How do you move on after losing a loved one? The answer to that question may be as impossible as trying to imagine life without some of those you hold closely. But sadly, death and grief are inevitable and undeniable qualities that make up life. Queen Elizabeth II said, “Grief is the price we pay for love,” but knowing how much you loved the person you miss may not make that grief feel any lighter.
One of the most difficult, but rewarding experiences of my entire life was my mom’s battle with cancer. Diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, my mother battled the disease for several years as admirably as anyone could hope.
Tragically, she passed away earlier this year, but just as she did when she was still physically around, she has left me with gifts and a perspective that makes me feel more blessed for the experience then left feeling like life is unfair.
You cannot control the timing of when someone you love passes away, and sometimes that is what makes the pain feel all the more real. But it is a shared hope that we each empathize with one another in order to understand this pain is real and a beacon of experience for each one of us.
Did you cry a lot when your loved one passed away? Maybe you didn’t cry at all. Maybe your toughest days were not when your loved one passed, but further down the line. But just as we don’t know the answer to those questions, there is no definite way for anyone to know how to grieve. You’re just doing the best you can, and it’s allowed to feel like unfamiliar ground because it is and that’s scary.
But when you start getting scared that you don’t know how you’re going to get past this, remind yourself that you’re allowed to not feel like it’s getting easier. Go ahead and have bad days, good days, and days where you don’t know left from right. It’s alright to have any kind of day that you want, but what you need to make sure you are doing is attaining the most value you can from those days. When you wake up and you only feel like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or cry as you watch old cartoons, understand that these moments come with the realization that it’s okay to feel hurt. The last thing you need to be doing when you are already hurting is further damaging your own sense of self by questioning how you are “supposed” to be grieving.
One thing is for certain: you are not a weaker person because you feel sad or because you’re struggling to get back to life. Instead, you are a stronger person because you were able to bring so much love into your life.
For all the happiness that your loved one brought to you, it is of course only natural to feel sad when you miss them. Yet for people both currently in your life and those that you are missing, always remind yourself of the incredible blessing that comes with getting to love someone. Use that active pain of missing someone, to actively make sure the people in your life know just how loved they are and how fortunate you are for their love.
Personally speaking, a huge way I was able to tackle my own grief in a healthy way was the active knowledge that I have no idea how I would feel tomorrow. You can try and predict it, but the reality is that losing a loved one is much like getting lost in the vastness of the ocean. You can feel like things are smooth sailing, but all of a sudden you’re thrown off course and left battling the waves. But if you can’t forgive yourself for those tough days where all you accomplish is binge-watching Luke Cage on Netflix and if you can’t see the waves as opportunities to feel deep human emotion and grow from that, then you might not feel like life is getting any easier.
If you can’t be prepared for those waves with healthy activities, with some loving words from those around us, or other means to help us realize how fortunate we are even in our pain, then you’re always going to feel like you’re drowning. Instead, you can use those tools in your life to help pull you back to shore. Your life will never be the same, but you will survive and there is beauty in that.
It can be an incredibly inactive feeling to get hit with the feels train, be left reeling and sad. Maybe you saw a little note or song that reminded of them and you’re left in tears before you know what hit you. But for all those moments where sadness creeps up and knocks you on your ass, remind yourself that your happiness can be an active choice.
Helen Keller once said, “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” That quote may ring true to yourself as you are feeling like part of you is currently missing. But as long lasting as that feeling of missing can be, the amazing qualities that your loved one bestowed on you during their life will last even longer.
By putting yourself in situations where you can engage in similar tasks that evoke that feeling of your loved ones, you can grow as a person as well as honor their memory. For other people, they may seek the complete opposite and start up a new activity or lifestyle choice that helps them move on and does not have them associate with their loved one. There is no wrong answer here on what method will work for you the best, but in both situations, the person is taking their happiness and actively working towards it. That is always an empowering thing to do, and to those around you, it’s an inspiring thing to see when they know you are going through so much pain.
Even if that sadness and helpless feeling may be taking up most of your days at the moment, it doesn’t have to be a feeling that sticks. Because even if it seems absolutely impossible at the moment, keep telling yourself it is all going to be okay, even if you don’t know what that means yet. It’s not easy to tell yourself that things will work out, especially if you’re going through a type of pain or missing someone that will never be back — but when you feel like you are going through the dark, there is solace in putting faith in the unknown; putting confidence in your future self to be able to look at this experience as a way to grow as a person and display strength in ways that you never thought possible.
In my own circumstances and life’s path, would I trade my mom’s life for 1,000 life lessons? Absolutely not, but I didn’t get offered that trade. I got offered the deal of “my mom is going to pass away,” you may have been offered a similar deal. But when you are up against something that is so unfair and I know losing a loved one is allowed to feel unfair, all you are left with is how you choose to respond to it and you owe it to yourself to be proud of how you do.
Your loved one that you are missing would never want the pain that their death has caused to be the reason that you feel your identity is weaker. And when you start feeling that sense of normalcy re-enter your life, even though of course things will never truly be the same, you know you could not be in the place you are without surviving all of the days. And with that also comes the undeniable knowledge that the days where you feel strong are just as important as the days where you feel weak.
You cannot change the cards that you have been dealt, but you need to always feel like the reaction is in your control. I hope you find peace and solace during your time of loss and grief. And I promise you that you are never alone.