t want to go to the funeral, there are other ways you can say goodbye. You could plant a tree, tie a message to a balloon and let it go, or visit a special place you used to go together.

This is one of the biggest and hardest things that will ever happen to you, so don’t feel like you have to behave a certain way, or say particular things. Let your feelings come when they come.

Continuing or returning to school, uni, TAFE or work after someone you love has died can be really hard. But after everything you’ve been through, and thinking about nothing but cancer for days or weeks, getting back into study or work may help you get back to some sort of ‘normal’.

Don’t push yourself. Grieving can be exhausting both emotionally and physically, leaving you with little energy for anything else. Take some time out to look after yourself, and you can catch up on school/study/work later.

You may have difficulty concentrating on school, uni or work because you are grieving and there are heaps of changes in your life.

You may:

  • be tired because you are doing extra things around the house or you are having trouble sleeping.
  • have less time to get study or work done because you have to do extra things at home.
  • find that you just can’t get motivated anymore.
  • find that your work is not up to its usual standard.
  • have to deal with friends and teachers acting weird.

When you’re ready to go back to school, uni or work:

  • If possible, get someone to visit or call  to let them know your mum or dad or brother or sister has died so you don’t have to tell people.
  • Be prepared for people – even friends – to act a bit weird around you at first. You can stop them whispering about you behind your back by being upfront about what’s happened and letting them know it’s okay to ask questions. (Or telling them you’re not ready to talk about it yet.)
  • On your first day back, have a friend walk in with you so that you are not the centre of attention.

If you’re finding it hard, let your teachers or manager know so they will cut you some slack. You don’t have to pretend everything is okay. If you are doing exams you may be able to apply for special consideration if you have missed work or you are just having a hard time coping with it all. Talk to your teachers, the school counsellor or a CanTeen staff member who can organise this for you.

If your mum or dad has died, they should have had a Will – a legal document that states what a person wants to happen to their money and property after they die. It can also outline what will happen to their children. If you have had the opportunity to talk about these things before your mum or dad died then what is in the Will won’t be a surprise and there may already be a plan in place for what will happen to you and your brothers and sisters.

If your mum or dad hadn’t made a Will you may need to get legal advice on how these things get sorted out. If it’s not clear or there are arguments about what should happen, then it is important to find people you trust to talk about it and get legal advice. If possible, avoid making big decisions and big changes in the first weeks after your parent has died. In fact, there is evidence that says you shouldn’t do this in the first year – although this may not be possible. Apart from the added stress, you may not be able to think clearly and end up making decisions that are not right for you and other family members.

See useful links to find organisations that provide legal advice and help.

After a family member dies, you may have to deal with medical and funeral bills, various forms and paperwork, and take on the family budget.

You may have already been dealing with financial issues, banking, health funds, Centrelink, Medicare and other Government Departments and have some understanding of how these work and people who can continue to help you.

If not, there are all sorts of financial assistance and advice available. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing what questions to ask and who to ask. Check out these useful links.

This Australian Government website provides information about payments, counselling and financial services to help people adjust to life after someone close to them has died.

Managing the family budget

You may suddenly find yourself responsible for managing the family finances. This could be as simple as having to do the weekly shopping or it may mean having to look after the budget and bills for the whole family.

First step is working out your budget: knowing how much you have to spend and what you need to spend it on.

Here are a few tips:

  • List all the things that you need to buy and pay for on either a monthly or weekly basis.
  • Always put aside money for the essential things first, like food, rent/mortgage payments, electricity and health care.
  • Get a calendar and write on it when the regular bills come in and need to be paid.
  • When you are doing the shopping, make a list and stick to it. Having a trolley full of chips and ice cream and no money for meat and veggies (and no toilet paper) isn’t so smart.
  • Another way to avoid the ‘lots of food but nothing to eat’ trap is to work out what you are going to eat/cook for the week, make a list of all the things you need and only buy that.
  • Supermarkets are cheaper than convenience stores.

Don’t put the bills in the top drawer or on the fridge and then forget about them. Note on your calendar when they need to be paid.

If your parent or sibling has been sick for a while, you may have already mastered some kitchen basics. If not, then it may be quite a shock to you if you now have to cook for yourself or the rest of the family. Living on takeaway is okay when things are completely out of control, but cooking for yourself and your family is healthier and cheaper.

Ideas to get started:

The following tips will help to make cooking a little less stressful and mealtimes a little less boring:

  • If cooking is new to you, find some simple recipes that don’t have too many ingredients or too much preparation. You can even log in to the CanTeen Community and ask other young people for ideas.
  • Ask someone to show you some basic things to get started like how to turn the oven on and how to store cooked food safely – maybe ask a relative or a friend’s parent?
  • Stock up on things like pasta, bottles of pasta sauce, pizza bases and other healthy pre-prepared meals.
  • Buy some frozen meals to have as emergencies. Check out the freezer section of the supermarket – there are lots to choose from.
  • If you have to cook for the whole family, reserve one ‘cooking’ day a week to make big batches of family food that can be frozen then reheated (or added to lunch boxes) without too much effort.
  • Planning your meals for the week might sound lame but can be really helpful. This will also help with the shopping.
  • Don’t stress about whether the final meal looks perfect – as long as it tastes good! Once you get into it, you may really enjoy cooking.