Loss and Grieving: The Caring Role of Love
Consider the death of a spouse or child. What can love do? How does it help? What can we do?
Love offers many tools and resources. Their application may depend upon the stage and manner of the passage from loss to reliving. The primary ones, however, will tend to reflect comfort, care, and rebuilding as life—now changed—continues.
If there is any overriding suggestion, it is: give it time and hold onto Self during the grieving process. Keep options open. Understand that waves of loss, sadness and numbness are a passage faced by many. You are not isolated or alone, nor somehow weak because of them. Part of your life has died.
At first, the grieving may seem overwhelming. Even with time, some days will be okay, some not so okay, particularly at the beginning. Little, even unexpected things, will set off a wave of sadness. Just mentally accept that it is a process, and as with most processes, things change over time. The immediate needs are to cope, hold on, keep healthy and keep walking with whatever resources and tools are available.
Exercise self-care and self-kindness: rest, nutrition, exercise, walking, reading. If you had a friend who suffered a loss, what would you do for them? Then, do it for yourself as well.
Consider support groups, books and/or supportive counselling. Do not hide in a cave. Isolation does not nourish the soul. Force yourself to connect with close friends and family. Accept the care and comfort of others.
Sometimes, the process may be littered by “what-ifs,” guilt, regrets or blame, depending upon the circumstances. Pause and consider whether those types of emotional chatter are helpful, or simply impediments to the healing process. If, by chance, thing were left unsaid, say it in a letter.
This is your time to heal. That is the focus. It is not the time for unrealistic guilt or pining for a past, present or future that never did and can never happen.
At some point, prepare and plan for significant dates: the first anniversary, first birthday, the first of many holidays after death. Prepare for the first anniversary of the date of death. They may all be rocky. Have those who offer the best support nearby. The second, third, fourth anniversaries will have their own pangs, but at least they will tend to be less, just as the pain of a cut lessens with time.
For those with faith or similar traditions, seek out the comfort and strength of God or whatever higher power resonates with you. Pray, meditate. Be quiet and calm. Breathe in rest from the emotions.
Journal, if that is a helpful practice, to express that which is within. The journal listens. It can be a useful guide to see where you have been and where you are now. In progress is hope. Your recorded process may also help another some day.
To the extent possible, avoid major decisions or changes at the beginning of the process unless they are absolutely needed, recommended by someone who does not have a stake in the matter, or otherwise more likely than not to help you move forward.
When appropriate, start thinking about the future: how you would like it to look. Explore hobbies: a new or modified career; painting; playing the piano; photography; travel; more time with children, grandchildren, friends. Life still has things to offer even in the face of loss, and it is your life to rebuild.
Periodically review and reflect upon the ABC’S and practices of love. As with many areas of life, we are faced with choices. If we fixate upon the loss, the hurt, pain and desire to escape, we will prolong the process. If we consider and use those things which build—those things that recognize but help us move through the pain—we are better able to begin the rebuilding process. Certainly, at the beginning, we will just be able to hold on. But later . . .
The sadness will not suddenly dissipate. There are no grief-releasing epiphanies or magic pills. The process will be incremental, almost unnoticeable over time. Yet, at some point, reflect on how you are doing. Are there now more better times and days? Do not worry about setbacks or dips. They are but part of the upward cycle, and will pass as they have in the past. But are the downs “less” in intensity and duration? Can memories now bring some smiles? If a journal was kept, what does it say about where you were and where you are?
Grieving is healing. The wound bleeds, then scabs, and finally heals. If the relationship was a good one, some residual pangs of sadness will remain—a scar—but so will the memories of the joy. Life moves on, if we so decide. It will be different. But it will move on, and is still rewarding if our conscious decision and desire is to that end.
As days march into months and years, what has been learned? The importance of being in the present? Relationships over things? A deeper compassion? Experiences, insights and thoughts that might be shared with others? Is empathy newly reborn, or a new depth discovered? Are you in a position to help someone else?
Losses can be bottomless pits. They can swallow our spirit, if we allow. Do whatever you can to survive and cope. Love instills a need for self-preservation. Hang onto that. Explore and use whatever practices and resources may be helpful to maintain, preserve and regrow the joy, self and living in the changed reality.
And for those of us on the outside, what can we do?
Mostly, just be there. Do not offer platitudes or “wisdom.” Offer companionship, care, understanding and compassion. Offer Self. Gently help to steer the grieving person away from negative self-talk, what-if’s, guilt. But mostly and again , just be there and let them talk if they want. If they want more, let them know they only need ask.