Surviving Grief: Lessons Learned

After my son died, I knew that I would go through a season of change. I had been through many other family deaths, my first daughter, both parents, my sister, and my brother. All resulting in transforming with each loss, becoming someone, I never dreamed I could be.
My son was different though. He died by suicide. His death hit me like a semi-truck loaded with bricks. I was fraught with grief, and desperation. I was not dealing with my loss. I did not like the path I was traveling – which was not one of recovering from my loss.

If I continued to fight the change, it would have felt like I  painted myself into a corner, a corner so deep that I couldn’t jump out of it, so wide that I couldn’t swing to the side and a ceiling so tall there was no hope of escaping. Sitting in that corner would have created depression, anxiety, and anger. Isolation and hopelessness would have prevailed. That was not the path I wanted to take. It was clear that I could either accept the change or fight it.

There are primary and secondary losses. With primary loss, you learn to accept that the relationship has ended, you will not see your loved one again or  a career has come to an end. A domino affect creates secondary losses which  can require not only finding a way to survive, live or function day-to-day but also finding meaning and accepting who you are in the context of life after loss. Accepting change takes effort and work. It can also be petrifying when you are dealing with the roller coaster of emotions of grief.

The fallout from secondary loss can impact you on several levels, starting with basic needs of food, housing, and companionship. You might question your safety mentally, physically, and financially. The loss of a loved one can cause changes to family structure, impact intimacy and alter social support. It is common to be uncertain about your future and develop a lack of self-esteem. A big change, such as death, can have a massive impact on self-worth, ability to see the positive and  sense of identity, no longer living up to your personal morales and ethics.

Each time someone close to me died, I chose to acknowledge the  possibilities the future held. My life was forever changed, my loved one was not coming back. How I thought about my circumstances was critical in my ability to learn what really matters in life.

The lessons I learned in my grief:

1. I learned how strong I really am.

Oh, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have one child die. The loss of two children never entered my mind – until it happened. My son died by suicide and 30 years earlier, my daughter died in a day care accident. When I received the phone call that my son died, I cried out to God, yelled at him, and asked how could this be??? I already endured the worst pain imaginable – the death of a child!

I eventually remembered that yes, I survived the loss of one child and if I could do it once, I could do it again.

I was strong enough to live even while grieving.

I learned how to handle the hard stuff.

I was still alive, and others were counting on me.

2. My perspective on life changed.

As cliché as it is, life is too short. It can change in the blink of an eye.

Appreciate those around me.

I learned to focus on relationships.

While the past has affected my present circumstances, it does not need to dictate how I live now and the future.

Chose which battles to fight.

3. My experience can help others.

Because I have made it through so many losses, I am an inspiration to others.

I can offer practical assistance.

I understand grief and the grieving process.

I am a sounding board.

I know what to say.

4. Practice self-care

Taking care of my physical health is critical to surviving loss.

Self-care is not selfish.

My physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are interrelated. If one of these areas are not addressed in grief recovery, healing is incomplete.

Take my grief one step, one moment, one day at a time.

5. Grief is unique and individual.

It is okay to grieve over one loss more than another.

My mantra for life is to live, love and laugh.

It is okay to cry in public, feel my emotions and express them.

Although the pain has diminished, I will always miss those who have gone before me.

Grief may surface at any time.

6. Grief is an opportunity for growth.

Prior to my son’s suicide, I was not involved with suicide prevention and awareness. I now volunteer for suicide awareness organizations.

I did not have prior writing experience and now have written two books.

I have a purpose in life.

These 6 lessons will allow me to embrace future losses. I am not pessimistic. I am a realist because death is inevitable. It happens to all of us. It is part of the circle of life.

Share This :