More than three years have passed since four family members died. The shock of multiple losses — my elder daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law — brought me to my knees. The deaths occurred successively, within a nine-month period, and I was in continuous shock. My emotions were raw.
Today, I realize the pain of grief made me more aware of people’s feelings and more observant of nature. Could I tap this pain and use it positively? Since I had faith in myself, I let my mind return regularly to 2007, the year of death, and the feelings I felt then. I also let myself remember images: memorial services, hundreds of sympathy cards, and countless flower deliveries. I do this for 10 minutes at a time.
This emotional exercise helps me savor my new life. Surprisingly, it also helps me with decision-making. Thankfully, I have an upbeat personality and this has helped me cope with loss, grief, and becoming a GRG — grandparent raising grandchildren.
Daniel Goleman, PhD, discusses the influence of temperament in his book, “Emotional Intelligence.” According to Goleman, experience can change our temperament. He also thinks optimism and hope can be learned — something psychologists call self-efficacy. When you have self-efficacy, you believe you have some mastery over life events “and can meet the challenges as they come up,” he explains.
Goleman thinks people who develop self-efficacy feel stronger and are more willing to take risks. All I know is that I take more risks today than just a few years ago. Many of these risks relate to my writing career.
Christina Baldwin writes about risk-taking in her book, “One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing.” She thinks a journal is the place to learn about your inner child, self-parenting, friendships, partnerships, rules and beliefs, dreams, sensuality, grieving and letting go. “Grief is an aspect of risk taking in relationships,” she writes, “in changing beliefs and adapting new rules and inner guidance for our lives.”
My emotional exercise has given me inner guidance, helps me appreciate my new life, and the grief work that went into it. Stanley Cornils writes about this work in “The Mourning After: How to Manage Grief Wisely.” The worst thing we can do is nothing, according to Cornils, to sit back and wait to be rescued. We must rescue ourselves, and Cornils asks mourners to commit themselves to a new life.
Humans are the only living creatures who know they are going to die, comments Harold S. Kushner, author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” and this awareness changes us. “Knowing that our time is limited gives value to the things we do.” Tapping the pain of grief and using it positively may give value to the things you do and how you approach them.
Returning to the pain of early grief came about because I did not want to lose this emotional sensitivity. You may wish to try the exercise. Begin with the words “I remember” and see where the 10 minutes take you. Then apply this sensitivity to your new life.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson