Daily habits fall victim to staggering disruption when someone you love dies. We face fatigue. We encounter emotional extremities. We temporarily lose interest in things we might deeply love. We might even take on strange new habits because we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves.
The process of grieving is different for everyone. Yet at some point in a journey through grief we stop to ask ourselves, “Now what?”
Overcoming grief isn’t easy. At least it wasn’t for me. I had to reorientate myself with the world around me, with “socialising” or rather with the desire to be social. For many months after my mother died, I felt like I was “in limbo” but I also wanted to find a way to move forward. As an agent of my own change, I ultimately decided to carve a path by volunteering for a cause I cared deeply about.
This is what I learned.
One — Empowerment
When we experience a loss, we are subject to feelings of powerlessness especially when someone we care deeply about dies. There is no amount of money in the world or highly-integrated social network of innovative thinkers and high-rollers who can spare us from the final call of an inevitable resting place.
However, when we volunteer for something that we believe is important, we become agents of positive change and take part in something that is much larger than ourselves or our grief. This can be a source of profound energy.
Whether it is a local or an international organisation, we are empowered to see beyond our own life and circumstances as we work with others toward a common goal. By making this our own choice, we are commanding control.
It can feel like the clocks stop for an extended period of time when we lose a loved one. Everything from the latest news to the subtly changing scenery in our neighborhood will often wash over us, slipping into a reservoir of experiences that we will probably never draw from. We are generally not as in tune with our surroundings when we grieve because our attention is drawn inward amid our boundless collection of memories and thoughts.
In fact, for an undefined period of time, we tend to live in the past far more than we live in the present. It is as if death scatters countless pieces of our life that were once held together in the seemingly completed form of a jigsaw puzzle. However, following a death we can find ourselves sitting at the center of all those scattered pieces. We can find ourselves wilfully sorting out the different shapes, sizes, and their varying relationships to each other in order to put the different parts safely back into place.
However, it is the stream of new experiences that distance us from death and help to emotionally reintegrate us into land of the living.
When we volunteer, we are able to choose an experience that we likely want to have. In doing so, we begin to build on new ideas, new hopes, and a new direction that can gently nudge us forward in new healthy and meaningful ways.
Three — Camaraderie
Although we may require a period of solitude to work through both the puzzles in our mind and the many administrative tasks that accompany grief, Aristotle was right when he stated, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Therefore, any opportunity to connect with others in a positive and rewarding way undoubtedly has the power to facilitate healing.
When we volunteer for a cause we believe in, we join the ranks of others who share similar values and goals.
We belong to a community. We belong to a cause. We look at our reflection in the mirror and are gently reminded that we can connect with something important — especially during a time when we are prone to feeling most alone. By joining forces with like-minded people working toward the same outcome, we share in both the pursuit of our mutual objectives as well as in the success of reaching our goals.
Our lives unravel when someone dies. If this person was ill for many months, then their care probably became the central body around which our entire lives orbited.
If someone died suddenly then we are often thrown into the eye of a hurricane, watching the aftermath of a tragic loss circle around us at dizzying speeds. As a result, we may experience prolonged disorientation while struggling to anchor ourselves to a place filled with hope and purpose.
Volunteering gently connects us with a sense of purpose without it having to be something that takes over our lives.
Five — Joy
While in the grips of a great loss it can be incredibly difficult to imagine our return to a world of laughter again, although such a thought may come more naturally for others. I know it didn’t for me. When I suddenly lost my mother in 2014, life transitioned into a prolonged period of seriousness.
Pain envelops joy in the same way that darkness swallows the light whenever we feel vulnerable, lost, or broken. We may see ourselves in the spiral of our own sorrow wondering when it will ever end.
This is why it’s so important to have people in our lives, especially those who are working toward a similar goal. It lightens the load as we begin move forward.
Volunteering is an opportunity to immerse ourselves among people and in the process of doing great work, we can laugh together, we can support each other, we can celebrate together and it is this laughter, support, and celebration that are three crucial pillars that uphold joy and form the invisible current that safely pulls us forward.
For more information on bereavement support, locate your local bereavement charities, grief counsellors, or even ask your local medical group. If someone you know is specifically bereaved by suicide – please visit: www.thoughtclimber.com for more information on resources that can help.
Originally published at medium.com