Grief is change. It changes our life, our routine, our plan and right along with it, grief changes us. Change is hard under the best of circumstances (new job, a wedding, a baby), but the changes we don’t ask for can be intolerable. Some of these changes will be forever and long lasting, but some will only be part of the acute and early stages of grieving (whatever that timeline looks like for you). And some of these changes aren’t necessarily all bad.
Losing a loved one is just about the worst thing that can happen to any of us. But the feeling of losing ourselves can make a tough time even harder to cope. Because if we don’t feel like ourselves, what strengths and skills can we possibly draw upon?
This subject has come up in our forums quite a bit lately. Following the grievers’ stories, as they talk about who they lost, when it happened, and how it happened, the same words punctuate each sad story…”I will never be the same again”.
This is one of the terrible surprises in loss. The change, too much change, that’s all happening at once. And complicating matters is the search, hope or expectation that things could ever be the same again.
While it’s a totally natural and very understandable part of the process, it’s also the most futile task of grieving: pining for things to go back to the way they were, or to expect ourselves to be the same person after we’ve lost someone we love.
A better approach may be to try and understand (and possibly even embrace at some point) all the ways grief changes us…for now and forever:
HOW GRIEF CHANGES US FOR NOW:
- changes in sleep, eating, and overall energy
- personality changes like being more irritable, less patient, or no longer having the tolerance for other people’s “small” problems
- forgetfulness, trouble concentrating and focusing
- becoming more isolated, either by choice or circumstances
- feeling like an outcast
- relationship changes with family and friends as they react to the “new” us
- feeling more anxious, afraid or fearful for the future as we wonder what’s next or where we go from here, or waiting for the other shoe to drop
So if we say these changes are “for now”, when exactly can a griever expect to change back? Here’s where it gets tricky. As stated before, no one should expect to go back to who they were before their loved one died. These losses shape, change, and mold us like few other things in life can. But those fundamental parts of who we are, the focus we once had, the organization, the patience…those things tend to come back with patience, self-care, and time.
Those in the early stages of grief will find this hard to believe but I’ve seen it happen over and over and over. The veil that lifts, that one day where a griever wakes up and feels maybe just a little bit “better”.
This isn’t to say that they aren’t still grieving. You can be crying every day and still be doing better, as strange as that may seem. The hope is to again see things like focus, and ability to remember birthdays, and where you parked the car, to return.
HOW GRIEF CHANGES US FOREVER:
- most grievers will forever feel that a part of them is missing – every day will have a void where they wish their loved one could be
- many grievers will carry at least some part of the trauma that surrounds even “expected” loss and feel a little broken or wounded in some way
- for some, a fundamental change in how they perceive the fairness of life
Yet most grievers I speak to wouldn’t have it any other way. No one wants to experience loss, of course. Anyone who has lost a loved one would trade their new life for the old one- the life that had their loved one in it. But perhaps that’s why some of the forever changes are the ones we hold on to. As a way to honor and remember the love and life we shared.
While it’s hard to talk about any good that could come out of loss, and most grievers would never want any part of their loss to be presented with the old “silver lining” cliche, there are other changes a griever can experience.
And unlike those listed above, they aren’t all bad:
- opportunity to feel closer to others, especially those friends or family who have provided especially good support
- new friendships that may develop because of loss – a coworker or neighbor who unexpectedly reached out, or connections made in a support group
- no longer sweating the small stuff, having a deeper understanding of what really matters
- becoming more compassionate and understanding to those around us
- the way loss can so totally break us so that we have no choice but to rebuild from the bottom up and “fix” some things along the way
- the loss of a loved one can show us a strength, resilience, and independence we may not have known we have. It can create opportunities for us to surprise ourselves with the things we can do, and the things we can endure
I’ve had many grievers talk about their life before loss. And many have shared similar stories about a friend who may have suffered a loss before them. They’ll say now, “I had no idea what she was going through” and they’ll talk about how badly they feel as they look back and see that they too had offered the well-intentioned but empty condolences. One thing they also always say is, “but that will never happen again”. Because for better or worse, they will never again be someone who doesn’t understand or doesn’t know how to help.
While we’d never choose to be an ambassador to grief, we can choose (in time) to embrace the roles we’ve been given. So that for now, and forever, we can be someone who can help another walk this long and painful path. And perhaps we’ll find the chance to grow and heal right along with them…
Whether talking about changes for now or forever, loss becomes a very important part of who we are. We just never want it to be the ONLY thing we are.
To connect with those who understand, to find companionship, tools and healing, visit us today at www.griefincommon.com.