In working with many bereaved people I have found the basic foundation for coping well with the vast array of losses we all have to suffer through, lies within. Yes, we all need each other or we could hardly bear the pain. But most important of all, we need our own inner strength to deal with it all.
How do we get it? How can we accomplish the work of getting through this difficult loss? Or the next? They do keep coming, since they are built into being human. We have no control over them. And how do we deal with the pain, that hellish pain that seems to be unending?
Changing the intensity of pain starts with changing your inner life, which determines the quality of your outer life. We are perpetually at choice in all that we do. The fundamental choice that begins changing your inner life is: face the pain as a condition of loving or resist and regress, isolate and withdraw from life.
Here is how you begin your most critical task. These nine approaches will help strengthen your inner life as you move through the pain.
1. Cherish love. There is nothing more important as you struggle to find the strength to get out of bed and start another torturous day, than to imprint in your mind that there is no healing without loving. Medicine knows this and so do millions of mourners. That nourishment from others (it is wise to seek what nourishes you) and the love you continue to give to those in your life, will be the most effective antidote for pain you will find. Become more loving, even as you struggle with your great loss.
2. Lean on your spiritual and philosophical beliefs. Cultivate the divine presence. Form or strengthen your existing belief that the love and compassion of a Higher Power will give you the endurance to get through the ordeal. If you have fallen away from such beliefs, don’t feel sheepish about asking for help at this time; then commit to a regular spiritual practice. Your Higher Power will fill you perfectly and history proves it.
The vast majority of mourners I have dealt with have emphasized the importance of prayer and their spirituality in order to stay in one piece. We all need that deeper resource to turn to. Learn where you can find your personal sources of spiritual support and renewal. Then make peace of mind a primary goal as you start each day.
3. Be open to new ideas in a world that will be altogether different without your loved one. Especially be open to the wisdom of those who have been through similar loss experiences. Coping with major loss is a learning process. Listen carefully to how others coped in their hours of need. Decide what you can use and let the rest go. Remember, you have to change to meet change, so also listen to what your heart is telling you.
4. Take action. Inaction and isolation will guarantee that your pain will persist. On the other hand, examine your options. You must inject yourself back into the world again. Work, volunteer, walk at the mall. Interact with others. Study mystery and the unseen. Action releases and will bring you needed diversion.
5. Monitor your imagination and self-talk as critical tools for dealing with change. What you visualize and say to yourself will either lift you up or drag you down. Pick a word (compassion, love, caring, advice, etc. ) or an affirmation (I am determined to adjust) that you will constantly run through your thoughts a hundred times a day. It has been proven again and again, if you change the content of your thoughts, you will relieve your emotional pain.
6. Find a mentor or grief companion. Search for someone you can really open up to about how you feel on any given day. The person must be a good listener and give you feedback when you have questions. You need to recognize feelings, not bury or ignore them. Let them out to give you release from your emotional burden. Emotions can easily affect your judgments. If you have no one to turn to, join a grief support group.
7. Meditate for 20 minutes a day. We all need daily quiet time. One proven way to manage emotion is to meditate. Make it part of your daily self-care program. Through trial and error, find a technique you like. For years, I used the following: take some deep abdominal breaths to relax. Then inhale and exhale silently repeating the Aramaic word, Maranatha (Mar-a on the inhale, na-tha on the exhale). Go slowly. If your mind wanders, gently come back to your word.
8. Continue to communicate with your loved one. As you go through your day speak to your deceased loved one telling him/her exactly how you feel and what you need. This is one of the most effective ways to love in separation. Ask questions and see what answers pop into your mind. Pray to your loved one as many others do. Say what you are feeling. Imagine how he/she would respond.
9. Reassess your priorities and determine your mission, if you don’t have one. Everyone needs one. It’s never too late to find a dream. You always have an opportunity to make a difference and serve others. Your inner life will strengthen as you become focused on your purpose and the direction in life you want to turn to. Major loss redefines us. And never forget, we are what we consistently do.
In summary, as you review the above ways to strengthen your inner life, take note of their emphasis on connections—with people, God, yourself, the deceased, a purpose. You will never outgrow your need for connections and the healing love they generate because healing is always ongoing. We move from loss to loss. Start today to make connections. Pick one of the above items right now. Think of the specific behaviors you need to employ and commit to strengthening your inner life.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com .