Welcome friends to Episode #115 of the Own Your Best Life Podcast. Whatever you believe, you know that death is a certainty. Whether it’s the death of someone you love or the death of your identity, the grief of loss is inescapable. What do you do when this happens and how do you process these life changes? Today, we’ll examine how to live our lives and chart a path forward through grief.
Death has been one of my greatest teachers. I wouldn’t have started coaching if it wasn’t for the deaths of people in my life. It’s changed how I parent, how I work and how I live my life every single day.
The Surprise of Death
One of the biggest lessons I learned about death was that it can feel like such a paradox. For something we know will happen with certainty, we spend very little time examining its implications. We will plan more for births than we do for deaths. It feels easier to talk about what’s coming when it’s about a newer life than a life that is close to its end.
Why do we still feel so surprised by the grief and the emotions that accompany death when we know it will happen?
My observation is that our expectations of what we think will occur when an event happens is often different from reality. We tend to simplify and make things vague when they are in the future and when reality hits, it is much more difficult and specific.
This mirrors how we react to any kind of change. How easily we can accept change will determine how long it takes for us to process the emotions related to that change.
Everyone has a different tolerance level of acceptance based on their prior experiences. My grandmother’s death was less disruptive than the sudden death of my father.
Even though that was the case, I still grieved my grandmother’s death. I was surprised at how grief could still have an impact even though I rationally knew that she was 96 years old and that she was closer to death. I was still caught off guard in the first couple years after her death by a wave of sadness when I thought about how much I missed her.
The Impact of Death
Yet, if it weren’t for these deaths and others as well, I wouldn’t have the appreciation I have today for the life I have. It provides great perspective to be able to consider whether or not you would live the life you are living today, if you were going to die tomorrow.
My relationships have benefited from this approach, because I will often think, “If this were the last conversation I were to have with this person, would I want this to be it?”
The perspective we gain from this type of reflection is important because we often treat our life, time and relationships as if we were going to live forever. Go after your dreams and have patience as if you were to live forever, but also live as if you were going to die today. I asked myself, “would I want to do the work I am doing now if I knew I only had a year left of my life?”
If the answer is no, then it is time to re-evaluate and ask yourself, “what has to change?”
There’s no right way
Grief will look very different for each person. The amount of time it takes for you to process loss, frustration, shock, denial, anger or deep sadness is going to be different each time, and from person to person.
What can be helpful is for you to maintain good habits such as:
- Talking to someone about what you’re feeling and experiencing
- Taking a break from thinking about the topic all day, every day
- Moving your body every day to bolster your energy levels and mental health
- Allow yourself to feel your emotions. The more we resist the emotions, the longer it takes for us to move past blame, denial, anger or sadness and into acceptance and a new way of living
- Journaling on your experience
You can lead yourself through grief, but it will not be a linear process. You will feel like you’ve moved through your emotion only to feel it again. The difference may be in the severity of your emotions, how long you feel them and the impact it has on your life.
Instead of hoping for an end to these feelings of loss, give yourself an alternate path.
Allow yourself to be inspired by death. No amount of suffering will bring someone back or a situation back to the way things were. No escape will remove the human experience of feeling grief or sadness. If this is the case, we might as well see death as that reminder that we might as well love, live and give of ourselves here and now.
Just because we are experiencing sadness now, it doesn’t mean it will always feel that way. We will move into that next day, moment or breath with a feeling of newness and forget what that pain felt like. Instead of creating memories of loss only at the end of a person’s life, let’s create memories of what transpired next. We can give meaning and create a narrative from death that is about the change and inspiration that came next.
In the words of Rumi, “the wound is where the light shines through.” Let all the light in and your life will be richer for it.
That’s it for this week. Have an amazing one and I’ll talk to you next time.
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