Seeking Hope, Healing, Wellness, Purpose and Meaning:
Last month we talked about what is happening to us and what we are feeling as waves of grief. This month I want to start the process of looking at things we can do to move forward and begin the process of healing.
So, the topic tonight is:
Seeking Hope, Healing, Wellness, Purpose and Meaning:
There are two sections to the meeting tonight; 1. What are we talking about. 2. What can we start to work on and think about to start finding hope and healing.
1. What are we talking about: Hope, Healing and Wellness
Since we talk about and use these words all the time, I thought I would define them to help you see that they are important descriptors of what is happening, what is coming and what we are working towards.
Hope: A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
Grounds for believing that something good may happen.
To want something to happen or be the case.
Intend if possible to do something.
Healing: The process of becoming sound or healthy again.
To alleviate a person’s distress or anguish.
To correct or put right an undesirable situation.
To restore a person to spiritual wellness
Wellness: The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.
What we are looking for, I believe, is healing; not to be healed. Healing implies an ongoing process, a change through time where an unwell aspect of our lives moves toward wellness. Healed implies a completion of the process. I believe that our hope all along the way is that we will find healing of some sort and find our way out of the intensity of our grief to a place of peace. We may not become healed, but we may be able to find a place of wellness where we can eventually live and function in a relatively comfortable coexistence with our grief.
Sometimes it is clear and obvious that we are healing, that we are making strides towards wellness and other times, it seems we are moving backwards, not healing at all, getting less well and sometimes we might even be stagnating, not moving much in either direction.
All these are possible, maybe even probable and they all can change and something new can overtake us, sometimes in a very short time. They can all change almost daily early in our grieving and sometimes the plateaus, the times we don’t seem to be progressing, if they happen to us at all, can last for a longer time than we would like. The regressions may also come and go at their own rate as our learning and growing move in their own ways.
But, and here’s the hope, the moving forward can also happen quickly, we can find a door opening into healing that sometimes seems like it happens overnight. We usually progress from healing to wellness more slowly but still it’s not linear, sometimes the steps are small and sometimes they are much larger.
An important thing to remember is that all of these things represent change. They aren’t a destination, they are a movement towards a different state of being. We may not ever reach that end place, we may never be healed, but we may learn, we may grow, we may reach a new equilibrium and find a peaceful place to live within ourselves where we may find wellness. But do we ever fully heal? That’s a “TBA” we have to first take the journey to find out.
What do you think and feel about these definitions? How do they fit with your experiences?
So, what is healing in this sense. What are we trying to accomplish?
I believe what we are looking for is a place we can move towards and reach that allows us to hold the memories of our lives with our spouses or partners in a place that becomes less painful as time goes by, that honors them and the love and lives we shared with them. I think healing includes finding an equilibrium between our past lives with our loved ones and our new life without them.
As time goes by we start to live more in the present and dwell less on the past, we come to allow life to take over and grief to recede and we become more functional and comfortable in the new life we have been creating. When we do this, it is us reaching a state of wellness that includes our grief but where we are no longer controlled or debilitated by our grief. We each have to find our own way to get there by using some combination of passive or active actions based on who we are and what works best for us.
How long does it take?
It takes as long as it takes! As we’ve talked about before, there is no time table or calendar. Grief and healing progress at their own pace, differently for each of us. And again too, healing and grief appear to be fairly non-linear, sometimes we go forward and sometimes not but we are always changing in some way even when it isn’t obvious.
Sometimes time is the enemy, our grief seems eternal, and sometimes time is our friend, the waves of grief become less high and less frequent as time passes.
The one thing that may be constant is that our grief does indeed change through time and most times, it becomes less severe, we learn and grow and move forward through time, each in our own way and at our own rate, towards healing and functional living again. Again, maybe this is what wellness means.
2. Some things to think about that we may feel and not understand:
You’re not going crazy, everything is ok to think and feel but not necessarily to act upon.
Many of the things going through our minds during our grieving, especially in our early grief, may have us doubting our sanity, they may be so outside our normal experiences and ways of thinking and acting that we wonder if we will ever be able to function or think “normally” again. Most of these things are direct effects of our grief and the good thing is, like the waves of pain and sadness, they tend to become less common and less severe over time.
With that said, please remember the negative places we’ve talked about and turn away from them, don’t get stuck dwelling on them and don’t embrace or act on them even if they do come into your mind. Please remember to find help to do so if you can’t do it on your own.
The Piñata effect: An image…
When we experience the passing of a spouse or partner, our entire world is disrupted, all we know and all we have been is shaken to it’s very core and all we were is shattered and thrown to the winds. Our thoughts travel to places we may never have been before, we doubt many of our sure of’s and everything becomes distorted from what we are used to.
While we may feel like we are “going crazy”, we are probably experiencing a total disorientation and distortion of everything in our lives. In many ways, its like a form of PTSD or maybe just PTS and not a disorder at all.
Could grief also be like an “emotional stroke” where our thinking and emotions and feelings are disconnected from their normal pathways by the trauma and pain we have experienced. As with a physical stroke, we are, in a sense, debilitated for a time until we are able to retrain ourselves and find new pathways for our thoughts and emotions to accommodate and facilitate the changes and the new ways of thinking and feeling that our grief has brought.
I called this the Piñata Effect when it was happening to me.
Think of a piñata, that’s our minds, the stick is our grief. The stick strikes in the moment of our loss and everything inside, like the things inside the piñata, tumbles out of place, maybe to the ground. If you pick it all up off of the ground and try to put it back inside the piñata in its original place, it probably won’t go back the way it came out and things will get jumbled and twisted and some may not go back in at all.
In our minds, after things “tumble out” during our early grief, we may not even recognize what is going on, what is happening to us, because it’s all so different now. Things are in a different order, they are often not familiar to us and our normal thinking processes are disrupted and unrecognizable. So it’s not surprising we can be confused or disoriented or sometimes unable to do even simple tasks until we find ways to reorder and realign our thoughts and feelings in a new way.
The Beginnings of Reconstruction..
When I asked for some thoughts on reconstruction, Tom, wrote, partially from things he had read and partially from his own experience:
“Grief keeps pulling our thoughts back to the shared memories and the lost future that we had with our spouse. Dreaming and planning for your future is an important part of what makes us human. It gives us hope that tomorrow, or next year, will be better, that we will continue to gain life experiences and memories together. When a spouse dies, that shared future dies as well. And, without that, part of us dies too. Building a new future is important to our emotional well being; and, critical to our recovery (healing) from grief.”
To me this is about building foundations for the future. What constructive things you do, in the first few months especially, can set the stage and you give you a strong base on which to build during the healing processes to come. Your approach to healing, again, especially early on, can play a large role in how your healing and your grief-journey as a whole progresses as you start to reconstruct your life.
Can we also find a way to use our grief and the reconstruction that accompanies it in a positive way to grow and become more?
I believe that these next two ideas may be among the most important things we can learn and do to promote our hope and healing.
Finding purpose and meaning as we start to restructure our “new” lives.
A loss of meaning and purpose is something most spouses and partners experience as a large part of their grief. At some level our spouse or partner and our love for each other were central to all the meaning and purpose we had in our relationship and in our lives.
Since our shared purpose and meaning has been taken from us, as part of the healing process, we now need to redefine purpose and meaning for ourselves alone. We now need to learn how to create and use a new purpose and meaning to guide us and to help fill the empty places and give us ways and reasons to go forward in our lives.
Finding purpose and meaning in our new lives can become a “full time job”.
Honoring our loved ones as we define and create the purpose and meaning in our “new” lives.
How can we allow our “new” lives to still contain our love and our connections with our loved ones? How can we allow our new lives to reflect and honor our spouses? Can we choose to do things and become more of the person they would have approved or affirmed us becoming? Can we change things about ourselves or become better at things we already are? Can we do these things in their honor and as a gift back to them and to ourselves, believing that we will become better for our efforts?
If, in our examination of ourselves and our memories that grief often brings, we find things we could have or should have done differently or better, then what we can do now is to learn from them and make peace with them as done and unchangeable. In our evaluation of those things, if we feel we need to, we can change behaviors that need changing and do so in a way that honors our loved ones by becoming better now, perhaps apologizing to them in our minds and from our hearts and spirits for things we regret.
These changes I’m referring to are things we may not have had time to do or the will to do in the middle of our everyday lives for which the time may now be available for us to learn, change and grow towards. Choosing to do these things in a direction our spouses or partners would have loved for us to do is a very powerful way to honor them and to make our memories and our love even stronger and more a part of who we are.
We can even allow them to forgive us and we can forgive ourselves as well. We can learn, change if we need to and then use those changes as a way to aid us as we look for ways to move forward.
Even at almost five years out, sometimes I remember something I might have done better, something I might have said or not said or something I should have been aware of that slipped by me during our time together. When I do, I stop and apologize to Andi, let her know I now see more clearly and wish I had been better at that moment. Then, because I can’t change the past, I try to change those behaviors I can change and in her honor, I try to see more clearly and behave more like what she would have wanted me to. It helps both of us I believe to do this.
For me, it is also very important to be committed to actually making the changes and not just having the thoughts. Not just asking for forgiveness but doing what needs to be done to deserve it.
So, as we begin to build our new lives, and our new meaning and purpose, we can also take it as an opportunity to honor our spouses and partners and try to incorporate things they would have wanted us to be and do in what we choose to do going forward. What would they want us to do, how would they want us to behave, how can what we now choose to do honor them and help us hold their memories in our hearts, minds and actions.
A caution about how we think about the past and things we did or didn’t do.
Dwelling on the past and things we cannot change or undo does nothing constructive and can often be very destructive mental behavior that our grief can sometimes lead us to. We may need to think about those things, to find out how we feel about them now, but thinking about things is not the same as dwelling on them or letting the thoughts loop around in our minds or becoming caught in a loop of frustration and guilt that keeps us from healing and may actually move us away from healthy thinking and healing.
Not that it doesn’t happen. Not that we don’t all do these things from time to time, and this is not just for grief, but coming to accept the things we can’t change about the past is an important part of finding healing and reaching wellness.
Maybe grief is “normal” and so is healing:
Since grief arises out of love, and since love is normal, maybe so is grief. Maybe grief is something we need to go through, something we need to acknowledge and embrace even though it’s painful. Gradually, however, it will transform into healing and through our grief we open the door to a new life beyond the pain, transforming our memories and our love to allow us to go forward. People have been doing both for all of human history, so we can too.
This is the reading that Ronna did at the meeting:
Grief is like the ocean — a constant surge of waves, a continual collection of salt and tears. Sometimes grief is loud, both tidal and tempestuous, an overwhelming pain that breaks you open and crashes against your heart. Other times it’s quiet, discreetly hiding beneath the surface, presenting itself as a steady hush of longing. Grief is full of unknowns that can only be discovered when swimming in its depths. Some days sorrow and joy will be intertwined, a delicate dance of dark and light — both deserve to be softly held, both belong in sight. When grief calls you to its edge, tread gently in its space — for no matter what you feel you are always held by grace. You cannot slow down the ocean, you cannot tame the sea, so ache, laugh, break, mend — let your emotions free. Driven by the tides, your pain will recede, but like a persistent undercurrent, a sense of longing may never leave. And that’s the art of living on but never letting go. If you’re ever lost in the infinite sea, may you find peace in knowing that unending grief is also endless love. For grief may try and weigh you down, but your love for them will carry you. Always.