I thought about titling this post Moving Forward from Grief or something like that, but I intentionally didn’t want to send the message that at some point you just “get over” a loss. Maybe for some people that happens. But often, when you experience the loss of a loved one, your life is different forever. Not always in a bad way, but things just aren’t the same. You develop a new sense of normalcy. For some of us there might always be a void. So, you move while you grieve, because it’s a reality that life has to keep going. But how do you do that?
I think an important step in the process is to work to accept the fact that things won’t ever be the same. Longing for the familiarity of “life before” is natural but it can also stunt our progression. Things won’t be exactly the same, and that has to be ok. When I think back to losing my dad 7 years ago, I remember being so confused by the idea that life could go on without him. It just didn’t seem possible. He had been such an integral part of my life (and the lives of so many others), that I could not fathom a world without him walking around. For weeks, I would call his cell phone, expecting to hear his voice, before I even realized what I was doing. But still, every morning the sun rose, my day started, and I had things to do. The world did, in fact, keep turning without him. That didn’t necessarily make my days seem easier, but I did begin to believe they were possible.
For people with whom we’ve had important relationships, it can help to think about how that relationship can remain with you in a different form. This is certainly connected with your religious and spiritual beliefs. As a Christian, I believe that people’s spirits continue after their physical bodies die. So for me, there was the hope that he was watching over me, still with me in some way. When we knew he was dying, my dad and I made a deal that if we needed to talk after he died, it would be in a dream. Now, I am so grateful we had that conversation. It was his promise to me that his dying wasn’t an eternal goodbye and it was our promise to each other that our connection was bigger than physical bodies. So, while his physical presence left me long ago, I’m still very connected to him. I often dream of him- usually they are mundane conversations about the goings on of my life. It was how we spent much of our time together while he lived, and what I’ve missed the most. But during those dreams I am reminded of his wisdom, the wise counsel he gave me, and I can feel him cheering me on, even if when I wake up he’s gone again. Death can take a person from us, but it can never take away our relationship with them. Whether the death is anticipated or sudden, we have the opportunity to rework the relationship we have with the person we lost so they don’t have to be completely gone from our lives.
Sometimes, we need a tangible reminder of the person we lost. That can be in the form of a picture, a trinket, an item of clothing, whatever the case may be. For some, it helps to keep the person close in that way. I’ve had lots of milestones since my dad died- things that I would have wanted a pep talk from him before, or wanted to see his face smiling in the crowd; my college graduation, licensure exams, my wedding day, the day I received my PhD, the list goes on. On each of those days, though he wasn’t with me, I took him with me in some way- a sticky note, a ring he wore, a piece of jewelry he gave me, something. I’ll probably do it until I’m old and gray. It’s my way of honoring him, of carrying him with me as my life changes and develops.
Often, the thing that helps the most is to talk about the person we lost, either with people who knew them, or people who didn’t. Just the act of talking about the person keeps them with you, reminds you of what they meant to you, and keeps their memory alive. The more you talk, the more you understand and the greater your opportunities for moving toward healing. For some, it’s helpful to visit the gravesite or look through the funeral program. For others, they like to extend energy outward- reconnecting with social groups, activities, or other endeavors. This doesn’t represent a betrayal to the person you lost. Our loved ones would want us to have healthy, fulfilling lives in their absence.
As you begin to adjust to the “new normal” there are often logistics involved- bills, insurance payments, new organization of who does what household duty, etc. As for help with this if you need support. Some people prefer to handle these things alone, and others need someone to hold their hand. Do what you need to do. Handling these things scratches at the wound of your pain- a jarring reminder your loved one is gone. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Prioritize the most urgent needs and save the others for when you’re ready.
These things help, but understand that there will still be times when sadness rushes over you with no apparent trigger. For me, it was the shower. I don’t know if it was because it was always quiet time, or because I was alone. I’m not sure, but the reality of him being gone often hit me in that vulnerable moment- I cried for him and for the moments I would never get to share with him. He didn’t see my graduations. He didn’t walk me down the aisle. He will never meet his grandchildren. Now, it’s not as often, but it still happens, 7 years later. I’m ok with that. I’m glad to have known a person whose death can bring me to tears so long after their passing. Then, there will be other times where you feel great and you feel a sense of great joy. I had anticipated that my wedding day would be a day a grieved for my dad, felt his absence keenly. Instead, I felt his presence. I felt him beaming as I walked down the aisle. I felt his blessing on the life choices I’d made since he died. I felt pure joy. All of this is grist for the mill when moving while grieving. There is no prescription. There are no right answers. Just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. It gets better.
Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices! Tell me, what are some other things that have helped during the grieving process?