My husband just shared that a woman we both know passed away from a very aggressive form of ALS today with her husband and daughters by her side. This was heartbreaking news and hard to comprehend. She was a vibrant, successful woman who just last fall was on a trip to Africa with her husband and mine, trekking deep into the forests in search of the gorillas only to become ill just weeks after her return. And now, just a few months later, she is gone. Once again, I find myself struggling to understand why life has to be so hard and so full of loss and grief. It also left me with the cruel reminder that life is unpredictable and can change from one moment to the next.
With all of the tragedy that seems to seep into every corner of our lives and this world it can leave any one of us feeling vulnerable and exposed. Life is hard and quite honestly it can be difficult to stay strong and to remain positive when everything around us sometimes seems to be crumbling and falling apart.
Loss often shines a very bright light on the harsh reality that we have little to no control over so much of what happens in this journey and when things do happen, and they will, it can turn our lives upside down without warning and leave us drowning in a sad mess.
There has been so much loss over the years and as difficult as it has been, one of the things I have had to learn and accept was not IF loss would happen but when. More importantly I had to learn that the key to my recovery in grief was what I did to work through the grief after loss occurred.
There is so much misinformation about grief and sadly, the myths and misinformation can keep people stuck in their grief for a very long time. I actually believed that I had become “good at grief”. I believed that there was nothing that I couldn’t handle. What I didn’t realize was that I fell prey to the myths every time and instead of truly taking action steps to deal with my grief, I did what so many people do.
I stuffed it. I ignored it. I pretended that I WAS FINE. I was strong. I focused on helping others. I kept busy.
Society is very uncomfortable with grief. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to face it. No one wants to deal with it. So – we don’t. Grief is put into a neat little box and shoved up into the back shelf of the closet of life hoping it will be forgotten or just go away. The problem? It does not go away. It is always there lurking in the shadows and if it is not faced, it will create far more issues than most people realize.
It took me years to realize that my inability to truly deal with my grief had kept me stuck in places I no longer wanted to be. I had worn a mask for so long that I no longer knew who I was and my way of dealing with loss was to numb the pain with things that only compounded my grief.
Unfortunately, many grievers fall into this same trap. Instead of facing the grief and taking action steps to recover and move beyond the pain, many people bury the grief deep inside and lean into behaviors that temporarily make them feel better or mask the pain. The problem? It is temporary and in the end the grief remains.
So what can be done to help heal our hearts when they are broken? How do we move beyond the pain following a loss of any kind and eventually move forward to live life with peace and happiness again?
While I do not have all of the answers here are a few things that I have learned along the way:
- You are NOT alone. Grief can be incredibly isolating and it can leave us feeling alone. To compound the isolation people do not always know what to do or say to someone that is grieving so instead of saying something they choose to say nothing at all. It is important to remember that while no one can know exactly how you are feeling, there are so many people out there in the world that are grieving too. Grief is universal and you are not alone.
- Ask for help. This can be very hard to do. Again, it is easy to curl up in a ball and avoid others or we try to wear the mask and pretend to be just fine. People love you and people want to help; they just don’t know how. Be honest about how you are feeling and don’t be afraid to reach out to others and ask for what you need.
- Avoid the “band aids” and quick fixes. When human beings feel bad, are in pain or hurting it is easy to reach for any number of things that will mask the pain or help us to feel better in the moment. It might be alcohol, food, drugs, shopping or work to name a few but be aware. These vices may seem to be the answer in the moment but I can promise you that the feeling will be temporary and in the end these short term solutions only compound the grief and pain.
- Practice self-care and self-compassion. Be good to yourself. It is critical that you are taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Make sure that you are getting sleep and eating. Try to exercise even if it is just going for a walk. Hold on to those things that brought you some sense of joy or create new ones. Laugh. Be gentle with yourself and remember that grief is normal. You are normal. Surround yourself with people that love you and care.
- Practice gratitude. It can feel impossible to find joy or gratitude in life when your heart is broken and you are drowning in a sea of grief. However, I have learned that even during the darkest of times, there is always something to be grateful for. There are always little pieces of joy that float around in our lives and are worth paying attention to. One thing that has helped me is to journal. When I am feeling down, I write three things that I am grateful for and at least one source of joy each day. It reminds me that life can be good even when things feel really bad.
- Don’t ignore the pain. Pain is a part of life and it is a part of growing. As hard as it might be, there is wisdom in pain and in the wounds life brings. The wisdom may be hard to see but it is there. There will be days when it feels unbearable or like the pain will never go away. Face it and accept it. If you deal with it and take steps to grieve, the pain does start to fade and eventually, you will start to have days where you feel happy again. Life may never be the same but you can find joy again.
- Don’t give up. You are far stronger and more resilient than you could ever imagine. You may feel that things will never get better or that you will be stuck in a dark place forever, but you won’t. When you feel like quitting or giving up, remember that sometimes things need to go very wrong before they can once again feel right.
Loss and grief are one of the most difficult things that any one of us will have to deal with and face. Sadly, there is no way to avoid it. If you have a broken heart or are struggling with a loss of any kind, don’t run away from it. The only way to truly heal and move beyond the pain is to take action and run towards it.
In closing, I read the book “Option B” written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant a few weeks ago. So much of what was written in that book resonated with me and hit very close to home. Her heart and grief stirred something deep inside of me. I want to leave you with a few words from Sheryl and I hope they somehow touch your aching heart.
Sheryl writes, “We all deal with loss: jobs lost, loves lost, lives lost. The question is not whether these things will happen. They will, and we will have to face them.
Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning into the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more.
I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.”
In Peace and with Love,