The upside of grief
Friday, September 27, 2019
The loss of a loved one is a major event in one’s life. There’s no way to prepare for it or to lessen its emotional impact.
It’s one of life’s inevitable natural disasters, leaving families in varying degrees of shock, disagreements over the deceased’s possessions and myriad casualties from regrets over things said, left unsaid or undone to the daunting task of adjusting to life without this person.
There’s not much good to be found at the end of someone’s life…or is there?
I’ve spent the better part of the past year grieving the loss of my mother, who died on Oct. 15, 2018, after a long decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s been excruciatingly painful, beyond anything I could have anticipated, in spite of the fact that my father died when I was 21.
Yes, his death was shocking and painful, but I had my mother to lean on and help me through it. Her death, on the other hand, meant that I had no living parents left in the world.
Now, I had to face the reality that both of their lives were over: no longer could I visit with them, no longer could I turn to them for comfort or advice, no longer was my own morality buffered by their existence.
Given that my mother had dementia, I essentially “lost” the mother I had known years before she actually died. In many ways, her death was a relief because it ended her days locked in a memory care facility. But still, having her physically gone triggered all kinds of unexpected feelings.
All of this sounds rather bleak. But as I began to reflect on the past year of living without her, I saw that my mother’s death, while painful, has added a whole host of benefits in my life. I might even go so far as to call them gifts or blessings.
1. Making my health and well-being a priority.
For several month’s following my mother’s death, I experienced what is now commonly known as PTSD. Lots of old memories and feelings came up. It was overwhelming, so I reached out for help from friends, coaches and healers.
I allowed myself to receive in ways that I hadn’t in years. During that time, I was supported to make sure I had enough sleep, healthy food, downtime from my business, quiet periods for meditation and reading, fresh air and exercise and so on.
2. Appreciation for each moment.
Death puts time into a new perspective. In fact, each moment becomes more precious. Each time I faced the fact that I could no longer hear my mother’s voice or hug her, I found myself appreciating the voices, hugs and time spent with the people around me who were still living. Little things became so much more meaningful, filling me with immense gratitude.
3. Making better choices.
One of the greatest gifts of loss and grieving was the clarity that surfaced regarding the choices I’ve made. This resulted in radical shifts in my perspective, making it obvious which choices were serving me and which weren’t.
Moving forward, I am confident that my choices will be informed by my increasing awareness of my own mortality, specifically that I don’t have unlimited time to waste and I am responsible for making the best of what time I do have.
4. Slowing down.
As a business owner, it had become too easy for me to let me work take over my life, especially because I’d recently been doing lots of restructuring. My mother’s death dramatically shifted this tendency and forced me to slow down.
As I did this, I began to see how I wasn’t allowing myself enough time to simply be and play. For years, I had been taking life way too seriously. Play has since become something I want more of in my life.
5. Offering comfort to others.
Because I spent months grieving and being vulnerable, I found my sensitivity and compassion with others expand. It was much easier to tune in and know how the people around me were feeling.
It was also much easier to offer comfort to others either by simply listening or by being present with them. It meant so much to me when others were there for me, I happily returned the favor whenever the opportunity arose.
6. Creating a better death experience for my sons.
When I was only 21, I was the co-administrator of my father’s estate, along with my 19-year-old sister. It was a very complicated estate situation that required a dozen attorneys and thousands of hours of work to sort out.
My mother did her best to take preventive measures for her own death. She purchased long-term care insurance and wrote a living will. Unfortunately, once the dementia set in, she wasn’t able to educate us on all of her wishes and the associated paperwork that she’d so carefully arranged when she was lucid, thus requiring us to navigate the process based on our own assumptions.
For my two sons’ sakes, I am working on a simple plan for potential options for them upon my death, which I intend to communicate to both of them in great detail. I believe it is unconscionable for parents to ask a grieving child to clean up the mess of a parent who has just died. (I had to do it for my paternal grandparents as well.)
Yes, death is a painful part of life. Like it or not, it changes us. However, if you’re open and paying attention, you might also notice there’s an upside to the grief you’re experiencing, and that surrounding that loss is significant number of blessings.
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