By Gisela Luján
When our loved one dies, we feel pain. There is not a detour around the pain. The only way to overcome it is to pass through it. When our loved one dies, we grieve. Grief is the physical and psychological expression of pain.
Grieving is a very painful process and it can feel overwhelming. It is hard work and diminishes our energy, leaving us exhausted, without any desire to engage in our daily activities. Grief doesn’t have a set timetable. Individuals grieve in different ways, and members of a grieving family often find it difficult to support one another.
Although it is accompanied by intense emotions, grief itself is not a feeling. It is a process that can take a lifetime, a slow journey towards acceptance and peace. Some people say grief is like a roller coaster. I believe it is true. When my daughter died, I was devastated. My life shattered and I had to force myself to get out of bed in the morning and engage in my daily routine. I consider myself a healthy person, but I thought I was losing my mind. My daughter’s death not only impacted my life, but our family life too. It was very difficult to communicate, especially with my son, who was only 16 years old. For a whole year, we met with a therapist who helped us find new ways of communicating with our son, and understand that we are a family, heartbroken, but still a family.
I have always believed in the healing power of the written word, so I sought solace in literature and books about spirituality. Some days, when I had some energy, I went for walks; other days I lay in bed and cried my heart out. I believe what has helped me the most is that I have taken one step at a time. Time, hard work, and the awareness and acceptance of my pain have helped me reconnect with life again.
So be aware that this will be a long and difficult journey. Just when things begin to look better, the calendar slaps you with another reminder of your loss. Sometimes the pain will be deeper five years after the loss. As the Chinese proverb says, “We can’t stop the birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from nesting in our hair.”
Don’t shut yourself down from the pain. The feelings you bury will not go away. They will hide below the surface for years to come, but sooner or later they will erupt without warning, in ways that can affect your physical and mental health.
Don’t set any timetable for yourself. The physical and psychological impact of a loss will affect each person differently. Like any other psychological process, it will follow its own course and will depend on the beliefs, values and inner resources of each person at the time of the loss.
Allow yourself the time and space you need to grieve. Learn to say no to people who invade your privacy. Tell them to respect your need for solitude. Let them know when you are ready to establish contact with them again.
Praise yourself for each small step you take. Remember it can be two steps forward, three steps backward—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are determined to walk through that dark and frightening tunnel, knowing there is a light at the end.
Use any resource you may have that can help you cope with grief: therapy, support groups, friends and family that are willing to listen to your story, prayers, literature, journaling, etc. There are no universal recipes. What works for some people, doesn’t work for others.
You must understand that your loss will never go away. You learn to live with it. You incorporate your loss into your life. There will always be a hole in your heart, a void that cannot be filled, because it belongs to your loved one. But slowly, as you walk the path of grief, you will start to reconnect with life again. You will fill your heart and soul with new experiences, with a new life. One day you will look at yourself and realize that you have walked a long way. You have walked the dark tunnel of grief and found the light at the end.