Growth from Grief (and a Journaling Exercise)

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, current societies, and individual stories – turn on the TV, 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.

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 newborns 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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson QuoteI’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 effect 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 – the list goes on.

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 our your pens because it’s time to journal about yourself.

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 20 minutes about the ways in which you’ve grown from grief.

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. And if you like journaling exercises check out our collection here.

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August 17, 2017

7 responses on "Growth from Grief (and a Journaling Exercise)"

  1. I relate to Deborah losing her Mr. Lee. I lost my sweetheart May 12, 2016. We had been married 47+ years and even today, I know that had he lived, I would be happy to still have him. No amount of time was enough to be married to him. I can’t say “Well if we were married 50, 60, 70 years it would have been enough.” I still love him. He died of kidney failure due to the medicines the doctors put him on and took him off in an effort to control the dementia. They said it was Alzheimers but he never fit any of the timelines on the Alzheimer’s websites. I knew he was leaving/dying but I also knew he was suffering and I sure didn’t want him to suffer. He was a good husband and father. He loved the Lord and though he couldn’t speak to me anymore I could hear him praying through his whole prayer list, naming the people or organizations he had faithfully prayed for over many years. In fact, the last words he said to me were when he was in the horrible “behavioral unit” and he put his arms around me and prayed for me –in tongues, which he had never done before,–but clearly in English he ended the prayer “In Jesus Name I pray Amen” and then he let me go and began that awful pacing again. I cherish the memory of that prayer. When it was his time, about 10 days later, God took him. I will be with him someday in Heaven. For now that must be enough and I accept that, and even though I am still hurting, I am moving forward. Moving forward doesn’t diminish the love I still have for Chuck. I think it honors him.

  2. But we are “Warrior’s! I haven’t been in this club long ( an yes I call it a club because we are all in this one together, and you may not agree but to me that’s what it is). I loss My Mr. Lee on 7/17/16 and I still cry and hurt for him. I loss him to the “Widow Maker” at 56 years young we have been married now 39 years and June 11 would have been our 40th. God told me Lee would be coming home to him, I chose not to acknowledge the signs on the walk. The night before he pass God told me ready and I told God I wasn’t that I didn’t want to think about it, and the next afternoon he was gone. I’ve come to the understanding that I can’t beat God nor can I think like him, but what I can do is live for him and love as he loves me. I miss and grief for My Mr. Lee and no I don’t feel we had enough time but I’m learning that wasn’t my call it was God’s! And yes sometimes I ask God “Why did he take him away so soon” and I ask ” Lee why did you leave me” and the answer is always the same, ” It was my time”! So I will continue to walk with Jesus and see what he has in store for me and I will be a “Warrior for my Lord and Savior” because he was a “Warrior” for me God Bless you all!

  3. i have learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I was, being in recovery at this terrible time in my life and being able to keep my sobriety has been truly a miracle. I too want to pull the sheets over my head, but I have people (little people) that need me!

  4. Vicki, wish you all the strength you need.
    I hadn’t heard that saying before – it’s interesting “the memory of time”; thanks for sharing.

  5. After knowing Richard and my brother (war veterans) I’ll never think I’m a warrior.
    I see the title as sarcasm: What Remains. As in “WHAT (earthly) remains?”
    We didn’t get any because the killers purposely tried to destroy him so effectively that there would never be any proof that he ever passed through this earth. That’s why the saying on the wall, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” appeals to me so much.
    I hope that’s not too negative a post. I haven’t been doing well lately. I’m about to have surgery too so I can’t work. It’s beginning to get tough not to be depressed.
    I’m grateful for Richard and my daughter. She’s living with him right now and I get to see both him and her. I also got to watch him filming his movie. He’s a camera operator. I think watching was interesting and fun.
    He does his documentaries with hope in mind. That’s what he said. They show the pain but offer hope for a solution to it. He’s good at what he does. The only time I’ve ever burst into tears watching a documentary was when I saw his.

  6. Tracy,

    Gosh I know what you mean by being tired of being a warrior and being strong! As an adult there are always umpteen things you need to “carry on” for, when sometimes all you really want to do is crawl in bed for a week or so and hope when you remerge your mortgage is getting paid and you still have a job. I hope the waters start to feel easier to navigate soon!


  7. Great post! I do feel like I’m a drift at sea, no shore in sight! I’m sure if I get close, I will be crashed against the rocks and left for dead. I heard Bonnie Tyler’s song yesterday “A total eclipse of the heart” pretty much summed it up for me right now. I guess I’m just plain tired of being a warrior and being strong!

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