In the last article, we discussed the importance of shedding expectations of "going back to normal" after conquering grief. But the grief that comes of a significant loss doesn't usually go away. It becomes a part of you. Your history, faith, worldview and identity are partially informed by the way you interpret and cope with the loss of people close to you.
Grief isn't an unfortunate illness that passes after a few days of soup and rest. When someone we love dies, it can take months or years to overcome the mental anguish—but being able to get through the day does not mean your grief is over.
Though it might not feel like it at the time, grief is actually good. It's your mind and body's response to deep emotional pain. This protects you, and allows you to comprehend the loss over time. It's also extremely painful—sometimes unbearably so.
Your grief process is unique to you. But there are some common experiences people who've known deep grief move forward with once they have made sense of the tragedy.
Human bodies are fragile. With life expectancy rates higher than ever before in history, it can be hard for many to confront the awareness that life is actually quite tenuous. If you've ever narrowly dodged an accident that would have been fatal, you know how quickly life can be taken away.
When a loved one dies, you see mortality firsthand. It's difficult to confront, but as you move forward in life, you have the benefit of this perspective. Death is always possible, so live your dash to the fullest.
For most people, every day can't be full of fun, travel, adventure and connection. Most people have lives to live, and that includes school, work, chores and sometimes doing things you'd rather skip. But everyone should take moments to enjoy life. Knowing that death and grief are a part of life can help you decide what matters and what doesn't. Since you only have one life to live, make the most of it!
Though it may seem like a poor consolation prize, one of the most valuable things grief can teach you is how to cope. Your way of coping might be different than those around you, and there might be parts that are more healthy than others—but it's beneficial to know how you cope with grief. Going forward, you can use this experience to help you cope with future loss.
Those who offer their assistance to the bereaved are rare and powerful. They can help you reframe your thoughts about death, offer emotional support while you grieve, and ease the pain you feel for the loss. As you move past the most intense moments of grief, you'll realize just how important that support was. Going forward, you can appreciate the helpers in many types of challenging situations.
It's possible that your experience with loss will convert you into a helper too. Once your life is no longer ruled by the pain of grief, you might find yourself offering support to those in similar situations. Even if you aren't comfortable with this, you may have greater empathy for those in pain.
Being able to laugh in the face of death is a healthy coping strategy—and a powerful one. You might find that after all the emotional turmoil of grief, your sense of humor has developed into something a little darker than before.
Whether or not you believe in an afterlife, it is possible to keep the memory of your loved one alive. Your relationship with the deceased person might not end with their death. Particularly if your loved one was your spouse, parent, child, best friend, or other close relationship, you might find yourself considering them at important moments in your life. Finding a way to include the departed in your future is one of the most important ways you honor someone you've loved.
As you move through grief, you'll experience setbacks, sudden moments of wholeness, hopelessness and everything in between. Though you don't need to dwell on the loss you've experienced forever, it's going to come with you as you grow and change. The grief you endure can make you stronger if you can accept the loss as a permanent change in the world, and yourself.
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