Grief is one of the most universal experiences that we can go through as human beings. Regardless of how each of us learns to cope with the loss of a loved one, one thing is certain – the way we reflect on loss can teach us valuable lessons that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Though it may seem impossible in the early stages of grief, finding empowerment in times of tragedy can be an invaluable tool in the healing process. Even if death has no religious or spiritual connotations for you, it is still possible to transform these emotions into a sense of serenity, whether it takes weeks, months or even years.
While your circumstances may vary, the likelihood is that loss, grief and even organising a funeral will come with a great deal of pain. When we experience emotional turmoil or suffering in our lives, we often turn to those around us for help and support. However, when someone dies, it is likely that you will not be the only one experiencing this loss and pain, and will spend time in a period of shared grieving.
In the early stages of grief – particularly in the days leading up to and following a funeral – emotions can run high, and everyone around you will be dealing with their grief in their own personal way. While it may be extremely difficult, taking heart in your shared memories, and the impact that person had on your lives can foster a sense of compassion for your friends and family, as you help one another to find strength and peace.
It’s common for this period of shared grieving to help strengthen these relationships, as you learn to support and share with one another.
But grief doesn’t just teach us to feel compassion for others. In order to feel empowered and at peace, it is important that we learn to feel just as much compassion for ourselves. Grieving can be difficult if you are the family member in charge of organising a funeral, or if you have other responsibilities in your life.
Instead of ‘staying strong’ and bottling up these feelings, giving yourself the space to grieve can help you to put those responsibilities in perspective. Grieving teaches us both the fragility and the value of life, and encourages us to be kinder to ourselves and at peace with our own feelings – something that will invaluable as you move on with the rest of your life.
However old you are, the death of a loved one has a way of putting things in perspective, and making us re-evaluate our priorities. In an ideal world, of course, it shouldn’t take a bereavement for us to live our lives to the fullest. Unfortunately, many of us are living increasingly busy, hectic and stressful lifestyles that leave very little time for self-reflection. Sometimes changing our lifestyles is just too scary until we have the impetus to do so.
When someone passes, it can be a harsh reminder of the time we’ve spent so far, and the time we have left to pursue our goals. When a loved one dies suddenly or unexpectedly, this awakening can be even more painful and jarring.
In certain situations, especially for families that have lost a loved one to a long, terminal illness, it could be their own encouragement that forces you to break those negative habits. For some, witnessing the way in which their loved one embraces all that life has to offer towards the end of their own life can be an inspirational experience, and a shining example to follow.
Whatever the reason, it is perfectly normal to feel the sense that “life’s too short” after losing someone you love, and it’s fine to acknowledge the value in this. As long as it does not lead to destructive behaviour for you or your family, this attitude can often lead to a happier and healthier future.
Grief can help you look to the future in more ways than one – and this doesn’t always mean taking a spontaneous round-the-world trip. The early stages of grief are hard, and it’s understandable for moving on to feel disrespectful or even impossible, almost as though you are dishonouring their memory.
As painful as it may be, however, grief has a way of reminding us that life goes on even after people pass. The only way to create experiences and memories for future generations is to carry on living after they are no longer with us, and live in the manner that they would like to have seen.
For some people, reminiscing about the past while trying to move on into the future is the hardest part of the grieving process. You may fall on either side of the spectrum when it comes to navigating this process: some choose to close themselves off from any and all memories, and will not even speak of their loved one; others will fill their home with photographs and sentimental items, and seek to remember the good times they spent together.
We all grieve differently, and there is no correct way in which to deal with this, or any part of the grieving process. If you are weighed down by memories, however, then incorporating the positive and happy memories while still living your own life can be a positive way of learning how to move on.
Remembering the lives that our loved ones have lived can also empower and encourage us, helping us to learn from their own experiences, achievements and mistakes. Learning from those that have passed even after they are gone reminds us that they can still live on in our memories, affecting our choices and the generations to come.
Well-wishing friends may have approached you with cliches such as “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, and they can easily seem tired and trite. But for some, this precise mentality be a real help when learning to deal with the loss of someone close.
At first, the feeling of love can seem like an unnecessary burden – after all, it is because we love that we feel pain when someone is no longer with us. However, the gratitude that comes to many of us after the passing of a loved one is a very special gift, and is one of the most powerful grieving tools available to us. Though it may be an unwanted gift, especially at first, it is a gift nonetheless.
There are, after all, plenty of people in the world who do not have these familial bonds, or anyone close or dear to them. While the grieving process is so much harder when it is for a person that was dearly loved, it can remind us of how lucky we are to have people in our lives that we wish we hadn’t lost.
This outlook may not come readily when you are first grieving; it may take time, practice, and further loss. When we arrive at it, however, it can change the feeling of grief from a negative and crippling experience to something more positive and hopeful – a chance to cherish the bonds that tie us together.
Losing someone can be a tremendous lesson in what it actually means to live. It offers us a period of reflection that we don’t always have the ability to tap into in our daily grind, and a chance to treasure what we have as much as what we’ve lost. It may not happen overnight, but it is possible that your final stage of grief will change too – transcending acceptance to reach a point of genuine healing.