Daily demands of coping with the death of a loved one
“Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation”
Whenever I speak publicly about grief, I often start with an old Chinese proverb, one of my favorites: “You can’t stop the birds of grief from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making nests in your hair.” There much wisdom in these words. Grief consumes us all, and yet we can learn to adapt to the enormous changes it brings.
Adapting to the physical absence of our loved one depends primarily on what we choose to say to ourselves and ultimately what we do consistently. There are numerous responses that have proven helpful in adapting to a major loss depending on many individual factors. Here are five that have proven their worth in many ways over the years.
1. Self-expression. Regardless of what some well-meaning people have written, regularly letting out what’s hidden inside is healthy, both physically and emotionally. It means finding those you trust and sharing what’s going on inside each and every day. Refuse to be a prisoner of your thoughts and the suffering that often accompanies them. Self-expression also involves talking to your Higher Power, as many people do, or even a loved one in spirit. Bottom line: Release the normal build-up of emotions that affect every cell in your body. Write, draw or paint to allow what’s inside to be released.
2. Balance sadness with interruptions. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding about the grieving process is that one must constantly focus on one’s sadness. Because your body listens intently to every thought you generate, a constant focus on the stress of sadness without interruption guarantees an eventual immune system deficiency. Therefore, the result will be deterioration of health. Colds, flu, headaches, stomach problems, etc. are common in grief. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break and finding a way to relax. Do what gives you temporary relief from sadness so your body can recharge. For at least 20 minutes a day, vow to seek a peaceful and reflective mood.
3. Love. Without giving and receiving love every day, you increase unnecessary suffering and lose the most powerful coping response for adapting to loss. Loving, even when you grieve, will forever strengthen your inner life. It all starts with self-love. You are a unique individual created in God’s image. Respecting yourself and everything you come into contact with is essential to loving well. Each of us needs to be loved, both the grieving and the caregiver. Realize how you can develop new ways to show acceptance and appreciation to others.
Also, focus on how you could express love to the person who is no longer physically present with you. American playwright Thornton Wilder wrote: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love… the only survival, the only meaning.” Learn all you can about how to love in separation as you reconnect with your deceased loved one. Also, remember to show love to those who help you on your difficult journey. Ask yourself, “What do they need?”
4. Self-respect. You are the most important resource you have in achieving your goal of adjusting to your great loss. Take care of both your physical and emotional needs. All too often, those who are grieving tend to increase their consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and unhealthy foods that have a direct effect on brain function. The need to protect your physical self, especially brain maintenance, will reduce physical pain and provide energy to adapt to any new circumstances you have to face. Be sure to drink enough spring water every day to prevent unrecognized chronic dehydration. Start the day by drinking an 8 oz. A handful of protein at all three meals will slowly raise blood sugar and energy levels. An omega-3 supplement will help you feel physically fit. Make every effort to stay away from sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which negatively affect the brain.
5. Empathy. Interacting with trusted people on a daily basis will generate much needed hope for the future. The grieving often isolate themselves and thus prolong the intense suffering. Feeling connected is a powerful coping force. Love in separation, prayer and being with caring people provide connection and movement towards inner peace. Decide what organizations or groups you can join, as well as new interests you can generate to expand your range of connections. Then here’s the key: schedule connections every day until you learn to adjust to your loved one’s physical absence.
Grief is seductive and can cause us to stray from the path of dealing with change. Never forget, start each day determined to make it through the next 24 hours. Create an affirmation to use to quietly strengthen your inner life. Then live the day as your loved one would encourage you to.
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