Letting go

Grief is a S.O.B. It wrings the joy out of your day and replaces it with a deep emotional pain that causes a physical ache in the body. The separation from the ones we love is enough, but it is also the separation from knowing where you fit into the grand scheme of things. There is a deep questioning of what the point of any daily activity might be. It is a slippery slope where depression lays in wait at the bottom.

How on earth do you get out from under all of it? When someone dies or tragedy strikes, it is easy to get quickly overwhelmed. I can’t say that I have any new ideas or that I am finished with my grieving process, but here are somethings that have helped me:

• If you don’t believe in life after death, get a new hypothesis. I thought I believed in an afterlife, but until the recent deaths in my family happened, I realized that I was still sitting on the fence. The reality is no one really knows 100% what happens when we make the transition, but believing someone can just disappear is a thought not worth entertaining after a loved one passes. It is just too painful to think otherwise. Belief brings meaning and purpose to an otherwise unfathomable event.

• Stay focused. Keep focusing your mind on the positive joyful things all around you. It may seem forced at first but looking for joy will bring more joy. It is too easy to get sucked into desperate thoughts of the pain. Keep a list of things that you experience throughout the day that are joyful. It could be simple like a beautiful flower or it could be a word of kindness and comfort from someone you know or a hug from your kids. These moments matter. If you keep track of them, writing them down, you can read them over when you are having a tough time.

• Stay busy. One piece of advice I recently read was to scrub floors or chop wood until you are physically exhausted. Exercise, routine, purposeful activities, these pull you through. Helping others or volunteering is also a wonderful way to do work that consumes energy that could easily be misspent on wallowing.

• Cry if you need to. Honest emotional expression is very healthy. Crying is actually a great way of discharging excess stress hormones and neuropeptides. Sometimes things look brighter on the other side of tears.

• Meditate or pray every single day. Connect to your higher power in whatever way is most meaningful for you. Let the love and comfort wash through you. Let yourself be carried when you can no longer stand it. Let go. Let it in. Breathe in. Breathe out. Set a timer. 15 minutes.

• Call in the troops. Strong people have strong support. Let people help you. You don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes talking to someone who also knew and loved the person who died is a great help. Other times it might feel better to talk to someone who is not grieving themselves. It is not weak to talk to a professional, it is smart. There is something comforting to spill everything to someone who has no investment in you behaving or feeling any particular way.

• Be gentle with yourself. Care for yourself as though you were a newborn baby. Stay warm. Wear cosy clothes. Eat simple food. Grief takes the time it takes. Some say to expect a full year before you are through it. You have all the birthdays, anniversaries and holidays to go through. It comes in waves. If you are like me, and have yet to make it a year before the next funeral, just hang on to the love that surrounds you at every turn. Get dedicated to searching for things to feel good about. It becomes a lifeline.

• Forget about “getting back to normal”. There is no use pretending that things will be the same after a major loss. Going backward is not an option, neither is spending too much time struggling against where you are. You can’t change any of it. All you can do is move forward. Find things to look forward to. If you are alive, you still have life to live. Plan something other than the funeral. Go forward.

Even with all of these ideas I still have some pretty awful days. I don’t cry in front of my three year old, if I can help it. But he knows. They pick up on it. He came home and told me “Stop crying, Mommy. Be happy.” The best advice yet.



Image by bies via Flickr

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the recent passing of Steve Jobs, as I’m sure many people have been lately. When someone young passes it takes us all by surprise, in a way, because we have an idea of how long someone is “supposed” to live. But the reality is that none of us really know how long our lives might be, or when our time is up. It could be minutes, it could be decades. We push away thoughts of death thinking that it will help us lead a happier life. Lets face it, death is pretty depressing. But does numbing our brains to a huge part of our reality really make our lives any better?

When we connect to the concept that our time here on earth is finite, we don’t waste time on trivial things. We dedicate ourselves to meaningful work, we build, repair and maintain relationships, and we cherish every moment. We build our compassion muscle by realizing that every person on the planet shares the same destination on their journey. We are all born, we were all little babies, and we will all die. Many religious and spiritual traditions have explanations on what happens to us after that final step. I believe that energy is neither created nor destroyed, and that the energy that forms our consciousness continues after our body stops working.

The main point is that we face major uncertainty through out our lives… When will it end? … What happens after that? … What do I do until then?  We can distract ourselves from this uncertainty, but there it is. Hanging out there, all the time, making everyone feel uncomfortable.

Clearly, living our lives as though each day is our last, is not  a very wise strategy. We could surprise ourselves and outlive everybody (take that Survivor!). If we live to be very old, then we would want to plan things out a bit, make sure that we have money for the 65 years we will live after we retire. If we drop dead tomorrow, then the joke will be on VISA, because we won’t have to pay for our last wild day. Our poor ego, it wrestles with uncertainty. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes it the truth for us, but maybe there is something we can do while we pass the time.

We can create enormous change in our lives by embracing uncertainty. Chaos scares us because we think we have to have it all figured out. But this is something that unites every single person on the planet. We can use uncertainty to activate our compassion, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to connect with the struggles that another person is going through. When people write a eulogy, they do not talk about what things the person had, but they talk about what the person meant to them. Think about it. The most important thing about your life is how you affected other people. Do you lift them up? Do you help where you can? Do you listen? Do you let them help you?

An interesting experiment for the next few days: When you are faced with a decision, ask yourself  these two questions

  1. If I die 60 minutes from now, what choice would I make?
  2. If I die 60 years from now, would I make the same choice?

If you get the same decision from both questions, then it is pretty clear, don’t wait, get going! If you get different answers, then you have a great opportunity to delve deeper. Ask yourself “Why? Why wait? Why right now?” Is there another option you wouldn’t have considered before?

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