The death of a loved one and the grief that follows teach many lessons. Perhaps the most important one is that pain is the sign to take a new road in life. This is a double barreled lesson. First, we often have to decide to do some things we have not thought of previously or ever attempted before. And secondly, of equal importance, the key to advancement into our new world (that is, our adaptation to the loss) is the necessity to take action.
Accepting the new and taking action are crucial learnings; they are also difficult to embrace. New direction takes many forms in the grief process. Here are five to consider that others have had to deal with in their journey through grief. You too, may well have to deal with one or more of them.
1. Grief and loss frequently demands the development of new routines. In death, divorce, or loss of friendships, survivors usually have to assume new responsibilities which may have belonged to their partner or friend who is no longer there. New routines, often difficult to institute, are significant coping responses to establish. The sooner the better, because they eventually help bring stability to a life that has changed through loss.
2. Grief and loss may say: change the way you perceive the world. Perceptions are the personal meaning we give to experience. Perhaps you may have to find new meanings. The world is no longer a totally happy place to be, but one in which pain must be accepted as part of the fabric of life. This is a very normal response, especially if this is the first time you have had to deal with a major loss.
3. Grief and loss sometimes implies the adoption of new beliefs. Beliefs affect every facet of your response to loss. One of the most critical new beliefs to ponder is that with most losses — if not all — the key message is take a different road, a new approach, or access in order to adapt and reinvest in life. This is a big stumbling block for many as we don’t like to give up our old ways and do the distasteful.
One of the new considerations I suggest to most who are mourning the death of a loved one is that they are entering a new life, the next chapter. And, what does that mean you must do?
4. Grief and loss may point to the development of new relationships. Widows and widowers usually lose their connections to other couples in their social circle. Yet, everyone needs interpersonal relationships of the right type and number.
Deepening the relationships you already have by meeting more regularly with friends could be called for. Developing connections at your church or synagogue or with relatives that you do not regularly see is another avenue. What is clear is that such strong relationships promote health and longevity.
5. Grief and loss often results in the needed development of new skills and abilities. Sometimes certain skills are necessary in order to take a new job. At other times, it may be out of necessity: either learn how to fix the leak in the faucet or toilet tank or pay a hefty bill from the local plummer. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning how to pump your own gas. Many times it’s learning to do the taxes and manage financial records.
To summarize, don’t ignore the biggest lesson grief and loss teaches: pain signals to take a new road or you stay longer in pain. Look for those who have dealt with the kind of loss you are experiencing or who are experts in helping the bereaved. Learn from their wisdom and experience regarding where you need to take action on your new road.
We all, at various times, have to do what we dislike doing. However, take comfort in the fact that the history of loss shows that mourners do adjust to their new path and are able to finally reinvest in life.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.comgrief, hope