Seven years ago, I lost my teenage daughter in a car accident. As if that wasn’t enough, my dear sweet hubby buried his grief in the sand and escaped into eighty-hour work weeks, more wine, more food, and less talking. His blood pressure shot up, his cholesterol went off the chart, and the perfect storm arrived in 2012 when he suddenly began drooling and couldn’t speak. At age forty-six, he was having a major stroke.
My husband lived but needed full-time care. Still reeling from the loss of our daughter, autopilot resumed its place at the helm and I felt like I was crawling in circles through the belly of hell. Eventually I came to my own personal crossroad: I could either continue doing circles, or start walking forward in search of hope.
At age forty-six, I had a lot of mileage left in me and couldn’t fathom spending it in hell for the rest of my life. So I set out armed with the belief that if I just kept going, the darkness would eventually fade to dawn. If I could get to that point, a sunrise was within reach. I started walking with hope as my compass.
Today, I can honestly say that my life is rich with blessings that include lots of laughter, singing silly songs with my grandson, and enjoying an occasional salt-rimmed glass with the sisterhood. How did I find hope through such hell? In an era of delivery drones and virtual reality, I would like to say that healing and hope were delivered right to my front door. But they didn’t, and I couldn’t sit around waiting. Armed with determination and dedication, I went searching for my own personal brand of “hold on, pain eases” and found it. I believe that if I can find hope, anyone can. It’s a matter of making the decision to start walking. Need help getting started? Follow these central steps to help restore hope after loss.
In the first long stretch of the journey, it’s important to validate your emotions. Pain hurts, and it hurts deeply. And it’s natural to flee from that which hurts, so it sounds counterproductive to let go and succumb to the journey. But the innate need to cry and talk about our loss is imperative to our healing. When we talk about it, we aren’t ruminating in our sorrow or feeling sorry for ourselves. By discussing it, we are actually processing it. If we aren’t allowed to process it, then it becomes silent grief. Silent grief is deadly grief. Find a friend who will patiently listen for fifteen minutes every day. Set the timer and ask him or her not to say anything during those fifteen minutes. Explain that it is important for you to just ramble without interruption, guidance, or judgment. You need not have the same listener each time, but practicing this daily step is vital.
As you honor your emotional pain, allow for plenty of rest, protect your health, and find ways to calm your physical senses. Take a warm bath. Wear fuzzy socks. Listen to soothing music. Treating yourself to the perception of delight doesn’t erase the emotional heartache, but it will offer a reminder that not all pleasure is lost. With practice, the awareness of delight eventually leads to pleasure, the frontrunner for joy.
Profound grief can appear to rob our world of all beauty. Despite our suffering, the birds continue to sing, flowers continue to bloom, the surf continues to ebb and flow. Recognizing the beauty in life helps to reintegrate us back into our environment. Reconnect to your surroundings by acknowledging one small pleasantry each day and allow it to really register. Listen to nature’s singsong or notice the sun’s illumination of a beautiful flower. It’s hard to see beauty while feeling pain, but with persistence it does become easier and eventually effortless. With beauty comes hope.
Find a gratifying outlet that includes repetitive motion such as beading, knitting or quilting to help calm the brain, lower blood pressure, and result in useful, tangible items that boost self esteem. Beginning a new outlet may feel exhausting at first, but remember that the first step is always the hardest. And you don’t have to do it forever, just focus on it for the time being.
Finally, one laugh can scatter a hundred griefs and is like an old fashioned remedy: it’s good for all that ails us. Laughing affords a respite from the pain and helps to balance the sadness. Like any other muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it comes. Finding hope after loss feels impossible in the beginning, but just remember that without grief, there would be no need for hope. Make a promise to yourself to take that first step and then keeping going. It takes determination, dedication, and lots of baby steps but like any dedicated routine, it gets easier over time. And the reward of finding balance and restoring hope to your life after profound loss is worth every step.
Lynda Cheldelin Fell is an emotional healing expert and a multiple award-winning author of 20 books including the five star Grief Diaries series featuring over 500 stories of searching for healing, hope, and life’s silver linings. Learn more at www.LyndaFell.com.