“Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation”
Whenever I speak in public about grief I often begin with an old Chinese proverb, one of my favorites: “You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your heads, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.” There is much wisdom in these words. Grief engulfs us all and yet we can learn to adapt to the massive changes it brings.
Adapting to the physical absence of our loved one depends primarily on what we choose to say to ourselves and ultimately what we consistently do. There are numerous responses that have proved useful in adapting to a great loss depending on many individual factors. Here are five that have proved their worth in many ways over the years.
1. Self-expression. Regardless of what some well-meaning people have written, letting out what lies within on a regular basis is healthy, both physically and emotionally. This means finding those you trust and sharing what’s happening on the inside on any given day. Refuse to be a prisoner of your thoughts and the distress that often goes with them. Self-expression also includes talking with your Higher Power as so many do or even with the loved one in spirit. Bottom line: Release the normal buildup of emotions which affect every cell in your body. Write, draw, or paint to further allow what is within to be released.
2. Balance sadness with timeouts. Possibly the most frequent misunderstanding about the grief process is that one should be continuously focused on their sadness. Since your body listens carefully to every thought you generate, constant focus on the stress of sadness without a timeout, guarantees eventual immune system deficiency. Consequently, the result will be health decline. Colds, the flu, headaches, stomach problems, etc. are common when grieving. There is nothing wrong with taking a break and finding a way to relax. Do what gives you a temporary release from sadness so your body can recharge. For at least 20 minutes a day, vow to seek a peaceful and reflective frame of mind.
3. Love. Without giving and receiving love each day you are increasing unnecessary suffering and losing the most powerful coping response for adapting to loss. Loving even as you grieve will forever strengthen your inner life. It all begins with loving yourself. You are a unique person made in the image of God. Respect yourself and all you come in contact with is essential in loving well. All of us need to be loved, both griever and caregiver. Become aware of how you can develop new ways to show acceptance and appreciation to others.
Furthermore, focus on how you might express love to the person who is no longer physically present with you. The American playwright Thornton Wilder wrote, “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love… the only survival, the only meaning.” Learn all you can about how to love in separation as you establish a new relationship with your deceased loved one. Also, be sure to show love to those who are helping you in your difficult journey. Ask yourself, “What do they need?”
4. Self-respect. You are the most important resource you have in reaching the goal of adapting to your great loss. Take care of your physical needs as well as emotional ones. All too frequently, mourners tend to increase consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and junk foods which have a direct effect on brain function. The need to protect your physical self, especially brain maintenance, will reduce physical pain and provide energy to adapt to all the new circumstances to be faced. Be sure to drink enough spring water daily to prevent unrecognized chronic dehydration. Start the day by drinking 8 ounces. A handful sized amount of protein at all three meals will slowly raise blood sugar levels and energy. An omega-3 supplement will help how you feel physically. Make every effort to abstain from sugar and high fructose corn syrup which negatively affect the brain.
5. Involvement. Interacting with trusted others on a daily basis will generate much needed hope for the future. Mourners often isolate themselves and in doing so prolong intense suffering. The feeling of connectedness is a powerful coping force. Loving in separation, prayer, and being with caring people assures connectedness and movement toward inner peace. Decide what organizations or groups you can join as well as new interests you can generate to widen your spectrum of connections. Then here is the key: schedule connections every day as you learn to adapt to the physical absence of your loved one.
Grief is seductive and can cause us to turn away from a path toward coping with change. Never forget, start each day with determination that you will make it through the next 24 hours. Create an affirmation to use to silently strengthen your inner life. Then live the day like your loved one would encourage you to.