Isolation, loneliness, emptiness: all very normal feelings when in a state of grief and all of them can feel unbearable at times. It can often feel like there’s just no light at the end of the tunnel and there’s no way we can ever feel better. But as we know, whether it’s through our own experiences or those of people we know, time can heal almost any wound.
It may take weeks, months or even years, but pain is not something that usually sits within us forever and the grief does become easier to bear. Once the pain subsides, what is left can usually teach us a great deal about not only ourselves, but about life and the world around us. Here are just some of the ways in which grief helps to change us over the course of time.
Find compassion for yourself
There are few times in life when we will feel more vulnerable and more in need of compassion and patience than when we are grieving. This is especially true for those going through grief for the first time or experiencing a life changing loss, such as the loss of a parent or child.
Many of us are fortunate enough to have a support system that we can rely on to some degree to make the weight easier to cope with. However, it’s also understandable that grief can cause tensions to build up amongst our loved ones. After all, we are at our least rational when in a state of mourning. In times of need, not only are we grateful for the support others show to us, but we also learn how to be compassionate in return, how to communicate in ways that try to de-escalate tensions and how to approach conversations with kindness and understanding.
More importantly, however, this is the time when we learn to show compassion for ourselves, not just the people around us. Guilt is an emotion that is far too easy to come by during the grieving process and it’s not a healthy one. This is especially true in the early stages of grief when everything is raw and volatile and our emotions don’t make sense. Giving yourself time and being honest with your own feelings is something that will be invaluable for your mental health, as well as helping to try and move forward.
We are a society that constantly pushes for tomorrow without stopping and taking a moment to think about today. We put things off we don’t want to do, taking for granted that we may even be around to do them or see another day. However, death manages to put a lot of things in perspective for us. Suddenly our own view on our own mortality is forced to change. It might not happen straight away, but over time we learn to understand that we are never promised another day and that we must be grateful for things we currently have.
Losing someone we love is a life changing experience and being told that life is too short really has a whole other meaning to it when you’re forced to experience it yourself. As painful as the grieving experience can be, it also offers us a chance to re-evaluate whether that argument with our friend was really worth holding a grudge over.
Are the plans that we have in life worth putting off? Can we really afford to regret the dreams that we’ve had or the things we wish we’d said to the people we love. This does not mean that we need to act recklessly, but rather than letting death change our life for the worse, we can use it as a reminder to chase after what we really want and never take our lives for granted.
Looking to the future
Sometimes, the hardest part about grief is not the grieving itself – the screaming and crying and the rage that comes with not being able to process a loss – but it’s what comes afterwards: moving on. Picking yourself back up can be one of the hardest and bravest things we do as human beings. To know when it’s time to try and get on with our lives even though it’s hard. If first experiencing grief is all about living in the now, then living with grief is about looking to tomorrow.
Moving on can take many forms and everyone will do so at different speeds and in different ways. It is true that some losses we may just never recover from. They leave such an impact on us emotionally that they fundamentally change us as human beings. And those fundamental losses can change and shape the way we think about our own future and what we want for the rest of our lives.
Trying to imagine a future without our departed loved ones is the most difficult task of all. Realising that there won’t be a day when they suddenly come back can feel like a whole new stage of grief in itself. But by learning from our loved ones, taking examples of their own lives and applying them as lessons to our own experiences can be a gift rather than a curse. It’s as though they are still with us, guiding us and helping us even after they are gone. It’s a hard process to go through and not one that everyone can even manage, but learning to live without your loved ones, whilst still letting their memory and legacy remain a part of your life is a key part of moving on for the rest of our lives.
Finding our inner strength
However, as hard and sad as it is, grief is something that every single one of us will be forced to face at some point in our lives. This may just be one of the harshest but biggest lessons that grief teaches us; that loss is inevitable and that life is precious. It is a part of the human experience just like breathing and eating. There is some comfort to be had from the fact that almost every human being we encounter will have that shared experience at some point in their life.
Grief has no end date and we take as long as we need to cry and mourn and cope with our emotions in the best way we can. But there comes a day when things start to ease and each day comes with less effort than the last. As we start to carry on with our lives, we realise that hard though it was, we got through it. That there is a strength to ‘conquering’ grief that we didn’t know perhaps that we had in us.
It’s a strength that can only really come from having experienced this and it’s a strength that only grows the older we get. And if there’s the tiniest bit of positivity that we can gain from grieving, it’s that if we can get through grief, surely we can get through anything.