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How Three Changes Can Transform Your Grief

Grief is seldom considered a growth experience, especially when you are grieving. However, since the nature of grief changes over time, the realization eventually hits that somehow we have to adapt. But how? Life is devoid of meaning and just isn’t the same anymore. And that is exactly your point of departure in growing through grief and using the experience as a steppingstone rather than a stumbling block.

But when will you be ready to start making these changes? No one except you can answer that question. When you’re ready, you’re ready. You’ll know. Here are the three new beginnings to assist in making the transition.

1. Start accepting the fact that without the physical presence of our loved one, life will always be different. In thirty years of working with the bereaved, I can tell you that no one likes to address the fact that it’s a new life. Who wants to give up the old predictable and meaningful life for one in which new routines and sometimes new skills have to be developed? Few, if any, willingly step up and embrace the unknown.

Yet acceptance of the new, knowing we cannot change what has occurred, is a crucial decision for reducing unnecessary suffering. It will also help combat reactive depression and the fatigue so often encountered when mourning. Accepting the unfamiliar is a condition of existence.

2. The above observation has to be accompanied by adopting a new belief: You have to change to a different or a new you because you are dealing with what is essentially a new normal. On a scale of one to ten, ask yourself how committed you are to working on the changed conditions of life. If you are not at the high end of the scale, insisting you will manage your great loss, your transformation will be slow and cumbersome.

Until you do something different you cannot expect different results. The death of our loved one means we have to change, if we are to adapt. There is no choice in this regard. We either do it with eyes wide open or we will be dragged through our new world, resisting all the way. And as an old psychological saying has it: “What you resist persists.” You will pay a heavy physical and emotional price in challenging the inevitable.

3. So let’s assume you agree with the first two changes, that it’s a new life and you are determined to manage your dark night. What next? Assemble a supportive group of resources. More specifically, you do not have to “be strong” and go it alone. This is the third change and it means reach out and take action. Seeking input (I hesitate to use the word help) is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a normal human response in a time of need. Grief is another difficult part of life in which knowledge is power. In this instance, knowledge is the power to cope well.
Your preparation will include others who have studied the grief process as well as information from reputable grief literature. We all need to fight through the irrational fears, false beliefs, myths, and poor grief models we were subjected to early in life. Think of your influences very carefully. They heavily color the way we perceive our current dilemma and how to deal with it. Therefore, consider a spiritual counselor, a mentor, a grief support group specific to your loss(widow/widowers, Compassionate Friends for child loss, a suicide support group, sibling support group, etc.), a hospice bereavement coordinator, or someone you know personally who has gone through a similar loss. There is much wisdom in the experience of others that will clear your way.

Ask specific “how to” questions such as: How can I deal with my anger, or guilt, or depression? How can I get through the clutter of financial paperwork? How do I get through the holidays? What can I do with all of his/her belongings? Should I visit the cemetery? How do I get rid of unwanted memories? How can I change positive experiences into happy memories? Wherever you are in need, ask for suggestions.
Your resources should also include readings on grief and insights from the writings of others who have coped well. I often recommend two old but very practical books to members in my support groups: The Mourning Handbook by Helen Fitzgerald and Life After Loss by Bob Dietz. There are many writings, articles as well as books on grief, which you can peruse on line or at your local library. Look for guidance on the importance of love in coping well and how establishing a new though invisible relationship with the beloved will help immeasurably.

In summary, when the time is right, focus on and initiate three changes: (1) accept the fact that it is a new life, (2) that you have to change, and part of that change is (3) gathering information on how you can best find a realistic view of the grief process to embrace. Then you will gradually discover the meaning of French writer Albert Camus’ famous quote: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

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About the Author

Lou LaGrand, Loss Education Associates
Venice, FL 34285

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