Sprinkled into the joy of life, there is inevitable pain. Since death is inescapable, it’s very likely everyone will lose someone they love during their lifetime -- usually more than one person.
Losing a loved one often brings heartbreak, overwhelm, suffering, and fear. You don’t get over the death of someone you love; in the sense of no longer caring if they’re gone. It’s never going to be fine. And I don’t think it’s our job to get over it.
Everyone recognizes the human response to loss is grief, but we don’t know how to do it. There are no courses in grieving and most people are uncomfortable talking about grief and loss.
So what happens then? How do we face a problem with no obvious solution – we can’t bring the person back.
How do we go on?
I have struggled with these questions most of my life, through the deaths of many dear ones: my father, mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and best friend. Then, six years ago, my beloved 26 year-old son David died suddenly in an accident.
Plunged into a crazy altered reality, I wandered helplessly through disbelief, confusion, anguish, and searing pain. For a long time I felt stuck in my misery, since death is so permanent and so undeniably final. I couldn’t stop thinking about what his last moments were like for him and what his life could have been (and should have been).
But as the days and weeks rolled by, I became increasingly aware of that question that wouldn’t go away and for which I had no answer:
How will I go on?
I knew I had to go on, but I just couldn’t figure out how to resume my life without any hope of ever feeling better about David’s death. I consulted fellow therapists, clergy, organizations, and a multitude of authors that included other bereaved parents.
I finally realized I needed a new structure for grieving and it had to be something other than the long-accepted five stage model. The prevailing and decades-old concept of waiting for each stage of grief presents problems for many: not everyone experiences each stage, the ones you are aware of seem out of order, revisiting a particular stage can feel like failure, and there is a sense of a right-or-wrong way to grieve.
The passive idea of predictable stages didn’t resonate for me and I couldn’t imagine ever completing any of them. It seemed they all overlapped and co-occurred, persistently swelling and receding.
It’s time for a paradigm shift.
Instead of viewing grief as a temporary and unfortunate happening with no clear or realistic objectives, I see it as an active and ongoing transformational practice. What does it transform?
Grief transforms heartache into healing; suffering into growth; loss into meaning. It helps you believe in new beginnings, even ones you never imagined for yourself. Grief inspires you to be kinder, gentler, and more compassionate to and patient with others.
Grief transforms you into a more resilient version of yourself than you were before.
Many people believe you either are resilient or you’re not; as if it were a personality trait. I believe grief resilience is actually a skill set that can be learned, practiced, and incorporated into your life.
And I believe every person can transform their personal losses into resilience and growth.
This is why I developed The 4 Facets of Grief. It’s a book, but it’s also a new approach for coping with loss – a road map for transformation. It provides route guidance for navigating your personal reality, recognizing you are in the driver’s seat.
There are 4 main aspects, or facets, of grieving we consider at various times. These include Accepting (as in acknowledging the new reality; not as in liking or endorsing what happened), Adapting, Meaning-Making, and Replenishing. Each facet conveys action that is current and ongoing. Each is important in the process of incorporating the loss into our lives as we learn to regularly spend time with them, including ones that aren’t organically evident.
Through Accepting we acknowledge thoughts and feelings by telling our stories. You can (for example) write and talk to supportive people or make photo scrapbooks and collages. Adapting helps you to discover new traditions and ways of thinking, talking about, and doing what is now the new normal. Meaning-Making challenges us to consider new beliefs, figure out if they fit into our world view, and choose those that feel healing. And Replenishing encourages us to be mindful of and engaged in healthy self-care.
Like any navigation system, you get to choose when to push onward and when to take a break; which stops need more focus, and which ones are quick visits. You even get to choose your route and circle back to particular points more than once. Every journey is unique and according to your needs at the time.
Yet the 4 Facets of Grief framework keeps you on track toward resilience and growth.
Through this ongoing process I’ve become healthier, more serene, more grateful, and more helpful to others than I ever thought possible. I now feel confident in my answer to that question: how will I go on? I will continue to practice Accepting, Adapting, Meaning-Making, and Replenishing.
Now it’s your turn. If these ideas about grief resilience resonate with you, please share this post. Please also email me or comment below with your ideas of what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, and what you’d like to know more about
And please keep talking about grief and loss – together we can reduce the stigma of this universal challenge, spread resilience, and transform the discussion from heartache to hope.
Essays on Grief Resilience