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I asked a friend recently who attends a grief and loss support group, what one thing that people attending wanted – one thing they hoped for.
Her answer: to experience joy again.
For anyone who has lost a significant person in their life, that question is high on their list of doubts and uncertainties.
Will I ever be happy again? That person I lost had been an integral part of my life and my identity. When we were together, I felt whole and complete. It was where I found pleasure, joy and the most contentment and happiness.
If that person had been your spouse, your loss now included facing the trials of life without your loved one by your side. Your marriage didn’t always mean everything was rosy. You had your arguments and disagreements, but then you came together to consider options and plans for your future. Instinctually you knew that was what life was all about. It was that comfortable resting spot – you were not alone even when separated by work or travel. That familiarity complemented and completed both of you in some way.
If your loss was a beloved child, son or daughter, they were the reason you got up each morning. They gave purpose to your life, a reason to sacrifice and watch the wonder and surprise in their eyes as they explored their world. It was more than a love – it was a parent’s deepest satisfaction and motivation, to watch their child grow and develop.
Loss is not just the removal of someone who was important to us – it is the loss of everything associated with that person and the life created because of them.
I believe that in death we begin to identify and appreciate what life is all about. It’s the relationships we build, the values and principles we choose to live by. Death becomes a turning point to reflect and define what is truly important. As you work through your loss, accept and let go, you discover a strength you didn’t know you had and acquire the courage and confidence to rebuild.
So, can you ever experience happiness again?
Yes, you can. As you break out of the chains of loss and despair and allow yourself to be transformed, you will experience new hope for your future. Grieving is about letting go and shifting your focus from what was to create a new normal. It is here where you begin to live life again and experience joy and happiness.
Just as bare branches on trees sprout new leaves in the spring, so our lives can sprout new ways to live again. You may only see dead branches right now, but there is life deep inside you waiting to sprout new growth.
This is the time to prepare for that growth; a time to remember all the things you have accomplished in the past and know that you can do it again. It is taking all the things you are learning through this change and applying them in reconstruction.
Does it dishonor your loved one to enjoy life again?
It might seem sacrilegious to suggest that we could enjoy life again because somehow it might dishonor our loved one or minimize their importance. It doesn’t. In fact, it does the opposite. I believe they would want us to move forward and find happiness. We never lose our loved ones – they are with us forever in our memories and we can continue to draw strength and appreciation from the relationships we had.
Whatever your loss, there are elements that can make the grieving process more difficult, such as coming to terms with tragedies that make no sense, understanding acceptance and letting go, reconciling and forgiving, taking charge of difficult emotions such as anger, guilt and shame, developing an internal positive dialogue, and writing letters of goodbye.
Next week, we’ll talk about acceptance and reframing. What does acceptance mean and how can it help me take back my life?
We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.
It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.