You can’t change the pages of your story that are already written, but you can change how you’re responding to the here and now.
As promised, I’m writing about the experience of grief as an adult. Stephen and I have suffered many losses throughout our marriage. The most significant season of grief was around 2016-2017, when we lost both of our fathers and several other loved ones within the span of a couple of years. It got to the point that I felt anxious when my phone rang at an unexpected time, I was sleeping more often than usual and avoidant of anything that felt too emotionally taxing. When I met my former supervisor, he asked me if I had attended counseling for my grief. And like any good therapist, I answered, “no”. Since then, I have gone to therapy, read, and listened to countless talks on grief, loss and coping. One concept that stood out to me was from David Kessler, growing around your grief. We don’t have to shrink or hide our emotions for the comfort of others or ourselves. I’ve joked with clients that if they start crying, they won’t cry a river and “drown the whole world”, even if that’s what they feel. We don’t have to be afraid of change or creating a “new normal”. Think about it, you’ve been adjusting and adapting to change your entire life, some of us more excitedly or begrudgingly than others. We don’t have to buy into the “what ifs” or the “what’s next” questions swirling in our heads. Most of what we’re afraid of occurring hasn’t happened and isn’t going to happen. But what do we do when the worst does happen? How do we move forward after a devastating loss? Not to be too cliché, but the answer is, one step at a time. I wouldn’t advise anyone to upend their life after a major loss, because your life is already in a state of chaos. We regain our balance by moving slowly, steadily, and deliberately. Be intentional about taking care of your basic daily needs and then work towards tackling the harder tasks. When you’re in the acute phase of grief, some days it’s enough just to make it through work, eat, sleep, and get ready to do it all over again. Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) as they pertained to those who were facing death and the common responses they appeared to have. These stages don’t necessarily occur in any particular order or happen for everyone. No matter what stage you find yourself in, remember to patient and gentle with yourself. It’s not helpful to compare your healing process to others or lean into the guilt that is often associated with grief. We wish we would have done more, and we convince ourselves that we should have done more. The fact is, you can’t change the pages of your story that are already written, but you can change how you’re responding to the here and now. You can write new chapters, work to honor the loved ones you’ve lost, and learn to embrace change rather than run from it. And remember, lead with love. *If you’ve experienced a loss and are finding it especially difficult to cope, I recommend you seek support from a therapist or grief group. Here are some additional resources that could be helpful: https://grief.com/ http://www.griefriver.com/ https://refugeingrief.com/ https://shereads.com/books-about-grief/ https://www.dougy.org/grief-support-resources https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/mental-health-resources/grief-and-loss-resources