When we open ourselves up to love, we open ourselves up to loss. That is why loss hurts so much – it’s connected to the greatest mystery of all: love. So it’s understandable that the deeper the love we felt for someone the deeper pain goes when they die and leave us.
The death of a loved one shocks us physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. After those first four hits, grief arrives and is quickly followed by the mourning process. This process of grieving and mourning a loss is found across cultures. What does that mean? It means that grieving is a universal experience. We only have to pick up a paper to see the agony of loss on faces of bereaved people following a tragic accident, school shooting, floods, mud slides, bombings, hurricanes, tornadoes, cars aimed to hit innocent bystanders and precious children being laid to rest. There is universality to grief and mourning. It makes no difference if the deaths and tragedies were in Israel or Ireland, North America or New Zealand. We hurt inside and outside when death arrives in our lives.
We feel so sad when we lose someone. We feel lost, overwhelmed and even confused as “How can people be going to work, grocery shopping, playing with their dog? How can children sing and lovers kiss when our world feels so colorless, empty and shattered?” Sometimes we feel mad as in “Why did you have to die?” Feelings do not have to make sense and oftentimes they do not.
The waves of grief rise up unexpectedly and suddenly we find ourselves crying. Maybe we’re at home doing the dishes or in the grocery store or we’ve just dropped the kids off at school. Maybe we’re doing okay then a song comes over the radio and we find ourselves sobbing or we get a whiff of the fragrance our mother used to wear or someone looks at us the way our best friend did when she was alive.
At work we pretend we are managing. Some days it’s a relief, other days a burden. No one says anything after the first day or two about our recent loss. Or worse, we let down our guard and someone remarks, “Oh, you’re still young, you can marry again. Or “Your father was old, he had a decent life.” Comments like these sting. Comments like these feel like slaps across our souls. Now, on top of our grief, we are made to feel like there is something abnormal about us. It can feel terribly disconcerting but, make no mistake, it is they not you who has the problem. Learn quickly who you can be vulnerable around and who you cannot be. That awareness alone will save you additional heartache so you can protect yourself from additional hurt. Grief is a great teacher and the best students learn from her quickly.
Rationally we all know death is inevitable and no one escapes the pain of its many attached associations. But when our losses arrive – whether expected or sudden – many of us fight the agonies and realities of loss – “please, we beg, (sometimes out loud) give me back my child, my health, my spouse or my old life.”
Some people – in a frenzy to feel less pain – donate the deceased person’s clothing too quickly, sell their home too abruptly, and board planes to escape the inner sadness. But please don’t go too fast; take your time for your emotions to catch up with your loss. Remember, your life feels different because it is different – someone you loved has died. You and your precious life need a chance to honor not only the person you lost but the next part of your earthly journey.
In your grief process you will often long and ache for that person during your healing time. If you have lost a beloved child, the saddest loss of all, your loss will be with you forever. We can honor that loss by accepting the reality that the loss will soften and you will survive. I know those children were your heart. I know that personally. So any recovery here at all has to come with enormous love and support from those others who also have lost their beloved children or who have an enormous capacity for empathy.
Sometimes you might mistakenly believe that loss and grief exist only when someone you love dies. While death of a person is the worse pain, other losses as the death of a faithful family pet, our lost health to a chronic illness or terrible diagnosis, lost job, lost marriage or a lost friendship can register on our psyches as cruel temporal separations, too. And I’m not even addressing existential losses – those dreams which died long ago of wishing for the loving family you never had, the happy life, the beautiful life.
So what can you do when your life is hammered with loss and your heart is torn in two?
Stay hopeful is the first thing you can do and stay connected to good people is the second. Some people need to be alone in the beginning when they grieve; and they pull away from others. This might be okay for awhile but not a healthy long-term choice. Why? Because ongoing separation from others will isolate you even further and cause the loneliness of your loss to exacerbate. This loneliness and isolation could complicate your grief and make you anxious, more depressed or even worse make you despair. That dark hole of despair is far more difficult to climb out of and recover from than grief alone. Guard against despair by staying close to those who love you, support you, and can talk with you about your feelings.
So my bottom line advice is don’t go it alone and don’t wait for others to necessarily knock on your front or back door either. Oftentimes people just don’t know what to do to comfort you so remember what Winnie the Pooh once remarked, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
Here are some suggestions to get you out of your corner of the forest:
One – Share your pain with compassionate family members, friends, a rabbi, priest, minister, grief counselor or a spiritual person.
Two – Care for your body by frequent rest, naps and a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night. Eat nourishing foods, drink spring water (and no less than 32 ounces a day), get a massage, get a facial, practice yoga and meditation twice a week, walk fifteen minutes every day, pray. Get a physical.
Three – Accept embraces and compassion from all who offer it.
Four – Spend some recreational time with loving and sensitive family members and friends.
Five – Join a church or civic community where you can be around people. Join a bereavement support group.
Six – Watch children playing because nothing will lift your heart faster.
Seven – Commit to refocus your pain by helping someone worse off than yourself.
Eight – Stay away from everyone who is harmful for your soul with words and actions.
Remember, surviving our shattering losses – whether it is the death of a beloved child, a close friend, family member, your health or a special dream – takes a different kind of strength, a courage you didn’t believe you had. And my friends be at peace knowing your loved one is safe now. Be at peace knowing you did a wonderful job loving them and they felt it and be merciful to yourself if you weren’t perfect; no one is and your love eclipsed any and all imperfections. And finally, be at peace knowing these loved ones reside in your soul now and no one can ever – in a million lifetimes – take that reality away.
Author of When Every Day Matters: A Mother’s Memoir on Love, Loss and Life (Simple Abundance Press) Available on Amazon.com