How, When and What
When first experiencing a big loss, such as the death of a loved one, a few questions about the unbearable weight of the pain emerges. How will I ‘get over it’? When will I get over it? What do I do with this pain? Here’s my take on these concerns based mainly on my own experience.
How will I ‘get over it’?
In order to understand the ‘how’ we need to first understand that ‘getting over it’ is not the goal. I think quite often what is meant when people say ‘get over it’ is how do we get to a point where it doesn’t hurt you to the bone. And until recently, I began to understand that the intensity of such pain starts to recede usually in correlation to when your full being starts to embed itself with the grief. When an impactful and irreversible life event occurs in your life, your intellectual, emotional and physical faculties goes through a transition. It tries to reorientate itself around it’s new reality before fully adopting the event into its consciousness.
Apparently grief takes various stages of evolution before consolidation and the process to overcome sudden loss is definitely an animal of its own. Embedding yourself into your new reality and accepting it as part of your life journey with some grace and love is where we are trying to head for as we trudge through the foggy woods of bereavement. This is an entirely internal process that we cannot fake.
Everyone will have their own style of coping. Some will quite quickly return to normal life so as not to dwell and stagnate in the abyss of hopelessness. Some will need a break from normal life in whatever form to deconstruct outside their comfort zone (e.g. taking a gap year or sabbatical from school or work) and some will find that the loss is a launchpad to start a completely new direction in life.
For me, the main motto was to not deny myself of my internal journey. I went through excessive sleep, weeping at the drop of a hat at completely random thoughts and places, spending hours just recycling regrets and reliving memories of life together before the loss, spending time with family to ride the waves together, taking on an intensive work project a month after that and writing in my notebook whenever I needed an outlet to discuss the pain (my ‘Grief Notebook’). There were some days when all I wanted was to just hibernate under the covers and hope that by the time I get up from this long slumber, the inner chaos would have been over. In contrast, I also had one of the best vacations of my life with my husband and reunited with some special old friends whom I hadn’t seen for awhile to remind myself of myself again. I never resisted the full range of human emotions or judged myself for it.
The main source of strength I drew from was my ultimate faith as a believer of the afterlife hence my certainty that the one I lost is presently in a Divine space full of Divine tenderness, that this was our Creator’s desire hence it is meant to be for a beautiful goodness that we may not quite appreciate at this stage and that through constant and tireless prayers, my weary heart would eventually subside. Just having a friend or two who will keep giving you the best of themselves is also an additional blessing. Grief – like fatal illness- is an enormous plate – not all friendships can shoulder it’s burden so try to expect little from anyone but yourself (and your own spiritual compass) and everything else is a bonus. For the ones that really come through for you – do remember to appreciate them as the unusual diamonds that they are.
How long will the process of embedment take?
Being a person who needs time-lines to assess the hardship of the task, I initially googled endlessly about how long the average time period for grief takes place. Mainly to prepare myself for the rough ride ahead and also to know how long will I wake up still feeling crushed. Of course the only consistent answer is – ‘it depends on each individual, some take six months to normalise others take a few years’. I won’t go through the different psychologies of mourning as this is google-able but I can give a rough account of the temporal scope of my process.
I stopped weeping at least once in 10 days after almost a year and two months. I am able to identify the time marker based on the dates I recorded in my Grief Notebook as each entry usually succeeded a crying episode and mine stopped at 14 months. Of course the intensity of your emotions at the 14th month is much less than the third month but if the objective is towards embedment (and not just ‘slowly improving’ which fluctuates so much for each person) then I would say that embedment began when the tears decreased in frequency. The first two months was a numb shock (the existing life picture is ripped apart and shattered in thousands of jigsaw pieces you can’t locate), followed by another five months of the most challenging phase (the confounding process of hunting for the torn pieces to make yourself whole again). After that, some of the jigsaw pieces have been found but not pieced together yet and by the 14th month you’ve loosely put together a shape of sorts but you realise it is a whole new picture. Thereon the journey is strengthening the new picture and embracing the torn pieces as part of who you are. Torn but rebuilt.
What do I do with this pain?
This is the most important question and comes as a tripartite with the previous two. Now I understand that this should always lead all other questions. Because this is what you take into the future, into the new you in the new picture. I think what you do with the pain is basically life’s evergreen lesson – learn to be a better human being from this loss. While it will again be an individual process for everyone, what remains universal is to elevate your gratitude.
It is hard to keep reminding ourselves of our blessings and truly live it on a daily basis, not just say it. And for each person, living with gratitude means something different. It could mean always thanking the people in your life for everything they do for you which you used to take for granted. It could mean forgiving yourself for not being perfect and hand in hand with that, forgiving people more for not reaching your expectations. It could mean doing more for the people in your life who needs you. It could mean losing your temper less because life is short and why pollute your days with negativity. It could mean taking care of your health more so as to ensure that your respect the body that you were blessed with. It could mean spending less time wanting more because if you are alive and well then you have all that you could possibly ask for. It could mean doing more charity because life is about alleviating not just your own journey but everyone else’s. It could mean praying for the one you lost so that your bond keeps sustaining itself. It could mean increasing the depth of your spiritual journey and all the consequences of this philosophy (usually all of the above).
For me, this is my main focus- expanding my capacity to appreciate my blessings. Because living with gratitude not only helps in healing the wound of loss but it is also the wand that transforms our overall contentment with each day.
And with that I bid everyone a marvellously content 2019 – filled with gratitude and richer blessings in every way!
Don’t mistake the notion that the New-You-Post-Grief will only be a better you. There will be parts of you that will actually deteriorate and new problems may emerge. Heightened anxieties for different breeds of paranoia could manifest. But let’s not be disheartened with these deteriorations. Use it as an opportunity to understand ourselves better and get to the root cause of these symptoms of dysfunction as we slowly work on clearing it out. In fact, decongesting at the foundation could stop previous cycles of short term band aids, so consider it a meaningful way to reset the process of elevation 🙂