How to Turn Loss into Newfound Life
By Bill Gottlieb, CHC
This two-part series on Loss, Grief and Healing is dedicated in love, gratitude and heart-joy to my wife of 18 years, Denise Joanne Getz (August 31, 1954-December 29, 2013).
Last week, I discussed the first two doorways to new joy after loss:
- Educate yourself about grief and mourning.
- To heal your grief, feel your grief.
This week, I'll present eight more "doorways" that lead from loss and despair to newfound direction and happiness.
3. Express your grief — talk, write, light a candle.
There is a simple secret to healing your heart after loss: EXPRESS YOURSELF. And there are many ways to do that…
Talk to a friend, family member or mental health professional about your loss — saying whatever you want to say, about anything you want to talk about.
Write about your loss — keep a journal about your grieving process; write "letters" to your departed loved one; celebrate your loved one with a memoir. Write a few sentences; write a page or two; write a book. Just write.
Express your feelings of loss and love in non-verbal ways. Make a scrapbook. Light a candle daily and say a prayer. Use other arts or crafts, like painting or embroidery.
Whatever you do, you will find that actively expressing your loss soothes your being — body and mind, heart and soul.I have written at length about my deceased wife Denise, her disease and passing, and these six months of grief. (One of my pieces has recently been published by the online journal "Contemporary Haibun Online." You can read it here.)
I have also talked to affectionate, supportive friends (mostly a few men in my spiritual community who I have known for decades).
And I have no doubt that this writing and talking were essential to my healing. I strongly urge you to be expressive about your difficult situation. One way to do that is to…
4. Find two true friends.
A grief counselor I have been seeing over the last several months told me shortly after Denise died that all I really needed was TWO people — two intimates — to give me the gift of time, acceptance and true attention, so that I could talk about my loss. Via email, I let many of my friends know that I needed this help, and two guys responded (along with a few other people).
After a severe loss, put the word out among your family and friends that you need help — and find at least two sympathetic people who happily agree to be the "willing ear" into which you can pour your heart. You're not asking for their advice. You're asking to be HEARD, without judgment. Believe me, it can make all the difference.
5. See a professional counselor.
My wife Denise was in Hospice, and so I was offered a free year of grief counseling by Hospice Services — and that "counseling" has been invaluable. I put that word in quotes, because this form of counseling is essentially companionship: a person to listen to you, to join you in grief, to companion you in sorrow.
I cannot say enough about the sympathy, intelligence (and, when needed, the gentle, guiding suggestions) of my grief counselor. Once again, I urge all those who are grieving to find such a professional to help them in their process of grief and healing.
6. Move your body (It's bright outside!).
Grief is physically debilitating and very draining. Typically, a person in deep grief has trouble sleeping, no enthusiasm for eating, and is tired, with a capital T.
To counter the fatigue and enervation of grief, physical activity is crucial — whether it's a daily walk of 20 or 30 minutes (or more), or any other form of activity you enjoy, like gardening.
And if you can, walk outside: nature itself — its beauty and simplicity, its reminder of the constant presence of life amidst change and death — is itself a balancing, healing force.
7. Be kind to yourself.
Grief and regret go hand in hand. You look back on your former life and wonder what you could have done differently to prevent the terrible loss you have suffered. But grief isn't the time for guilt, which my spiritual teacher calls "the most useless emotion" (because it doesn't solve any problems and mires you in the past). Grief is a time for granting yourself the same compassion you probably give others — the heartfelt recognition that we're all just human beings here, doing the best we can.
Another way to be kind to yourself during this time is to nourish yourself with activities that you find enjoyable. For instance…
8. Let yourself laugh.
After my wife died, my grief was all-consuming — there was no ease or enjoyment. After awhile, however, this despair was too much to bear nearly every waking moment — and I decided to watch comedy shows on Netflix!
The first time I laughed, I wondered if laughter was even permissible. But I soon found that laughter was a great antidote to despair. So nearly every evening I spent 30 minutes or more watching comedy. And whenever I drove the car I listened to comedy channels on satellite radio.
The temporary relief — and the realization that I could still laugh — was very welcome.
9. Get the support of people like you.
I attended a weekly grief support group for two months — and it was, well, supportive. Very supportive. I sat around a table with a dozen other people who had recently lost loved ones. We talked. We cried. We felt UNDERSTOOD. And over the weeks I noticed changes in myself and my brethren in grief, as we freely and safely expressed and released our feelings of loss. Attending a support group is an invaluable process I strongly recommend.
10. Find your faith.
I am fortunate to be a lifelong student of a great spiritual teacher, Adi Da Samraj. His wisdom and blessings were a source of comfort and strength not only during the 16 months of intense caregiving as my wife died from 4th stage cancer, but also during the six months after her death.
Whatever your faith — your fundamental sense of the informing purpose of life — hold tight to it during your grief.
And in that light I'd like to end this two-part series with the "Universal World-Prayer" given by my teacher. My wife kept this prayer by her bedside all during her long illness, to give her courage. And the prayer still speaks to me, saying so much about how the ordeal of suffering is a secret blessing that can lead to the grace of greater love.
Beloved, Inmost Heart of every heart,
do not Let our human hearts be broken
by our merely mortal suffering here —
but Make our mortal human hearts break-Free
to an unconditional love of You,
that we may, Thus, love all living beings
with Love's own True, and Truly broken, Heart.
In love and friendship,
Bill Gottlieb, CHC
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.