Can there really be joy and happiness again after experiencing horrific loss?
Thousands we have worked with have asked this question, and thousands have taught us that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’
So the next question is how? How does one lose the dearest on earth to them and not just exist forward, but actually live forward with joy and purpose again?
Two weeks ago we completed our 113th Spark of Life Grief Retreat. Thursday was as usual really tough, as each shared the loss that brought them to such a retreat.
One participant shared her pain as she had lost 3 children in a span of 5 years. Could she ever have hope to be happy again?
Thursday turned to Friday, and hope began to knock on the door, trying to take a seat with all who were there. By Saturday, laughter could be heard a little more, along with the expected tears.
Then Sunday came. Hope became a friend all could relate to. The tears, pain, and hurt were still present. But there was a difference. As long as hope is there, the tough things become bearable. ‘Live Forward’ was beginning to defeat ‘Existing Forward.’
So what are the three things we must ‘do?’
# 1 – We must believe that ‘There is nothing wrong with me.’ Most grievers we know believe that the reason they are stuck in the pit of grief is . . ‘There is something with me.’
Of course, there are things wrong with each of us. But if I am in deep grief, and think that if I were just stronger, or tougher, or smarter, or more faithful to my God – then I wouldn’t feel so bad – then I might just stay stuck for a long time.
Here is the fact: When I experience loss, I need to grieve. Grieving deeply, with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, are NORMAL, and HEALTHY.
When I give myself permission to have all those deep grief emotions, I am actually on a healthier road to finding joy again in living.
FACT TO REMEMBER: Grievers do not need to be fixed – they need to grieve.
#2 – We must not grieve all alone, all the time.
Most grievers we know share that they often feel alone. They have a horrific loss and cannot even visualize ever feeling good again. Their life has ‘stopped’ as they knew it. But everyone else around them is living normally. “Life goes on for everyone, but not for me.”
This realization often contributes to grievers buying into the myth that they simply need to grieve alone, all the time. Others do not really get it, etc.
Here is what happens at a typical Spark retreat. Those who feel alone are now in a group of others who feel lonely.
When loss stories are shared, though many of the losses are different, a comradery emerges, and gradually one does not feel all alone.
When the woman who had lost three children, we’ll call her Mary, shared her story, everyone wanted to give her a hug. Each of the other 14 people there would ‘have her back.’ And then Mary heard the others’ stories, and she had their back. And by the end of the weekend, no one was truly all alone.
Obviously, we all need our space when we are grieving. There are times when I want to be alone. This is healthy as well. But to be totally alone, and grieve alone ALL the time, can feel . . . very lonely!
Truth is – sometimes we need someone to crawl down into the pit with us – not to fix us – but to be with us, to accept me as I am.
# 3 – We need to hug, and not just be hugged.
Deep grief, when we lose someone we love, is healthy and expected. ALL our focus for a while is on my loss. This does not mean that I am selfish – it means that I am grieving. There are no absolute time frames for this.
We need hugs, whether physical or emotional, or both. Without realizing it, we also begin to give hugs to others who are grieving as well. But almost all our thoughts are on our loss.
Mary needed a lot of hugs at our retreat a few weeks ago. But so did 11 other people who had suffered a loss. So as the weekend progressed, Mary began giving hugs to others who needed them. Slowly, ALL her focus was not on her losses – but also on others’ pain.
And her feelings of being ALL alone began to diminish.
Spark of Life’s alumni are the greatest. Why? Because there is power found in thinking of others and their pain.
So on Sunday at a Spark retreat, almost everyone feels more hopeful. Their pain and grief are still there. But there is a difference. Hope for a better tomorrow is emerging.
Here is what we heard on Sunday at the retreat Mary attended. She, and at least 4 to 5 others, came to me and stated that they wanted to help Spark of Life help others who are grieving.
And herein is the power of giving hugs to others – purpose and meaning slowly return. And with that comes hope, to have joy again, living with my pain, but LIVING FORWARD, and not just Existing Forward.
You can find hope after loss. Just ask Mary.