The struggle is real. The reality is that it is a new year, and you are entering it without your loved one. This is a year that your loved one never lived in, which can bring so many added layers of emotions, feeling that time that has stopped, fatigue with sleepless nights and longing for your loved one. You might also experience anxiety of what lies ahead, questioning how you will make it and what is next. Conflicting emotions are natural.
My son passed on December 14 and in a blink of an eye, Christmas came and went, my birthday passed and then it was 2019. I started a new year just 17 days after he died. I had dreams and hopes of what 2019 looked like. They certainly were not what I was currently experiencing. My life had changed. It had been turned upside down. I did not like what happened. I could either learn to swim with the tide or refuse to accept the changes. I decided to allow myself to grow and learn from this experience.
In years passed when life became tough, I sought ways to help myself. I learned new coping skills, dove into developing my self-confidence and discovered ways to help others. Each time, I grew and became better, a better person, a better friend, a better leader. I did not ignore the truth that life was painful nor was it a cure for my pain, fear, and distress. I changed for the better as a result of my loss.
When my daughter died in 1991, there wasn’t a psychological name for what I did. Now, experts call this experience, growing and learning after a major life crisis, as post-traumatic growth. I consider it simply to be personal growth.
Personal growth means improving your behavior and habits and refers to techniques for building and developing those habits. However, the growth after the loss of a child takes it a step further. Growth is positive change that an individual experiences as a result of the struggle with a traumatic event.
Why would you want to be open to a positive change in your life? Experiencing the loss of a child can leave you feeling angry, depressed, lonely and a host of other emotions. In your grief journey, you may continually focus on the tragedy which limits your possibility of moving forward. You can stay trapped in your grief and find yourself lost, isolated, and deeply depressed. Or you can find hope, peace, and joy. You have no choice about grief, but we do have choices in grief – to grow up or to grow down.
Personal growth is deciding what area in your life you would like to expand in. Do you have a hobby you would like to learn? Is there an organization you can volunteer for on behalf of your child? You have options. It may take several attempts until you find one that helps. Personal growth takes the focus off your grief and channels your energy toward positive outcomes.
As you ponder personal growth in the wake of tragedy, answer the following questions:
- What would my loved one want me to do as I move forward in my grief?
- Would they encourage me to do something new?
- What could I do to make them proud?
- What could I do to honor them?
Answering these questions will guide you to growing – out of tragedy, into your new life.