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Choosing Growth after Grief

We can do more than cope with grief -- we can choose to grow.

When someone close to you dies, you feel like all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Yet research has indicated that some bereaved individuals –even as they struggle with pain and loss were able to recognize, over time, that they developed new insights, learned new skills, and gained new knowledge. These grieving individuals can teach how to grow even as you struggle with loss. You can find comfort in knowing that you can do more than just cope with the loss; you can choose growth. Here are some ways to do that:

Build on Your Strengths

While the pain of your loss may feel new and unfamiliar, this is likely not the first crisis you have faced. What strategies helped you then? Those strategies can be helpful now; although you may have to reframe them. Shonda’s husband Fred helped her greatly through the loss of her parents by listening to her stories as she went through their belongings. After Fred died, Shonda realized that having that special person to talk with about her loss had been so helpful. Although Fred was no longer there, she knew that her best friend would be more than willing to share stories and help her clean out Fred’s office. Think also of what strategies did not help during earlier crises and avoid them. ..

Your spirituality or philosophy also can be a great strength. Most spirituality and philosophies address loss and suffering; ask yourself, “how do my beliefs help me as I face this loss?” Talk to those who share your beliefs.

Use Your Support Systems

Grief can be lonely, but you don’t need to face grief alone. Use your support systems--family, friends, co-workers, and others. Within this group, recognize that they will have unique gifts. Some may be good listeners while others are good at helping in more tangible ways, like picking the kids up from school or mowing the lawn. Dave‘s afternoons were challenging after his wife, Carol, died, trying to balance work and his son’s after-school activities. He was grateful to accept carpooling offers from other parents—and they were pleased with an opportunity to assist. Some individuals may be uncomfortable even talking about your loss, but will be glad to take you out to a funny movie. These friends offer respite from the hard work of grief.

You may also find support in a grief group. Here are others who “get it”– because they have had similar experiences. Grief groups offer validation of your reactions, strategies for coping, and hope. And as you help others, you become more aware of your own strengths.

Remember You Never Lose that Continuing Bond

The people we love never fully leave us. You retain a continuing bond with them through your memories and the ways they affected you as a parent, a partner, or a friend. Think of the legacies they left you. And again, explore your philosophy or spirituality to see what it says about enduring connections with those we love.

Focus, too. on positive memories. Creating a photograph album, a journal, or other tangible reminder can keep those memories alive. Ethant’s dad died when he was 4-years-old. He has few memories of his father but he does love look as the video his mom created of his early experiences with his Dad. It helps him keep the memory of his father alive.

Focus on Empowering Language

If you focus on the tragedy of loss, you may reinforce the tragic. Try whenever you can to use positive language, such as the courage you will need to meet the challenges of loss. Learn from the decisions you make. What went well? What did not? How can you learn from these decisions? What will you do differently next time? Even small choices reinforce your ability to cope.

Remember the Positive Steps You’ve Made

Periodically review how you have changed as you journey with grief. What new insights have you developed? What have you learned? What skills have you gained?

Be patient with yourself. Acknowledge that grief is hard work, as you both cope with your loss and learn to live a different life without a person you loved. As you grieve, expect both good and bad days. Some days you may be more productive than others. Growth does not have to mean giant steps every day.

Keep Hope in The Future

Life after loss will be different. But as hard as it may to believe now, it can still have joy and happiness. Keep sight of the future. Focus on where you wish to be next week, next month, or next year. Thing of the small daily changes you can make to bring you closer to your goal.

Remember that while we have no choice about loss or the grief that follows, we do have choices about how we grief. Choose growth.

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Grief is more than a great sadness. We may experience a range of feelings including guilt, anger, relief, and gratitude, among others.
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