Finding purpose and meaning and restructuring our “new” lives.
To me, these two ideas may be among the most important things I think we can and should learn and do.
Finding purpose and meaning in our new lives can become a “full time job”. 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 daily lives. As part of the healing process, we now need to redefine it for ourselves alone. We now need to learn how to create and use a new meaning and purpose to help fill the empty places and give us ways and reasons to go forward in our lives.
Tom, one of my “friends in grief” wrote this about reconstruction, partially from things he 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.”
Honoring our loved ones as we create the purpose and meaning in our “new” lives.
As we begin to build our new lives, we can 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 be and 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 as we go forward and help us hold their memories in our hearts, minds and actions.
We can allow our “new” lives to still contain our love and our connections with our loved ones. We can allow our new lives to reflect and honor our spouses by choosing to do things and become more of the person they would have approved of us becoming. We can change things about ourselves or become better at things we already are. We can do them in honor and as a gift back to them, believing that they will know what we are doing and will appreciate the effort and the changes.
These changes are things we may not have had time to do or the will to do in the middle of our everyday lives that 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.
A caution about how we think about the past and things we did or didn’t do. It is useless and often negative to try and second guess our past actions or decisions or choices. They are done, they are in the past and unchangeable. We my feel sorrow or regret or wish we had done or been other that we were but beating ourselves up about those things, feeling badly or guilty and recriminating about them is very much not healing behavior or thought.
If in our examination of ourselves and our memories, we find things we could have or even should have done differently or better, then all we can do now is to learn from them, change behaviors that we feel need changing, and do so in a way to honor our loved ones by becoming better now, apologizing to them in our minds and from our hearts and spirits for things we regret. We can learn, change if we need to and move on. Dwelling on the past and things we cannot undo does nothing constructive and can often be very destructive mental behavior that our grief can sometimes lead us to and we can become caught in a loop of frustration and guilt that moves us away from healthy thinking.
Even four years out, every once in a while I still remember something I might have done better or something I should have been aware of that slipped by me during our time together. When I do, I stop and apologize to my wife, 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 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.