There is a lot of pain in this world. This is a truth that’s impossible to ignore. It’s everywhere—in our collective history, in our current societies, and in our individual stories. Turn on the television, open a book, talk to your friends and neighbors... You can’t escape it.
When we are okay (meaning we're emotionally stable and physically well), the pain hangs back at an acceptable distance. Although we may not know what form it takes, we’re aware of its existence; like the boogyman of our childhood nightmares, it's out there looming in the darkness. At times, we stand helplessly by as it capture friends and strangers, creeping up like flood waters or striking out of nowhere like lightning bolts from the sky. We shake our heads and say “what a shame,” and we go home and count our blessings.
If we’re lucky, we consider pain a mere acquaintance. “Pain?” we say, “Oh yes, I met him once. Such a dark and humorless fellow.” And if we’re unlucky it infects us like a disease, lying dormant and reemerging at the most inconvenient of times.
Some of us fear pain and avoid it at all costs. We agonize over its potential and we plan accordingly. How much pain are we willing to risk feeling for something? Quite often, it depends on the value of the reward. For example, most of us will never know what it's like to be trounced on by a bull in Pamplona or the impact of crashing a stock car in Indy because the pain/reward ratio just isn’t worth it for us.
Grief, on the other hand, is one type of excruciating pain we will all eventually experience, because love is a risk we’re willing to take. For most of us, love isn’t even a choice. It exists in us prior to our intellectual capacity to understand it. Connection, nurturing, passion, affection... The sum of it is far greater than the agony of losing it.
Love is just plain worth it. It’s filled with euphoric highs like the smell of your newborn's skin, the bonds of friendship, learning to love with vulnerability, and the passion of a first kiss. These are things we can’t resist. These are the things that send us through the roller coaster turnstile over and over again, fully aware that choosing love means possibly choosing pain.
When someone we love dies, the pain we experience is called grief. It’s a circumstance we simply can’t avoid, a twist of fate that can’t be out-ran. When we outlive someone we love, our only option is to withstand the pain and let the waves crash over us, hoping they send us to the shore rather than out to sea.
And what’s left when we wash up on shore is a water-logged, deflated shell of a person. For a while, we lay on the sand trying to catch our breath, starting up at an endless night. The sky is so mean it allows no sign of the moon and stars, no signs of hope. But over time, the despair recedes and you begin to see the light shine through. One by one, the stars emerge, then the moon, and then the day slowly pushes in.
Here’s what we know about grief: Over time, you will usually start to feel better.
Here's another thing we know: You will never be the same. You’ve been to war and you will always have battle scars, but you may also find you have greater strength, clarity, resilience, and perspective.
I’ve had several conversations lately about the ‘lows’ in life. We all have different tolerance levels for emotional pain, and our willingness to embrace and deal with our pain will affect our attitude towards it. But it is my personal opinion that there is something to be garnered from even the most emotionally miserable of times. I am in no way suggesting you should buck up and face such situations with a smile. All I’m saying is that I think there is something to be learned, created, or inspired by even the messiest circumstances.
There is the potential for growth from grief.
True, you would probably trade all the life lessons in the world for one more day with your loved one... I get that, but unfortunately that trade isn’t possible. You will always love the person who died and they will continue to have an influence on your life even after their gone. You will never climb to the top of the roller coaster with them beside you, but you have the memory of the ride. Always remember the ride.
And understand that you are a different you. Maybe because you’ve proven yourself in battle, or because you’re finally paying attention to the lessons your loved one taught you, or you understand the frailty of life, or you better know how to deal with hardship, or you’ve learned to appreciate unselfish and compassionate love...
Of course, we need to be in our right mind to appreciate how we’ve changed and it may take a lot of time, work, and outside help (and possibly therapy) to believe anything exists in our situation but crap, crap, and more crap. But eventually you will start to have more good days than bad, and eventually you will see yourself anew.
So Get Out Your Pens Because It’s Time To Journal...
A wise man named Nietzsche once said:
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
An even wiser man put this saying on a motivational calendar. Yet wiser still, was the woman who hung that motivational calendar on her wall to collect dust and taunt her on her worst days. But the saying is generally true: The hard times can make us tougher, smarter, and stronger.
After contemplating the following questions, take out a piece of paper and free write for twenty minutes about the ways in which you've grown from grief.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Throughout your grief and other difficult times...
What have you learned?
How have you changed?
What new relationships or circumstances have grown from your loss and subsequent grief?
What have you discovered?
How does the world look different?
Share some of your responses with us in the comments below. Found journaling helpful? Register for our e-course, 30-Day Grief Journaling Course, here. And, as always, subscribe on the right to receive posts straight to your e-mail inbox.
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: