“At every point in the human journey, we find that we have to let go in order to move forward; and letting go means dying a little. In the process we are being created anew, awakened afresh to the source of our being.”
— Kathleen Fischer
That ending may be the death of a family member, friend, or pet. It could mean the ending of a friendship, romantic relationship, or job.
We may grieve the loss of something tangible, like a piece of jewelry or a child’s artwork, or from the loss of something abstract, like youth or a certain way of life.
We can even grieve a future that is no longer possible... a lost opportunity or the next chapter of life that will no longer be what we had imagined.
Grief comes in so many shapes and forms, each one with their own layers of loss. The impact of one significant loss almost always ripples into multiple facets of our lives. The change affects our daily routines, our physical energy and emotions, our very identity.
This doesn’t apply only to tragic losses. A feeling of loss can result from positive change, too, as we grieve the life we are leaving behind and grow into the life that now lies ahead.
For example, even events that we welcome (marriage, a promotion, move to a new city, retirement after a fulfilling career) can initially feel traumatic as we face the multitude of life adjustments that accompany the change. Transitions of any kind can be draining and disorienting when you're in the murky middle.
Ultimately, grieving involves a process of shifting our identity... growing from our "what was" self into a new "what is now" reality.
In the aftermath of the death of someone we love, accepting that new reality is especially difficult. There’s a saying, “When you’ve lost someone close to you, the second year is worse than the first.” That can sound like a cruel joke. How could anything be worse than that empty space where someone you loved used to be? An absence that’s highlighted every time you have a new “first” (birthday, holiday, life change) where that someone is missing?
That saying rings true in my personal experience with grief. The first year is a year of shock and disbelief. At some level we simply cannot bear the new reality, so our minds shut down to give our hearts and souls time to catch up.
But in year two, you begin to comprehend what has happened. Those waves of heartache begin to come with the realization that you must make daily adjustments so you can continue living your life -- you must help yourself by finding the “new normal.”
Year two is confirmation that, indeed, there will be a year ten, a year twenty, even. We face the truth that we may never "get over" the loss, but that moving forward means finding a way to live with loss as a reality in who we've now become.
As you read my reflections on grief over the next few weeks, I encourage you to gently identify both large and small losses you have faced. Be careful not to diminish loss you’ve experienced that you may deem as less significant than what others have faced.
We need to connect over heartache, not compare the hardships we've experienced. The magnitude of a loss may differ, but pain is universal.
We can’t thrive if we wallow consistently in grief, but growth is only possible when we acknowledge and show compassion for the entire range of losses we have endured.
By doing so, we allow ourselves to feel joy in our new life alongside the pain. This is how we keep living and, eventually, find ways to thrive.
This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 12 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter explores how we each, in different ways, carry the weight of grief throughout life.
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