In her new book, “Just Who Will You Be?” Maria Shriver discusses life purpose and planning. “Ask yourself, ‘Who do I want to be?’ It’s the most important question of your life,” she writes.
Her question may be applied to grief reconciliation and recovery. Despite our losses, pain, and sorrow, we can decide who we want to be in the years ahead. Before I read Shriver’s quote I wondered who I wanted to be and realized there were many people I did NOT want to be.
For one thing, I didn’t want to become the neighborhood grouch. Though people have turned their carts around in the grocery store to avoid meeting me, I didn’t want to be thought of as “bad news person.” Most of all, I didn’t want to get stuck in grief and become an endless mourner. Determining who I want to be helped me create a new life.
Raising my twin grandchildren is my new life mission. I have four goals: 1) protect my grandchildren physically and legally; 2) take care of myself; 3) continue to learn about grief; 4) look to the future with optimism. In short, I made a conscious decision not to waste my life.
Rabbi Harold Kushner writes about our response to tragedy is his book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Some people, if they are rejected, bereaved, injured, or have bad luck, feel a need to see themselves as bad people, Kushner explains. This response “drives away people who try to come close . . .” Kushner warns us about joining the Suffering Olympics and talking endlessly about our problems.
“Anguish and heartbreak may not be distributed evenly throughout the world,” he writes, “but they are distributed very widely.”
So I let friends see my profound sorrow at the loss of my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law. They saw me struggle, saw me weep, saw me depressed, and pick myself up again. When you think about it, happiness is a personal choice. I voted for happiness and hope you will too.
Vamik d. Volkan, MD and Elizabeth Zintl write about the end of grief in their book, “Life After Loss: The Lessons of Grief.” The time comes, they explain, when “we reach the practical end of mourning with the ability to provide for ourselves something that we needed from the lost relationship.” Identifying with the deceased helps us to do this. You may wear your loved one’s shirt, for example. Creating memorials is another way of identifying with the deceased.
“What begins as an expression of a desire for closeness ends in helping us to stand alone,” write Volkan and Zintl.
After three years of pain, three years of learning, three years of grief work, I’m becoming the grandmother I want to be. I’ve cared for my grandchildren, kept them close, and at the same time, encouraged them to let go. They leave for college in the fall, secure in the knowledge that they are loved, will always be loved, and always have a home.
No matter where you are in your grief journey, asking yourself “Who Do I Want to Be?” will help you move beyond loss. You can plan a new life and live it to the fullest. Even though you may not believe it now, you can be happy again.