Following loss everything suddenly changes. The absence of your loved one. The way you see the world and the people in it; daily routines; the things you care about most; your outlook on life; love; work; pleasure…
Now add to that mix a dark empty abyss of sadness and hopelessness, deep painful yearning, and emotional and physical exhaustion, and you have what your new life has suddenly become.
Daily life is something you must reluctantly trudge through without a feeling of purpose or hope, and a belief that things cannot possibly get better because life has been permanently altered.
Sound familiar? That is because, while survivors have different and unique experiences directly related to individual relationships, so do we all share many common threads in our grief. And it is these commonalities that links complete strangers who can support one another with the deepest compassion, because surely no one understands grief better than those who have lost someone.
Putting one foot in front of the other can feel like climbing the highest mountain in the darkest winter. And while most will need time to grieve alone, there soon comes a time when isolation will only add to our grief. And this is when we must summon up all the strength and courage we can and begin to build for ourselves a network of support that will help us as we struggle to accept our losses, and the many changes it will bring to our lives.
Family, friends and fellow grievers are all good places to start building a network of support. There will be those in your life who can offer only passing condolences; and there will be those who will stand by your side in the coming weeks, months and even years. Know which is which and who will be your best companions and allies on this spiritual journey. And be aware than sometimes grief necessitates building a whole new network of support to fulfill these roles.
Support groups are a very good option to explore. There is often the fear and common misconception that grief support groups force you to sit in a room full of strangers and expose your wounded heart for all to see. This is not the case. While it will always help you to open up when you feel comfortable to do so, no one will pressure you to talk about things you are not ready to talk about. On the contrary, support groups tend to be very compassionate because they are made up of people who understand the pain of loss firsthand. Groups are also about listening to other people’s stories and exploring the common threads we share that can help us to better cope as we search for hope and healing together.
There many other ideas and resources to support people in grief such as reading materials, videos, music, lectures, creating memory books and other remembrances, journals, exploring and learning new skills and hobbies. Volunteering to help others in need can also be very nurturing to the wounded soul.
I sometimes use the metaphor that grief and healing are like a great big jigsaw puzzle. Our lives often feel as if they have been shattered into hundreds of confusing pieces, and it seems incredibly daunting to even begin to piece it back together. But as we take control of how we will respond to our pain, we can devise a strategy and to slowly rebuild our new lives piece by piece, using as many different resources and support that can help us.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to begin, I suggest sitting down with pencil and paper and making lists. Have a family member or friend help you. List the people you can count on for daily and ongoing support. Make a list of what helps and what hurts about your daily routine. List your personal strengths and weaknesses. Make a list short-term goals to respond to the changes in your life. Begin to build new routines that better support you than will create new paths in your life knowing that it does not mean leaving anything or anyone in your life behind.
Tell yourself often that the deep pain and emptiness will gradually lessen with proper support, and by taking control of how you will respond to your loss and grief. Seek out hope and find ways to create hope for yourself every day.
It is true that things will never be the same as they were before your loss. And it is true that you will always grieve the loss of your loved ones to some extent. It is undeniable that you will experience feelings of hopelessness following losses. But you will get through this in no small part by what you do with this journey, even when it seems impossible to put one foot in front of the other.
And always remember, there is no shame in reaching out to others to help you walk this journey. No one ever needs to walk alone.
Copyright John Pete
Updated: July 22, 2013