Three Critical Truths That Can Help You Cope With Your Loss

How do people coping with the death of a loved one, often unexpected, find the strength to get through their difficult losses? What is the turning point in their grief work where they begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel? There are many factors that converge to bring acceptance of the death, which is the starting point of healing.

Among the most important is an inner life that develops a new awareness. It is strengthened through the difficult confrontation with death and persists through the ups and downs of mourning. Often, new insights, actually new beliefs, are fashioned based on their experience. Here are three truths that many have eventually embraced, consciously or on an unconscious level, that have eased the pain of their journey.

1. Change must be faced and accepted. The key word is acceptance. Everything is subject to universal change; there are no exceptions, no turning back. For mourners it means adjusting to the major changes in life when a loved one dies. The hard part is creating new habits and routines due to the absence of the loved one, knowing that things will never be the same as they once were. Time often appears to stand still as the pain persists. Yet being patient and going slow with yourself is critical. Do a little at a time is good advice. Remember, there is no way you can ignore accepting change. Resistance, being an unwilling participant, will take a major toll on mind and body.

This truth does not mean you have to stifle anger, rage at the sense of injustice, or to question the why of it all. It is normal and important to do so. But at some time you have to eventually move forward. The surest way to deepen your suffering is to cling to it without periodic diversions.

It is also a normal experience for major change to bring fear of the future. The expected and predictable with the loved one present has to be replaced with new goals and responsibilities–a new and different life. Dealing with these changes is a major part of grief work.

2. Although constant change has to be dealt with throughout life, we do not always receive the support we expect in adapting to it. It is not unusual for our support systems to be less than we hoped they would be. And relationships with others are frequently altered. That fact must be expected. You may no longer be invited to certain social gatherings after the death of your loved one. Some friends may not call you or visit you frequently, as they did in the past.

Yet it is communication with others that is a major source of strength and reassurance (a great motivating force) so desperately needed when mourning. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who suffered through the kidnapping and death of her son, Charles, Jr., said, “My own recovery, I realize, was greatly furthered by the love, understanding, and support of those around me.”

Cultivating an ongoing support system is a wise undertaking for mourner or caregiver alike. We all desperately need strong interpersonal relationships; they bring strength to move ahead, self-esteem, and the sense of being loved. You may have to work at establishing new friendships, reestablish some from the past, or strengthen existing ones.

3. For every thought and emotion we generate, there is a corresponding physical response within the cells of the body. This has been proven over and over again through the phenomenon of anniversary illness, the placebo effect, the power of suggestion, and the fact that the majority of heart attacks occur on a Monday morning (the stress and thoughts of going back to work). Athletes know the power of thoughts all too well. When anything but positive expectations creep into thinking about performance, how they execute a specific skill suffers.

This incontrovertible fact also has great influence on mourning. How? Because the more we allow negative thinking to dominate our inner life, all the more we pay a physical price of energy loss and poor functioning of the immune system. The emotional wear and tear of grief has extremely potent effects on health. Depression, the refusal to forgive, and the stress of grief, coupled with the isolation that often accompanies all three, adds immeasurably to the illnesses of various types associated with prolonged mourning.

On the other hand, hope, love, renewed purpose, and determination can have a very positive effect on all body systems. Thoughts trigger repair and self-healing within. The mind and what we think not only affects the body but the reverse is also true. Our physical condition affects brain function. The will to cope well and get through your dark night is another powerful asset.

To summarize, in the final analysis, adapting to the loss of a love one begins and ends with the individual. It’s all about taking charge of your inner life and realizing what you do and think are powerful predictors of unnecessary suffering or finding peace of mind. It is clear: thoughts affect biology and therefore stress levels.

There is no magic road out of or around grief except through the decisions we make. We all have an inner advisor, inner guidance, if we appeal to it. No friend or family member can face the task for us. Mourners come to this conclusion after much pain and suffering. They realize that unless they change–the dark night will continue on and on. Emerson put it this way, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” This, of course, is easy to say but hard to do.