How Best to Continue On
Both the Religious and Nonreligious Have Overcome
Sometimes listening to the stories of other people who've experienced serious loss can be beneficial and inspiring when coping with one's own tragedy. A fiancee can die suddenly; a parent can pass away at a young age; we can lose a child in an accident. There are too many examples, unfortunately. But for each there's the constant thread of grief and bereavement.
Often the worst situations involve an unexpected death or serious illness, which seems so unfair either due to the age of the victim or the circumstances involved. Losing someone suddenly throws us into a state of panic and confusion, especially when the trauma occurs right after a feeling of serenity and security. We wonder if God has it out for us, and if so, why?
We can remember the love we had for the person who died, for example, and the effects his or her death will have on other friends and family. Perhaps only doctors or emergency room workers can understand that death can be sudden and unexpected. Most of us believe we will have time to prepare for the death of a loved one or for our own demise. But people are shocked to hear some of the stories of loved ones passing away without any warning whatsoever.
Those immediately involved never will get the trauma out of their memories for as long as they live. What effects will this have, and how can they carry on a normal life afterward? The time involved in overcoming the grief can be a lifetime, but people have found ways to enrich their lives and the lives of others, motivated by some aspect of the tragedy.
What successful people have told us is that it's wrong to ignore or negate the grief we would feel after such a tragedy. One must face that grief and let it produce what emotions it will bring up inside us. Those emotions of sorrow have to be expressed. This will expel them from our minds, but not instantly. The grief will occur and reoccur again and again.
People in grief should not be impatient with themselves. If they are in ridiculous denial, such as insisting that the dead somehow are still living, they should understand that such illogical thoughts are perfectly normal for those who are truly bereaved. Eventually people will face the reality of what happened and find a way to accept it. Each person must find his or her own way. Some people do it without religion, but most people are religious and claim that God gave them strength. However, those who do not make that claim still are able to find strength within themselves to overcome grief.
While patience is a virtue in dealing with bereavement, complacency is not. One should attempt to make some progress daily toward arriving at a functional acceptance of what's happened so that life can go on productively.
The key to making progress is to realize that you are finding happiness in your life more and more often, although at first (for as many months or years "at first" may mean in each individual situation) there's very little to be happy about.
It is literally true that a person who suffers a terminal illness no longer will suffer once he or she passes away. This logically can be a good thing to consider in the midst of so many overwhelming depressing thoughts that must occur to the bereaved.
Another approach often mentioned by grief survivors is the one-day-at-a-time method. If some progress can be made, be it ever so little, each day then we are on the way to coping constructively and realistically.
Inspiration often is gained from hearing others' stories of success in dealing with grief. The exact facts of each case may differ, but those in grief can identify with the emotional struggles of all others who've gone through the post-traumatic period. Some will say that God has a way of showing mercy and helping those who grieve, while others will claim that good luck is waiting around the corner after bad fortune has had its way with us. Mourning and sorrow can be ended abruptly just when we thought the grief would last forever. Just as the sudden tragedy took us by surprise, so one day we may awaken to find we are on the mend emotionally and mentally.
Many people find that grief ends up being a motivation to do helping acts of kindness for others who likewise are stuck in sorrowful situations. Bringing comfort to others can be a rewarding way to turn grief into a positive and effective reaction.
Don't get so tied up in grief that you feel it's endless. Nothing is. But while you are waiting, you should find that human sympathy is everywhere. People forgive the grieving because they had similar trauma, or can imagine what it must be like. We are all a little helpless and innocent no matter how powerful we may feel. No one is immune to grief and bereavement.
The original numbness or shock is the beginning of a long journey of bereavement that must be made by those who've lost a loved one or suffered a comparable tragedy. Soldiers who've seen combat often do not breakdown until months or years afterward. The post-traumatic stress is another form of grieving requiring special treatment, but having many of the similarities other bereavements share.
To the bereaved in the depths of grieving, disbelief and shock make life seem unreal. Sometimes they imagine themselves outside looking in on what happened, as if they were third parties. It helps often to tell one's story to others frequently so that your reaction will seem more normal once you perceive that other people react similarly when they hear about what happened to you. Those who are grieving both need and deserve encouragement and sympathy from others.
The speed at which a person goes through the grieving process will vary depending on many factors. There is no ideal model, so don't feel badly when progress seems slow. There will be times when being alone is the right way to make progress in your mind through concentration on thoughts that help you cope. There will be other times when it helps to be in the company of others, such as family who share your grief, even if you do not discuss the topic openly.
Grief is not as easy as reading a book or reading this advice. We may take a long time, including many experiences, before we can make sense of our particular tragedy. It's not easy to go through the journey of grief. But human beings have the will and strength to do it. Don't try to run away or escape grief.
Many people find keeping busy somehow, if only simple exercising, helps a lot since it keeps up our health by giving us an appetite to eat well, and the physical work that will help us sleep better.
If taking life one day at a time doesn't work, try one hour at a time. If it still doesn't work, do ten minutes at a time. Compartmentalize your job into tiny steps. It will seem less overwhelming.
Try to remember the good things about the loved one who is lost, not his or her suffering. Remembering humorous things about the loved one can be good therapy for you. Be thankful for the good moments you shared together, instead of being bitter always for your loss. The loved one you lost would want you to be happy, not sorrowful constantly.
We are workers in a processing plant when we take on the long struggle to overcome grief and not let it characterize our whole lives. Be as positive as possible, rather than dwell upon regret or feelings of guilt.
The deceased do not exist in the material world. If you believe in an afterlife, logically it must mean your loved one exists only in the intangible world some call the spiritual existence. One thing for sure is that this person still exists inside your memories. Intangible things like thoughts and ideas often are the most powerful motivators in our lives. Focus on all the positive things about that person and your relationship with him or her. These are not material objects but they are just as real.
Some people feel guilty about enjoying life after the tragedy. Ultimately, when you've healed, you should find happiness. The deceased would have wanted you to find it again.
Certain people keep a journal of their dreams or thoughts concerning the loved one who was lost. This will help accentuate the positive memories. Other people will want to travel either physically or to new places only within their thoughts.
It's hard to imagine anything more unhappy than a great personal tragedy, but somehow there are more tragic things that could have happened to the world. It may help to realize that if you throw in the towel and give up on your own life, this itself would be more tragic than what's happened by your losing a friend or loved one.
Realize always that suicidal thoughts are pointless. They only add worry and sorrow to your own family and friends. Life is not unlimited, but now you have the advantage of knowing both good and bad events can take us by surprise. Concentrate on the good events. Gain momentum each day. Stay active, not just pensively meditating, although there's a time and place for that too. Do what makes you feel good about life, such as a chore you've been meaning to do. Don't wallow lethargically in pity. Next do something that takes daring and courage, but don't be foolhardy or reckless. Find happiness in evolving into a new person.
While we shouldn't negate or underestimate depression, even grief and bereavement that are justified and logical can be changed with courage and endurance.
What's in a Bad Mood?
What are the ingredients of a bad mood or a depression, which can be attacked and reversed? Hopefully, drugs and alcohol won't be the answer, not even prescription drugs despite the temptation to use them to find artificial happiness.
Part of life is to experience common events that have to precipitate a bad mood of depression. The sooner someone can come out of this depression, the better.
As in all other forms of recovery, getting free of depression or a prolonged bad mood involves more self-determination and self-help than outside advice. "Physician, heal thyself," may be the battle cry of the depressed soul just before the battle within begins, ending in victory.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first three steps." (Chinese proverb) This too can be a way to start, but only when one truly is ready. The timing of recovery is completely dictated by the depressed individual. No one can tell him or her when to begin, or even how to do it. It comes from within, both of those decisions do.
To bring oneself out of depression, for some, requires an anger toward negativism. For others, what works is becoming one's own best friend. Many find salvation in exercise and getting outdoors, being around other people. Still others will express their desire to make progress by doing physically beneficial things like eating only healthy meals. Most people will consider mental health professionals when available through health plans.
One way or the other, all upward climbs out of depression seem to start with one thing--hope for a better life. Without that, there can be no motivation to change.