Friday, May 16, 2008

Successful Grieving III

Tonight I intend to finish my mini-series on grieving successfully. I wrote a bit in the first post of the series about having a goal and understanding that success is a gradual process. In the second post, I shared some fascinating research about how people who handle change well acquire a positive outlook, reach out for support, and make a plan. Fine. But how do we motivate ourselves to do anything when we feel ultra-depressed and powerless to handle the biggest change of our lives?

A small disclaimer: this series is likely to be more helpful to someone who is well into their second year of grief or beyond. For me, so much of that first year was just getting a grip on what this thing called grief is. Getting through another day was a major accomplishment. But after the first year, and after a ton of reading about grief, I was better equipped to face life and begin rebuilding my life. To do that, I needed all the motivation I could get.

I was lucky enough to have discovered professional motivational speakers over 13 years ago, and tonight I'll share some excellent advice by Les Brown from his "Choosing Your Future" program. I bought this audio program in 1995 and have relied on it many, many times over the years. I'll expand a bit on his key points in the context of grieving as a widow/er.

Motivational speakers for grief recovery??? No, I'm not on crack ;-) And no, I don't think that being motivated to grieve well is a silver bullet, or that saying a few affirmations in the mirror will "cure" you of your sorrow. I do think that, as bereaved people whose spouse has died, we can use every bit of encouragement out there, from any and every possible source. There were days I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning, days when I wondered if I was just going to be in endless pain and agony forever. It was those days, when it felt like the ship I had been sailing on had just exploded underneath me and left me floating in a flaming sea of debris, that I most appreciated having little pearls of wisdom to hang on to, to get through one more day, to hope for brighter days ahead.

So, as we begin the process of reinventing ourselves, there are 6 points to keep in mind when choosing our future:

  1. It's Possible
    It is possible to heal fully from the pain of losing a spouse. How do we know that? Because others have done it before us. Running a mile in under 4 minutes used to be thought to be impossible — until Roger Bannister did it in 1954. Since then, thousands of people have done it, including high school students. In the pain and agony of intense grief, it is helpful to know that it is possible to recover and that we will not feel like this forever. Just knowing it is possible can be enough to make it through another 5 minutes or another day.

  2. It's Necessary
    It is necessary to go to work on our grief. Freeing up the emotional investment we have associated with our past married lives is hard, painful, exhausting work. If we avoid it, years can go by with no lasting relief. But we're not robots, either — we need to take it easy on ourselves and give ourselves frequent breaks. Once we have caught our breath, though, we need to dive back in and get on with reinventing our shattered lives. Why? It's necessary.

  3. It's You
    Your future life is what you choose to make it. No one cares more about your new life than you. If you have family and friends for support, that will help. If you have a stable financial situation, that will help. But in the end, it is the person in the mirror who will make or break you. Another way to say this: "If it is to be, it is up to me."

  4. It's Hard
    This you already know. Grieving is probably the hardest thing you have ever done. And you have to keep doing it for longer than you would ever want to. And it tends to get harder before it gets any easier. But knowing it is hard can give a bit of comfort in that you know this is normal. Grieving is supposed to be hard.

  5. It's Worth It
    This can be hard to wrap your head around. After your spouse dies, it seems like nothing has any value anymore. This can sap your energy and make it hard to go on. But understand that working hard at your grief work will pay off eventually. The pain will subside, and you will likely emerge as a stronger, more compassionate, and more grateful person than you were before. You will appreciate life so much more, and it will take on a deep richness.

  6. It Is Done
    This is where you begin to live your life as if you have already come out the other side of grief. Imagine how you would live if you were no longer in pain, if you had completed the bulk of your grief work, and the rest of your life was in front of you. What would you do? Once you make up your mind that you will get through the desert of grief, begin to live your life as though you are already healed and at peace.

These six points have helped me at various times in my grieving. It is my wish that they can offer you both some help and some hope.

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