How Sudden Loss and Grief Helped Me Build Resilience

Experiencing the sudden loss of loved ones back-to-back helped me become more resilient.

Osobystist/ Shutterstock
Osobystist/ Shutterstock

I was twenty years old at the time, excelling in college, living with my high school sweetheart, and starting to find myself. I felt invincible most days and excited about what the future had in store for me, until the future came and was one I had never expected. I lost not one, but two of my grandparents back-to-back. I had never experienced the loss of a close loved one, let alone the loss of two people closest to me. The sudden realities of unexpected death clouded my reality, and brought on a season of grief and personal development.

Before this time in my life, I had always strived to be in control of as much as possible. But when I found myself crying hysterically on the couch in my grief counselor’s office as I began to work through my feelings, I realized that change is inevitable. It wouldn’t be a matter of if something unexpected happens again, but when. Even though I felt like I had grappled with being in control up until this point, I learned to accept that life is unexpected, and I won’t always have control over what happens.

The sudden loss was devastating and heartbreaking, but it also led me on a journey to becoming more resilient. Here’s what I learned in the process of coping:

Change might be uncomfortable, but change is inevitable.

Before I lost my grandparents, I lived my life with a change-averse mindset. I thrive in situations that are well-planned out and predictable. To some degree, I think we all crave routine and comfort to a certain extent. It’s tough to be comfortable with change and to handle unexpected changes well. That’s not the goal. Accepting the discomfort builds resilience by forcing us to understand that change is going to happen whether we welcome it or not.

Self-awareness is crucial.

I spent a lot of time getting to know myself better as I navigated the stages of grief. I began to understand how my anxiety and negative thoughts were manifesting in my body. I started to notice how my sadness was affecting me beyond the surface-level. I paid attention to symptoms such as headaches, lack of appetite, and restlessness and began analyzing if they were related to other feelings I had built up. Over time, I started to gain more control over my emotions by becoming more self-aware. Self-awareness is key to learning how to manage your emotions and building resilience.

Self-care looks different for everyone.

Part of being resilient is identifying ways to take care of yourself when you’re going through a struggle. I started practicing yoga after losing my grandparents and know that it’s one of the forms of self-care that I can lean on when times get tough. I am also someone who likes to talk things through. Talking about how I’m feeling and where I’m struggling most is a form of self-care I became accustomed to during grief counseling. I know what my self-care strategies are, and I use them during the good times and the bad.

You have the power to pick yourself back up.

Adversity is different for everyone, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy for learning how to bounce back. Building resilience is a customizable experience and one that will differ for everybody, so it’s important to remember that you are in charge of addressing adversity and picking yourself back up. At the time, I’d decided to take the steps I needed, including going to therapy, and it made a significant difference in how I was able to cope.

Even though we can’t control what happens to us, we can choose how we respond.

There will be situations in life that happen beyond our control. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond to these situations. I use my experience with loss and grief to inspire others. I cherish the memories I have of my grandparents instead of dwelling on the events in my life that they’re missing. I’ve used my experience to live a more meaningful life in their honor.

My journey to becoming more resilient hasn’t been an easy one. Building resilience is a lifelong process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I would give anything in the world to spend another day with my grandparents, but I am thankful to be a more resilient person as a result of losing them.

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